Crashing Pacific Bluefin Tuna - photo courtesy Capt. Scott Leon

Photo courtesy Capt. Scott Leon

Finding Fish:

  • Find the right set of conditions:

    • Clear blue water is not always best. Capt. Stoller notes that Bluefin often frequent current seams where green, chlorophyll-laden waters meet clear blue water. Most likely they are attracted by bait schools found in these zones, and feed heavily
    • The dirtier water also makes it a little easier to approach the fish, and they take artificial baits like poppers and jigs more readily
  • Be vigilant and patient:

    • Huge “foamers” are the exception rather than the rule. You are more likely to run into smaller packs of Bluefin Tuna chasing bait balls the size of a small car. So get the binoculars out, and investigate any signs of fish: birds working, nervous water, puddling fish, etc.
    • The fish go down, the fish come up. Sometimes a spot appears to go dead, but the fish reappear late in the afternoon, or on the tide change. If you meter fish deep, and they’re not showing on the surface, it might pay to wait them out. Or at least mark the spot and return at a different time of day

Approach and Presentation:

  • Get within range:

    • Boat handling is of utmost importance. You can’t run up to these fish at full speed, then cut the motor at the last minute. That’s guaranteed to put the fish down.
    • A better approach is to figure out what direction the fish are headed, then approach on an intercept course. Keep to the side of the school, and run at a moderate speed. The fish usually move in a up-swell direction, so take that into consideration when positioning the boat
    • Get in front of the school, then then take the motor out of gear and slide in along the side.
    • Set up your approach so that you don’t drift into the school when you take the motor out of gear, as that will probably put the fish down. It’s also difficult for the anglers to keep the line tight. If you cast off the side of the boat while it’s moving forward, the fly line will be tight or come tight very quickly at the end of the cast.
    • You need to get within a long cast of the school, which can be tough if the fish are skittish. While conventional gear can reach out  60 – 70 yards, fly fishermen are limited to 30 – 35 yards or less. Green water can make it a bit easier to run up on fish, but for fly gear, it will be tough no matter what the water clarity is. 
  • Make the longest cast you can:

    • When the fish are spooky, long casts are needed. This is hard work with the 13 – 16 wt rods used by most Bluefin Tuna fly fishermen. Make sure you practice with your gear before you hit the water. 
  • Presentation:

    • Even in the midst of a feeding frenzy, Bluefin can still be spooky. Avoid lining the fish on your cast
    • Start with a fast strip, but be observant. Let the fish tell you what speed to work the fly, and adjust accordingly
    • A sinking line is usually not needed, but might help with casting.