A mate of mine, a keen fisherman with lots of Moreton Bay experience asked me recently if I could point him in the direction of a few spots to chase “blues” in Moreton Bay.
The term “blues” can mean a lot of species in the global fishing sense, but in Moreton Bay it means Northern Bluefin Tuna, the former title of the fish that now goes by the name of longtail tuna (Thunnus tonggol).
My immediate response was that’d be easy. Then I realized I’d have to narrow it down to the most likely spots from amongst many, otherwise we’d both get confused. My family and I have probably caught tuna in every part and corner of the bay imaginable. From south of Peel Island, west of Gilligan's Banks, and north as far as you’d go. Eastern options include Moreton Island around to Cape Moreton and the Rainbow Channel down to Stradbroke. In addition, we’ve caught them every month of the year.
I wouldn’t be lying if I looked out across the bay from any mainland vantage point, waved my arms to imitate a witch casting a spell over a boiling pot, and said, “Longtail…you’ll find them anywhere out there.” I may not be lying, but there’s a risk of sending a friend on a wild goose chase. Only the truth, the whole truth, would suffice.
So here’s what I told him and as well a copy of the mud map I sketched in the dirt at our feet that day.
Looking at the annual seasonal pattern when tuna move into the bay is a good place to start second guessing where they’ll be at. Additionally, last-minute pre trip updates from your local fishing tackle store (where the guy behind the counter actually fishes the bay) or sportfishing club are worth their weight in gold. Combining these pieces of information will give you a good place to start. In turn, once you’ve planned where you intend to fish, you can then work out which launching ramp is the closest to the spot that suits your purpose.
Generally, longtail tuna start to move into the bay both from the north and also along the Rainbow Channel. The main push, though, moves in around the end of the calendar year and there’ll hopefully always be many waves of reinforcements behind them.
The main body of tuna will move into the Northern Bay and even inside the bay sometime over summer. It’s a bit hard to predict them more definitely than that. It may be January. But if they aren’t in by the first month of the year then you can start laying bets that February will surely see the schools head down the shipping channels in numbers.
Look for them out from Bribie in February in the NW (northwest) channel around the M3 beacon. This is fairly predictable if there are a lot of typical summer NE winds combined with baitfish that the tuna can push up against the wide banks.
In a textbook year the longtail start to push their way into the bay somewhere between the middle and the end of summer (although there will be schools of them around all year, and some years I’ve seen them well inside the bay en masse by late January).
Quite often you’ll find schools of longtail along the inside of the Spitfire banks and then between this area and further across towards the shipping channel.
Initially the fish concentrate in the area marked by the NW12 and M2 beacons where the shipping channels intersect. Longtail can be found up and down the main shipping channel along the inside of Moreton Island, often along the edges of the channel where they use the dropoffs as natural barriers against which they herd up the baitfish.
Any strong SE winds (remember the fish often move into the wind), will see the longtail congregate in the Main Channel, which is the area between the M2 and M3 beacons, particularly if the bait also gathers there.
When the tuna push in seriously they’ll wander up the Pearl Channel from where they invade the central bay region loosely bounded by the red buoy to the Measured Mile. Asthe winds change more SW (offshore winds) early in the day, often around April, the tuna may hold in the triangular area between the M8 beacon, Measured Mile at the river’s mouth and the Pearl Drum (red buoy).
When the days get shorter, and the land temperatures cooler, the westerly breezes become even more dominant and with the tuna feeding into the wind you will start to find the tuna feeding in close to the beach along the eastern side of Bribie Island.
In such conditions they may even enter Bramble Bay and Deception Bay or close in to the Redcliffe Peninsula. But by far the most notable of the winter bites occurs along the full length of Bribie Island where the tuna can come in as close as the surf line and / or be scattered throughout this area across to the beacons that line the sides of the shipping channel. When the tuna line up along the lee of the island it suits smaller boats and all techniques including fly casting.
At the same time that the longtails move into the Northern Bay you can expect that they’ll also be moving into the Rainbow Channel. The pattern from there is a little more obvious as they essentially do the same thing and move along the obvious passageways around the islands and sand banks. From the opening between Moreton and Stradbroke they’ll wander into and around Peel Island, east of and to the area north of Mud Island (known in the old days as the Greasy Hole), the Paddock around the four Beacons, and along Shark Spit. The best times in this middle section of the bay are often from April through to June… but as I’ve already mentioned, patches of them can turn up at any time of the year.
Tuna will feed on most of the tides, but you will find that the incoming tide is often the most productive in all of these areas. The odds are that you will find most fish close to the drop-offs as these areas will hold the bait more tightly.
Peak feeding times for best results are usually between sunrise and 11:00am and then from 2:00pm to sundown. The light angle into the water during these times is not as harsh and there is regularly a definite drop off in fish activity during the middle of the day. It’s also a fair call that the afternoon bite times regularly produce more and better quality fish.
You can expect a change in feeding behaviour when the current slows, stops and then changes at the turn of each tide. It isn’t always predictable but you can generalize that as the tide slows and stops the baitfish are more likely to scatter around, and this may generate more spasmodic feeding from the longtail and other pelagics for an hour or so. Having said this, I also have experienced many situations where the change in tide just happened to coincide with a hot bite with larger schools presenting themselves for easy approaches and willing hook-up participants.
The laws of second guessing longtail behaviour are definitely not set in stone – these rough rules of thumb will make you sound like you know what you are talking about, the latest update from the local tackle shop will put you closer to the spot and then its up to you on the day. I’ll stick my neck out and say that there’s no GPS secret–spot X when chasing longtail on lures. But as I wave my arms around to cover the whole bay I’ll say, ”they’re out there somewhere” – and you can quote me on that!
Sketch Map (Booth to draw)
1. Eric with a tuna caught out on Moreton Bay.
2. Another Tuna caught by Eric.
3. A longtail caught with Pink Booga flyer.
4. The first longtail for Deb hauled aboard.Reads: 11760