How to Use Tuna Tubes

Pro tips on installing and using different types of tuna tubes.
Jim Rizzuto
The tuna tube plays a critical role in offshore live-bait fishing. Before this simple invention, crews wanting to fish large live baits had to either rig them up right after capture or stick their baits on the business end of a saltwater wash-down hose to keep water flowing over the baits' gills. Tuna tubes come in a number of varieties, but all share a few key components.
A number of manufacturers offer tuna tubes that are self-contained, attractive and complement a boat's decor. Even though the plumbing may be hidden from view, crews should know the location of key components and saltwater access to quickly diagnose clogs and plumbing leaks.
When catching live bait, crews should work to unhook baits and place them in a tuna tube as quickly as possible. Handle baits gently and always use a de-hooker. This will help your baits live longer.
The key components of a tuna tube are easy to see on this made-in-Kona skiff version, including a large piece of PVC pipe to hold the baits. The tube should be large enough to handle your biggest bait. Pumps below the waterline send clean seawater up into the tube and through the baits' gills, and the water exits via overflow fittings.
The pump has to be strong enough to provide new oxygenated water to the baits as they swim head down against the flow. This little wonder pumps 1,100 gallons per hour.
Some boat owners prefer to keep the plumbing exposed for easy access when designing and installing their homemade tuna tubes.
Clever do-it-yourselfers can save money and enjoy the extra satisfaction of making their own tuna tubes as long as they follow the basic design of saltwater input, storage and release of overflow water.
Depending on your fishing habits, you might be best served by a portable system like this one. This simple section of black pipe uses a flexible intake and outflow plumbing.  This tuna tube can be moved around the deck and easily stowed.  When in use, the crew points the outflow pipe over the gunwale.
Because a white exterior reflects tropical heat and light, the tube doesn't heat up and the water flows through at the same temperature as the surrounding sea. The black interior helps to keep baitfish calm.
The Kona charter boat Hapa Laka uses a combination tuna tube and livewell for small baits like opelu (mackerel scad) and akule (bigeye scad). Both are basic do-it-yourself items that fit on a swim platform and will keep any size baits alive and happy.
Some baits live longer with a bit more space than a tuna tube provides. Mackerel scad remain more comfortable when swimming, and you don't need to force water over their gills. A small baitkeeper like this collapsable canvas bag works well because clean water can come in and circulate.
These custom tubes aboard <i>Cherry Pit II</i> are built to handle tuna but will also hold four or five opelu as well. These smaller baits are perfect for mahimahi.
Large live baits like skipjack tuna work extremely well, but you have to keep them alive and there is no better way to do that than using a tuna tube. This catch of yellowfin was taken on live bait aboard Cherry Pit II. Capt. Bobby Cherry (kneeling) and his clients boated three nice ahi in one day, including a 243-pounder that was the top Kona catch for the year at the time.

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