Tuna on Fly – champagne flyfishing
  |  First Published: May 2005

It’s a great time of year for those of us who love to chase tuna with fly tackle.

There’s nothing quite like the buzz you get when you approach a melee of churning baitfish and your fly is taken hard in a prolonged pull by a tuna. The take is usually gentle and the line runs in the one direction for at least 200m, and what happens after that comes down to tactics, tackle and angler experience.

The summer of 2004/2005 has been a generous one for tuna chasers in Southeast Queensland. The northern blue (longtail) tuna started in Moreton Bay and off the Sunshine Coast before Christmas, then went into a bit of a decline during the strong southerly winds of January and re-emerged in late February. These fish should still be around during May and beyond, so let’s have a look at some tactics to put the required bend in the fly rod.

Necessary equipment

Finding the fish and taking the fly to them is the name of the game, and you may need to cover a fair bit of water to see the dipping birds and surface slashing that is the trademark of tuna in action.

Once you have sighted the fish, resist the urge to open the throttle on the outboard and head for the action. Few tuna will tolerate the sound of a high speed engine approaching, and northern blues are especially touchy. Ease the boat in just on the plane to around 70m and then ghost in as quietly as possible from that point. An electric motor can be a real bonus to aid in the final approach, but sometimes the fish will move off anyway. It all comes down to just how touchy the fish are on the day. Most times, I rely on the quietness of my 90 E-Tec to get us in for a shot, but there are times when I’m happy to use the bow mount Minn Kota as well.

It’s vital that you have the correct tackle. The rod is especially important and I consider a 10wt as the best all-round rod for tuna. Distance casts, sometimes into wind, are the norm and a 10wt rod will allow you to make long casts while having plenty of power for playing a big fish.

A good quality rod will deliver the sort of results required on these very strong fish, and my current favourite is the G.Loomis GLX Cross Current. After field-testing a Cross Current two seasons back I promptly purchased one and it’s been my first choice of rod since then, whether I’m chasing barra, tuna or Murray cod.

A suitable fly line for tuna can be any 10wt line providing it is a clear intermediate sink line. The Scientific Angler’s Tropicore Striped Bass series is the market leader, but other manufacturers also provide excellent lines for the job. Remember that tuna can easily see fly lines in the air, and if just one fish in the school panics after spotting the fly line, the rest of the school will follow it. Stick with a clear line, regardless of the brand.

Your tuna reel requires a large capacity and should hold a fly line plus 300m of 50lb Bionic Braid backing. Bionic Braid is the favoured backing, although any high-strength braid of a limp nature will be fine as backing. Don’t forget to liberally superglue the first 10m or so to the spool so that the whole darned lot doesn’t spin around the arbor during a tug of war with a big fish. The drag on the reel must work faultlessly because tuna run hard and long. Any stickiness in the drag, or a malfunction, will cause you to lose fish, and often your entire $130 fly line with it.

An easy leader consists of 1.5m of 44lb (20kg) Siglon fluorocarbon, 0.5m of 33lb (15kg) Siglon and the final tippet of 0.5m of 8kg Siglon. Siglon is fairly stiff, which helps to turn over the flies, and is very abrasion resistant to stand up to the rigours of a long fight.


You’ll need to have at least three sizes of fly in your tuna fly box. I make my small baitfish imitations on size 2 Gamakatsu SL 12S hooks. Mid-size flies I tie on Gamakatsu SL 12 S size 1 hooks and larger flies I tie on the SL 12S 2/0s. My flies are simple Deceiver-style flies using synthetic materials exclusively.


It’s fairly easy to get a boat to within 50m of a school of tuna, but it’s much harder to get within 20m – fly casting range – without spooking them. Stealth is the trick. And forget about trying to beat another boat to a feeding school. If another boat is roaring up to the action, leave them to it. It’s far better to locate another work-up of fish and approach quietly.

If it all goes to plan and the work-up is close enough for you to detect the smell of chopped up baitfish in the air, cast the fly into the action and strip it back as quickly as possible while making sure there will be no foul-ups when the fish lights up the afterburners.

Incidentally, tuna take a fly gently at first and only fry the fingers with the fly line once they realise they’re hooked. Don’t be afraid to set the hook during the first run, either. It’s far better to drop an improperly hooked fish right then than to lose it after 20 minutes’ work on it.

Retrieved fly line needs to go onto an uncluttered and open surface. If you don’t have one, make it so by throwing a bit of shade cloth over whatever is likely to foul the fly line. During the first hard run, watch your clothing, especially the cuff buttons on your shirt. Fly line or backing can jam up here, resulting in an instant break-off.

On fly tackle tuna tend to be very dour and stubborn fighters, but they can be worn down without too much trouble if you make best use of the boat. By keeping downcurrent of the fish you can make sure the fish is always fighting the tidal flow and not the angler. If the fish starts to circle under the boat, move off smartly and plane the fish up gradually. This tactic will throw the fish off balance, and after this has happened a couple of times the tuna will come to the surface and start to flounder. At this point it’s just a matter of time before the fish comes to the boat.

Then it’s your decision whether to take your tuna home for sashimi or turn it loose. If you want to keep the fish, bleed it well and then ice it down as soon as possible.

For Southeast Queensland fly anglers, tuna are indeed champagne fishing at this time of year. They provide top-shelf sight fishing and are very worthy opponents.

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