In last month’s issue I discussed the tackle and approach required to catch a tuna on fly. So you already know about using a 9 or 10 weight rod and small baitfish style flies, as well as the need to approach quite slowly to get close enough for a cast into the tuna school. Then it comes down to plenty of speed in the retrieve to excite a fish into doing his part.
So what’s next? The hook-up of course, and the fight that’s going to follow it!
With the fly being stripped rapidly through the school of working fish, you will either see a fish chase it down and grab it with a visible splash, or you will suddenly feel the fly line drawing tight but most curiously, not with any particular hurry. Strange that, from such a big fish!
In reality, we are looking at two different scenarios here. In the first case the tuna has chased the fly down and as he grabs it, the angler, seeing the swirl and splash of the take, will usually strip strike to set the hook. Nine times out of ten the tuna then gallops off quick smart with a powerful run and the angler must be ready for this adrenalin pumping experience.
In the second instance, where the fly line has drawn smoothly tight, the chances are that the tuna is doing his best to continue feeding with his mates for a bit. I have experienced this a few times and it’s quite perplexing to realize that a 6-8kg fish has taken the fly but does not seem to understand that it’s hooked.
I can assure you though that it won’t last long. All of a sudden there will be a terrific wrench as the tuna suddenly accelerates to blistering speed for a couple of hundred metres.
The key to dealing with both situations is simply not to panic. Make sure the fly line can get out through the rod guides smoothly and if there is a bit of fly line lying about the place it might pay to make a little loop with the fingers to it to get out through the stripping guide. Once the loose fly line has gone and the braid backing is zipping out with a zinging noise things start to become a bit less hectic. Only a bit less hectic, note.
Next thing, the tuna will suddenly stop a few hundred metres away for a small spell, maybe a headshake or three, and then continue its efforts. Sometimes they charge off again at a different angle. Other times they whiz straight back towards the boat and if the motor has not been left running at the initial hook-up, then by the time the engine is started and boat kicked into gear the tuna will most likely be gone.
It doesn’t always happen like this of course. Often the fish will stay connected as it should and after a few controlled runs and bit more head shaking the tuna will allow the angler to pump him back, or perhaps motor slowly up to him while line is retrieved.
There will be a sighting. Cries of “look at the size of that!” ring out between angler and fishing mates and then all of sudden the tuna will sound, going straight down under the boat and commence to circle slowly. Beginners might think that this is fine, that you can simply pump the fish back up again, but this is not going to happen quickly.
Once under the boat those big wide pectoral fins are set fully out and the tuna just glides around circling while regaining strength. Meanwhile, the fisho on the fly rod will be almost pulling his or her arms out of their sockets for only the slightest gain in line. And woe of woes, after the tuna has a breather things get suddenly worse – the fish starts to take line!
To prevent your quarry from circling and regaining strength, once the tuna dives under the boat and starts to circle, loosen the drag a bit and slowly motor off for a hundred metres or so. This tactic allows the angler to regain the upper hand and control the fish.
The fish will likely make a few runs and then slowly be drawn back to the boat to circle on the surface. This surface circling denotes the beginning of the end of the fight but just be careful that the fish is not using available current or wave action to its advantage or the fight will be longer than it needs to be. Keep the boat down current if you can to prevent this.
A beaten tuna will turn side on and although it may still try to circle, it can be fairly well steered by the angler. Only then should it be led to the net or gaff. It pays to be very careful with the fly rod during the last part of the fight because if the rod touches the gunwale while loaded hard there is every chance of the manufacturer’s warranty being put to the test.Reads: 449