South Africa is quickly becoming a go-to spot to target yellowfin tuna. Situated at the southern tip of the Dark Continent, Cape Town supports a very productive yellowfin tuna bite and a dependable "longfin" albacore fishery.
A phenomenal start to the 2014 season might put this corner of Africa in the running for the top tuna spot in the world this year. Weekend warriors frequently return to the harbor before mid-day with fish boxes full of 40- to 100-kg tuna.
The Cape Town tuna season is divided into two runs. From March to July crews find more settled weather and the majority of fish are in the 35- to 50-kg (77- to 110-pound) class. A second run from October to December yields a larger class of fish averaging 40 to 60 kg (88 to 132 pounds), with many individual tuna weighing more than 90 kg (198 pounds).
The weather tends to be very unpredictable during this second run, and anglers are often plagued by weeks of galeforce winds, making fishing dangerous, if not impossible.
The sailors of yore aptly named this treacherous coastline the Cape of Storms. The shoreline is littered with wrecks that fell victim to unpredictable seas. Even with modern advancements in boat design and navigational equipment, you still hear of boats and lives lost while hunting big fish. Area anglers therefore rely heavily on sites like Buoyweather.com to monitor inclement marine weather and find breaks to chase tuna.
To make sense of the latest fishing conditions, sea surface temperature (SST) websites have also become more popular over the last few years and FishTrack.com is a favorite of numerous commercial fisherman and charter operations in Cape Town.
An average tuna trip from Hout Bay, Simon's Town or Miller's Point ranges from 80 to 120 nm round trip, and a good SST chart removes much of the guesswork when it comes to finding ideal water. Online fishing charts will also help you pinpoint and work around local wind and current patterns.
The warm Agulhas Current runs from the east coast of Africa all the way down to the west coast. Westerly winds will push this warm water closer to shore, which in turn bring the yellowfin within range of the sport boat fleet. These preferred westerly or southwesterly winds push in the purple-blue water that's the key to finding nice tuna.
A special cautionary note should be made of the northwesterly winds. While they generally push warmer water closer to land, which can mean great fishing, these northwest winds can turn the sea into an angry mess in a very short period of time, making for a long, uncomfortable journey back to port. Add a bit of a swell and a short wave period and you get a very dangerous sea that even the most hardened tuna angler should fear.
More easterly winds, like the predominate southeasterly trade winds, will push the warm currents away from land, allowing the cold Benguela Current to push its very cold water onto Cape Town's most productive offshore fishing areas.
The majority of anglers fish 80-pound (37-kg) class tackle, as the fish can run from 20 to 120 kg. Heavier line is favored, especially for novice tuna anglers. Should that magical 100-plus-kg yellowfin decide to eat your bait, you will might actually have a good chance of landing it on heavy line. Once you've gotten your feet wet and put a few fish in the box, there is always the option to go down to 24 kg or 15 kg line to make the fishing more sporting.
A quality lever-drag reel is an essential piece of equipment when you're going to tangle with a trophy-sized yellowfin. A Tiagra 30W or 50W matched to a 50- to 80-pound-class stand-up rod is the go-to heavy outfit off the Cape. The Okuma Makaira 50W, Shimano TLD50, Shimano Tyrnos 50, Penn International 50W or 80W are all good reel options. A quality harness is also essential, and Black Magic, Braid or our very own locally produced Dream Catcher are popular with the fleet.
The most productive area for yellowfin is usually between 20 and 30 nm offshore, on a course of 200 to 270 degrees from Cape Point. Water depths vary here between 300 and 1,500 meters.
Trolling is the best method to initially locate tuna. When you get into water around the 18 degree C mark (64 degrees F), be on the lookout for current lines, birds or any other signs of life and set out your spread.
A simple spread begins with two surface-running lures and two diving lures (Rapala X-Rap 30, Storm Deep Thunder or Williamson Speed Pro 180) trolled 20 to 30 meters behind the boat. Two large squids are attached to birds and pulled 50 to 70 meters behind the boat. All lures are trolled at 4 to 6 knots. This spread will allow you to effectively target both yellowfin and longfin tuna.
When a yellowfin strikes a trolled lure, bring the boat to a stop and turn broadside to the wind or swell. Have your chopped up pilchards on hand and start chumming/chunking. As you build up a good chum slick, simply drift a sardine on a fluorocarbon leader down the tasty trail to entice another bite.
Finally, on most days you will find hake longliners and trawlers working the same waters as the recreational fleet. These vessels process their catch at sea, producing a long slick with the discards, and the tuna dial in on this free meal. You'd be foolhardy to pass by one of these commercial boats without dropping a pilchard into their slick and scoring an easy shot at one of South Africa's trophy yellowfin.