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Bundaberg Pelagics Part 1: Tuna
  |  First Published: November 2008



This is the first part in a three part series that will explain how to catch pelagic fish around Bundaberg. While this article concentrates on Bundaberg and its surrounds these techniques can be used to catch these fish all along the Queensland coast.

In Bundy the first species of tuna that arrive in numbers is the mackerel tuna, showing up in the southern waters at the end of August and the beginning of September. They will slowly move north throughout the season and should reach 1770 by late September.

Location

When chasing these speed demons, there aren’t any specific spots you can go to and be assured of catching a tuna, as they are a pelagic fish and move all over the ocean. A good way to spot tuna feeding is to scan the horizon for bird activity; wearing polarised sunglasses will reduce the glare coming off the water and make the birds easier to see. Another sign of fish feeding is the big splashes made when they chase and engulf the frightened baitfish that have been schooled up by the fish. Calm days help when looking for tuna chopping the surface because if there are white caps it gets difficult trying to distinguish between the two.

At the start of the season tuna are spooked very easily and it is hard to cast at the school before they sound. A good way that will often get around this problem is to quietly motor to the front of the school and cast towards the fish. Practising the distance of your casts is also very important because at the start of the season you need to be able to cast 80m and if the boat goes much closer than that the fish will become aware of your presence, stop feeding, and sound away from the boat.

Tuna will usually feed into the wind and this is one way of estimating which direction they are moving. Another way is to sit back for a minute and watch the direction that the birds above are moving. This will be the direction the fish underneath are travelling.

Once you have figured the direction, cast your metal slug towards the leading birds of the flock as this is where the bigger mac tuna will be. Also, if you cast at the front of the school and let your lure sink for 4-6 seconds, and then start your retrieve, you could pick up the bigger longtail tuna (northern bluefin tuna) that are often swimming underneath the mac tuna, feeding off the scraps.

When trying to decide whether there is fish underneath the birds you are watching, look to see if they are circling. This usually means there are fish underneath but they aren’t ready to come to the surface and feed yet. If the birds are just flying without doubling back on themselves, then they’re also just looking for tuna, but it does usually pay to keep an eye out if there is a flock of birds doing this because it means that there were tuna in the area before you arrived. As a general rule of thumb, the height that the birds are above the water is the depth that the tuna are below. When you see this and the fish aren’t feeding on the surface, cast your metal slug towards the birds and let it sink down to where you think the fish are and retrieve the lure as fast as you can.

As the season progresses to early December, you start to see yellowfin tuna show up in better numbers. Yellowfin are the best tasting of all the tuna and pull just as hard as the longtails. By this stage of the season the mac tuna are all over the place and if you are heading to the reef I advise that if you come across a school to catch one or two, as they make great bait for all sorts of reef species.

During the summer months I have had some awesome trips whilst out chasing tuna. One such trip was a quick one out to the wreck of the Barjon and on arrival there were birds working everywhere. Underneath these birds was an array of fish species including cobia, sharks, mackerel and of course tuna. When the water gets warmer around Bundy the fish species move in and it is mayhem every trip!

Tackle

The tackle that is needed to stop these muscular fish needs to be fairly heavy. If you are only chasing the 6kg and under mac and yellowfin tuna all you need is a reel around the 4000 size and a rod with a rating of 6-10kg loaded with 6kg monofilament or braided line.

If you are going to step up to the 10kg+ longtail tuna you will also need to upgrade your gear. To spin for these monsters you will need at least a 10-15kg rod and a reel around the 6000-8000 size loaded with 10-15kg line, rigged with either monofilament or braided line.

To troll for these fish, a reel like the TLD 20 on a 10-15kg rod spooled with 15kg line should do the trick.

If you aren’t into trolling or lure chucking there are a couple of other options available to you.

The first is live baiting. Get the boat drifting or anchored over a school of yakka, or XOS herring, and once you have picked up a few, chuck them out on a lever drag style reel and hold on! Whilst waiting for a fish keep collecting bait for a reef trip or stocking up the freezer. Rig the bait through the back just in front of the dorsal fin and add a size 1-2 running ball sinker just above an 8/0 hook.

Another option is to chase them on fly gear. This style of fishing is loads of fun and can result in some spectacular catches. I like to use an 8/9wt rod with 9wt intermediate line on the smaller fish, and when they get up around the 10kg+ range I will use a 10wt with an intermediate line as they are a completely different fish when compared to the smaller schooling fish. The flies that I have found work well are Surf Candies and White Clousers.

Lures/flies/bait

Lures that can be used when casting to all species of tuna are the Gillies Whitebait in 25-40g, the Surecatch Surejig Pilchard 42-c, and various other metal lures before using most metal lures be sure to change the trebles on them because I have found that the stock hooks just don’t handle the pressure of tuna. When trolling for these barrels of muscle, lures like the Rapala X-Raps, CD-18s and also using pink Christmas trees will generally catch fish. When specifically targeting longtail tuna, using a 125mm popper or bigger will see some awesome surface strikes and this method will usually catch the larger sized longies.

Have fun!

So next time you are heading out to go reef fishing take your spin outfit just in case there is some tuna chopping, have a cast into the school. You will be surprised at how fast these demons go and how hard they fight on the way!

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