By Joshua Davey
It has taken a while, but summer is finally in full swing and so with it is the annual run of Southern Bluefin Tuna (hereafter SBT) along the southern coast of Australia. For many anglers, particularly in South Australia given the current situation with our snapper fishery, SBT season sparks a whole new realm of excitement and passion into recreational fishers hearts. All of a sudden the southern boat ramps are nothing short of chaotic, and the roads littered with trailer boats at ridiculous hours of the morning, ahh I love it!
However, amongst all the excitement it is all too common to hear of many anglers struggling to turn a reel, especially on those busy calm water days. I believe too many people get stuck in the trap of trolling around divers and skirts day in and day out, not adapting to the conditions on the day. Casting can be such an effective and underutilised method for catching flighty SBT, particularly from schools that are constantly harassed by hordes of eager rec fishos. In this blog I break down one of my favourite forms of fishing, chasing SBT on the cast and hope that I can convince some of you to hang up the trolling gear for a day and broaden your horizons.
I'll begin this section by noting that here on the Fleurieu Peninsula in South Australia, we aren’t blessed with the biggest SBT in the world, with the majority of fish hovering around that 15 – 20 kg mark and anything over 30 kg considered a trophy. Therefore I can get away with using some pretty light gear. A typical day casting at SBT for me requires two different setups, essentially a light and a heavy combo. The first is a TD Saltwater S71-3 paired with a 5000 Revelry MQ HD, spooled with 30lb J-Braid Grand and a short 50lb J-Thread FC leader tied to the end via an FG knot. Yes, this is far from a traditional “Stickbaiting” or “Popping” combo, but really comes into its own when smaller lures (< 40g) are required. This is more often than not the combo that gets the most use.
The second combo is a Saltist Hyper “Stickbaiter” S792-4/6 paired with a 14000 Saltist MQ spooled with 65lb J-Braid Grand and an 80 lb Spartan NY leader. Look, this may be a little overkill but when you hook up to a 30+ kg fish you will be glad it isn’t on the light setup. Plus, it doubles as a topwater Kingfish outfit capable of casting lures up to 120g.
Isn’t this the age old question, what is the best lure? If there was a correct answer, your local tackle shop walls wouldn’t have such a selection to choose from. When chasing tuna I like to break it down into four separate categories with each having their pros and cons. The first, most commonly used and arguably most productive would be the sinking stickbait. Available in a variety of sizes and weights to suit. A perfect example are the Spartan Breakthroughs, which are available in two sizes. The next are long cast divers, such as the Duo RoughTrail Blazin. Then we have soft plastics with pearl coloured 5” Bait Junkies a particular favourite, and surface lures such as poppers and floating stickbaits. Having a selection of each is a good idea, because you never know what they will want on the day.
Knowing what to throw and when are in my opinion the two most important pieces of information to stitch together. Every season is different, in fact I’ll go as far as saying every day and potentially every hour can be a completely different scenario. Sure, on a given day SBT can be one of the least fussy fish to target, but if you find those fish feeding on tiny bait such as small anchovies I guarantee you are going to be in for a hard time with your 5” plus lures.
Matching the hatch has rung true for SBT more than any other fish in my experiences, just remember that elephants eat peanuts. The most important consideration when casting at SBT is without a doubt lure size. You match that and you are already three quarters of the way to a good day on the water. This is why that lighter combo is so important, being able to throw small lures a good distance can be so important on a given day.
The next consideration is putting your lure in front of fish without spooking them. SBT are notorious for diving deep from approaching boats so stealth is key. Ideally keep an eye out for feeding fish, look for birds and fish breaking the surface (a spectacular sight in itself). But SBT can also be caught on the cast from schools of “milling fish”, I could try to explain what this looks like but I think your best bet would be to jump on YouTube and see for yourself. I think this is one of the core reason dedicated casters catch more fish, they are actively searching for fish and covering lots of ground at higher speed rather than relying on chance associated with blind trolling.
Ideally, try and position the boat upwind/current of fish, cut the motor and drift in to minimise the chances of sending the fish deep. The longest casts are without a doubt the best ones, I have lost count of the amount of times I have put in a long cast into a feeding school of fish only to click the bail arm over and be hooked up instantly.
Watch the fish, are they moving a particular direction? Try and place the cast ahead of where they are moving. Are they chasing the lure but not committing? Speed it up, slow it down, sink it down further. Are you not getting any interest at all? Change up your lure! Smaller, larger, louder, quieter try it all! I have had days where SBT were barring just about everything I threw, yet I tied on a larger popper for almost instant results, with fish climbing all over each other for a shot.
Like I said, every day is different so persevere, change it up but do not give up. Once you crack fish on the cast, you will realise it can be one of the simplest and most rewarding ways to chase these fish, and I almost guarantee that those trolling combos will be spending much more time out of the way up in the rocket launcher.
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