By Mark Gercovich
When the southern bluefin tuna began to make a welcome, consistent return to the Southern Victorian coast in 2006, they usually appeared around autumn and persisted through until the winter weather closed in. However, in the past few summers, tuna have been a consistent factor in the South West summer pelagic equation. Where once the capture of a summer tuna rose eye-brows, and the tuna-king double was a sought after rarity, it lately has become a more reliable proposition. The quality size of these summer fish is also impressive, not the barrel size fish that many anglers target later in the year, but good, solid schoolies usually in the 15-30kg bracket. Another benefit is that the fish are often closer to shore at this time of year, often in around 20-30m of water, but we have found them as close as 7m on occasion. They also seem to be popping up further and further along the coast with fish spread from Portland in the west of the state right through east to offshore Westernport Bay in good numbers last season. Yes they can be hard to tempt at times, but give me one good fish cast to under blue skies, wearing bare feet and shorts, over a day out trolling in the middle of winter. Here are a couple of hints to help you if you are trying to chase these summer run bluefin.
Unlike big winter bust ups with heaps of birds, usually there are only a handful of birds...sometimes even just one or two, on the fish. Other times no birds are observed, the fish can be seen just cruising in a big school on the surface, with just a slight ripple giving away their presence. Calm days to help spot this activity and a keen set of eyes are important to locating these “nervous water” surface ripples.
Long casts are essential for many reasons. Not getting too close to spook the fish too much is the obvious one. The longer the cast the more opportunity the fish has to chase down the lure. Last season we used the Saltist Hyper 72MH matched to Saltist LTD 4000 and found it perfect for casting distances, light enough to use all day but with plenty of backbone to stop these hard fighting fish. This season the new model 20 Saltist Hypers “Power Rounder” and “Multi-tool” look perfect for the job and they have already knocked over plenty of early season kings. This is spooled with 40-50lb J-braid grand with leaders from 40lb-60lb. The unobtrusive blue color of the j-Braid grand blends in with the surrounds of the ocean/sky as I have noticed spooky fish seeming to swim down from the surface when having a length of bright colored line cross their path.
Hunting these fish down and casting stick bait style lures is a most popular way of targeting summer bluefin. Lures like the Shore Spartan Breakthrough in 120mm that cast well, have a slight shimmy on the drop and are strongly constructed to withstand rigors of the battle, are perfect for this job. If trolling is your game, smaller skirts, virtually what you would normally associate with salmon fishing, is usually the best method for these fish which seem to be always feeding on small bait. This is another good thing about summer bluefin, that they are easily accessible to anglers without the need for complex game trolling equipment and big boats. Any good quality spin reel in the 6000-8000 size spooled with 30-50lb braid will do the job. The 64CJ model in Demon blood and Saltist Hyper have always been our go to spin reel trolling rods.
When the fish can be just spotted cruising around but not feeding they can be hard to tempt. Dropping the electric motor in and sneaking up sometimes helps if you managed to get close enough, and in front of which way the fish are heading. Switching off the sounder is also something that we try at times to help. Targeting the head of the school and not having the lure unnaturally coming through, or at the school from behind, can be important on the tough days. Mixing up retrieve speeds is also something that changes, on not just a day by day basis, but a school by school proposition.
Impatiently waiting for the windows of good weather, getting refused by fussy fish are all frustrations worth the pain. These hardships are soon forgotten once everything comes together and you hook up to a hard running summer bluefin. Give it a go if you get the chance.