Species Spotlight: Yellowfin Tuna

Yellowfin Tuna fishing

It’s by most standards, the quintessential blue water game fish. Whether you call it an ahi, Allison tuna or long-fin tunny, they are all the same species. With their extended dorsal fins, chrome bodies and muscle-bound stature, ahi are the embodiment of the “target species” around the world. In Florida, yellowfin tuna are found in large numbers out on the edge of the Gulf Stream.

Daily Bag Limit: 3 fish per day

Minimum Size: In Florida, yellowfin tuna must be over 27 inches to be kept.

Size: Yellowfin tuna can grow to more than 400 pounds. The biggest fish ever recorded is 445 pounds caught by John Petruescu aboard the Excel out of San Diego, California. The Florida state record for yellowfin tuna is 240 pounds.

Preferred Water Temperature: While they have been caught in waters as low as 73 degrees, yellowfin prefer temps in the high 70s and above.

Conservation Status: While not considered an endangered species, ahi are under threat all over the world. Highly prized for their firm, tasty flesh, they are fished hard everywhere they are found. In Florida, these fish are not found in big enough numbers to be considered a viable commercial species. Still, they do get targeted, and most are kept when caught.

Similar Species: The most similar species to the yellowfin is the bigeye tuna, which are virtually identical in appearance. Often confused, the only real way to determine the species is by looking at striations, or lack thereof, on the fish’s liver. Bigeye tuna have striations on their liver, the yellowfins are smooth.

Food Value: Ahi are one of the most prized gamefish in the world. Their flesh can be eaten raw or lightly cooked and is renown for its fantastic flavor and tenderness. Whether eaten as sushi or a tuna sandwich, few fish in the world compare with yellowfin as far as food value is concerned.

Appearance: Chrome in color, shaped like a football, and known for their speed and power, yellowfin tuna have a few very distinct features that set them apart from other fish, including other tuna. Most notably are their long, bright-yellow dorsal and anal fins, which give them their name. These fins grow longer as the fish age and older specimens can have fins that are several feet in length.

Range: Yellowfin tuna are found around the world, anywhere the water gets above 74 degrees or so. In Florida, most yellowfin tuna are found out in the Gulf Stream. There is also a known population in the Gulf of Mexico that congregate around oil rigs and other high spots.

Hot Spots: While yellowfin can be found around Florida in the summer months, the most consistent place to catch them is on the eastern edge of the Gulf Stream. It’s a bit of a run, but if you love targeting ahi, this is your best bet for consistent fishing. 

Predators: Yellowfin tuna have few predators, especially when they are mature. As fingerlings, they move with the current and are eaten by larger pelagic predators such as kingfish, wahoo and dorado. But as they mature, they become apex predators that, due to their speed and strength, cannot be targeted by other fish beyond a certain size.

yellowtail tuna fishing methods

Reproduction: In Florida waters, yellowfin tuna generally spawn offshore in the summer months. As fry, they drift with currents for a year or two and reach reproduction size at around 2 to 3 years of age. These tuna are not known for living decades, with most growing fast and living less than 10 years.

Fishing Methods: Yellowfin are targeted in a variety of ways. They are known for gathering on the surface in large schools to feed on bait balls but have been known to dive as deep as 3,000 feet in search of food. For sport anglers, most are caught with live bait fished either on the surface or down to 200 feet. These fish can also be caught trolling lures and pitching jigs and topwater lures toward boiling schools up feeding on the surface.