How to Fight and Land a Bluefin Tuna
Congratulations! You have done everything right. You followed a report, adjusted for condition changes and you found your own fish. They were scattered, you trolled your Hogy Harness Pro Tails rigged on your jigging outfits and the starboard road folded over and the reel is screaming! Now what?
- The angler picks up the rod, faces the fish and lets it run. The hooks on the Hogy Harness Pro Tail are ridiculously sharp and sticky. The fish is hooked. There is no need for a hook set at this point.
- Meanwhile, the crew clears the decks and stows the rods. If you were drifting, fire up the engine(s) so you’re ready. The angler advises how much line is on the reel
- If on a center console, the angler will head to the bow and fight the fish about 15 percent off the center. If on a cabin style boat, the angler will stay on the aft corner, whichever side is practical. In either event, the captain will position the boat to accommodate this.
- Many anglers will be startled by how much line is coming off the reel at this point. If you have your reel set to 12lbs of drag on the reel, the pressure is immense to the fish, not just you! Let the fish run, it’s hands down the fastest way. That fish needs to get tired. Remember, your reel has at least 45” of line per crank. When the fish gets tired, you pick up line quickly. I would say that 9 times out of 10, you have enough line on these big reels to accommodate this.
- Once the run is complete, I sometimes idle back toward the fish slowly while the angler puts more line on the reel while maintaining pressure. If you can put line back on without idling, do it. The fish will tire more quickly. The goal is to get as much line back on the reel without letting the fish rest too much so that it can make another big run. Expect at least five or six good runs at this stage of the fight.
- Take turns. These are often very big fish and very tiring on this gear. The rods might be considered “light tackle” as compared to the fish but they put a hurting on the angler. I often see people switching out when they get tired but I recommend switching out before getting too tired, that way you’ll recuperate more quickly and the fish will always have fresh arms.
- Be ready for the fish to swim toward you. If this happens, reel as fast as you can. Sometimes this change in direction can be so aggressive that the captain will assist you by re-positioning the boat.
- As the fight gets closer to the boat, it will become more vertical. If you are on a center console, I advise working the fish aft so that you are in a position where the captain can easily step aside to assist. I think the best place to fight as fish is aft on one of the corners. Pick the side that is the easiest for the captain to keep the boat down wind of the fish, this will prevent the boat from drifting over the fish.
- Tuna will make big circles that will get tighter as the fish gets closer to the boat. Let the fish run a little while it is swimming away from the boat and collect line as it circles back around. Now is the time to put extra pressure on the fish with a little “palm” on the reel. This takes some finesse. You want extra pressure but you don’t want to break off the fish. As you make progress, apply a little more “palm’ on the reel as the fish circles away. This will help shorten the diameter of the circles. Keep repeating. Trust your gear and connections but also know when to ease off. You’ll get a sense of this as you do it more.
- As the fish gets close, the angler is responsible for advising line position relative to “anything bad,” which includes the fish swimming under the boat or line hitting trim tabs, swim platforms or engines. It’s the captain’s responsibility to listen, watch for himself and be ready to re-position the boat. There are often many boat adjustments needed near the end game to avoid trouble. Usually this only entails driving a circle around the fish and keeping the fish at the most ergonomic position on the aft quarter of the boat.
- As the fish gets very close to the boat, it will likely freak out a bit and with a burst of adrenaline, it will likely rip more line out. No problem, just keep working the turns. The more spirals you shorted with your palm, the more you’re winning.
- It’s time to gaff the fish. At this point, the gaff is in whichever hand you want to gaff with and the other (gloved) hand is on the leader controlling the fish. The outboard side of the tuna’s head is the target location to gaff the fish. This angle will have you gaffing the fish toward you. The fish is heavy and your gaff is sharp. A pronounced swing is not necessary. Just a simple tug toward you is all that is needed.
- Once the fish is stuck, grab the gaff with two hands. If the fish is large, it’s a good idea to put a second gaff into the fish at this point. Don’t hurt your back lifting the fish in!!