I caught my first big fish at 12 years old – a longtail tuna, caught on an old Abu Garcia Toby spoon and 12lb mono. I kept the fish frame in the family’s freezer to admire proudly until my mother threw it out! I’m sure I’m not the only angler that claimed tuna as their first big fish, and I can attest after 10 years of guiding in Hervey Bay, that tuna definitely win the most sought-after target. And why not? They grow big, fight hard (pound for pound they’re the toughest), and can be caught in a variety of ways.
Longtail can be caught almost everywhere, from the continental shelf to right inshore and they’ve even been taken by barra netters 20km upstream from the mouth of the Mary River. Generally the open bays, especially Hervey Bay are where the action is, and we’ve caught longtails all year round. February and March are the prime months to catch them in Hervey Bay, however the big schools can hang around until May, June and into September. They are often caught deep with live baits or on plastics as a by-catch while snapper fishing. The number one tip is to find a bait school, a longtail definitely won’t be far away.
I have caught longtails from the Gulf of Carpentaria right down to Moreton Bay, and I can confidently say the further south you go, the bigger they get. In October/November 25kg+ longtails are reasonably common – one of my clients, Neil Shepherd from Sydney, caught an enormous specimen estimated to be over 35kg in November 2011 on the flats near Roonies. If he had caught it on fly, he certainly would have achieved a world record.
One point to remember is the run of larger fish in October/November are full of roe, so be a smart angler and release these breeders if you want future longtail fun – I know I do! Some of these bigger fish have millions of eggs, it would be a great shame to destroy them for the sake of a few fillets.
When on the lookout for longtails, search for birds, not the masses of birds that hang over mac tuna and bonito schools, rather you’ll find the bigger longtails under 2-6 birds out on their own. The bigger specimens are loners, especially on the flats and they cruise along at about 15 knots – these are fast fish.
When you hook a longtail be ready for a tough fight, big runs, and powerful circles. The toughest fish are the ones that don’t run and just slug it out under the boat. Longtails fight to the end on lighter tackle, but they are easy to release – just spear them head first into the water. They are excellent to eat but I stress that they must be looked after, bled immediately and iced or they will go mushy and fall to bits. In Weipa we cut them into big steaks and coat them in Masterfoods bush spice. One of my favourite dishes is longtail cooked like a rare steak and served on a bed of mashed potato.
Longtails are a worthy opponent on fly tackle, and a good 10-12wt is ideal. You can use many different flies – just make sure you match the hatch. Spin tackle is the easiest to use, and a good 20-30lb outfit and a Daiwa 4000 sized reel is ideal. When the bigger specimens are about, I use my 4500 Saltiga with 40lb braid, matched to a Saltist PE4 rod to whack them quick smart!
Lure selection is up to the individual, but 5” plastics on a 5/0-5/8 jighead are useful. From January-April they feed on garfish and flying fish at Wathumba, therefore a stickbait or popper will get the bite – it’s the most spectacular way to catch them.Reads: 1556