Pro Talk: Cast to Bluefin Tuna

With Capt. Brian Patterson – www.pattersonguideservice.com

In this article, my goal will be to cover the bare essentials when even considering chasing these majestic fish.  With strict regulations on them in recent months, gear of the past is no longer adequate to safely and effectively catch, land, and potentially release this species. I will cover tackle geared toward the light tackle fishermen and even more specifically, those wishing to cast to the breaking beasts.

Rod selection:  7’-8’

Choose a rod with a stiff butt and mid-section but that has a relatively light tip.  A lighter tip will make it easier to cast soft baits and small jigs. On my boat, we use both Calstar and Van Staal Rods spinning rods but there are plenty of great manufacturers out there.  Seven to eight foot rods are standard.

Advantages of Longer rods

  • Allow for better castability,
  • Help with applying horizontal pressure
  • And aid with runs under the boat.

Disadvantages of Longer rods:

  • Difficultly with fighting fish vertically. NOT IDEAL for jigging.

Rods: A few Hogy Recommendations…

St. Croix LSWS76MHF  7’6″MH Fast 130-50 Mono 40-65 Braid

St. Croix LSWS70HF  7’H  Fast  150-80 Mono 65-100 Braid


Reel Selection

When it comes to reels, a top quality reel designed for this kind of fishing is essential. Learn from my mistakes.  I started with lower end tuna reels only to gradually replace them with reels that don’t break while you are fighting the one.  We now use only Van Staal 250 and 275 spinning reels for tuna.  We have tried in vain to kill these reels and they look like they just came out of he box. They seem to be the most popular on the Cape. The Shimano Stella 10000 and the DAIWA Saltiga are also popular choices.

Spooling your Reel

Take a piece of electrical tape and wrap the spool twice. Then load the reel with at least 350 yards of 80 lb. braid. If you have never loaded a reel yourself, don’t start with this one.  Get it done at the tackle shop you purchased it from or by someone with a line winder.  The braid must be packed tightly on the spool. I go through a new pair of leather gloves each spring loading my line on the reels!  To make sure it is on tight, you can also find a secluded body of water, let out some of the line off the stern and start driving.  Once you come close to the end of the spool, stop and start cranking.  The water weight will be enough to get that line on tight.  This is important to prevent the braid from digging or spinning into the spool when you have a large tuna on the other end.

Line Type and Color

On my charters, I use Cortland Mastery Series braid due to its smooth surface and overall strength.  It does not produce wind knots like some other lines out there.  For the color, it is purely personal preference, but the olive is a stealthy-looking line and makes me feel like it matters.

Quick Tip

Use different color braid for each size line. Example: 80-pound braid is in olive, 65 pound is white etc.  It will make your life easier when grabbing a reel at 2 AM.

Choosing a Leader

One way to keep it easy is just to buy wind-on leaders.  These attach using a loop-to-loop connection to your braided line.  As the tuna are approaching 200 pounds, lean to the side of caution and get 80 to 100lb fluorocarbon or mono.  The length should be about 12 feet.  This is important because it allows you to cut your line several times while rigging. If the fish doubles back on you, its body will be against your leader and not your braid (which it will cut off if that happens).

If you prefer to tie direct: here are a few knots we like:

Terminal Connection

At the end of the line we use a system of tying directly to a solid stainless steel “0” ring. By doing this, we don’t have to keep cutting and re-rigging a lure.  We simply use split ring pliers and connect it to whatever plastic or lure we want to use. Tip: Stay with the smallest ring for your lure. An Owner #6.5 solid ring is rated at 300 lb.  If we hook into a 300-pound tuna on light tackle, the “O” ring is the least of my concerns!

Lure Selection

Lure selection is again mostly preference and what has been the most productive for each angler. Among fishing captains, most agree on one thing: The most effective lure is the one you have the most confidence with.  Since most people reading this may be just getting into tuna fishing, we will keep it simple. In my opinion,
As far as soft baits go: Mike Hogan with Hogy Lures produces two top tuna killers:

Other top lures we use are Tattoo’s Sea Pups. They produce every color combination imaginable so choose one that mimics the baitfish in the water.

These three lures compose 90% of my tackle box.

Before Heading Out

While on dry land, take a hard look at your set-up. Check your rods for any nick or cracks. Check the guides for wear and tear.  Test the drag on your reel.  For tuna, the drag should be set where it is hard to pull line off the reel with just your hand.  If it is too tight, that fish will break it immediately. If it is too loose you will get spooled immediately.  By pulling the line directly from the reel (not through the rod tip) you should not feel any “sticking” and the braid should not cut your hand.

Spotting Fish

If you see breaking fish, they will not be hard to miss.  Volvo-sized splashes, aerial acrobatics, bait being sprayed, and running for their lives! There are very few things in this world that will get you more excited than seeing breaking tuna.  There are days, however, that they are not as active.  As you move about the vast body of water, look for birds, surface pattern changes, dark bodies of water or flashes of white/blue under the water.  All too often boats run right over fish because they just do not know what to look for besides the splashes.  Running and gunning is nowhere near as important as slow and steady on days like this.

Approaching Fish

So now you see some fish, (or what you think may be fish), what next?  DO NOT run fast and land up on top of them! The calmer the surface water, the slower the boat should be going.  Power up to them and at all times observe the direction the tuna are moving. If they are coming at you, slow down and be patient.  If they are moving away, try to avoid following directly behind them.  Make a parallel line and get ahead of the school.  This will allow your cast to move with the bait versus against them.  I never saw prey choose to go at its predator!  Once you feel you have obtained a good location and within your casting ability take one more second to calm yourself.  Let your lure land 10 feet ahead of the feeding fish.  The fish that you saw last is usually in the middle of the school so by placing your lure ahead of the “lead” fish, you can cover more of the working fish.

Casting to Tuna

Let the fun begin!  Once you cast, get your slack line in as quickly as possible.  With your rod tip to your strong side, give it a quick twitch.  It usually does not take more than that before you’re off to the races.  In case it does, keep reeling slowly, twitching at variable speeds.  Tuna can and will hit it within sight of your hull.  If by some strange chance you did not get a taker, cast again but let it sink for about five seconds.  The diving action and upswing is a great imitator of running prey.  If they don’t want slow, speed it up an try a fast retrieve.

The Fighting Tuna

BAM! Fish on.  It is very important right now to ensure that your hook is solidly placed in the jaw of your tuna.  As it runs, keep your rod tip at a 45 degree angle and if the fish slows even for a second, power your rod tip back to drive the hook home.  Many times the fish won’t do much on the first run, but as soon as you hook set them, hold on!  How long a fish will run will be up to her.  She may hit the horizon or head to the bottom.  There are too many options here to cover them all but for the sake of time, let’s say she runs to deeper water.  Before you yell at the skipper to chase it, give it a moment. Your reel is set so that your drag gets tighter as the line quantity lessens.  Keep talking to your captain as the line gets lower.  Slow powering is usually sufficient to keep up with a running fish.  If the fish doubles back, you will need to reel feverishly to keep slack line from forming.  Typical tuna fights can range from 15-45 minutes.  That just depends on how angry your bull is that day!

Counter Moves

When your fish goes left, your rod tip should go right. The pressure should be so that your rod is as described in the test above, near parallel.  If the fish goes right, you counteract by moving your rod tip left.  This movement by the fish will indicate that you are properly fighting the fish and breaking its spirit. This will in turn shorten the fight time and get a quicker release ensuring survival.  When the fish is at its end, it will do what is known as the “death circle”.  These are large circles usually done under your boat when the fish is exhausted.  It is crucial at this point to keep constant pressure on the fish and not allow it to circle down getting water and oxygen.  You may find that every time you go to lift the fish up with your rod, your drag goes off and it is at a stand-still.  Here we employ our extra hand to give finger pressure to the spool upon the lifting of the rod.  This will give just enough pressure to get the fish up to the boat.  If the fish decides to run, your drag knob has not changed and the fish will not break off.

Safe Handling of Your Catch

Once the fish is boat-side you have two choices.  The first is obvious, but in case it is a slot or extra fish, you may want to tag and release it.  If you are tagging the fish, the tag should already be ready to go (along with a sharp knife).  It is a good idea to do this in the down time while waiting for fish so all pieces are ready.  Get a solid lip gaff and stick the bottom jaw. If possible, remove your lure.  Tip: Single hooks are far easier to remove than trebles. You can replace all or one of your trebles with quality single hooks for this reason. Hogy lures come with single hooks and are ideal in this situation because even if the hook remains, the soft plastic will fall off and the fish will have a better chance of surviving. If you can’t remove the hook from the fish’s mouth, cut the line as close to the lure as possible with your knife.  Tag the fish as close to the dorsal fin as possible.  Swim the fish if necessary with the lip gaff still in place. As the fish gains energy with water and oxygen, pop out the gaff and celebrate. You just gave a future angler the opportunity to share the same excitement you just had!

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10 comments on “Pro Talk: Cast to Bluefin Tuna
  1. Real good article; very informative. One question, you say you use a solid ring to attach your hook or lure but you describe using a split ring plier to make the attachment. That would indicate that you’d be using a “split” ring, would it not?
    Thanks again, Steve

    • admin says:

      You are correct. Commonly, a solid ring will be attached to a lures split ring for quick change outs. In the case with Hogy Rigging, a split ring would be added to the hook eye for the same purpose.

  2. Richard Reed says:

    Loved the vid. and the articel but I have one question. With spinning gear how do you keep twist out of the line when casting? Saw no mention of a swivel etc. Any suggestions would be appreciated. THANKS!!!!

    • admin says:

      You should not have trouble with line twists, unless the bait is rigged incorrectly, the retrieve should be a side to side motion, not a spinning action. If you feel more comfortable having a swivel inline, attach it via split rig directly to the hook eye. In some scenarios, having that extra hardware can deter a fish from biting.

  3. Hello Sir, I fish for bluefin tuna in France near Marseille (Mediterannee)
    you advise me as hogy LURE, and hooks
    Best regards
    Mr Rovira François

  4. this is very informative, I am on my second yearof noce a year fishing. my first time I caught a yellow fin tuna 68 lbs.
    and it took me almost 2 hours to bring in the boat. i bought all my gear from other fisherman just to get started.
    its a 5 day trip from San Diego H&M – EXCEL BOAT. AWESOME. Last month i bought my gear new talica 25 2 speed and a hybrid phenix rod its awesome combo. i went for 3 3 1/2 day tripo from S.D. aboard SEA ADVENTURE 80, ITS A NICE BOAT. BUT ??? Service is no where to describe it. I WOULD NOT GO FOR SECOND. TO CLEAN / FILET YOUR FISH $ 4.00 DOLLARS CHARGE. I CAN GO ON WRITING ABOUT THIS BOAT. Anyway i Caught good amount of yellow tail and one blue fin tune 29.5 pounds with my new gear and its no brainer i will get another 2 speed reel.

  5. Brian says:

    When spooling your reel, do you use just braided line and then a 12 foot leader? I was fishing the other day with guys who did about 250 yards of braid, 200 yards of monofilament, and about 20 feet of fluorocarbon leader. The fluorocarbon was 20lb test. The mono was 50lb and braid 80lb. This doesn’t make sense to me because won’t the 20lb test leader be the weakest point? Can you skip adding monofilament line and just use braid and leader?

    • Capt. Ross Gallagher says:

      Hi Brian,

      We normally run 300yds of 80lb braid and then add a 10′ – 12′ wind on casting leader ranging from 80lb – 130lb depending on fish size and how finicky they are on a given day.

  6. Larry cannuli says:

    You said you use only van stall 250 an 275 spinning reels my question is do you use bailed or bailless an what rods do u like best. I am setting up two outfits for tuna one for jigging an the other for top water what would you use/ like best thanks Larry C.

    • Capt. Ross Gallagher says:

      Hi Larry,

      We used VS Reels in the past, but the past few years we have been very happy using Shimano Stella Reels in the 14k – 20k size range. They have been very reliable and we prefer a bailed reel.

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