Targeting Tuna In The East Region With Capt. Mike Holliday





For the most part, there are two species of tuna we target in my region on a fairly regular basis: yellowfin and blackfin tuna, with the blackfins the more commonly caught species. We do catch some yellowfins in my region, and even a few bigeye and the occasional Bluefin tuna, and that usually happens after a week or so of windy weather and rough seas. We’ll also catch skipjack tuna mixed in with the blackfins.

The anglers that specifically target yellowfins in my region usually do so by running to the eastern side of the Gulf Stream and fish either the western Bahamas or just north of the Bahama Bank in an area known as “The Corner” or “The Pocket.” Yellowfin tuna fishing is good starting in May, and runs through October, with the fish pushing north late in the season. Right now, those fish are probably 10 to 20 miles north of the Bahama Bank.

Most of the boats making the 65 to 80 mile run will be trolling, although you can chunk or chum the fish and live bait them. As they boats get 60 or so miles out, they start using their radar screens to help them mark the big flocks of birds that travel with the tuna schools. On some days, there may be a half-dozen flocks showing on the screen.

Once you find the birds, the trick is to keep them at a distance and plot their course of travel, then run ahead of them, put out lures or baits and wait for the tuna to swim up to the moving boat. Tuna swim very fast, a lot faster than the normal 7 or 8 knot trolling speed, so they catch the boat quickly.

The average yellowfin can be anywhere from 30 to 80 pounds, with fish topping 100 pounds, so most boats fish them using 50 or 80 pound tackle, a 100 pound fluorocarbon leader and either lures like a cedar plug, a big-lipped swimming plug, a Japanese feather or small bonito-style lures or rigged ballyhoo. All these baits are effective, and it seems like the darker colors work best with the lures.

When a fish is hooked, the boat continues at the same speed in hopes of getting more bites from the school. Some anglers like to make a turn when the get a bite, hoping the change in direction of the lures or baits will entice the rest of the school to feed.

Blackfin tuna are the most commonly caught tuna species in my region and range anywhere from a few pounds to up to 40 pounds. August and September are great months to target blackfin tuna in my region, either looking for them along the edge in 200 to 400 feet of water from Palm Beach up to Jupiter, or on offshore atolls like Push Button Hill, 12 miles southeast of St. Lucie Inlet.

The blackfins are usually traveling in schools, with a lot of small fish in the mix, but also so huge ones. The big blackfins sometimes like to mix in with the bonito schools, and are very boat shy, so they’re targeted with lines placed way behind a boat. You can troll up blackfin tuna with small feathers in pink, silver or black.

The most consistent way to catch blackfins in my region is by live chumming with juvenile pilchards or Spanish sardines. Blacken your livewells with these baits and then run out to 200 feet of water or more, and start the chum line going. The blackfins will eventually find them, often showing up after the bonito. At times, you’ll see them jumping out of the water chasing your baitfish.

Blackfin tuna are leader shy, and don’t have teeth, so you can target them with 30 pound fluorocarbon leader and a 2/0 to 3/0 circle hook—something small that can be hidden in the bait. They tend to be boat shy, so you want to put the baits as far from the boat as possible.

You’ll know when you hook a blackfin tuna, as they make long, powerful runs, more so than a big bonito, and take longer to get to the boat. They’re outstanding to eat, but you want to bleed them immediately and put them directly on ice to improve the flavor.

Catch just one blackfin or yellowfin tuna, and you’re hooked for life. These fish not only taste great, but are incredible fighters on any tackle.

Captain Tips