Tuna fishing usually begins sometime in June with albacore tuna and bluefin tuna usually first appearing in our waters. During warmer water years yellowfin tuna can also be caught at this time. Fishing for each species of tuna is roughly the same so regardless of which tuna species being targeted the same fishing
techniques apply. During the early summer months schools of albacore tuna first appear in southern California waters following moderate warm waters and bait fish. Usually albacore tuna are caught farther offshore from 40 - 70 miles from the coast. Albacore tuna are located by several methods including finding sonar marks, trolling jigs or feathers to locate fish, and by spotting birds or other sea life. These techniques hold true for all species of tuna with the chasing porpoise technique reserved just for yellowfin tuna. Fishing for tuna in general is punctuated by relatively calm relaxed periods that can suddenly change within a second to wide open biting tuna. Being prepared for when the moment arrives and understanding how the process unfolds will help to take advantage of the valuable biting time.
So you have your set ups taken care of and you are ready to fish. The typical scenario goes something like this. Trolling will usually start the day off and the captain or crew will say fish on when a tuna hits one of the troll rods at which point the boat will slow and chum (bait fish) will be thrown to entice more tuna to the boat. The key tactic at this point is to get a bait in the water and away from the boat as quickly as possible. Tuna move extremely fast and you do not need to cast where the trolling fish is at. A super lively bait is key just let it swim, keeping contact, but no resistance. So others on the boat are hooking fish, keep your bait out there as tuna will move back and forth feeding in the chum. On slower bites tuna will seem to get into a pattern of boiling in the corner where the chum is being cast. In this case position your bait in that chum by casting where the chum is landing or beyond. Fluorocarbon would be a good bet in this scenario. Once you feel a bite give the tuna a count of three letting line peel of your reel (keep your thumb on the spool some to avoid a backlash) before putting the reel in gear. Setting the hook is really not necessary with tuna as they will hook themselves when they bite. Once your tuna is hooked, constant tension is the key. All species of tuna are very hard fighters with yellowfin tuna and bluefin tuna being extremely tough. They will make hard runs challenging the best drag systems and then sometimes your line will suddenly go slack, which leads you to believe the tuna has gotten away. Don’t be fooled as tuna are known to turn and heads towards you and reeling as fast as you can to keep up with the fish will lower the risk of losing it. Once the first series of runs are complete comes the fun part. Tuna will begin to slowly circle deep under the boat when hooked. When fishing lighter line or fighting larger tuna gaining line during this time can be a very slow and hard fought battle. The key is to lift slowly and then wide down. Many times your drag will kick in releasing line as you pull up only to make no gains for your effort, but that is okay. Eventually you will gain line and this constant pressure will wear down the fish. Well at least you hope it will.
When the fish comes to sight or "color" continue to keep constant pressure and be prepared for another run as when the tuna sees the boat they often do. As you get the fish closer and closer to the boat call for a gaff at which point a crew member will be ready to land your fish. During active bites you may not have a crew member handy to the last second as he is landing many fish in short order. This last bit of the fight is critical part if the fight, line is stressed as well as any connections between line and hook and there is one more trick that tuna have to get free. That trick is to get you caught in the prop or the underside of the boat. If the tuna makes it to these locations or more importantly your line touches these areas your fish is usually lost in short order. So staying in front of your fish and guiding it by pulling continual in a direction away from areas of concern will minimize this danger. As the fish comes into gaffing range try to lay the fish in such a way to give the crew member the best gaff shot. Simply pulling the fish in a somewhat side wards angle usually does the trick. As the gaff hits the fish watch carefully for a secure connection between gaff and fish. If it looks good the fish will be heading over the rail in a flash. During this time put your reel in free spool and keep your finger on the spool. This keeps the rod from loading up, when the fish hits the deck, which can launch the hook or spring the rod either breaking a rod or smacking you pretty good when it bounces back. Also on the off change that the gaff comes loose during the lifting into the boat process, the fish won’t break off as it falls back into the water and you get to have another try landing it. Once the fish is on deck if the hook is visible remove it from the fishes mouth and if it swallowed the hook just sacrifice it and cut your line. You will need to retie more than likely anyways after the long battle.
Tuna fishing takes a lot of practice. The more you fish the better you will get. I like to keep an open mind no matter how much knowledge I have gained over the years.