As we say goodbye to another marlin season on the East Coast of NSW, the offshore waters have begun to cool and the bone chilling westerly winds have started to blow. Whilst Winter sees some game fishermen go into hibernation until the marlin return, for others it means one thing – tuna time!
The Winter months off Sydney and the South Coast of NSW are the prime time to target the schools of bluefin and yellowfin tuna that can be found off our coastline. While the offshore runs can be far and the days long, the rewards are well worth it as when you find them it’s not uncommon to catch multiple fish in the one day. Here are a few key things that have improved our success rate when chasing these fish over the past couple of seasons in our trailer boat.
Find the right water
You can have the best boat and all the best gear in the world but if you’re fishing in the wrong area then you’re simply not in the game when it comes to chasing tuna. Learning to read water temperature charts and staying up to date with current fishing reports through friends, Facebook and the internet is one of the most important things when it comes to this type of fishing. If you don’t already have one, a subscription to Ripcharts or a similar provider for real time access to data on water temps, currents and other data is invaluable. Our best yellowfin tuna fishing over the past few seasons out of Sydney has been in water temps of between 20 – 22 degrees, and we will typically look for areas of current pushing to the south in the vicinity of underwater structure, such as Sydney’s Browns Mountain, or Southern Canyons area. Whilst both species can be caught in the same water, the Bluefin tuna on the East Coast prefer cooler water and we have typically caught them in water temps ranging from 17.8 – 19.5 degrees in areas with minimal current flow.
Have a game plan
Like any form of fishing, it’s important to have a game plan. Our typical day chasing tuna will involve running out to the likely looking water we have identified using the sea surface charts. Whilst some people like to troll lures all the way out to cover ground we prefer trying to maximise our time fishing in productive looking areas and will only put lures in once we’ve reached the right looking water. We’ll then start to troll a mixed spread of lures, keeping an eye out for any signs of life. Whilst birds and jumping tuna are a dead giveaway for areas to focus your attention on, your sounder is invaluable for identifying what is going on beneath the water’s surface. Having your sounder tuned to read the top 80- 100m of the water column will help you to locate bait as well as individual tuna feeding below. Several times last year we marked the tuna on our Simrad NSS Evo 2 unit moments before getting a bite on a lure. We also always have a bucket full of chopped up pilchards ready to go so that when we hook a fish on a lure we can begin throwing them into the water. Doing this can help keep the school of tuna around your boat and can lead to some spectacular sight fishing.
Troll a mix of lures
Tuna can be fussy creatures, and you’ll often have days when you can see fish busting up all around you that will refuse every lure you troll past them. For this reason we’ll troll a mix of lures, normally consisting of a hard bodied diving lure in close to the prop wash, a pair of 6-10 inch skirted lures off the outriggers and a Squidgy Bluewater Livie set well back in the shotgun position. Having a casting rod ready to go with a stickbait or pencil popper can also make a huge difference on the days that the tuna are very fussy or are zoned in on chasing sauries on the surface.
Travelling long distances offshore in a trailer boat to target these fish is not for the faint hearted and it goes without saying that safety should be your number one consideration before all else. It’s imperative to check the weather forecast on multiple sources before you go. We’ve found that the Buoyweather.com subscription service is a very accurate source of weather information for fishing well offshore, along with the Bureau of Meteorology’s MetEye service. Be sure that you know your vessel’s capabilities and average fuel usage, as every season we see a number of boats running out of fuel because they have underestimated how much they would use in a day fishing well offshore. Lastly, be sure that all your safety gear is up to date and that you have a working VHF radio. Not only will this enable you to call for assistance if you get into trouble, but it will allow you to share information with other boats out on the water on the day.
It shouldn’t be too long until the first reports of these fish start filtering through on the East Coast of NSW. So get prepared now and keep an eye on the sea surface temperature charts so that you’re ready to go as soon as they show up!