Melbourne’s tuna tales

Though some do eat striped tuna, they do make great bait for snapper, sharks and the like.
Jarrod Day
It was back on 2008 when I had heard a rumour that some striped tuna had been caught out from Barwon heads in Victoria. Tuna in Victoria are you serious? And with that, I was keen to find out more.

No photographic evidence arrised to support such a report and all was forgotten. In the summer of 2009, I began to receive many reports of Striped tuna being caught by anglers off Barwon Heads and by mid Jan vast schools of these high speed pelagic’s spread from Barwon Heads right to Kilcunda along the coastline.

I was perplexed to say the least as these fish hadn’t shown up since back in the Early 70’s, when Author Lance Wedlick wrote of commercial fishers catching large quantities of striped tuna along the Coast line of Phillip Island. Back then, huge schools of stripey’s passed Cape Woolamai on their path around the bottom of Wilsons Prom and while these tuna were caught for the markets.

With the ability to catch tuna in Victoria, a select few decided this was a great opportunity and begun to head out in search of these high speed speedsters.

Having the ability to catch tuna off Phillip Island is great but some anglers were still quick to turn their nose up and say 'They're only stripey’s.' While in other states where they become a pest taking lures destined for other highly prized pelagic’s, I do think in Victoria or at least Melbourne, they deserve some credit.

While there are many anglers that make their annual trip to Bermagui in search of Yellow fin or to Portland in search of Blue Fin, experienced anglers know the drill when it comes to trolling for tuna. What’s best about having tuna so close to Melbourne’s CBD is they are accessible to most trailer boats and can be a lot of fun on ultra-light tackle.

The season:

While you can’t accurately put a time on when to go in search for them these days, past history from the 70’s shows January to March is the prime time. While we have only experienced this return of the tuna three times in the last 30 years, during these months while heading out for a Mako, thresher or just to bottom bounce for flathead offshore, it pays to troll small lures and keep an eye out for any surface activity.

Watch the birds:

Finding tuna in Bass Strait isn’t easy to say the least but providing you keep to a few simple rules, you may just find success.

While the striped tuna of Bass Strait are elusive to say the least, finding them can prove challenging and you may find you end up doing a few trips without success. To be successful, keeping an eye on the water’s surface is the most effective way to locate the schools. Like any tuna fishing, they are usually located by finding large flocks of birds dive bombing bait from above while the tuna round up the bait schools from below the surface.

Results - North Sails June Regatta 2015

Once a school is found, they are often working on a school of bait and approaching the feeding mass can prove challenging as the sound of any boat approaching will make them disappear and reappear a few minutes later either in the same spot or a hundred or so meters away.

When approaching a school put a waypoint on your GPS. This will give you a reference point to go back to should they disappear. If you don’t notice them reappear after a few minutes move away a hundred meters or so and cut the engine. This technique often draws the school back to the surface and providing you have marked the spot in which you first encountered them, you will find them again nearby.

Always GPS mark the location you find them - This gives you a reference point should they be spooked
Jarrod Day

When approaching the school set the lure spread some 50 or so meters back. At this point, you’re best to drive right past them or in front of the school cutting them off. This will bring the lures right over the top of the school keeping you at a fair distance away. If you’re not getting a hook-up you may want to try dropping the lures back further or bringing them closer, this is all a learning experience and can change daily.

Light tackle approach:

Striped tuna don’t often get too big and the ones encountered may only be up to 5kg’s. In saying that, they do fight extremely hard especially on the first run. To ensure you get a fish in the boat, your standard snapper fishing outfits will suffice but if you want some real fun try the bream gear.

Last season we hit them with ultra-light tackle, Wilson Blade N Tails Medium rods rated to 6kg’s with Twinpower 4000 reels loaded with 10lb braid and 20lb leader. This type of outfit I mainly use when targeting snapper with soft plastics but is suitable for this style of fishing. The fight may take 20 minutes or so but is some of the most light tackle fun you can have.

These high speed speedsters are great fun on light tackle
Jarrod Day

They may take 100 plus meters of line from your reel in seconds and you’ll feel as if you’re going to be spooled but don’t worry; you’ll still have plenty of line left. Should you be unlucky and not be able to slow one down you can always chase it in the boat.

Lure selection:

While stripies may take large lures in Southern NSW, in Victoria they are feeding on schools of Krill, anchovies and smelt. These baitfish are only 3' long, thus lures also need to be small. We found 2' and 3' skirted lures were the hot favourites. While he tried a large variety of lures, the standouts were the Apex Predator Apex Jerk and Pisces squid skirt in the white colour. These two lures are rigged on a one meter length of 20lb fluorocarbon with a Black Magic KS 4/0 tied onto the end of the leader.

The Extreme Sailing. Act 5. Cardiff. Wales. Oman Air skippered Rob Greenhalgh (GBR) with Headsail Trimmer Kyle Langford (AUS), Trimmer Tom Johnson (AUS), Bowman Hashim Al Rashdi (OMA) and Bowman Musab Al Hadi (OMA).
© Lloyd Images

The Pisces skirt is too light to be trolled as above so a size one ball sinker is placed into the head of the skirt to give it enough weight to hold it in the water.

Having tuna in Melbourne these days is almost unheard of but since they are now a viable option, it is worth putting in the time to find them.

Lures can be rigged in a number of ways. When using hard body lures, try using single hooks for better penetration.
Jarrod Day

Tuna are streamlined and very fast, dont go too light or you may be spooled
Jarrod Day

Matt Cini from Reel Time Charters displays a Stripey while getting his clients into the action
Jarrod Day