Tropical Tuna

Light Tackle Tips Keep You Connected

Capt. Steve Dougherty October 30, 2014

With the coming months providing comfortable conditions for quick sabbaticals to the nearby Bahamas, anglers will be afforded exciting opportunities with schooling yellowfin. Healthy tuna stocks within reach of most center consoles make fishing in the islands a special summertime treat. However, finding the fish isn’t going to be your biggest challenge.

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Photo: doughertyphotos.com

Yellowfin tuna are highly migratory, yet their exact migration route is relatively unknown. While resident tuna exist in The Bahamas year-round, we know these waters are capable of housing incredible concentrations. Interestingly, in 2001 a yellowfin tuna was tagged near Cat Island in The Bahamas, some 330 miles from Miami, as part of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources tagging program. When the tag was planted, the juvenile yellowfin tuna weighed around 15-pounds. Captured nine years later off the coast of Africa some 4,000 miles away from the original tagging site, the yellowfin grew to nearly 190-pounds! While this clearly proves yellowfin tuna have few boundaries, there’s still a lot to learn about their migratory paths and the factors that provoke them to undertake such long distance movements. What we do know for sure is that tuna flood the eastern edge of the Bahamian archipelago from May through August, which is exactly when visiting anglers can score big.

From southeast Florida’s most popular ports, the closest and most reliable action takes place in the Northwest Providence Channel. Bordered by Grand Bahama Island to the north and the Great Bahama Bank to the south, the Northwest Providence Channel is open to both the expansive Atlantic Ocean and fertile Gulf Stream. With impressive bottom contours below thousands of feet of nutrient rich water, game fish and forage flourish within this massive thoroughfare. We know trolling can be an effective technique throughout The Bahamas, but if you want to catch tuna here it’s all about running and gunning!

Before gathering your passports and travel documents, it’s important to note that this isn’t going to be a walk in the park. Everyone thinks of the glamorous moment when a yellowfin comes to the gaff, but there’s a lot of preparation and effort involved in putting together successful tuna trips. Full days on the water are likely in order. You’ll also need to have the patience and madness to leave biting fish to find biting fish—a cardinal sin with most other fisheries. Yellowfin often hunt with skipjack and blackfin tuna, and almost always school with similar size fish. If you’re surrounded by footballs, you need to move on and find another flock of birds on the radar. Even if there’s only 30 minutes of daylight remaining there’s still time to find the right pack. Yes, it’s awfully hard to leave biting fish, but why settle for schoolies when there are bigger fish to be had.

Most successful tuna trips to the islands involve an ample supply of live bait, but we’ve certainly tallied impressive results crossing the ‘Stream with nothing more than freshly chunked sardines. Still, it’s comforting crossing over with blacked-out baitwells.

Fortunately, during the late spring and early summer pilchard occupy area beaches off Florida’s East Coast by the millions. If you’re planning a tuna trip in advance you can focus on baitfishing and pen hundreds of baits prior to the trip, but if you really want to race over with the best odds stacked in your favor it’s best to throw the net the morning of your departure.

While the action in the Northwest Providence Channel is practically guaranteed, you’ll need to clear customs in West End, Lucaya or Bimini before wetting a line. However, you may get lucky and cross paths with a school of feeding tuna on the way over beyond the 12 nautical mile line. Take it from me…you wouldn’t be the first crew to catch big tuna in the Gulf Stream, so don’t hesitate investigating interesting blips on the radar before reaching Bahamian waters.

In years past, anglers chasing tuna in The Bahamas relied on heavy 50-wide outfits in an attempt to beat fish before the sharks got them. Truth is, when a determined shark wants to make a meal of your tuna there’s nothing you can do about it but hold on for the ride and reel in what’s left once the shark has had its fill. Fortunately, advancements in tackle have made heavy outfits unnecessary, with the newest revolution providing incredibly lightweight, durable and powerful equipment that’s easy to handle and maneuver around the boat. Our rods are incredibly specialized and custom built for the task of live baiting yellowfin tuna. Conventional outfits were built on Seeker Hercules blanks, which provide a small diameter rod that’s incredibly powerful. Fuji Titanium frame guides are significantly lighter and stronger than comparable stainless steel guides and further add to the lightweight finished product.

When running and gunning tuna—a practice that requires getting ahead of bird flocks gorging on scraps from the feeding frenzy unfolding below—it’s common to deploy baits just as the boat is coming off plane. Because of this it’s critical your reels have that capability of going into full freespool. Over the years we’ve come to realize that inferior tackle that’s suitable for sailfish and kingfish won’t stand up to the blistering runs of determined yellowfin. It’s highly recommended you purchase quality gear rather than run the risk of losing fish due to tackle failure. The Shimano Talica 16 has incredible tolerances and insane freespool capabilities. It also has a maximum drag of 40 pounds, and holds approximately 500 yards of 60 lb. braid. Additionally, it’s almost three times lighter than a Tiagra 50.

Our spinning outfits are built on the same Seeker blanks. And while we’ve destroyed dozens of inferior reels in the past that weren’t designed for this sort of extreme fishing, we no longer run the no risk of losing fish to poor equipment because the newest Shimano Stella is simply unbeatable! Although the Stella costs a pretty penny, the reel will last a lifetime and can take some serious abuse from any fish in the ocean.

While tackle selection will put the odds in your favor while also making fights more enjoyable, once on scene you’ll have to rig correctly with the ideal terminal tackle, otherwise unforgiving yellowfin tuna will exploit your weakest link. While giant bluefin sightings in The Bahamas are on the rise, the yellowfin commonly encountered in these waters aren’t massive. Land a hundred pounder and you deserve a serious pat on the back. Not to say there aren’t bigger fish around, but it’s very likely you’ll be tangling with fish in the 40- to 80-pound range. Because of this you can get away with light tackle outfits that keep fights fun and enjoyable.

From the 60 lb. braid mainline you want to tie a double line by creating a 40-turn Bimini twist. From here attach 20-feet of 50 lb. fluorocarbon with a Bristol knot. This seamless knot eliminates the need for a swivel and lets you reel the leader through the guides with ease. If you end up chafing off some fish you can bump up to 60 lb. fluorocarbon, and conversely if the fish are finicky you can scale down to 40 lb. The benefit of fishing with circle-hooks is that the leader is fairly safe with the hook lodged in the corner of the fish’s mouth. One tip I can give you when fishing fluorocarbon is to stretch your leaders before deploying baits in order to remove memory coils. This allows the chunk or live bait to flutter or swim naturally.

When it comes to hook selection you’ll be surprised how small of a hook you can get away with, with 4/0 as large as you need. While we’ve caught big tuna with Gamakatsu Super Nautilus, VMC Nemesis and Mustad Ultrapoint Demon circle-hooks, we’ve found near perfect success with Owner Mutu circle-hooks. Ultimately, the choice is yours.

Across the Northwest Providence Channel finding action isn’t difficult and it all boils down to the birds. Find the birds and you will find fish, and with the latest HD and broadband radar units making quick work of locating our feathered friends, the devil’s in the details once on location. Landing fish over 50 pounds in good numbers is the real challenge, however once you’re dialed in you’ll catch your limit of big fish almost every time and be forced to leave them biting! Good luck and get some rest. You’re going to need it.

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