Tuna Plastics Basics
  |  First Published: April 2008

From reader feedback my recent articles on Texas rigging plastics for saltwater fishing scenarios, such as snapper in the bay or offshore, have all been well received. I’ve especially enjoyed the enthusiasm shown by new readers who weren’t around when the topic was last covered.

I’ve been writing soft plastic tuna articles for more than five years now, but there are still questions that need answers. Some of these questions readers have recently asked me include, when do I use jigheads? And what about longtail tuna and mac tuna? For me both questions have the same answer.

In my March QFM rigging article I wrote about the unweighted 7” Assassin Texas rig which I recommended for surface fishing for longtail tuna. Of course this is not the only rig that I use when chasing tuna. The tuna season in South East Queensland is happening right now, so if I was rigging up to go tuna fishing tomorrow there would be three basic soft plastic lures that I’d start with.


For mac tuna my go-to lure is a 3” clear with gold fleck Slider T-Tail (aka Bass Grub) that I rig on a ‘corkscrew’ 3/8oz jighead made by Assassin. For longtail tuna the option is either a clear or semi-clear 4” straight tailed shad. I also rig this lure on the Assassin SL JA7405 3/8oz chartreuse painted jighead.

As an alternative for longtail tuna, I’ll also carry a rod rigged with the unweighted 7” jerkbait, preferably in a colour that has some pearl or white in it. Some days the surface unweighted option is more productive on the longtail tuna, other days the jighead option works best. You won’t know till you get out there and see the behaviour of the fish.


Surface fishing for tuna is the most fun, and surface fishing for tuna with 7” soft plastic shads is the easiest surface fishing method. Longtail tuna are most receptive to surface soft plastic presentations when they are very active and jumping out of the water (rather than when they are boiling below the surface).

The ideal retrieve with the unweighted plastic is to simply point the rod tip in the air at about 45 degrees and wind the lure back across the surface at a fast enough pace to have the lure skipping across the surface with its tail in the water just enough to keep the tail wiggling from side to side. Ideal colours include pearl, crystal shad and mullet.

The selection of the lure here is interesting. Get in your local tackle shop and compare the various big straight tailed plastics. You’ll find the 7” Assassin is longer than some other 7” lures and because of this you’ll find it slightly heavier. Being heavier it casts further and that’s what you need when chasing tuna. Also you don’t want lures that are too stiff.


When the longtails are at their fussiest, my go-to lure is a jighead rigged 4” straight tailed shad. I like the 4” shads that come in clear colours, such as clear, opening night, or pinfish.

The brand of 4” straight tail shad doesn’t seem to be too critical for actual fish catching. I am however partial to the corkscrew jighead. By ‘screwing’ the plastic onto the hook you achieve a very secure connection, which means that the lure doesn’t bunch up into the gape of the hook during the retrieve. And the lure is more likely to stay on the hook during the fight so that you just have to straighten it up a little on the hook and it’ll be ready to get back in the fray to catch another fish.

The ideal retrieve for tuna starts just after the lure lands on the water. While retrieving, turn the reel handle at a medium to fast pace and you should also scribe a circle with the rod tip, which has the effect of pulsing the lure, fast – slower – fast – slower. Whether you rotate the rod tip clockwise or anticlockwise depends on how you are standing in your boat, whether you have the rod tip pointing downwards at an angle or not, and if you are winding your spin reel left-handed or right-handed. In reality it doesn’t matter, just so long as the rod tip rotates and the action is imparted to the plastic.

I recommend S10 rods (both the Egrell and the Egrell Bear) for this tuna spinning, but I mention it here for the new chums. As far as reel choices go, that Penn Slammer 560 I’ve been raving about is still going strong and I’ve heard of tackle shops doing some good deals on this combo and a spool of 30lb braid. A rod length of Platypus Fluorocarbon Stealth Leader in 30-40lb and you’ll be in business. The Platypus Stealth Leader has superior knot strength unlike some fluorocarbon so that’s why I like it.


Lots of soft plastic lures can be used to catch mac tuna including the 4” clear straight tails that I mentioned in the longtail tuna section. But when the mac tuna are in a fussy mood we’ve found that the smaller 3” plastic does the trick. The 3” Slider in clear with gold fleck is our go-to lure in this situation.

We rig this lure behind a corkscrew jighead because the corkscrew secures the lure to the hook. You could use super glue but here we are keeping it simple and less messy. The hook size in the corkscrew jigheads available in Australia I find to be perfect for the 3” Sliders and 4” Assassins.

The retrieve and the tackle for mac tuna is much the same as for the jighead longtail technique. You can go lighter if you like but since mac tuna and longtail often hang out in the same area, the ‘keep it simple’ philosophy allows you to carry one ‘gun’ for both.

These days we use 30-40lb braid and fight the fish from a stationary boat rather than chasing the fish all over the bay. Of course, having a walkaround style boat helps in this regard so centre consoles and true walkarounds are still the choice for the most serious of lure spinners.

The S10 rods have much more power in the butt than anything else in the market I have used. Go to a tackle store that sells a wide range of brands, corner the knowledgeable salesperson and get them to show you a range of brands and you can then make up your own mind. Just remember to get in early and if you find you like the S10 then don’t put it down. S10’s are regularly on backorder due to demand – they don’t last too long once they hit the rack and some stores have delivery orders for months ahead.

For the record, the builders of S10’s are good friends of mine, as are the builders of many other brands of rods, so I could use whatever I want (I gave up being sponsored by one brand name long ago). For bluewater plastic fishing, for tunas and snapper and other reefies I’ll choose a S10.

Now is tuna time, and there are my tips; for where to catch them check out the tackle store advice or you can dig up my old QFM article on spots to find tuna in the bay. Fish On!

The three go-to options (from left to right): A clear with gold fleck 3” slider (bass grub) rigged on an Assassin corkscrew jighead for mack tuna; A clear 4” straight tail assassin also rigged on an Assassin corkscrew jighead for longtail tuna; A crystal shad coloured 7” Assassin which we rig unweighted for surface longtail.

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