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Posted 28th June 2024

How to Catch Yellowfin Tuna: a complete guide

How to Catch Yellowfin Tuna: a complete guide
How to Catch Yellowfin Tuna: a complete guide

Robert Thornton

Of the many tuna species that traverse Australia’s coastline, the mighty yellowfin tuna would have to be one of the most prized – up there with the southern bluefin tuna. Despite not growing quite as massive as their blue-finned cousins, their bright colours, unmatched bursts of speed and ability to frustrate even the most experienced anglers make them unique.

Learning how to catch big yellowfin tuna consistently can take years, even decades, but if you’d like to tick one of these oceanic locomotives off the bucket list, stick with me. By picking the brain of one of the best YFT anglers in the country, we can hopefully start to break down what can seem like an insurmountable task.

Big yellowfin regularly come within a few kilometres of our coastline, so it’s well within reach for many anglers. Building your understanding of these fish is the first step for success, so let’s jump straight in!

Fast and furious

YFT are found in tropical and subtropical oceans around the world and are known to cover hundreds and sometimes thousands of kilometres in a single season. Capable of reaching over 200kg, they spend much of their life riding oceanic currents in search of food and comfortable water temperatures.

 Often referred to by their Aussie admirers simply as ‘fin’, they have a certain mystique about them, and even in scientific circles they aren’t particularly well understood. Given their migratory habits and their preference for open ocean, collecting data has proven difficult, however sonic tracking has shown that while they spend most of their time in the top layer of the water column, they will dive to well over 1000m at times. Whether these diving fish are hunting, escaping predators, or both, is still something of a mystery.

As for their maximum speed, it’s again been difficult to get an accurate measure of just how fast they can travel, however we know they can hit at least 75km/h, or about 21 metres per second.

Finding fin

Australia has a few dedicated ‘fin chasers’, and Sam Gilchrist is one of them. He regularly sets out from his hometown of Coffs Harbour to chase the giant models. He simply can’t get enough of them.

“There is nothing like watching a 50, 60 or even 70kg yellowfin barrelling out of the water chasing bait,” he says, “Targeting these fish with topwater lures has got to be one of the pinnacles of fishing.”

While YFT have been targeted by recreational anglers in Australian waters for at least several decades, anglers like Sam have really turned the traditional understanding of these fish on its head. 

“They’ve always been considered a heavy tackle fish for game boats – very elusive” he explains, “however advances in technology have allowed us to refine our search for them and use different techniques.”

“Technology is everything with yellowfin,” he goes on, “things like weather forecasts, surface temperature readings, ocean currents and altimetry data are so important – I couldn’t imagine heading out without it them.”

“You still gotta be lucky though!” he laughs.

In terms of when and where to start looking, things start to get a little cloudy. Australian yellowfin are seldom targeted in a specific season, and to make it even more confusing, they can be found in a wide range of water temperatures.

“Research shows there’s different kinds [strains] of yellowfin,” Sam explains, “Some prefer warm or tropical waters, and others like cool southern waters.”

“They show up in water as warm as 30 degrees and as cool as 15 degrees,” he goes on, “what I tend to look for is bait driven by ocean currents, and any temperature lines, current lines or upwellings that concentrate them in one area.”

Sam describes the open ocean as a ‘blue desert’, so using technology to find these slight changes in underwater topography, temperature or current can lead you to entire marine ecosystems, sometimes in over a thousand metres of water!        

“You’ve gotta refine what is an overwhelming amount of water,” he says, “over the shelf you can’t see the land, so you need to be able to accurately read charts and sounders.”

Fishing for YFT

Sam uses a variety of techniques when targeting yellowfin tuna, and the technique he chooses to employ always depends on the situation.

“If we’re not confident or we don’t know if there’s any tuna in the area, trolling is a good option,” he says, “we’ll use tuna-specific lures and troll quickly to cover ground.”

The tuna-specific lures Sam is referring to include skirted trolling lures and bluewater soft plastics between 150-300mm.

“We’ll find a good-looking 50-100km area and throw out a spread,” he says, “marlin will also eat them, too.”

“Sometimes we’ll come across tuna feeding while on the troll,” he continues, “once we get to them, they usually dive, but quite often they’ll come back up and smash the lures once we’re over them.”

When Sam’s sure that the yellowfin are in town, the games changes a bit.

“If we’re confident there’s tuna in the area, I won’t even take trolling gear,” he says, “only stickbaits, poppers and maybe a jigging outfit.”

“If we find them on the sounder holding between 50-100m, we can drop jigs straight down.”

Where Sam’s heart really lies, however, is with topwater techniques. This is by far his favourite way to target big yellowfin tuna, but getting just the right situation for a topwater bite can be very challenging.

“You need to be agile when attempting to catch one on topwater,” he explains, “only on the odd occasion will they come up to feed and stay up.”

“Like a lot of tuna, they can be very wary and hard to approach,” he goes on, “and when they’re like this you can’t have a spread out, because you have to anticipate where they’re going to come up and race there to get a cast in.”

“You need to understand bird behaviour; what they look like when feeding,” he adds, “they’ll often show you where the tuna are.”

YFT tackle

Sam doesn’t mess around when it comes to tackle selection, choosing to use only the best for this highly specialised fishing.

“For trolling I use a Saltiga LD in the 60 or 50, a 15-24kg rod,” he says, “and I always run J-Braid Hollow Line.”

“My jigging set up is a Saltiga LD 30, with 60lb braid and 100lb leader,” he continues, “and I match the jig to the bait in the area and the depth I’m fishing.”

When casting lures at yellowfin, Sam prefers to use sturdy spin gear so he can send out his offering a long way.

“For my topwater fishing I run a Saltiga or Certate 14000,” he explains, “and on that I’ll have 80lb braid and 120lb leader.”

“You can get away with 60lb braid, but if that fish of 70kg or more comes along I’d much rather have 80,” he adds, “if they fowl hook themselves on lighter line, they can be a proper nightmare.”

In terms of actual lure selection, Sam keeps things pretty simple, opting for lures exclusively from the Daiwa Saltiga range.

“The stickbaits I use are the Roughride, Over There and Dive Star,” he explains, “with these three shapes you’ve got most of your bases covered, whether they’re eating sauries, slimies, pillies and something smaller.”

Fighting tips

Fighting such big fish without harnesses and other luxuries of traditional game fishing can be challenging, but Sam has learned a few tricks to make things easier.

“With topwater we find that we knock them over pretty quickly,” Sam says, “fight times are short – about 15 minutes or so – and I can only assume this is because the fish is uncomfortable with a stickbait in its face, and there’s no stretch in the line.

“With the braid you can really influence the fight by limiting their capacity to circle.”

“When we’re trolling it’s important to not stay directly on top of the fish,” he says, “because it can be really hard on the angler and the gear – sometimes it can feel like you’re going insane.”

“The trick is to keep motoring off the fish,” he adds, “and by doing this you can plain them up to the surface and take advantage of their circle work.”

Taking up the challenge

Chasing XOS yellowfin tuna off the Australian coastline is not a challenge taken on lightly. On top of the highly specialised tackle, marine electronics and boating accessories required for this pursuit, countless hours must also be poured into understanding the behaviour of these incredible fish. Those who find success often go through a lot of trial and error, and learning from your mistakes is a big part of the game.

Once you get everything right though, you could be looking at several months’ worth of the best tasting fish meat anywhere in the world. The awesome memories that go with this sort of fishing and the friends you make doing it are just a bonus – and a pretty good bonus at that!



















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