Catching Blackfin Tuna In The Keys Region With Capt. Randy Towe

Tunas in July are usually Blackfin Tuna and they’re almost exclusively targeted on the “humps” or atolls that rise up from the bottom in deep water. There are three humps that we fish; the Islamorada Hump, the 409, which is off Duck Key and the top of it is in 409 feet of water; and then the West Hump off Marathon, which is in about 800 feet of water. 

We fish tuna two ways, trolling or with live bait, depending on how your boat is set up. If you want to live bait tuna, you need a large livewell able to hold at least 500 baits, usually more. That’s why most people troll for Blackfins. 

Blackfin Tuna tend to be boat shy, so you want to have your baits 200 to 300 feet back. Anything dark, black and red or black and purple lures on a lighter 30 to 40 pound fluorocarbon leader is the way to go. Tuna see really well, so you want to troll in a figure 8 Pattern over the top of the hump, with the center of the lines crossing the center of the hump. 

When you get a bite, you move the crosshairs to that location. The zig-zagging figure 8 pattern allows you to get your baits in the clean water over and around the hump, and that’s where you’ll get your bites. As a rule, the smaller Blackfin tuna are caught trolling. 

If you’re set up for live bait fishing, you load up the wells with pilchards, then get up-current from the humps. Hook a couple of baits to the rods and throw them out, then scoop up a netfull of pilchards and toss them over near your baits. You’ll be drifting over the hump and as the fish come up to pop the freebies in the chum, you’ll get the bite. A lot of times that’s how you’re going to catch the 30 pounders. 

The down side to live bait fishing is that when you throw a lot of chum into the water and the tuna start busting on them, it draws sharks to the area, and then your tuna will get eaten before you can get it in. More often than not, you will have a shark problem at some time during your day when live bait fishing tuna. 

It’s almost like assembly line fishing, where you get up-current of the hump, throw out baits, throw out chum and then drift over the hump, then when you get to the down-current side, you bring in your baits, motor back up-current and start again. One way to combat the sharks is to use 30 pound tackle instead of 20 pound gear. I like to use straight 30 pound fluorocarbon line on the reel, then tie the circle hook straight to the line. The heavier tackle will allow you to lean on the fish and get them in quicker, often before the sharks get them. 

Blackfin tuna pull pretty good, and the first thing you want to do when you land one is bleed it and get the blood pumped out of the meat. That will make them taste a lot better.

Captain’s Tip of the Week #15 Tuna - 2015
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