Tuna are one of the fastest fish swimming in the ocean and they are built like a torpedo with fins. Species such as longtail, yellowfin, mackerel and striped tuna commonly feed and migrate along the Australian coastline which makes them excellent targets for land-based anglers. When these pelagic speedsters are hooked from the stones, they are famous for their horizon bound runs. In this following piece I’m going to look at the best locations, lures and tackle to target these hard running fish from the shore.
Longtail tuna are also known as northern bluefin tuna and can grow well over 30kgs. Larger longtails are usually found in sub-tropical waters while smaller fish between 5-10kg are usually found warm tropical waters. Consistent numbers of fish can be found north of Port Stephens on the east coast and north of the Shark Bay on the west coast.
Spinning for longtails is a great way to target these fish as they are aggressive feeders and will attack a wide variety of lures. My favourite lures for targeting longtails are large metals ranging from 60 to 100gms. Metal lures are ideal for shore-based spinning as they cast extremely well and they are also the most durable lures on the market. Some of the most popular profiles for chasing longtails are the Surecatch Knights and Surecatch Bishops. These chrome lures are perfect for imitating baitfish such as garfish, slimy mackerel, yellowtail scads, mullet and herring. All of these common baitfish form a large percentage of a longtail tuna’s regular diet.
When I’m specifically targeting longtails on metals I usually skip my lure across the surface as these fish often feed on the top half of the water column. I have a found that a medium paced retrieve works better for longtails. If you crank a metal lure too fast across the surface they have a tendency to twist and skip out of the water for long periods of time making it hard for the fish to attack.
Hard bodied swimming lures such as the Rapala X-rap SRX-14, Lively Lures 5 inch Mack Bait and the Halco Max 130 also well extremely well on longtails. During the recent 1770 spinfishing season Sydney-based angler Raymen Youkhana nailed a massive 26kg longtail on a Rapala X-rap in the “glass ghost” colour.
When it comes to surface lures I have found that longtails prefer small dumbbell poppers and pencil poppers. Over the years some of the best performers have been the Cotton Cordell 150mm pencil popper, the Halco Roosta 135mm and the River 2 Sea 150mm dumbbell.
Another interesting lure design that catches plenty of longtails are surface plugs. These handmade plugs were introduced to me by a South African spinfishing brigade that I met on the Quobba Coast a few seasons ago. These plugs are made out of a plastic material which is similar to a chopping board. Once the desired shape of these lures have been cut they are filled with lead to maximise casting distance. The South African lure company Richter also manufacturer surface plugs that have a very similar action to the handmade lures. The best size for longtails is the 3oz/117mm and I have found the best colours to be yellow and white. These plugs are designed to dart across the water like a wounded baitfish and it’s an awesome sight watching a big bluefin annihilate one of these lures on the surface.
In my opinion sight-casting for longtails is one of the most exciting forms of land-based game. Longtails will often make raids in shallow waters looking for bait and with a good pair of polarised sunglasses, these fish can be easily seen especially on sand-bottomed ledges. The key to sight-casting these fish is to stand on an elevated platform to get the best vantage point. The best time for spotting fish is usually between 10am and 2pm as the Sun is situated directly overhead. When a pod of tuna comes past it is best to cast approximately 10m in front of the fish. Avoid casting directly at the school as large lures can often spook these fish. The best locations to sight-cast longtail tuna is the Catwalk at 1770 in Queensland and the iconic Hat Head in northern New South Wales.
For casting medium to large lures between 50-125gms a good quality threadline outfit is highly recommended. The Wilson PE8 Venom rod and the new Wilson Blue Steel Popping rod are two suitable off-the-rack options. Big longtails can easily peel a few hundred metres of 30-50lb braid so make sure your reel has enough capacity to withstand these high velocity runs. When I’m spinning for longtails I always use at least one rod length of 60lb shock leader which is tied to a short double via an improved Albright knot. Longtails have small raspy teeth and I have witnessed lighter leaders wear through on long prolonged battles.
When hooked on lures, longtails will generally take one or two powerful runs. Like most tuna species longtails are clean fighters and will stay on the surface for the majority of the fight. Once these fish are turned they will usually settle down and begin to arch up and down the ledge on numerous occasions. Monster longtails can be extremely stubborn and it can take a very long time to wear a trophy fish down. My biggest longtail weighed 25kg and it took me well over an hour to bring this fish to the gaff on 30lb tackle.
Yellowfin tuna grow over the 100kg mark and are considered as a highly prized capture amongst land-based anglers. Unfortunately these majestic gamefish have drastically declined in numbers since the ‘90s due to worldwide commercial fishing pressure. This has made it a lot more challenging to capture these fish from the shore.
Although you don’t see too many jumbo models captured from the rocks these days, smaller yellowfin are still a realistic target for those dedicated land-based anglers that are willing to put in the time and effort. The majority of yellowfin taken on lures varies between 2-25kgs and most fish are considered as a welcome by-catch by anglers chasing other pelagics such as Spanish mackerel or longtails.
To have a good shot at targeting these elusive tuna from the rocks it’s best to concentrate your efforts on prominent headlands which intercept oceanic currents. On the east coast some of the best locations are Hat Head, Jervis Bay, Greencape and Lord Howe Island. In Western Australia the high cliffs of Steep Point and the Quobba Coast can also produce the occasional fish.
Yellowfin tuna feed on similar baitfish as longtails and can be captured with the same techniques and tackle. When I’m spinning in waters where there is a good chance of spinning up a potential yellowfin tuna, I always fish with 50lb braid or even heavier. When you’ve got a solid yellowfin on the end of your line you don’t want to be pussy-footing around with light tackle. Over the past few seasons I have spun up five yellowfin tuna from the rocks. My best fish is an 18.5kg specimen taken on an 85gm Surecatch Knight at Steep Point.
When a yellowfin tuna is hooked on a lure they tend to fight completely different to a longtail. Instead of arching up and down the ledge I’ve seen a lot of yellowfin tuna power off towards the horizon and suddenly turn back towards the rocks. These impressive looking tuna will also dive a lot deeper than longtails and will often swim around in circles. During this time it is important to keep your rod loaded and maintain constant pressure on the fish to prevent the hooks from dislodging.
Mackerel tuna are often referred to as “mack tuna” by Aussie anglers and the most common size encountered by rock fisherman is usually between 2-10kgs. Some of the most popular locations to target mack tuna include the Urangan Pier at Hervey Bay and 1770 on the central Queensland coast.
Medium sized metals between 35 and 65gms are ideal for chasing mackerel tuna. Larger mack tuna will also hit hardbodied lures such as poppers and deep divers.
These fish can hit lures travelling at high speeds and will often attack lures in mid water.
These tuna usually travel in large pods and can often be found in plague proportions in southern Queensland and northern New South Wales. At times these “green goblins” can be a real pest when targeting larger tuna species and other pelagics such as Spanish mackerel.
Although mack tuna are not known for their stamina they can still put up a good honest fight. Most fish will often take one screaming run as soon as they are hooked. After peeling 50-100m of line most fish will burn out and will head towards the rocks showing very little resistance. The most appropriate tackle to target these fish with is a light to medium flick stick loaded with 20-30lb braid. Although mack tuna are not regarded as a trophy fish they are an excellent species for beginners to practice their skills on.
Striped tuna are also known as skipjack tuna and these fish are a popular target for light tackle enthusiasts. Most fish encountered by rock fisherman are between 2-6kg and possess extreme speed for a fish their size. Striped tuna prefer cooler waters and some of the best locations to spin up these tuna include the deepwater ledges of Jervis Bay and Greencape on the New South Wales south coast.
Striped tuna can be real fussy when it comes to lure size and at times they will only feed on minute baitfish. When targeting these tuna it is important to match your lure size and profile to the local baitfish they are feeding on. Some of the best lures for targeting striped tuna include the 35gm Surecatch Bishop and the Gilles Baitfish. I have also caught plenty of striped tuna on the old fashioned white barrel sinker. These lead slugs can easy be made by coating a barrel sinker with white paint or with some white heat shrink tubing.
The most suitable tackle for chasing striped tuna is a light 10-20lb spinfishing outfit. Using light braid will allow you to cast small lures between 15-35gms. A high-speed threadline reel is also recommended as striped tuna love lures that are travelling at warped speeds. When hooked on the right tackle these little tuna can provide some excellent sportfishing. Larger fish above the 5kg mark can be a real handful and will often take three or four powerful runs before they can be subdued.
Striped tuna tend to travel in large schools and can often be seen terrorising small baitfish on the surface. These schools of tuna can move extremely fast across the surface from one patch of bait to another. To have a good shot at these fish you need to be ready with your rod in hand as you only get one or two casts at each passing school.
Tuna are one of the most wide spread species available to the Aussie angler and due their lure crunching capabilities they are considered an extremely sought after gamefish around the world. I love chasing these speed demons with my feet planted on rocks as it is challenging, exciting and very rewarding.
Rod: 7.5-9ft medium fast spin stick
Reel: high speed threadlines 4000-6500size
Main line: 10-65lb braid depending on the target species
Leader: 40-60lb hard monofilament
Goshie’s Lure Picks
Surecatch Knight 40-85gm
Surecatch Bishop 35-65gm
Richter Surface plug 3oz/117mm
Cotton Cordell 150mm pencil popper
Rapala X-rap SRX-14