The Yellowfin Tuna Plugging Guide
The winter offshore season in the Galapagos Islands (Ecuador) includes a huge influx of yellowfin tuna ranging from 20lbs all the way up to 150lbs (and sometimes more). The fish feed almost exclusively on sardines and flying fish. We fish with the Sportfish Galapagos charter operation and they have become quite good at locating the best action in the waters off of San Cristobal Island.
The bite is typically red-hot every single day and it has provided great opportunities to hone our yellowfin tuna fishing techniques and compile a comprehensive guide to their behavior.
When schools of tuna encounter sardines or flying fish, they encircle them and quickly drive them up to the surface where they can massacre them. Once they attack, the bait ball is often broken up and spread across a larger area which provides for an incredible show of surface strikes as helpless sardines are blasted from below. The action rarely lasts long and it takes some serious preparation and strategy to hook up regularly.
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The boats we use in San Cristobal are typically 30-35ft in length and feature an open offshore style cockpit and a bow with little or no protection or support for the angler. It is critical that the boat is carefully positioned and that the angler can make effective casts from the back of the boat. In addition, because heavier tackle is required for the larger fish, casting distances are typically much shorter. Because the big yellowfin tuna move much more quickly than the smaller fish, boat handling becomes ultra-critical. Learn more about boat handling for plugging tuna.
Jigs or Poppers?
Some anglers try to improve their chances by throwing butterfly jigs and other similar metal jigs. These jigs can be deadly on large schools of smaller fish. However, the schools with larger fish typically have fewer numbers and move at incredible speeds just beneath the surface. This makes it much tougher to keep the jig in the hit zone for any length of time. A very fast retrieve may keep the jig up in the water column, but only for a short time. For this reason, big poppers are the much more effective (despite the shorter casting distance). A steady retrieve with a popper means you are going to be in the hit zone for a much longer time.
Light Tackle Choices
When the fish are 50lbs or less, this game is certainly much easier though the correct poppers are a must. The ultimate goal is to use tackle just heavy enough for the fish you are targeting to ensure maximum casting distance. Many anglers make the mistake of going too light and simply do not have enough muscle to bring the fish to the boat quickly enough. As the fight goes on, hooks can work loose, connections can fail, and some other critters may end up with your tuna. We had a single big male sea lion attack two hooked 150lb+ yellowfin tuna at the boat. There was no way he was going to eat a fish that big, but couldn’t help but attack it. Once the sea lion latched on, the connections failed before the angler could loosen the drag. The tuna bolted for the depths and the sea lion simply let go and came up looking for his next target! Anglers – zero, sea lion – zero, tuna – 2 new poppers.
Go Heavy or Go Home Empty Handed
When the fish are upwards of 50lbs heavier tackle is required. You can certainly fight and land big yellowfin tuna on light tackle, but the other anglers on the boat better be ready to sit on their hands while you spend 30 minutes or much more on a fish that could have been brought to the boat in less than 15 minutes. Worse, you may never get that fish and even if you do, you better plan on keeping it because it will never survive the release. Learn more about selecting the right outfit for tuna plugging.
Some Tuna are Just Really Big
Once you get into the 100lbs plus class, spinning tackle can become quite a challenge. To keep the fight reasonable a shorter rod and heavier line is required. This means that casting distance is seriously compromised. Worse yet, fish that size are typically in very small pods and move incredibly fast making them tough to target. Learn more about taking oversize fish on spinning tackle.
Select the biggest possible plug that your rod can effectively throw. Experiment with several plugs to determine the plug that gives you the most distance. A common mistake is selecting a plug that is simply too heavy for the rod. You can still cast it, but the distance will certainly suffer. It is critical that you have at least two outfits and a decent selection of different size popping plugs. For the 2012 season we brought along some amazing Yo-Zuri top water lures including the Sashimi Bull.
Plugging on the Troll
When you are in area where the yellowfin tuna just aren’t staying on top for long, the captain may elect to troll. Unfortunately this is NOT the most effective method to take big yellowfin tuna. The biggest fish stay tight to the bait balls and are reluctant to leave them for a trolled offering. However, there is still a very good chance that you will get to cast to breaking fish. It just takes some practice and a few simple tips. Learn more about casting while trolling for yellowfin tuna.
Read the Birds
The birds are always an aid to locating schools of feeding fish. It is important to learn how to translate your observations into an action which will get you on the fish. A group of birds that is growing larger every moment is a sign that the bait is getting pushed towards the surface and it is time to start heading that way. The best possible scenario occurs when you arrive just as the tuna start their attack. Small groups of birds flying low across the water all headed in the same direction suggests that they see something off in the distance that you cannot.
There is really no need to be a hero and fight yellowfin tuna without a belt. The right belt will allow you to put maximum pressure on the fish and increase your chances of getting the fish to the boat. A shorter fight may also give you an option to release the fish. A spinning rod with a butt gimbal will certainly make fighting tuna even easier especially during a prolonged battle.
None of the manufacturers actually equip their plugs with hooks designed for large yellowfin tuna. We always swap out the hooks for 3/0 or 4/0 3x Mustad trebles. Learn more about plugging lure preparation.
Catch More Fish!
Targeting big yellowfin tuna with poppers can be quite challenging. However, the strike and the fight are certainly worth all the extra effort. Selecting the right tackle and using the right techniques will give you the best chance of coming home with some great pictures and memories!
Watch on YouTube or share this link: http://youtu.be/9KjaChI6opwBy Capt Andy LoCascio - Host of Northeast Angling TV Share your comments on the Northeast Angling Facebook page