line peeled from the wide-spool reel at an incredible pace. The angler
struggled to lift the pole from the rod holder and to place it in his previously
strapped on stand-up harness. His companion instantly took over control of the
cockpit, wedging himself between the driver and the controls, and swiftly turned
the boat 180 degrees in pursuit of the line heading off into the distance.
"Don't stop reeling," he instructed, "until you can get some line
back on that spool."
The line was replenishing fast,
but for the time being, he could only recover less than half of the 550 yards
the reel was originally spooled with. "Charlie," the tuna that is, was
not yet finished.
Two hours later, after wearing out 3 men and locking up a new and very
reputable reel, "Charlie" had to be hand lined
in the rest of the
way for the gaff.
Ol' "Charlie," a 117 pound yellowfin tuna, had the odds of being lost
in his favor, if it weren't for quick thinking on the part of an experienced
fisherman aboard that day. Obviously, catching yellowfin tuna can in no way be
equated with catching any inshore species— no matter what size you have
More and more northern
Gulf Coast small-boat anglers are catching on to offshore
species and what the blue water battle zone is all about. Notable places like Venice,
Louisiana, make for easy access to the tuna grounds out of
both Southwest Pass and South Pass
of the Mississippi Delta.
When going after tuna, newcomers
try their luck with much disappointment, but catch on quickly after finding out
the basic how-to and following through.
It’s definitely not a battle with a redfish! Novices discover firsthand that
hardly is there a fish, pound for pound that can peel off 500 yards of 50 pound
test line from a reel in less than 60 seconds— something like snagging onto
the back of a Mack truck speeding down the highway.
These football-shaped, guided missiles are designed by nature to move through the
water with lightning speed. They are literally meat building factories, with a
relatively small head and tail section. Everything in between is finely tuned,
The yellowfin tuna is the most brilliantly colored of tunas, with a poorly defined stripe of golden-yellow on
its upper sides and much bright yellow in most of its fins, hence the name
“yellowfin.” It exhibits white spots and vertical stripes on its lower
sides and has a dark bluish-black upper section.
Off the Louisiana coast, yellowfin tuna commonly reach 60-150
pounds and can reach over 200 pounds. The current state record is 240.19 pounds
caught by Anthony Taormina, March 2005.
Connecting with one of these proficient, elusive predators is perhaps more easily accomplished than
successfully boating one. That's because they have the ability to wear down and
humiliate both the best of tackle and tacklers, seemingly effortlessly.
Yellowfin tuna can be caught basically like many other species: (1) trolling and
(2) casting bait or lures. Trolling, however, seems to be the most popular and
successful method for many anglers.
Compared to the offshore yacht owner, the small-boat owner will need to
dress up a bit more for the encounter— much like a prize fighter preparing for
The first thing one needs in order to catch Ol' “Charlie" is a stand-up harness.
Of course if one has a fighting chair, this
won't be needed. The purpose of the
stand-up harness is to attach the reel and rod to the body. It is basically a
leveraging mechanism to take the long fight off of the arms and to disperse it
onto the back and leg areas.
The section that attaches around
the back has two hook latches for attaching to the reel housing ears. These
straps should be adjusted so that the rod is in about the two-o-clock position
when standing upright. The gimbal belt section should be adjusted to rest on the
upper thighs of the legs.
Once this is all adjusted, the
proper fighting stance will require you to face the fish with legs apart,
bending only at the knees while pivoting forward and moving your body to the
upright position while reeling and pumping the rod. It will take some practice,
but it is not hard to do and is generally caught on to after one long fight.
It is important to place the
gimbal part of the rod butt into the cross bolt or piece in the gimbal belt pole
holster so that the rod butt doesn't twist, holding it firmly against the legs
when fighting a fish.
The next thing you will need is
a good rod, between 5 - 6 ft. in length and rated at least in the 50 lb. class.
The shorter ones will be best and, if you are using it for stand-up fishing,
make sure the rod eyelets are not roller type. Roller eyelets are for use in
fighting chairs. It's okay if there is one roller at the end and/or one ahead of
the reel with the rest being circular type eyelets. Rods with all rollers may
bend or twist when used for stand-up fishing.
A good one-piece reel frame with
ball bearings throughout and a heavy-duty drag system is mandatory. Line
capacity should be no less than 450 yards when using 30 1b. test and 350 yards
when using 50 lb. test. Big game type line should only be used. Always match the
reel with the rod rating. Most reputable sporting goods stores will be happy to
assist you if you let them know what you are going after and how much you want
It is very
important to use a lever type drag reel and to set the specified fighting drag
tension only after the drag clutches have been properly warmed up by pulling
line abruptly from the reel several times at about the drag setting of 410
lbs. (warm-up setting).
This can be accomplished by attaching a snap swivel directly to the line by
means of an improved clinch knot. Then attach a hand-held fish weighing scale to
a fixed object, perhaps a tree or fence post, and affix the snap swivel loop to
the scale hook and set the drag tension to the "warm-up setting"
aforementioned. Warm up the drag clutches by lifting the rod tip up so line is
pulled from the reel while someone reads the scale. Do this several times,
reeling it in and pulling it out by lifting the rod tip, while staying within
the warm-up setting.
Now you are ready to preset the
drag according to the pound test being used. On 50 lb. test, preset the drag
around 10-11 lbs.; on 30 lb. test, preset the drag around 8-9 lbs.
When contending with a yellowfin
tuna, you will fair much better by exercising patients rather than brut
strength. When the equipment is all set and adjusted properly, a person with
minimal strength will be able to contend with the fish for a reasonable time
before wearing out.
Most fish are lost before they
are ever seen, due to impatient drag tighteners. Leave the drag alone after you
have properly set it— unless you are very adept at catching heavyweight
contenders in the open sea. Expect to fight a fish of about 60-80 lbs. on 301b.
test for at least 40-60 minutes— with no lunch break.
While many different trolling
lures catch yellowfin tuna, one of the more preferred lures is the Rapala Magnum
CD 18 or its larger cousin the CD 26. These are deep diving lures with a wide
fin blade in the head section. This is a
tapered, cylindrical, fishlike lure, very effective
in enticing yellowfin to strike, as well as various other species that abound in
the same waters. Ironically, these lures come in various colors but it seems to
matter little to the yellowfin.
What does matter, however, is
the inadequacy of the hooks furnished with the CD 18's. They will not suffice
and need to be changed to the identical size hooks (4/0) but in heavier gauge.
Changing to a different size is not recommended since it will throw the lure
out of balance. The larger version of the Rapala needs no hook alteration.
These lures need to be trolled
between 5 and 6 miles per hour. A good indicator that the lure is moving through
the water properly is by observing the rod tip action. The tip should have a
steady vibration up and down in very short strokes.
Place the lure in the water at
the designated speed and count 1,000, 2,000, 3,000, etc. with spool in free
setting, thumbing it lightly so not to backlash. Count to 25,000 and set the
lever drag to the strike position. Then place it in the rod holder. If more than
one rod is trolled, stagger each by at least a ten count differential to prevent
entanglement. Down riggers may be used but are not normally needed unless you
are trolling in mid to late summer. Always keep at least one flat line— a line
with nothing more than the lure attached.
Once the lines are set out, troll around structures like oil production
platforms in the blue water zone. It’s a good idea to staying 100 yards clear
of production platforms, especially if you are deep trolling. Deep diving lures
trolled with down riggers can hang up on cross pipes from these rigs which
extend out under the water. Circle the
rigs, broadening the circle each time you complete the route.
For rigs less than a mile or so
apart, make figure eight patterns around them broadening the course each time
you complete the route until you find fish. If a good rip line is found, troll
the green water side near its edge but stay clear of floating debris.
You’re not going to flip tuna
into the boat like speckled trout. Thus, other essential items are a
long-handled gaff, kept easily accessible, along with a "subduer"
(club) and a 1/2" nylon rope of about 12-15 ft. in length for lifting the
fish from the water. The latter is not needed, of course, if your boat is
equipped with a boom winch. A 6 inch eye splice should be fashioned at one end
of the hoisting rope so that the opposite end of the rope can pass through the loop for
Once the fish is brought to
gaff, it will be better to place the rope around the narrow section ahead of the
forked tail and pass the length through the loop, pulling it tight rather than
making a lasso and trying to place it over its long forked tail while it's
The fish should be gaffed in an area away from the fishing line and lure. A
miss-gaff can readily set the fish free if it strikes the lure, hooks, or the
taut line. If you are confident, go for the head near the gill area.
If the fish can be lifted and
boated with the gaff by one person, then the lifting rope doesn't have to be
used. In any case, the fish after being gaffed will need to be subdued before it
can be brought aboard, unless you are one to welcome wildly whipping hooks which
can snag someone if not careful.
With the fish securely gaffed,
strike it on top of its head even with its eyes several times until it is
relaxed. Be careful not to strike a hole in the boat.
Be prepared for a big fish!
Don’t find yourself out in the open sea miles from shore with a fish 4 times the size of the
ice chest you brought along. Hence, an 8 x 10 tarpaulin can be used to wrap the
fish in if it is unable to fit into an ice chest. Even better is an insulated
fish bag, normally found through an internet provider rather than at your local Wal-Mart.
Canyon makes some very nice ones and you can do a
search for a source: “Canyon insulated
fish bags.” Ice may be placed around the fish if the trip in will take
more than several hours in hot weather.
Now, with any good fortune,
catching Ol’ “Charlie” will be
Blue Water Boat Launches & Contacts
Venice is about 84 miles south of
at the end of LA 23. This is the location of
Venice Marina (Phone: 985-534-9357) which will give you a number of options
to choose from, once reaching the
heading south. Tiger, South, and Southwest
Passes are the best bets to reach the Gulf.
Fourchon is located south of New Orleans
off of La. Hwy. 1, 12 miles before Grand
Isle. Fourchon is a public boat launch facility with no phone.
Grand Isle is located 110 miles
south of New Orleans at the end of La. Hwy.
Grand Isle Marinas & Bait Stores:
Ol' "Charlie" almost got away from the these
novices if it weren't for an experienced member aboard.
Tuna Gear/Equipment: From left down to right: Club, tarpaulin,
fish scale, hoisting rope, stand-up harness, Penn rod and
reel with Rapala CD 26 lure.
(b) Rapala CD 18 (t) and 26.
Platform & Tuna: Trolling around offshore oil platforms
are prime structures for yellowfin tuna.
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