Rigging basics for SBT
  |  First Published: March 2016

The lure of catching southern bluefin tuna is in the veins of the majority of Victorian saltwater anglers these days, and with tuna right on tap just a few hours west of Melbourne, it’s no surprise!

Catching tuna isn’t for everyone, but the desire to catch them is always there, secretly hiding away under your skin.

Not everyone has a boat capable of heading to the tuna grounds but I’m sure most have that special mate that does have a boat big enough to battle the southern ocean swells.

That said, finding tuna maybe a task in itself, but if you haven’t got all the rigging requirements in order, landing your fish might prove to be an impossible task.

There is no doubt that all species of tuna put out a fierce battle once hooked. However, the techniques used to catch the various species somewhat differ between one another. When it comes to southern bluefin on the Victorian West Coast, trolling lures is the most widely used technique.

Rigging right for SBT is imperative due to their power and with the possibility of hooking fish in excess of 100kg, ensuring everything is 100% is what will have you land that fish of a lifetime and not be the one thinking what went wrong for the rest of your life.

Rigging for tuna is not just about threading the leader through the lure to the hook, it is about the entire setup, from the rod and reel to the line, leader to the right hooks.


So you’ve you gone out and upgraded your boat to something much more substantial in order to reach wider fishing grounds and subsequently target game fish including southern bluefin.

When targeting such fish, there is a standard that is required to be successful in landing a fish.

You can use whatever rod and reel you want, but the end result is going to be dictated by what you have chosen to use.

When purchasing your outfits, you need to take into consideration the lure spread you’re going to set to entice the fish to hit your lures.

A basic trolling spread consists of five lures, comprised of two hardbody lures or vibe style lures trolled in close to the motor, two skirted lures staggered at different lengths and a shotgun situated in the rocket launcher being the furthest lure out.

If you’re on a budget, you can forgo two outfits and just run three; the shotgun and two for either skirts, hardbodies or a mixture of both.

The outfits need to be able to cope with the pressure of possibly battling a genuine 100kg fish. In the past, I have heard people say they wouldn’t want to catch a fish of such size, but you never know what fish is going to take your lure, so you might as well be prepared in case one does so you don’t lose your lure or worse, your outfit.

Most outfits consist of a 5’6” game rod rated 15-24kg or a straight 24kg rod. Budget wise, most rods in the $150-$200 range are suitable. Shimano’s Back Bone Elite fits into this price range, while if you’re looking for the next level up, Wilson’s Aussie built Live Fibre Strokers sit in the $300-$450 range.

Reels are equally as important and need to hold a significant amount of line. A big tuna can strip a solid 500m of line in seconds and to stop it, you’ll need as much line as you can get. Shimano’s TLD 50w loaded with 24kg line are pretty much the standard when it comes to tuna reels as well as the TLD 30w for those anglers that wish to fish 15kg line class. If there are big tuna about, a TLD 50w loaded with 24kg can handle them, but many anglers choose to go up to the next level and use either a Tiagra 50w or even an 80w loaded with 37kg line.

In finishing off the setup, tie a double in the line and attach either a 150lb-200lb wind-on leader. Some anglers prefer not to use a wind-on, and would rather a long plaited double.

The use of the wind-on provides better abrasion resistance than just the double and makes it easier to trace the fish to the boat as the leader is thicker, unlike when trying to hold into just the doubled mainline.

Either way, on the end of the double or the wind-on, you need to attach a heavy-duty snap swivel. On the double, this can be attached via a cats paw knot while on the wind-on, the swivel can be crimped.


Choosing which tuna lures to buy is always a conundrum that is not solved easily. It makes more sense to buy a good dozen lures and be done with it. This also gives you the opportunity in switching lures while out on the water to see if the fish favour a specific colour, size or lure action.

Your pack should include different length lures, diving depths, actions and colours.


There is much more to rigging lures than just banging on a set of hooks and heading offshore. Lures need to be rigged right so they perform in the water as well as offer you the confidence that nothing is going to go wrong when battling a fish.

Hardbody lures all come stock standard with a set of treble hooks – most do anyway.

Experience tells me that trebles and big fish result in disaster. The fish can bend trebles quite easily, so it is best to remove these and replace with single inline hook either on the belly or just on the rear. Though you can use two inline hooks, I advise against it. If a fish gets both hooks in each corner of their jaw and flexes to rid the hooks, one can tear out or buckle. Using one hook is the best approach.

Some hardbodied lures don’t swim properly either and while this could be from any branded lure, knowing how to rectify this is very important. Most lures pull out of the water for a few reasons. Either you have attached the snap swivel directly to the lures tow point, which doesn’t allow the lure to freely move enough or the tow point on the lure is bent and needs straightening. Other factors can include anglers tying the lure onto the leader with a knot that will also cause it to pull out.

I have found that by attaching a 1m length of 170lb single strand wire, with each end containing a haywire twist, you can solve this problem. Occasionally, it won’t, which will then require you to check the tow point and or just change the entire lure. Sometimes, after a tuna hits the lure, it can cause them never to swim correctly again and you will have to replace it in the spread.

Skirted lures on the other hand need full rigging. For tuna, I take a 2.5m length of 150-200lb leader. On one end, tie a Flemish eye and crimp. Slide the lure onto the leader and thread on two crimps. Place a hook onto the leader and tie another Flemish eye to secure the hook and measure out the crimps doubling the leader over. The lure should be spaced so the hook’s barb is just inside the end of the skirt.

Crimp tight with each end of the crimp flaring out so not to damage the leader.

Start your troll

There are many ways to rig for tuna and each angler might do it different to another, but many use the same or similar rigging processes as outlined above.

Regardless of how you rig up for tuna, ensure one thing, that you’re confident it will hold together once a fish takes the lure - especially if it’s a big one!

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