Advanced Yellowfin Tuna Tactics

Posted by Colin on Sep 20, 2010

 

There is likely no other fish that has frustrated anglers on more levels than yellowfin tuna...born with overly refined pallates and graduate degrees in evasive maneuvors...i've yet to cross another specie of fish that...while often displaying violent aggresiveness during feeding...maintains such a forensic approach to nearly all offerings...

How many times have we all been in the throes of crashing, foaming madness...pitching every conceivable live, dead, chunked or skipping bait cocktail we can imagine...yet somehow fail to seduce a bite from the hordes of obviously hungry fish around the boat...?

The correct answer to that would be..."more times than we'd like to admit..."

I could tell stories for days about my first few years down here in Puerto Vallarta...surrounded by such aforementioned madness...laying it bare day after day with what were my best tricks at the time and calmly accepting my inadequacy at first...before eventually succombing to chronic near-fatal nail biting and an occassional tantrum laden blowout...

"OH GOD!!!" i would often scream, fingernail clippings flying from my lips... "THIS CAN'T BE HAPPENNING!!!!"

But yes...it was...thousands of massive fish around the boat...flying through the air...boiling and frothing on all sides...CON SONAR...SHITSTORM ALL QUADRANTS...and not one buckled rod or screaming drag to show for it...

Well i went through a period of that...doing things the old fashioned way...with less-than-limited success...for even tunas get stupid sometimes and yes, an old blind dog will find a porkchop if given enough of a headstart...but i knew the current system wasn't jiving...and i got tired of saying "yeah...but they just ain't biting today" over the airwaves...

The rules of engagement were about to change...and chivalry, as it were, was about to be flushed out the scuppers...the days of proper civilized confrontation upon an open battle field were through...it was time to get guerilla on these bastards...

In guerilla warfare the element of surprise is of obvious key importance and history offers much to the angler or captain with a penchant for Mao Tse-Tung, Vo Nguyen Giap, or Ernesto Che Guevara and an eye for tactical advantage...

Below : A sign of activity. Dolphin can often mark the spot for Tuna in the open ocean


A-HA!!! i would often bellow as some yet undiscovered tactical maneuvor became clear as time and reasearch bore on...VIVO GUEVARA!!!

While all this may seem frivilous on a public level...there are deep and dire truths to be contemplated behind the mechanics of guerilla fishing...namely, the sneak attack from above...and when it comes to yellowfin tuna fishing nothing...and i do mean NOTHING...will pull the wool over their penetrating eyes more so than the deployment of a kite or hellium balloon...

While it can be argued that yes, Zane Grey likely did invent modern kite fishing while targetting elusive giant Pacific bluefin that were known to haunt Catalina Island off the shores of southern California back in the early 1930's...i'm going to side with the general consensus that it wasn't until kite fishing hit the scene 60 years later in Florida that the art was properly perfected...and it was there...while running hard from the dire consequences of a Canadian winter that i first discovered the implausable effectiveness of live baits fished below a kite...

I'll never forget my first day on the famous Islamorada Hump when the kite went out and the pilchards and goggle eyes began to dance across the surface of the water...skittering away from the boat and on their way to a curt, but fantastic adieu...the blackfin tunas until this change of tactic had blatantly refused all offerings...live, dead, chunked or otherwise...until ol' captain salty barked at us below to prepare the kite...from then on it was one blatant knockdown after another as 15 - 20# blackfin exploded on the baits...OK...i thought...now there's one i didn't expect...and fortunately from our standpoint...and unfortunately from theirs...neither had the tunas...


Below : Teamwork pays off as the crew lands a quality Yellowfin..


A few seasons turned before i found myself in a similar situation...and although i was now several thousand miles away from the shores of Islamorada and with considerably larger fish in view than those blackfin tunas from that first eye-opening day...much remaind the same...we were surrounded by fish...loaded with live bait...and completely fishless...

Clients have a tendency to take these things in stride...and i'm certain they had immeasurable faith in me as a captain to pull some magical creature from the depths of the hat of knoweledge to save the day and by god put some carcasses in the coffin...

But the looks on their faces when i pulled forth a strange tubular contraption and began to assemble the rigging into a kite bordered on incredulous...even at the minimal prices we were charging in those day's i'm sure at that point both of those guys went...Alright...we just spent several hundred dollars to go fly a kite?!?!?! And to be honest i almost sided with them...afterall...we were a looooong way from Islamorada and most of these fish could have chomped several blackfin before calling it a meal...but what the hell, i thought...let's give it a go...

As fate would have it no other boats were in sight that day...a common occurence during those years...or they would have surely enjoyed a chuckle as i drove upwind of the structure while my deckhand frantically struggled to deploy the kite astern...quite a sight it was i'm sure...nevertheless...we managed to get the kite up and one lonely goggle eye danced away below it as we neared the masses of locked-jaw tunas stacked up along the ridge...

Of course...it didn't take long...

Thirty yards upcurrent from the closest sign of tuna our little goggle eye went night night in a large and messy way...

"SONOFA-!" i screamed and flew past the clients...wrenching the rod from the holder and bracing myself for dear life as 150#'s of mayhem tore ass for the horizon at a rate of unimaginable speed...

"Atta boy!!!" chorused the clients and just like that my grand yellowfin unification theory...as infantile as it was at the time...changed forever...

The movement had a new altar...and it flew in the form of a kite...

Of course i'm definitely not the first person to benefit from this revelation over the last 100 some-odd years...but my oh my what a difference it made regarding how i approached tuna fishing from that day forward...to this day when all esle fails i'll bet you a dime to a dollar that once that kite goes up tuna will hit the deck as though instructed by the words of God Himself...it is THAT deadly...

Below : Sushi-Grade Tuna hits the deck...

While kite fishing is particularly effective on all manner of pelagics, inshore species such as roosterfish, heck even large mouth bass if you really want to reach...for the purposes of this discussion we will concern ourselves solely with fishing the kite...and later hellium balloons...for otherwise lock-jawed yellowfin tunas...

As we discussed before, tunas often have a maddenning ability to refuse just about anything brandishing a hook or trailing a line...fluoro or not...which is exactly why kite fishing opened the doors for tuna fishermen around the world...because by utilizing a kite we are able to deliver a bait to the fish with no line or hook visable to the fish whatsoever...fair?...i think so...deadly?...oh yes...DEFINITELY....

The mechanics of fishing a kite are extremely simple in theory...a kite is flown...a bait is dangled below it...and an otherwise uncooperative fish eats the bait HALLELUJAH!!!...oooooh...if it were only that elementary in practice...

The first challenge in kite fishing is selecting and purchasing the right kite...or kites for that matter...

Personally i lean towards the Capt Bob Lewis models in x-light, light, and medium wind for the lion's share of our applications...everyone has their favorites...the important thing is identifying what your typical local wind conditions are going to be...and then purchasing kites manufactured to handle it...

Below : A lit up Tuna at the leader gets the crew excited...

I'd wager a guess and suggest that for 90% of the kite fishing applications out there an x-light and medium Capt Bob Lewis will do the job nicely...and yes, you're going to need two different kites for various wind speeds if you're pondering the notion of kite fishing seriously...

While we're at it we might as well purchase the Capt Bob Lewis pre-made kite fishing line fortuitously sold with two release clips and all the bells and whistles...ergo eliminating many problems we would otherwise encounter later when it comes time to attach release clips, calculating distances between said clips, etc. etc. etc...it's really quite a neat little set up and one we highly recommend...particularly for beginners...because right out of the package it works just fine...

I won't bore you with recommendations on kite rod and reel combo's...just make sure the guides of the rod are large enough for in-line kite line swivels to pass through and the reel has enough of a drag left in it to handle a large kite in a stern wind...other than that the rest is up to you...

Now i will suggest this...when it comes to the actual mainline you are fishing with...i highly...and i do mean HIGHLY recommend Berkley Braid or some other kind of multi-fillament braided line as the weight of regular mono mainline is going to have dire consequenses on light wind days or when great kite flying distances are required in order to fool wary, boat shy fish...braided line is almost weightless in comparison to monofilament and weight is a large consideration in any equation where things are going up in the air...so spool up a few dedicated, high retrieve ratio reels with multi-fillament mainline that you can use specifically for kite fishing...

Below : Big boys over 200lbs may require 2-3 gaffs along side the boat...

Subsequently, reel manufacturers...particularly Avet...are showing that they are indeed paying attention to developing trends in the application side of this industry and have released kite-friendly reels specifically designed for recovering line quickly on the bite...as there is a tremendous amount of "slack" line to be recovered between the rod tip and the fish once the kite release clip relinquishes the fishing line during the bite...reels such as the ultra-fast retrieve two-speed 50 from Avet are prime examples of tools specifically designed for this task...and of course we highly recommend them for this purpose...remember...tactical advantage is as important as technological advantage when it comes to warfare...

From this combo of high-speed retrieve reel and multi-fillament line we are going to attach a swivel and then a short piece of leader material...we tend to go with fluoro because of it's abrasion resistant qualities and overall strength...to this leader...we'll tie or crimp a circle hook because we are using live bait here and there is always the threat of a billfish coming up...and we certainly don't want to hurt those buggers unnecessarily...

Circle hooks for the most part anyway are a far superior hook for most fishing purposes...allowing lighter leaders to be used because the hook so often catches in the hinge of the jaw where the leader is safely out of harms way...so except for lures...you'll find we use circles for just about everything...

For goggle eyes and blue runners...our most common live bait below the kite for tunas...we'll use a 6/0 - 9/0 Hyabusa or Owner Super Mutu circle...if we are skipping dead baits below the kite in effort to simulate a fleeing flying fish we'll oversize our hooks at least one or two sizes...but more on this later...

Below : There is no room for mistakes when you have a mammoth Yellowfin at the boat...

I have seen some crews bridle baits for use on the kite and we have experimented with this method but i much prefer pinning the bait right behind the dorsal fin with the hook itself as we've had bridled baits foul during the bite...but to each his own...

Once the kite is in the air and you've pinned your bait on and prepared to launch the little bugger towards his shot at greatness do NOT throw the bait into the water yet...FIRST clip the mainline into the kite release clip and begin to let the kite out slowly while you hold the bait by the leader with one hand...as the line comes tight between the release clip and the bait toss the bait into the water and make sure to keep enough tension on the mainline to keep the bait skipping along the surface of the water as the kite is deployed...

This trick does two things...one, it eliminates the common mistake of popping release clips as a bait that is tossed into the water immediately after you pin it on the hook will dive below the boat while you are taking the time to clip the mainline into the release clip...the deep bait pulling back towards the surface will creat a lot of extra drag while you deploy the kite and will almost certainly cause you to pop those release clips prematurely...and two, a bait that is skipping on the surface on the way out is just as effective as when it finally reaches it's destination...and believe you me the sight of a 300# tuna detonating on a bait that's skipping just mere meters from the boat on it's way out is all the reminding you'll need to keep that bait up and skipping the entire time...

Below : Hand feeding a Mega Yellowfin ... it doesn't get much better than this...


Once the bait is out and in position we increase the drag to strike and maintain a constant vigilence on that workhorse out there...winds are hardly constant and an additional huff or waffing lull will cause the bait to rise or sink from that magical half-in/half-out of the water zone...BE DILLIGENT!!!...i am constantly growling at my deckhands for not keeping the bait tickling the surface...believe me...there are times when it does make a difference...

Subsequently...not all tunas crush the bait in a massive explosion...dozens of times i've sworn the bait has just vanished when all of a sudden the release clip pops and i'm reeling frantically only to come tight on a tuna...and not necessarily a small one...big tunas have the amazing ability to sip a kite bait like a wary trout sipping tiny blue winged olives on an english chalk stream...i can't stress this enough...KEEP AN EYE ON THAT BAIT!!!!

With the bait finally in position and fish likely haunting the area you're going to get bit...there's no doubt about that...what happens next is a matter of great debate...particularly on our boat...

From our experience if a fish jackhammers the bait and takes off we'll simply start cranking like mad, come tight and hopefully the drag will be screaming...

But not all bites are like that...on softer bites we'll often argue whether or not we should give the fish a few seconds in freespool with the line still in the kite release clip before locking up the drag and commencing to crank...i don't know what to recommend here except to say that every fish...and every bite, is different...so i'll leave it up to you to take it on a fish by fish basis while considering the two aforementioned options...

Subsequently, i'll leave it up to you to decide just how many baits you're going to fish from one kite...the options are endless and we've fished as much as six baits from one kite although that was excessive and i wouldn't recommend it...the Capt Lewis packaged kite lines come with two pre-spaced release clips and for starters i'd leave it at that...there are aftermarket clips that you can either splice or attach to the line as well but flying two baits at a time...particularly with tuna around...will likely provide all the action you can handle...

As long as we're talking about fishing live baits below the kite we might as well mention a method that is gaining popularity out here on the west coast...it's called the "double trouble"...

The "DT" entails clipping two leaders of equal length to the mainline swivel and fishing two live baits at the same time from one mainline...this technique has been around for a long time on the east coast and while it is very effective i find it an extremely rare occurance when fish are going to respond to that method better than a single bait...so file it away for future reference but i wouldn't recommend it as a go-to kite technique as you're wasting two baits during every bite when one single bait would've done the job adequately...but still...it's a good one to know...(now that's a politically correct tip if there ever was one...)

Alright! That's the basics of kite set-up and rigging...now how do we fish them...?

First and foremost you can pretty much forget about fishing kites on open water tuna schools...UNLESS those schools are working an obvious confined area and you are ABSOLUTELY certain that the fish are still going to be in the general zone after you've taken the time to get everything set up have begun a drift...because it does take time...

Almost all of our kite fishing is done covering some sort of structure where tuna are known to haunt...this doesn't necessarily mean you can always see the them...so make note of that...what fishing structure does is give you a valuable point of reference and an area where tuna are going to be living and feeding...look at high-spots and islands offshore as large and greasy truck stops where fish concentrations are usually high and there's bottlenecking traffic on both the arriving and departing lanes...

Once you get to know you're spots you should be able to guage just when and where the tuna will be along that structure given clues like current, weather, and tides...once you've ascertained this extremely important part run well up-wind...and well up-current of the zone leaving you at least 7 - 10 mins to get everything set up...keep in mind...you can have opposing winds and current causing lateral drifting instead of more easily defined lines...so watch your track mark for the first minute on your GPS while you're rigging and make an adjustment to your position if you have to...

Tunas will almost always be working upcurrent of offshore islands and underwater structure...while these individual schools of fish will move in patterns around the area they will always return to certain locations where feed is available...after a while you'll be able to develop an understanding of where and when these fish are going show based upon the timeline the fish have been keeping throughout the day...it's gotten to the point for us now that we can pretty much pinpoint each drift as the fish move around the structure on their feeding and travelling routes...but that kind of understanding only comes with time...

Below : A sign of activity. Dolphin can often mark the spot for Tuna in the open ocean



Obviously things are a lot easier if the fish are blowing out all along the ridge...but what if the fish aren't showing on the surface at all...? WATCH YOUR METER...highlight those words because they will catch you more tuna...if the fish aren't showing put some baits or lures in the water and troll around...find where the tunas are hanging out and then proceed accordingly...

Sadly, there are times when tuna are going to go graduate school on us and refuse the drift altogether whether they are showing or not...which is when we take it to the next level...

It took me a while to figure this out but when all else fails i've started skipping a dead goggle eyes along below the kite...rather fast...at 6 - 8 knots with a spread of lures behind the boat as a matter of fact...and the results have been phenominal...tunas that i couldn't even mark on the meter ERUPTED on baits from more than 10 feet away...fish up to 180#'s have fallen during the later part of this season when we wouldn't normally consider that size of fish here...well, well, well...

Skipping the baits along so closely approximates a flying fish fleeing for it's life that tunas...of all shapes and sizes...cannot...WILL NOT say no...days when i am telling you nothing...not one technique would pull a tuna but this one...so falls another rosetta stone in our favor...

Not to mention the technique is pretty goddamn exciting...

Part of the trick is to kill the bait beforehand...trust me it will skip straighter...and you need to forget what i told you about positioning a live bait...you want this dead bait skipping at least 50 feet behind where the kite is as you're trolling...creating a sling-shot effect that mimics a flyer perfectly...do NOT let the bait tumble...very important...and keep it in the air more than the water...make them come to you...oooooohh...they will!

Position the hook...which is oversized one or two sizes as i mentioned before...directly behind the head and gill plates and as you feed the hook through the bait go BELOW the spine...this ensures that that bait is going to stay on there in the heat of battle...when you get bit make absolutely sure the fish has the bait...these fish come so fast and hard that quite often they'll blow the bait off their foreheads two or three times before finally nailing the drive...once you're sure the fish has the bait, reel like mad and give the throttles a little bump to help the slack come tight faster...save that person's rotator cuff down there...

OK...FINE!...but what if we don't have any wind...?

Yup...it happens...like an evasive senorita the wind can play with your emotions from sun up to sun down...luckily we've got a back up plan...code word "HINDENBURG"...

May the fish gods bless William Ramsay and his discovery because Helium is a wonderful gas when it comes to offshore fishing around these parts...and has saved our butts on more days then one...balloons are fished much in the same way as kites...although they are limited insofar as how many baits can be fished from each balloon and the fact that they do not troll as nicely at high speeds...

How about taping balloons to kites when the winds go light...? Exactly...you can do that too...

But if you want to fish just a straight balloon here's what you do...

Dedicate a small baitfishing rod and reel on the boat and fill the reel with straight multi-filament line...say 50# test...when you have blown up your balloon...and i suggest starting with a 36" diameter one to start...use a piece of waxed rigging floss 6' long and tie a few half hitches on the nipple of the balloon with one end of the floss...next, make a loop using a surgens knot in the end of the spectra coming off the rodtip and loop the loop back upon itself, passing the nipple of the balloon through this loop and pulling tight to secure the balloon to the bait rod...

Next, peel off around 50' of line from the mainline of the fishing rod you've set up exactly like in kite fishing, and secure a light rubber band to the mainline 50' from the hook...take the waxed rigging floss that is secured to the balloon and half hitch the floss to the rubberband...attaching the balloon via the rubberband "release clip" to the mainline...pin on a bait and deploy the balloon exactly as described above in the live bait kite fishing segment...

The tricky part is learning how much helium you need in the balloon to give the kite additional lift or to float a bait out on it's own...it takes time but all things come eventually...

Some of my most memorable moments offshore have come watching giant tunas catapult through the air to eat a kite bait on the way down...sometimes so close that you literally recoil from the concussion...it truly is a spectacular way to not only entice...but more importantly enjoy the art of consistently catching yellowfin tuna...sometimes the wariest of pelagics...i hope you'll discover...as i have...the fun of flying a kite again...