by Lee Brake
This week Lee Brake is looking at the ideal species for those quick trips on winter mornings, the spool burning tuna! He reveals how if you're after a bit of adrenalin to get the blood pumping back to those cold extremities, then these are the fish for you!
See that! A barrel sinker painted white is all you need for a cheap and effective tuna slug! - Winter quick tripping for tuna
Winter is a time for hot coffee, stiff scotch, spray jackets and verbally abused alarm clocks and while we in the north might have it pretty easy compared to southern anglers, we certainly aren't used to the colder conditions. For this reason, many anglers use the cooler months as a time to service barra gear and do much needed maintenance on the boat. However, even these stalwart summer fishos can be tempted out of their warm sheds and beds by the prospect of a little tuna mayhem!
The best things about tuna is that they get up with the sun and usually come right inshore during the cooler months, so no super early starts are required. They also don't require super expensive gear – a medium quality spin combo is ideal – and they don't require any great skill to find and catch. When they are on, they're on!
Put simply, 'the bird is the word'. Yep, head out of the nearest river mouth or harbour heads, find some relatively clean water and look for the nearest flock of birds. The moment they start hovering over an area or, better still, diving into a frothing, churning, maelstrom of white water, you know that's where the bait ball is and the tuna will usually be there too! If you can't find a flock, think about areas where you normally find bait: current lines, on the protected side of island points, rocks and reefs, and near colour changes (i.e. where water flowing from a river meets clean oceanic waters).
Finding them is actually the easiest part of the whole affair; getting within casting distance can be the tricky part, especially on a calm day when there's plenty of boat traffic. Often the best thing you can do is just pull up down current from a school, kill the outboard and wait for them to come to you. If they are really feeding hard, then you might be able to charge up to a school and get a few casts in before they spook and the school goes deep only to pop up somewhere else well out of range. Most times though, you won't be so lucky.
Casting distance and retrieval speed are the most important factors you need to consider when choosing gears for tuna chasing; however, also keep in mind the bait size you need to be imitating. Most times, when feeding inshore, tuna will be hammering through schools of whitebait and hardyheads the length of a toothpick. Casting metal slices at them the length of a ballpoint pen is not going to work.
Therefore, you will need to use light gear, but don't worry; tuna don't charge for structure and as long as you can chase them and have plenty of line, you can land them on most weight outfits (if you have the time to play them out). I like three to five kg spin combos around seven'incheswith a flicky tip and a 2500-3000 size spin reel with at least a 5.0:1 gear ratio. Line choice is fairly open, but a nice fusion braid that casts well in about 10lb will get the job done when coupled with a 20-40lb leader.
You can get away with lighter gear, but doing so will usually mean that you'll have to play the tuna out until it is fatally exhausted. This will obviously depend on the variety and size class around on the day, as the most common mack tuna, while fun, are the beginners model of tuna, whereas the other varieties – northern blue, yellowfin and long tail for example – will test you out even on much heavier gear.
Lure choice is simple and can be as simple as a barrel sinker painted white with a straight-shank single hook behind it and a swivel in front to keep it in place. Obviously the standby is the shiny metal casting lure and almost any brand or make will do; however, I do like small-profiled, chunky slugs rather than flat, wide, thin slices. This is so you can cast further and wind faster without the lure cart-wheeling across the surface and fouling up. Another option is a three to four' soft plastic jerkshad in a natural white or clear colour rigged on a heavy, aerodynamic head. My favourite tuna lure of them all, though, is the marabou jig. This simple, white featherhead jig slicks back when wet and, when cranked rapidly through the water, resembles a small baitfish profile perfectly!
Overall, catching tuna is a lot of fun. The thrill of seeing one zero in on a fast cranked lure and the realisation that no matter how fast you wind, you can't escape it, is worth putting the boat in all by itself. Then seeing that missile-like fish detonate on the lure, thrash and then scream off at a speed that literally makes your spool burn – it's really one of life great pleasures. Be smart though.
Don't needlessly kill fish just for fun and if you do want to take a tuna for a feed, look after the flesh. Brain spike it, bleed it and put it in an ice slurry. Marinade in honey, soy sauce and some Chinese five spice and flash fry on a hot BBQ plate – yummo!!!