Fishing for blackfin tuna, skipjack tuna and bonito is done with similar techniques. These fish can be caught from Massachusetts to Brazil but are generally only north of the Carolina’s in late summer. This is a schooling fish that often feeds on fish, shrimp and squid. Blackfin tuna can be caught in the Florida year round and is one of the most consistent offshore fish species to catch. The size of the fish can vary from 1 pound up to 40 pounds. Blackfin tuna is one of the best eating fish and can be made into steaks that can be seared or cooked through.
Fishing for tuna is very exciting. Often there are other larger fish around and you never know what you are going to catch when trolling for tuna. They can be caught from the edge of the reef in about 100ft of water all the way out to 1000+ feet of water in the Gulf Stream. Tuna are often concentrated around bait fish. If the fish finder is marking schools of bait, fish are breaking on the surface or birds are diving offshore there is a good chance tuna will be around!
I first wanted to fish for tuna when I heard that false albacore known as little tunny in the keys and albies in New Jersey were close to shore in late summer in New Jersey. These particular tuna are not good to eat but they put up a good fight and look really cool! I was reading lots of fishing reports and trying to figure out the basic strategies, locations, lures and troll speeds to catch albies. It was not until we staring fishing in Florida that catching tuna became a sure thing on trips offshore. Hopefully this article will be helpful to anyone that wants to catch tuna!
Here are the best blackfin tuna lures and baits.
Billy Bait, Best Blackfin Tuna Lure
Billy Baits Mini Turbo Slammer 5 ½ inch 5/8 ounce.
This red and black Billy Bait is the best blackfin tuna lure! Blackfin are often not super picky on lure choice but if only one pole gets a bite it is usually the black and red Billy Bait. Usually when trolling over a school of tuna all the poles on the boat get bites within a few seconds. If targeting tuna this is a must have lure. The mylar skirt and color combo seems to be irresistible to tuna.
Billy Baits Mini Turbo Slammer 5 ½ inch 5/8 ounce. Comes in Pearl and Pink Shimmer, Pink and Silver and Purple and Blue Mylar. These are great colors for tuna and mahi mahi!
Mustad 3407 2 Extra Strong Hook, size 7.
I would suggest changing to the 2 extra strong version of the standard 3407 hooks that come rigged with the Billy Baits. Often times due to predator fish like sharks being around the tuna need to be reeled in quickly. Basically, the tuna needs to be winched in to prevent it from being eaten by sharks. I have seen a bigger tuna and other large fish eat the small tuna I was reeling in and the standard hook typically straightens out during the fight. This is a very frustrating way to lose a nice fish! With 100lb line these stronger hooks still feel like the weakest link in the setup but are a significant improvement over the standard rig.
Williamson Flash Feather Tuna Lure
Williamson Flash Feathers 4 inch .431 ounce with 5/0 hooks. Come is Black/Purple, Blue/White, Pink/White and Yellow/Green.
Small feather trolling lures are a very popular way to catch tuna. This is very similar to Billy Baits and it is really just a personal preference and it is hard to say when to use one over the other because both options consistently catch fish. These also come in a 5-inch size.
Shimano Butterfly Flat-Fall Tuna Jigs
Shimano Butterfly Flat-Fall Tuna Jigs, 80 grams up to 250 grams white silver and chart white.
Jigging assist hooks so two hooks can be added to each jig. These would be tied to the solid ring with the fishing line tied between the two hooks. Hooks can be added to the rear of the jig but this is not typically done.
Butterfly jigs work well when going for deep tuna on the humps. Humps are underground mountains that for example go from 1000 feet to 500 feet and then back to 1000 feet. Jigs work well when fishing humps. The Gulf Stream flows across the mountain pushing baitfish closer to the surface and causes water turbulence which makes bait vulnerable to predator fish like tuna, mahi mahi, amberjack, sailfish and marlin. Sharks are frequently lurking in the area which can make catching a fish that is pulling out drag tough to catch before it gets eaten by a shark. On the bottom, there can also be snowy grouper and snapper. The humps in the Florida Keys include the Key Largo Hump, Islamorada Hump, 409 Hump, Marathon Hump and the Carlson’s Two Humps.
When deep dropping on the humps size 130 grams would be considered light and 200 grams would be considered heavy. These jigs are used with heavy duty spinning rods. Initial the bail is opened and the lure falls freely. If it stops that means there is a fish on the line so real in the slack an fight the fish. After a 60 second count, the 130 gram jig will be at about 100 feet and the 200 gram jig will be at about 200 feet. There is typically strong current and wind moving the boat so engine power is often needed to slow the drift. After the jig reaches the desired depth pump the rod with long jerks and pauses as the slack is removed by reeled down during the retrieve. This can be a great way to catch fish on high traffic days at the humps when heavy trolling pressure has pushed the tuna deeper. Sometimes the bigger fish are at deeper depths so it is worth jigging to see what is in deep water.
Daisy Chain, Trolling Lure for Tuna
Three squid teasers on a 8-foot Daisy Chain with a 4 inch purple and black Cedar Plug.
Daisy chains are popular lures to troll for tuna and mahi mahi. The added action of a “fish” chasing the squid baits can attract fish from deep depths.
Live Bait for Tuna, Chumming and Chunking
Size 4/0 to 7/0 depending on the size of the bait.
Fluorocarbon leader line, 20-60 pound. When trolling using heavy leaders is a good idea but when pitching live bait light line allows for the bait fish to swim more freely and create more action.
A very fun way to catch tuna is by live chumming pilchards. When there are tuna around throw 20 to 200 pilchards overboard and as they scatter and go under the boat tuna will come up from great depths to all the commotion of other fish chasing them. Then live line a pilchard and there is a good chance a tuna will take the bait. This method is known for catching big fish. Pilchards can also be sent on a line deep all the way to 200 feet to see what kind of fish are around at deeper depths. Mixed in with the tuna can be amberjack, sailfish, wahoo and marlin so it is always worth fishing a line deeper in the water column.
How to Catch Blackfin Tuna
In summary, the best way to catch blackfin tuna is to troll Billy Baits, feathers and daisy chain squid teasers. The trolling speed over ground will vary depending on the detection of the current. We typicality troll for tuna at around 2200 rpm at all times, on a 25 foot Grady White with twin 150 hp four stroke Yamaha engines. This averages out to be about 7-10 miles per hour. This may seem fast but blackfin tuna like fast troll speeds. Run the lures way back, no less than 100 feet back but typically 200 plus feet back. The lure cannot be to far back. However, the further back the lure is the longer it will take to reel in the fish.
Another key is to find the birds. If you are just trolling blue water all day you are likely going to have a boring trip. Find the birds and run the boat just in front of the school of tuna. This is not like mahi mahi where if you run the fish over you will scare away the school for fish for good. Blackfin tuna are fast and if you are trolling to slow you will not even catch them. Catch up to the diving birds and run the tuna over at trolling speed. Do not run and gun above trolling speeds to each set of birds on the humps! This will scare the tuna down in the whole area for a long time maybe even all day and you will not be making friends with the other boats in the area. If you run over the school of tuna while trolling Billy Bait Mini Turbo Slammers, 9 times out of 10 you will catch a tuna and in most cases every line that is out will catch a tuna! When you do not catch tuna the lines probably have weeds on them so check for weeds and troll over the birds again.
Blackfin tuna is my favorite fish to each when it is fresh! However, it does not freeze well. Blackfin tuna are easy to catch and have a high daily limit to the number of fish that can be caught. After we catch about 20 tuna for boat we target other fish and let blakfin tuna go if we catch them. If everyone does this, it will help keep the great tuna fishery that exists for many more anglers to enjoy.
Thanks for visiting Global Fishing Reports. I hope these suggestions help you catch more blackfin tuna!
If you have any suggestions for top blackfin tuna lures and baits, leave a comment below!