Of all the offshore species that fly fisherman chase in Southern California, Pacific Bluefin Tuna (BFT) have got to be the most frustrating.
In the last 5 years, Bluefin have become almost commonplace. During much of the season, schools of fish can be seen busting bait from Catalina down into Mexico. Yet they’re extremely difficult to catch on fly tackle. A lot of fuel’s been burned, and many casts made, with little to show.
Bluefin Tuna have always had a reputation for being hard to catch. When I first started ocean fishing in the 1970s, BFT were relatively rare, and always spooky. Catching one required light line, small hooks and the liveliest anchovy you could find in the tank.
However, things were different when the big surface-feeding schools first started showing up. Conventional fishermen were able to catch them using large poppers and surface iron. But as more and more people started targeting these fish, they became much more skittish.
When the Bluefin are crashing bait on top, run-and-gun techniques still work. But longer casts, smaller lures, and careful boat handling are needed. For the largest daytime fish, kites and balloons are often used to suspend baits well away from the boat.
What about catching Pacific Bluefin Tuna on fly gear?
For the most part, fly anglers have adopted the same run-and-gun techniques used by conventional tackle fishermen:
- Cruise around likely areas looking for fish feeding on the surface
- Once a school is spotted, try to intercept it with the boat, and get within casting range
- Cast to them with heavy fly gear, using streamers with a fast strip
The biggest drawback with fly tackle is that you can’t cast as far as you can with conventional gear. That means that fly fishermen typically don’t get as many shots at a passing school, if they get any at all.
As of this writing (March 2020), success on fly gear has been rare. While there are a number of fly-caught Atlantic and Southern Bluefin Tuna in the record books, there is only one entry for Pacific BFT: a 16 lb fish caught by Colin Waters in Baja in 2013. All other fly records for Pacific Bluefin are still open.
However, that’s not for a lack or trying! There a number of hard-core fly fishermen chasing these fish in Southern California, with several reports of fish being hooked and lost. Check out Dustin Sergent’s video on his efforts to capture a Pacific Bluefin on fly:
Video courtesy Dustin Sergent