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( Tuna History )


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Anglers pursue tuna by many means around the globe, but their basic physical characteristics largely determine the methodology. For instance, trolling occurs almost invariably at as high a speed as will work the lures or baits correctly. An exception involves the spreader bar rigs that have become popular for medium and giant bluefins in the northeast U.S.They're trolled somewhat slower than other tuna lures due to the action provided by multiple mackerel or artificial squid splashing on the surface. Live baits also can be trolled as slowly as necessary to keep them alive, and the same applies to live or dead baits fished from downriggers.

The vast majority of tuna trolling, however, involves rigged baits or lures being trolled at speeds of 6 to 8 knots or more. It's probably impossible to run away from a tuna that wants to eat at any speed at which that bait or lure can be kept in the water. High-speed trolling is particularly effective, as most species of tuna seem to be attracted by wakes and possibly engine noise. Some lures should always be placed in the whitewater very close to the boat and pinned down to stay there. Feathers and cedar jigs are ideal for that purpose. The wakes created by some boats seem to produce more tuna than others, and theories abound as to what the reason might be.

Trolling can be "blind" in areas where tuna should be present, or directed to surface schooling fish. Most of the yellowfin, bigeye, and albacore tuna trolled in U.S. East Coast canyons (100-fathom dropoffs at the edge of the continental shelf far offshore) are caught by blind trolling, especially where baits are marked and around temperature breaks. The arrival of a Gulf Stream eddy usually ensures a tuna bite.

In areas without such "structure," trollers often depend on sightings in order to focus their efforts. This is particularly the case with yellowfin tuna in the Pacific, as those fish associate with porpoises, a fact purse seiners learned long ago. Invariably, those feeding tuna are moving at a high rate of speed, and boaters may have a hard time keeping up with them.

Balao and large squid make good natural trolling baits. Straight-running high-speed offshore trolling lures work well for larger tuna; jethead versions are particularly favored for bigeyes. Lure sizes are scaled down for smaller specimens of large tuna as well as the smaller species, but even the largest tuna sometimes prefer short lures if they're feeding on similar- looking baits. Plugs that can be run at relatively high trolling speeds are also effective.

The lack of an air bladder is also a clue to hooking tuna on bait. Anyone who has watched tuna feeding alongside understands that no matter how much bait is provided, tuna always move through at a steady swimming pace. There is no such thing as a tuna "nibble." They either suck in or reject a bait as they swim through. Thus, it's possible to instantly hook a tuna by coming tight when it hits. Dropping back to those fish may result in deeper hooking, if that's the object, provided that the tuna doesn't spit the bait first if it feels something is wrong.

Chumming is a popular method of attracting tuna in many areas. In some cases it's accomplished with ground-up fish that forms a slick. Tuna seem to be more attracted to meat than scent, however, so chunking with pieces of baitfish tends to be more effective. Chunking is the primary means of catching bluefins in the northeast U.S., from schoolies, which are sought primarily for sport and food in the Mid-Atlantic States, to giants, which are big business in New England for shipment at very high prices to Japan.

Chumming is also the basic method of yellowfin tuna fishing on the East Coast off North Carolina. 
At first it would seem that tuna would be reluctant to eat dead baits in a chum line. But these fish have learned to adapt and frequently are found feeding on fish spilling out of trawler nets or being thrown overboard by commercial vessels as unmarketable. Bluefins are particularly noted for this tendency, and they rarely display any selectivity in eating everything provided free. It's only when a heavy hook and leader are attached to one of those baits that tuna become selective. Frequently they'll run through the chum line picking up every scrap of even old rotten fish while leaving the freshest item in the selection - the one with a hook in it that isn't drifting down at the correct rate.

The general rule in tuna chunking is to drop over just a few chunks and wait until the current carries them out of sight before repeating the procedure. Baited lines may be worked in the chum line by being dropped back with the chunks and fed out for a couple of hundred feet, after which it will be well below the chunks. Other lines are set at various depths with the aid of sinkers and held in place with floats. The depth selected may be based on recent experience, or by viewing marks on sonar. Many professionals use scanning sonar as well as conventional recorders in order to pinpoint tuna movements and bait placement. In earlier days, this was accomplished with a spool of 4-pound mono tied to a bait and fed back into the slick where a tuna would surely grab it on such light line and give away its presence.

Anglers use a great variety of dead baits. Butterfish and menhaden are the most likely choices in the mid-Atlantic, whereas New England anglers use mostly the herring and mackerel that attract giants to that area during the summer. These baits may be used whole or cut. When giant tuna are fussy, anglers often resort to a mousetrap rig in which a cable leader is bundled up on a short-shanked hook and secured with a rubber band or shrink tape before being sewn into the bait. The small teeth of tuna wear down leaders during the course of a long fight, but the cable eliminates that problem, and the mousetrap rig permits elimination of a heavy leader that could spook fish. Most tuna anglers are turning to fluorocarbon leaders in order to overcome the visibility factor with 300-pound mono leaders.

Any sort of small live bait found in the area is desirable. Mackerel, harbor pollock, silver hake (whiting), red hake (ling), menhaden (bunker), and bluefish are most commonly used in the northeastern U.S. Live baits are also used as chum in situations where large quantities can be obtained and kept. For instance, anglers fishing out of Southern California have long gone to sea with livewells full of anchovies to be tossed at schools of yellowfin tuna. Long-range party boats from San Diego also jig up quantities of mackerel and scad, which may be used in smaller quantities as chum in addition to live baits. Commercial fishermen at Madeira net mackerel at night and then chum with them during the day to raise bigeye tuna to their live mackerel offerings.

Relatively few tuna are caught on lures that are cast, but that method is very exciting and seems to be gaining popularity. Casting usually involves spotting surfacing schools of tuna and getting ahead of them to make a cast. Popping and swimming plugs that can be retrieved at a rapid pace are ideal for this method, which is becoming more common off Virginia and North Carolina. Watching a school of tuna attack a popper is among the greatest thrills in fishing. When tuna are feeding in chum lines, it's often possible to stir them up with a popping or darting plug, and that is frequently done with yellowfins in Bermuda.

Various types of jigs can also be worked effectively for tuna. Anglers in the northeastern U.S. catch many school and medium bluefins on diamond jigs. The usual method involves a fast retrieve, but the flutter of a falling diamond jig is often sufficient to attract tuna strikes when the lure is simply moved up and down in long sweeps at a level where the depth recorder indicates the fish are coming through.

Tackle for tuna fishing runs the gamut, from the heaviest gear to almost ultralight. Sportfishing for giant tuna almost invariably involves fighting them out of a fighting chair with 130-pound tackle, but a few have been caught when the angler was standing up - particularly during the winter fishery at Hatteras, where the abundance of tuna and relatively shallow water create a perfect opportunity for such an achievement.

Stand-up tackle suitable to handle all but the largest of tuna was developed aboard San Diego long-range party boats, where anglers often fight yellowfins well over 200 pounds at anchor. The long, parabolic trolling rods that were once pressed into service for stand-up fishing worked against the angler, creating lots of back strain without putting enough pressure on the fish. Those Californians created short rods (5 1/2 to 6 feet) with extended foregrips and tip action. This innovation brought the bend of the flexed rod almost back to the upper hand, putting leverage in the angler's favor. These rods, combined with dual-gear-ratio reels and rod belts and harnesses that are worn low and transfer pressure to the thighs, have made it possible for stand-up anglers to battle tuna to well over 300 pounds with fair success and a good chance of staying out of the hospital.

Trolling tackle for large tuna other than giants usually involves 50- and 80-pound outfits. That gear may be too heavy for the average catch, but most anglers want to be ready for the occasional large yellowfin or bigeye. In areas closer to shore, it's much sportier to troll with 20- and 30-pound outfits for smaller tuna such as school bluefins and yellowfins or blackfins, which may be mixed with such species as little tunny, skipjacks, bonito, dolphin, and king mackerel.

Light spinning and baitcasting tackle is perfect for chumming little tunny and skipjacks, and is still sufficient for handling most school tuna. Those fish are often leader shy, and it may be necessary to drop to 20-pound leaders to get strikes.

Tuna are difficult to catch on fly tackle due to their high-speed lifestyle. Even when it's possible to cast to moving tuna, it's hard to strip fast enough to interest them. The best bet for hooking up is in chum slicks, as the fish are then concentrated for each cast and they can occasionally be worked into such a competitive feeding frenzy with chunks that just about any fly flipped out to them will be inhaled immediately.

It is frequently necessary to run after large tuna to prevent reels from being stripped. Skippers fishing at anchor, particularly for giants, utilize an anchor ball that permits them to cast off their anchor within seconds in order to both follow the fish and avoid getting cut off or tangled in their own anchor line. Anglers who try to fight giants with their arms rarely last long. The technique from a chair uses the legs and lower back in a seat harness with a sliding motion across the chair to retrieve line.

The stand-up technique for large tuna works best with a short stroke, raising the rod only a few inches to gain line rather than lifting it overhead. The idea is to keep the tuna's head up and coming steadily, whereas the long stroke allows the tuna to get his head down no matter how fast the angler thinks he's reeling. Mastering the short-stroke technique can change excruciatingly long, painful battles with tuna into relatively short pleasant ones.




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May 2,2002