With so many fishos now using lures to target their fish, the art of bait fishing, especially with live bait, is often neglected.
When I was a lot younger many anglers spent much of their spare time from January to May in search of longtail tuna. Once you have seen the speed at which they can empty a reel of line, you can understand why they are considered the torpedos of the sea.
There also comes a time when many fishos feel the need to go in search of some sort of hard-core rock fishing. Hooking a longtail tuna from the rocks really allows you to feel what LBG (land-based game) fishing is all about. For anyone wishing to give this style of fishing a go, here are some basics of LBG longtail tuna.
Many rods and reels will do the job but you must ensure you are using the right ones for both your line class and the area you are fishing. A rod from 7’ to 10’ is ideal with the 7’ making the fight easier, although the 10’ makes landing and turning a tuna at the gaff a lot easer.
The reel must hold at lest 300m of 15kg line with the ideal reel holding 400m-plus. Line capacity is important when you hook a large tuna or the mackerel, cobia or marlin that are ‘by-catch’. Most tuna around 15kg will take 150m to 200m on a big run.
You can’t chase a big fish from the stones so if you don’t have the line capacity there is a good chance you will regularly see the knot at the bottom of your spool.
As you go down to 10kg and lower you will need more line, 500m or more.
For all-round fishing from the rocks I use a 10’ custom rod with a high-speed overhead reel that holds 300m of 15kg braid with a top shot of 250m of 15kg mono.
There are two types of gaffs used, the home-made length of bamboo around 4m to 5m long with a large gaff hook bound on the end and the aluminium gaff that can be bought in any good tackle shop. This one has two pieces that screw together to become around 3.6m, with the option of adding additional sections to make it longer.
Whatever gaff you use, make sure it is sharpened before each trip and has a protective cover over the hook point.
There are a few different ways to keep your bait alive, the most popular being a good bucket with an aerator. This method is good for short trips or when the bait is hard to catch.
I prefer a small child’s swimming pool around 1m in diameter and 30cm high. This gives a large surface area to oxygenate the water and if you intend to keep a large amount of bait to last the whole day, an aerator will be necessary.
Another method is to use a big sheet of thick plastic folded several times and then find somewhere you can place it to make a small pool. Don’t use dark plastic like black or blue because it will heat the water faster and your bait will not survive as long.
At most spots the bait will be easier to catch in the early morning or on a rising tide so the need to keep the bait alive all day is usually great.
This is a very personal part of your fishing gear and all fishos are different so I will just run through the gear I prefer.
You want a hook that will not break under pressure but not so thick that it weighs down and kills your livie.
The Mustad Demon light-gauge circle hooks in sizes 6/0 to 9/0 are perfect for this style of fishing. The fish stay hooked, unlike some of the hooks that tend to pull out during a hard fight. The circle hook will usually embed in the corner of the tuna’s mouth and is ideal if you have a rod set on the rocks.
I fish 10kg to 15kg line classes to give myself a chance with the big fish. Mono line has the advantage of stretch and will not pull hooks through the fight, as braid often can, and has a higher abrasion resistance around rocks. Braid is thinner and you can use smaller and lighter reels for the same line capacity. Braid also floats and is easier to maintain a good drift.
Recently I have been experimenting with using both by tying a 20m to 50m piece of braid between my float and mono main line. This has given me the advantage of a floating line and the stretch of mono through the main part of the fight.
The only down side is that there is another knot in the line and unless this is well-tied, it can be a weak point. It has amazed me how fast I can achieve and maintain a good drift and now the braid top shot has become a standard practice for all my live-baiting from the rocks.
I use 2m of 40lb to 80lb leader like Jinkai or Vanish, hard leaders with good abrasion resistance, tied to the main line with a double uni knot. This is where you slide your float onto the leader using a stopper bead between the float and the uni knot.
Any type of torpedo float will do the job but a thin-profile float will create less drag through the water and less pressure on your line. Now tie your chosen hook on and your live-bait rig is ready to fish.
Berley is essential when fishing places like breakwalls because it brings all the baitfish to your feet. A good berley mix is made from chook pellets, bran or bread with fish oil and water mixed to make the mush easily delivered to the water.
A good berley trail starts with a large amount in the desired area, then constant small amounts throughout the day. This will generate more quality live bait and it will be available consistently. It will also attract and hold the tuna in the longer, allowing you the opportunity to get that hook-up.
Some baitfish are better than others but they all have their day.
If the tuna are feeding close to the surface then sea gar and slimy mackerel are going to be a great bait. If it is early in the morning or an overcast day and the tuna are feeding deeper in the water column then slimy mackerel, yellowtail and school whiting are good options.
On days when baitfish are rare and hard to catch, thinking outside the box can produce. I have caught tuna using butterfish, soft plastic lures rigged on the edge of the wash under a float, and river-caught mullet.
There are two main methods to catch live bait in most areas.
The best one is a conventional sabiki-type bait jig which will produce good slimy mackerel and yakkas, especially if used in a berley trail. Small pieces of bait on each hook will increase your chances and, when fishing the bottom, will produce school whiting before daybreak.
The other method is to catch sea gar using a float and a No 12 long-shank hook. Use 30cm to 1m of very light leader (3lb to 6lb) because gar can become line-shy.
It is best to use a sliding pencil float on the main line. The sliding float gives you more feel and stops the gar from feeling the weight of the float when biting.
Don’t use weighted floats or sinkers on the line, they create more weight that will put the gar off.
You need bread or peeled prawns as bait to catch sea gar although I find a small piece of apple is also good bait.
Some of the hottest spots to fish for LBG longtail tuna are the many breakwalls that protrude from the entrances of most big northern river systems.
The Clarence River has one of the best, with over 500m of north-facing fishable ledges. This can be a big advantage when the southerly wind is blowing or the fish are on and spots where you can fish are scarce.
Once you have picked an area to fish, finding the spot that has the bait is important. As the old saying goes, find the bait and you find the fish. If you find the bait, the tuna will come to you.
You can make this job easier with a good berley mix but finding the spot that the bait is naturally attracted to is important.
You will have no choice when you hook up on a longtail tuna but to allow it to run and most fish will run harder when you apply more drag pressure.
Some fishos believe that less drag pressure is best on that first big run. I believe that you should set you drag and then leave it alone.
Some tuna will take a lot of line while others won’t, but you have less chance of losing the fish if you use the same drag pressure throughout the fight.
Never try to stop a tuna run by tightening the drag. Once you set the drag, leave it alone.
The only time you should touch the drag is when a fish has taken a big run and the drag pressure has increased due to less line on the spool. At this point the drag should be backed off a little until you retrieve some line.
Turning a tuna before the rocks is not hard once you know how. The right technique will depend on the type of line used (mono or braid) and the length of the rod.
Short rods and braided lines mean you may need to free-spool the fish when it approaches the rocks to put the fish off balance and allow it to turn away from you.
Never give the tuna loose line; always keep a little pressure on.
Mono line will also need to be free-spooled but with a longer rod you can use the stretch in the line and the length of the rod to do the same job. Simply drop the rod tip back to the fish when it is on the back of a wave and the water pressure will help turn the tuna.
The long rod and mono line will finish the fight faster because you don’t give away any line when turning the fish – but you need a good back to last the distance.
Rock fishing is dangerous at the best of times so safety must always come first. Always fish with a mate because landing and gaffing tuna by yourself can be very dangerous.
Shoes, clothes, hat, sunscreen, food and water are all important if you wish to enjoy the day. Shoes are for good grip on the rocks, light clothes in case you end up in the water – they make swimming out a lot easier.
A good hat and sunscreen stop sunburn and those trips to the doctor later in life. Food is for the days when the fish make you wait long hours in between bites and water is to maintain your hydration levels and concentration.
Most people believe longtail tuna are not worth eating but I think they are good if you bleed and put them on ice or clean them straight away and keep them out of the sun.
The big problem with longtails is that the longer the fight, the less chance of good quality meat. The tuna’s core body temperature can rise throughout a long fight and without ice to bring that down, the quality of the meat will suffer.
So to ensure your catch is good meat, bleed the tuna, pack up your gear and leave so you can clean and ice down the fish.
If you look after your catch it will produce quality fillets but remember, never wash the fillets in freshwater, only in clean saltwater.
Longtail is one of the best fish to marinate. Use a store-bought marinade or a home-made blend of soy, honey and sweet chilli. A few hours is all it takes to take up the flavour or overnight if you prefer a strong taste. Then it’s into a hot pan or my favourite, the barbecue. Serve with a salad or on a bed of rice.
• For a good drift, dress your line with Vaseline so it floats or use styrofoam chunks.
• Fish a rising tide in the morning for best results.
• Try using a different bait when fishing in a group.
• Pick a good safe gaff spot and bring the fish to the gaff.
• Keep safe at all times.
1 cup soy sauce
1-2 tablespoons honey, to taste
2-4 tablespoons sweet chilli sauce, to taste
1 teaspoon of olive oil (optional)
Cut tuna fillets across the grain into steaks, marinate at least two hours, longer for a stronger taste.
Cook on barbecue hot plate or in skillet for 1-2 minutes a side.
Serve with salad or rice and beer.
Hook, leader, float and main line
Hook, line, pencil float and line
Hook, leader, float, braid line and main mono line