Trolling for Tuna
by Jarrod Day on 25 Sep 2012
Trolling lures is one of the most popular techniques used by recreational anglers throughout the world to target tuna. The method of trolling has been changed and altered somewhat over the years to try and improve already successful techniques. Although some do, many anglers are just looking at a better way to increase their chances to increase their hook-up rate.
What hasn’t changed are the basic techniques, although more technical aspects may have been introduced, the basic rules are still the same.
Lures are sent out the back of the boat and trolled at a certain speeds until a lure is eaten.
As simple as this may sound, some anglers often think outside the square and try to maximise their trolling pattern by changing the lure spread. This can be done by changing the colours, types and distance the lure is trolled to try and entice a strike.
Like anything in fishing, you won’t know until you try it, if it works it could give you the upper hand.
Picking a lure for tuna can be as difficult as finding the fish in the first place. There are more colours than you could imagine along with many types of lures which do different things in the water. To categorise them, there are three main types; skirts, bibbed minnows and bibless minnows. In appearance they are quite different but all are used for the same thing, trolling.
Some lures are designed to run shallow or on the surface while some can dive in excess of 40 feet. Surface and shallow running lures are designed to flick out of the water occasionally creating a disturbance, commonly known as a smoke or bubble trail.
These skirts are a solid head made from resin or metal containing feathers, tinsel or vinyl tails. They come in a range of sizes but when specifically targeting tuna stick with skirts ranging 6' to 9'. Skirted lures can be trolled at nearly any speed but tend to work better between six to eight knots.
Bibbed minnows on the other hand go beneath the surface to some amazing depths. Containing a bib or lip on the front of the lure they can dive shallow or very deep.
For this to happen, the lure must be trolled to force water upon the bib. The pressure of the water upon the bib forces it down giving the persona of a baitfish.
Some bibbed lures can be trolled up to 10 knots but many will pull out of the water at these speeds. Ideally, eight knots is suitable for larger lures but you will need to work this out for yourself, every lure acts different when in the water.
As the name suggests, bibless minnows are exactly that, they have no bib. They have an angled head with a high towing point to give the lure a life like swimming action.
They don’t dive deep but stick mainly within the top two metres of water. This makes them an ideal hard body lure to troll in combination with a skirted lure spread.
When setting out the lures I begin with the outriggers. On the left hand side of the boat I usually run either an 8' or 10' skirt about 50 metres back, I call this the long corner. Colour is imperative and my favourite is usually a Richter Oscar or Big Eye in a black/purple skirt combination.
The right rigger is my short corner which runs a 9' jnr. Oscar Richter in a pink/blue combination.
My other two lures are flat lines, with one being a 6' Dorado skirt in a purple/black colour positioned in the first wave back from the transom.
The other flat line contains a bibed hard body lure, a Yo-Zuri 180mm Hydro Magnum in the PDRD colour. Other lures I like to stick in this position are the Halco 190 Crazy Deep in colour H70 or H71. These hard body lures dive quite deep; in excess of seven metres and just scream eat me!
Other lures to run are bibless minnows such as Yo-Zuri Bonita or River 2 Sea Killer Vibes. I’m a big fan of bibbed minnows and suggest running them where possible. Most bibless lures only run in the top two metres of water which is ideal when trolling skirted lures. Although the bibless lures run just under the water they can often entice a strike quicker than a skirt.
Last of all is the shotgun, this lure is a big favourite of mine. It is a lure that can be left alone without a cause, and then all of a sudden it screams.
A rod is put into the rocket launcher and the lure set out at least 100 metres. In all cases I try avoiding putting on a pusher style skirt because of the amount of drag it puts onto the rod. Trying to lift the rod from the rocket launcher almost feels as though you’ll lose the rod overboard so be careful at all times.
Ideal lures for the shotgun are the Squidgy Garfish or Williamsons live ballyhoo.
Tuna can rip line from a reel within the blink of an eye so you need to be rigged and ready for when this happens. When trolling, I fish 24kg outfits to start with until I know what size fish I’m dealing with. From there I can lighten up as I see fit.
On my last trolling session we tossed out 10kg spin outfits for a bit of fun. The fish were still ranging 10 to 18 kilos but we got a great fight out them. My standard setup consists of two 24 kilo outfits, two 15kg’s and at least one 10 or 8kg outfit.
On all of them the reel is mounted onto the rod and spooled up with a good quality IGFA rated monofilament such as Black magic IGFA, Momoi or Maxima Tournament.
I usually run a small plaited double about a metre in length and attach a windon leader for abrasiveness along with a crimped tournament swivel.
There are many different techniques associated with catching tuna for the recreational angler. I, like other keen addicts use trolling has a method of tangling with the likes of both Yellow Fin and Blue fin, the most common targeted.
Trolling for tuna requires a spread of lures set out behind the boat while it’s motoring in a forward motion. Although the lure spread can be as complicated as many want it to be, just tossing out a few lures will entice a fish or two.
I am one for getting into the technical aspects of trolling but try to simplify it as much as possible, yet I still find to catch the shy or sneaky tuna you may need to add that technical side to your trolling.
When targeting tuna, at all possibilities troll as many lures as you physically can. The more the merrier as this will not just attract fish but increase your chances of multiple hook-ups when a school is contacted.
In conjunction with the boat, I like to set out a teaser. This is usually a daisy chain of pink plastic squids but every now and then I use a spreader bar containing pink squids once again.
The use of the teaser is to add the appearance to the boat as if it is a big bait ball. Once trolling, fish will see a big dark shadow followed by a bunch of squid or fish chasing it. Tell me if you saw that from underneath you wouldn’t think it was a big school of fish!
Once I have the teaser deployed, my lure spread is set.
How the lures are arranged is entirely up to the angler. Experienced anglers have lures set in such a way that they are confident they will catch fish. Some have it to a fine art when they know exactly what colour lure to place where in the wake of the boat to entice a strike. Some anglers like to pair lures along each side of the boat while others, like myself, like to stagger them at different locations.
In most cases, four lures are trolled but a fifth can be set in the rocket launcher and set back the furthest in the spread. With the other lures, I like to troll a combination of hard body and skirted lures. On the outriggers I run both skirted lures, the flat lines are usually one skirted lure and one hard body or two hard body lures.
Even though it may look like the lures are close to the boat once set out, many fish are caught in the second or third wake close to the boat, don't think all the lures need to be way back, because they don’t.
The basic spread is the long rigger at 50 metres back, short rigger at 40 metres back, long corner at 30 metres and short corner at 20 metres.
The shotgun runs between 70 and 100 metres back. If you want to get out other lures, you can do so by running downriggers in which I would suggest trolling shallow diving lure so limit the amount of pressure put on the bib from the force of the water. You may find this lure pops out of the rigger clip due to the drag. You can tighten it up to hold but beware, the more pressure on the clip to hold the line, the more risk you run of the line breaking when a fish hits due to it being stuck in the downrigger.
The benefit of setting this type of spread allows the boat to be manoeuvred around reefs, bait balls, FAD’s etc, without tangling up the lures. As the boat turns the lures cross over or under each other, but as the boat straightens they will fall back into their set pattern without a tangle.
One thing I often had problems with while trolling was with the flatlined lures. When turning the boat to concentrate on an area the flatlines crossed over, rubbing over one another. To avoid this I began to place an elastic band over the rod and have it rest onto the first runner on the rod. As the lure is trolled the elastic bans keeps the line almost at water level. This also creates a small drop back like an outrigger giving a second or two lead time for the fish to be unaware it is hooked before it all becomes taught setting the hook firm.
There is no need to run your lures miles away from the boat, tuna will often come up to the boat looking for something to eat in your wake and you will miss them otherwise. The whole idea is to create a disturbance in the water, running a few larger lures in conjunction with a teaser will only aid in attracting fish to you.
Larger lures in the spread will create a long bubble trail, which highlights their appearance to fish. With so much noise and kerfuffle on the surface, it can only attract them, not deter them.
With hours spent on the water you pick up many things about your surroundings. For a tuna or marlin angler, water temperatures, currents, birds, fads and even deep drop offs are all what is looked for when trolling.
When trolling, I’m always on the lookout for signs that tuna could be in the area, this is best by watching the birds. They are the best fishermen in the ocean and where you find diving birds you’ll often find tuna.
Although there are many types of sea birds it is the gannet, tern and albatross you should be on the lookout for.
Aside from bird watching, water temperature breaks are a good sign. While yellow fin tuna prefer temperatures of 20 to 21 degrees and blue fin 19 degrees, it is important when found to work this area. If your motoring along and find 20 degrees, keep motoring until you find it go up a degree, then work out in which direction the current is running and try to follow it.
Another good sign is a bait source; it always pays to have your sounder running while trolling to pick up on bait schools down deep. Often tuna will round up bait and not always drive them to the surface.
By looking at your sounder when trolling you could spot a school of sauries or mackerel in which tuna may not be too far away. In this case you can drop a sabiki jig down to catch a few to troll as live baits on downriggers or, put on a couple of deep diving lures and work the area in hope a tuna might grab it thinking it is a straggler being away from the main bait school.
Trolling lures can be as technical as you’d like but as long as you have a few lures out the back you’re in with a big chance.
Trolling for me is two things, a great way to catch some quality fish but also a great way to relax and enjoy a day on the water.
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