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by Jerry LaBella


Yellowfin Tuna Fishing Isn't Just For the Big Boys.   
More and more small-boat owners are heading to the blue water battle grounds. 


The 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.

ghblkwhitt.jpg (72252 bytes)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 encountered.

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, explosive muscle.

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 a match.

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
tequip.jpg (59851 bytes)
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 to spend.

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 RapalaMagnums.jpg (8693 bytes)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.

tpaul.jpg (44886 bytes)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 tightening.

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 thrashing.

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 a cinch!