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Targeting Big Tuna on Spin
How to catch bluefin, yellowfin and bigeye tuna on spinning gear.
Capt. Jack Sprengel
With modern advances in jig-and-pop fishing, the advent of superlines and the latest in high-tech rod materials and construction, spinning outfits have proved as deadly as conventional tackle when targeting larger pelagics. Spinning gear allows the angler to employ a much more dynamic fighting style, which ultimately gives you more control over the fish. Spinning rods have become an integral a part of my operation, but there are definitely a few tricks to tame big tuna on this gear.
Large tuna are no joke on any type of gear, and on my boat, spinning gear usually means the angler does not use a plate or harness. These fighting accessories don't allow the angler to maintain complete control during the fight and drastically reduce maneuverability. Butt-cap cushions are permitted and often required. This is not the best style of fishing to take up if you typically opt for the elevator over the stairs!
Chasing big tuna with spinning gear requires an active angler, experienced with jigging and topwater fishing (jig and pop) as well as properly casting to and fighting fish. Being weaker or inexperienced in any of these areas, will quickly give the tuna the upper hand. Anglers interested in learning to target large tuna on spin will also need to quickly become a master of multiple rigging techniques, knots and crimping.
Necessary rigging and knots include: in-line splices with whipped serves, the <a href="http://www.fishtrack.com/how-to/how-to-tie-the-bimini-twist-fishing-knot_117653" target="_blank">Bimini Twist</a>, Spider Hitch, <a href="http://www.fishtrack.com/how-to/fishing-knots-how-to-tie-a-cats-paw_100495" target="_blank">Cat's Paw</a>, PR Bobbin Knot, GT knot, Offshore Loop, <a href="http://www.fishtrack.com/how-to/how-to-tie-the-bristol-knot-for-fishing-leaders_118322" target="_blank">Bristol Knot</a>, a perfect Palomar Knot and, my personal favorite, the improved <a href="http://www.fishtrack.com/how-to/how-to-tie-the-fg-knot_103606" target="_blank">FG knot</a>. The power that large tuna put on your entire system, from lure hooks to the reel spool, are some of the most intense sportfishing has to offer and every connection must be perfect.
Here in New England, bluefin up to 600 pounds have been taken on spinning gear, but a large-tuna spinning setup will vary based on the style of lure used and the size of the fish targeted. For rods, 350- to 500-gram blanks fit the bill, with the equivalent being 50- to 180-pound test on factory-made rods. If the rod has a PE rating, look for PE8 to PE10. For reels, you'll need a large line capacity, cold forged gearing and an extremely powerful drag system. I almost exclusively fish the Shimano Stella 18000 or 20000. For fish under 200 pounds the New Twin Power 14000 is excellent, and the Saragosa 20000 is an affordable alternative.
I use 80- to 100-pound braided line, and it can be hollow core, metered or standard braid depending on the leader system you're using. A minimum of 275 to 300 yards should be very tightly "wet packed" onto to the spool. Failure to pack tight enough can result in the line burying into the spool and breaking the fish off. It's also important to make sure you put some electrical tape or a short section of monofilament on the spool before filling with braid to avoid having the braid spin around the spool under extreme pressure.
If you're jigging wary bluefin, large yellowfin or bigeye in clearer water, you're going to need long, 20- to 30-foot fluorocarbon leaders. Inline spliced or wind-on leaders connected with a Cat's Paw knot are best. If you're popping you can get away with much shorter leaders. If the tuna are passively pushing water and only a taking subtle swipe at slashing or walking lures, fluorocarbon leaders attached via an FG knot are my favorite. If the fish are aggressively smashing bait schools and hitting poppers, you can get away with a shorter, stouter leader like a twisted mono leader.
For lures that have built in swivels, like the RonZ Big Game Series, you can connect directly to the lure using a crimp to an offshore loop or chafe gear loop. If the leader is 80-pound or less, a well-tied Palomar knot works. When fishing metal jigs or large top-waters, it's best to connect your leader to a 150- to 220-pound barrel swivel, and attach a number 9 to 11 Owner Hyper Wire split-ring. This split-ring becomes in essence an improved version of a snap on a snap swivel.
If I could only use one lure for big tuna it would be a 10-inch Big Game Series RonZ Lure in Silver Metallic or White Pearl during the day and Green Glow at night. Whenever we target tuna right on the bottom or in especially deep water, a large fast metal jig is ideal. Top choices include the Point Jude Deepforce Jig, Pelagic Warrior Viking Jig or and old faithful Shimano Flatside in Green Mack Glow. When fish are keyed in on large surface-pushing baits like bonitos or large mackerels you should match the hatch with large slider-type lures including the Shimano Orca or various offerings from Strategic Angler or Siren.
Highly migratory pelagics cover a lot of ground, so make sure you use every possible tool available before you hit the water. Sites like FishTrack drastically reduce the guesswork by providing the <a href="http://www.fishtrack.com/fishing-charts/" target="_blank">latest SST and chlorophyll charts</a>, which can help you pinpoint sharp temperature and color breaks over structure. Altimetry tools indicate areas of upwelling, which will often draw bait and tuna. Once on the water, scan for signs of life and you'll likely find the tuna right in the mix or just underneath.
Whether you're jigging, popping, trolling or baiting tuna on spinning gear, the approach is always the same. I always remind my clients that tuna eat with their face, not with their rear-ends. Get your presentation ahead of them and in the direction that the fish are moving, and you'll greatly increase your chances of getting tight.
After a quick moment of confusion during the strike phase, the tuna will typically make a long, virtually unstoppable run for what seems like 100 miles but it's often less than 100 yards. Our drags are set right at 25 pounds so when the tuna runs it's using up a lot of energy. After the initial run it's time to put the most aggressive heat on the fish with a system of long powerful lifts and rapid turns of the handle. When the tuna beings to roll over and use its weight, avoid high sticking the rod and keep steady pressure on the fish with short rapid lifts. Do not allow the tuna to point its head downward.
As the fish swings underneath and out from the boat a decent amount of line can be taken by using a series of short rapid lifts and quick cranks. Just don't reel against the drag. Eventually the fish will plane up into a spin right at the surface and, if tired enough, will actually break the surface of the water with its head. This is the time to either throw the harpoon or take the gaff shot. Just be ready to hang on as some of these spin-caught fish come to the boat so quickly that they still have a lot of fight left in them. Don't be afraid to swing the gaff but hang on tight!
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