Leaping longtails get adrenaline pumping

It's hard to not get excited when you see one of these longtail tuna home in on your lure. Photo: contributed
It's hard to not get excited when you see one of these longtail tuna home in on your lure. Photo: contributed


THE sight of big fish crashing and diving through a school of terrorised bait fish spraying over the surface is a sight to get any angler's adrenalin pumping and now is the time of the year to head out in the bay and the inshore waters and hook up.

I'm talking about longtail tuna and, while they can be found year round in small scattered schools, it's autumn and winter when we see good numbers move into south east waters.

What I like about chasing them at this time of the year is they move close in on the western side of the bay, making them a viable target for small boat owners and even land-based fisherman at times.

Just three weeks ago I had a great session out in my four metre tinny just off the southern end of Bribie, catching five longtails between 5-10kg in just a couple of hours.

I'd actually been out chasing sand crabs over the Cockle Banks and, with the morning getting a little late for good crabbing, I thought I'd do one last drop for an hour or so leaving the pots in a bit longer.

That was about 10 o'clock and I scratched my head thinking what will I do for the next hour. That's when a crashing school of tuna caught my eye just a few hundred metres away.

They were easily spotted on the calm water and it just happened I had a couple of spin rods in the boat and a tackle box full of lures (as you do).

When you spot a surface feeding school of fish the quite strategic approach is your best option.

Sure you might get the odd fish by racing like a mad man up to the school and get a quick cast in, but all this generally does is spook the fish and put them down, making it harder to get close enough to get a cast in.

The boy trying to keep the smile off his face as a good tuna stretches his arms. Photo: contributed
The boy trying to keep the smile off his face as a good tuna stretches his arms. Photo: contributed

Generally they feed into the wind or into the current so by watching the school you soon work out the general direction they are travelling in and you can position yourself accordingly.

Being up wind of them will allow you to cast with the wind for a longer cast, as the fish move closer towards you at the same time.

They will always come up and down due to the nature of how they feed. What they do is look for the bait fish, round them up and then push them towards the surface.

The bait fish have nowhere to go from here and that is when you see the tuna crashing through the bait for a quick feed before the process is repeated again.

I try and keep the boat at a steady pace and avoid changing engine revs too much and well off the plane.

It's easy to get impatient doing this as the fish keep disappearing on you but when you do get in close enough for the action the fish stay up a lot longer and often keep feeding around you, even when you are hooked up.

There are a variety of lures you can use. I like to have a few metal lures, soft plastics and surface poppers - just to cover my options and how the fish are feeding on the day.

The idea is to cast the lure into the middle of the feeding fish and then wind at a pretty quick pace so your metal lure looks like a fleeing bait fish.

Never worry that you are winding too fast as I can assure you they will catch the lure no problems. Metal lures between 20 and 50 grams should be kept in your tackle box.

On windy days it's hard to get any distance out of smaller lures but it's often necessary to keep a small size to match the size of the bait fish and accommodate them when they are fussy.

A good all round size is a small profile metal lure that weighs around 30 grams.

Designed for speed and power, you'll never forget your battle with a longtail tuna. This one fell to a 30 gram chrome slug. Photo: contributed
Designed for speed and power, you'll never forget your battle with a longtail tuna. This one fell to a 30 gram chrome slug. Photo: contributed

Perhaps my favourite way to chase them is on surface poppers. These hard bodied lures skip and dance across the surface as you retrieve it and the tuna home in on the lure, spearing through the water and crashing hard down on it.

It's real exciting stuff and never stop winding until the lure is right back at the boat. On many occasions I've hooked up right at the side of the boat with the strike sending up a spray of water into the air.

The other week, the first fish I caught was on a metal lure then I thought I'd change to the surface popper to see how much interest they had on these for the day.

The first hook up was almost immediate; I reckon the fish must have seen it coming.

I actually got three fish in three casts as the school just hung around where I was, which was a fantastic fast session with each fish taking about 15 minutes to catch and release.

For the release I grab the fish by the tail to control it and then most of the time the fish is just lip hooked and it's easy to flick out the hook with a pair of pliers while the fish is still in the water boat side.

It's a bit more of a challenge when you are on your own as I was this morning, but not too difficult.

My last fish for the session was a bit bigger and taking a bit more effort to get to the boat. The first blistering run was a long one and half stripped the spool of line so I had to chase it a bit to recover some line.

I suppose it took me a good 30 minutes to get it close to the boat before it started the typical hard circling of the fish just in sight below the boat.

That's when it took off on another blistering run, though this time with about a four metre shark right up its tail which sped in out of nowhere ... and that was the end of that battle.

Aside from the fact I was no longer keen to lean over the side and release the next fish I might catch, once the sharks are around you struggle to get another fish in.

These days there are a lot of sharks in the bay, far more than I remember. We rarely used to lose a good fish to sharks. Now it can be a challenge at times.

So with the fish still crashing about and feeding on the bait I decided five was a pretty good effort and I was more than happy, especially seeing I had a really good feed of sand crabs.

The best part though was messaging the pictures to my son who was working; does that make me a bad dad?

As far as the gear you need goes - a good seven foot spin rod capable of handling such fish and a good strong high speed spinning reel.

You can get good nice light weight rods and reels these days which are a lot nicer to use than the old heavy fibreglass rods and heavy spinning reels we used a few decades back.

If you are using mono lines then 6-8kg is quite adequate and for braid use 10-15kg braid. Lower weight braid would do the job but being a lot thinner than mono lines it is pretty savage on your fingers when you do a lot of casting and fighting big fish.

As far as lures go, I am sure you can spend a few hours in a tackle shop looking over the lure wall. Go for the better quality lures as they are made well and carry stronger hardware.

The last thing you want is to lose that dream fish due to a hook straightening or split rings opening. Spend the bit extra and go the good quality.

Chasing tuna is good fast fun and well worth the effort.

Topics:  gary howard

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