The big blue train
  |  First Published: May 2003

Since the demise of inshore yellowfin tuna, primarily at the hands of the domestic longline fleet, the northern bluefin or longtail tuna is the only realistic big tuna that LBG anglers can target along the NSW coast.

Arriving in late February/March, longtails can be caught through to August on the North Coast and until June on the South Coast. The peak time to be targeting blues on the North Coast is from April to June, with the hotspots at the entrances to big rivers. Ballina, Evans Head, Iluka and Dunbogan fall into this category, while prominent headlands that fish have to skirt on their migratory travels along the coast are also good platforms.

Regularly fished and successful North Coast bluefin headlands include Mutton Bird Island and the Southern Breakwall at Coffs Harbour, Korogoro Point at Hat Head, Hungry Head near Hat Head, Point Perpendicular near Kew, Booti Booti, Charlotte Head and Cape Hawke near Foster, the lighthouse at Seal Rocks and the most popular spot of all, Tomaree Headland at Port Stephens.

On the South Coast, the fishing is nowhere near as consistent but each season bluefin are caught at Blow Hole Point and Marsdens Headland at Kiama, Big Beecroft, Outer Diamond and Devils Gorge near Jervis Bay, Tura Head near Merimbula and Green Cape near Eden.

The ingredients that make a successful bluefin possie include influence of the East Coast Current, reasonable water depth and large schools of baitfish including slimey mackerel, yellowtail and the bluefin tuna’s favourite meal of all, garfish.

Unlike other large ocean-going fish, bluefin will throw all caution to the wind when a meal is on offer and will happily travel and feed in water that is shallow, breaking, stirred up and full of fresh. Longtails are about as close as you can get to the top of the inshore food chain and any tailor angler who’s been spooled in a matter of minutes when throwing a lure or ganged pillie/gar across their favourite wash has probably unwittingly locked horns with a rampaging northern blue.

Talk to any regular surfer who knows their fish species well and they’ll generally have plenty of stories about sitting out the back waiting for a wave when a school of massive tuna blew up all around them. At the start of each new LBG season it’s generally my surfer mates who fill me in on the movements and frequency of longtail schools.


There’s nothing that these land-loving tuna enjoy more than travelling and feeding along the backs of long, open beaches. It’s no surprise that some of the best bluefin ledges are on the southern ends of long, south-east-extending beaches, Korogoro Point at Hat Head being a classic example.

The best conditions for longtails generally coincide with overcast skies and stirred-up water. Given the relatively shallow water these fish like to feed in, washes allow for better ambushes and seem to make the fish active outside the early morning and late afternoon low-light periods.

On sunny days it can pay to position your baits near any areas of surface foam or aerated water. When fishing from steep headlands, drifting your bait along the edges of shadows can be a successful strategy.

When live-baiting for longtails 6kg to 10kg tackle will pull most fish up. Use 20kg to 40kg leader attached to a quality 6/0 or 7/0 live-bait hook to stand up to the abrasive teeth and tail-slapping of a big tuna over an extended fight.

I prefer to use a cork but when I need a wider drift or when using really big slimies, I’ll switch over to a balloon attached to roughed up 2kg mono. Most LBG angler’s factor a couple of rod lengths of double into their rigging, as well as a quality game swivel. Swivel-free wind-on leader systems are handy but I find that line twist makes them generally impractical when using active baits like slimies.

If you’re setting your rods up in ratchet free-spool and kicking back waiting for a run, make sure your rods are tied with safety lines. Even in free spool, bluefin have been known to hit so hard that rods get launched into the drink, particularly from PVC rod holders.

Once hooked bluefin will take hundreds of metres of line on the opening run and then arc back to the rocks. This can mean that they’ll take you around distant headlands and bommies. Extra rod pressure will occasionally cause a fish to change its course but often more drag just makes a fish travel in even quicker.

In my experience the only way to change a longtail’s arc direction is to throw the reel into controlled free spool, keeping slight thumb pressure on the lip of the spool.

The alternative to live-baiting for bluefin is to throw big metal lures or poppers. Many North Coast anglers in search of bluefin and Spanish mackerel find that lure-tossing is a more active and satisfying way of targeting these exciting sportfish.



Korogoro Point at Hat Head is a top spot to take northern bluefin on lures.


Hungry Head, with its washes adjacent to deep water, is a good live-bait possie.


The reason some anglers act like mountain goats – a prime LBG northern bluefin.


After hook-up a northern blue will peel off hundreds of metres of line and then arc back towards the rocks.

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