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  Prime Time for Tuna  

Big Yellowfin prowl the gulf off Texas and Louisiana

By Robert Sloan


When dawn broke, we left the Ocean Quest rig off Venice, Louisiana, where we'd been jigging all night. No more than 4 miles from the rig, we found flat seas and the weed line we were looking for-- the one that had been producing yellowfin tuna, wahoo and dorado over the past few days. The inshore side of the rip was emerald green. The current on the offshore side was cobalt blue. And it was loaded with flying fish, a tuna and dorado delight.

"The heaviest yellowfin I've ever caught was out of Freeport, Texas. We were in a marlin tournament, 110 miles off Galveston when a 200-pound-plus bruiser slammed a big chugger fished well back on the center rigger."

Mark Harmon maneuvered the 40-foot Reel Vision along the weed line as Doug Nelson and I prepared the lures. The first line out was smacked before I could get the rubber band on the rigger clip. We gaffed and boxed a 25-pound bull dorado and finished setting the spread, two lines on each rigger and one down the middle.

We hadn't pulled the spread for more than a few minutes when the right short line went off. As line melted off the Shimano Tiagra 50, we knew this was no dorado. Two hours later, 15 year old Ross Palesano and the 150-pound yellowfin had worn each other down. I heard his sign of relief as I hit it with the gaff. "Ready for another one?" I asked.

He just shook his head and reached for another cold bottle of water.


There is nothing easy about whipping a big yellowfin. But if you're in the know, finding them is not so difficult.

October is prime time for big yellowfin along the Texas and Louisiana Gulf Coast. In fact, the summer months can light up with catches of yellowfin. Most of the time you can pretty much target tuna off of both Louisiana and Texas year-round. The heaviest yellowfin I've ever caught was out of Freeport, Texas. We were in a marlin tournament, 110 miles off Galveston when a 200-pound-plus bruiser slammed a big chugger fished well back on the center rigger. I've caught them weighing more than 200 pounds out of Texas ports like Galveston, Freeport and Port O'Connor. And I've seen plenty of big ones caught out of Venice, Louisiana.

There is a huge difference between fishing tuna off Texas and Louisiana. In Texas, most big yellowfin aren't necessarily targeted-- but rather are byproducts of marlin fishing, while boats are trolling lures in the blue water.

The drawback to fishing off Texas is the travel distance to deep water. The most productive spots-- the cerveza, Little Sister, and Tequila rigs off Galveston and Freeport--are 100 miles out in 900 to 1,000 feet of water.

About 90 miles out of Galveston, the East Breaks is a good place to drag baits for yellowfin, where 300 feet of water falls off into 600 feet. That's were I caught a 200 pound yellowfin.

Yellowfin don't normally feed that deep. Conversely, blackfin will feed in 100 to 200 feet. Texas anglers take the heaviest yellowfin on trolled baits.





I was Marlin fishing around Tequila one afternoon when we found a huge school of blackfin tuna on the surface that were mixed with yellowfin in the 50-to-75 pound class. We boxed a few yellowfin, which hit our bird/chugger combos that were trolled at about 18 knots off a center rigger, one of my favorite combinations for tuna. The bird skips and flutters acoss the surface much like a flying fish. When tolled off the center rigger, about 40 yards back, it's deadly on tuna.

Louisiana anglers use shallow-water tactics, like fishing chuggers to take big yellowfin. But the most reliable way to chunk for them, or use live hard tails or threadfin shad.

Capt. Jerry Allen runs his 31 foot Contender, POCO LOCO, out of Venice, Louisiana, for tuna. His tactics include chunking, live baiting, trolling weed lines and working chuggers on the surface.

"You never know what's going to work best from one day to the next," says Allen. "One of the easiest ways to catch them is trolling a spread of lures along a weed line. But, then again, live baits are tough to beat on just about any given day."

Rigging for big yellowfin can be tricky. They are tough fighters and make awesome runs. If there is one weak link between the angler and the fish, it's all over.

In 1995, Capt. Brian Phillips put his anglers on the heaviest tuna in the Poco Bueno billfish tournament out of Port O'Connor, a 192 pounder. "I was going as fast as the boat would go backward," says Phillips. "Even at that, the tuna just about spooled a Penn 80 with 750 yards of 80 pound line."

That should give you an idea of how fast and powerful big yellowfin are.

Allen's tuna rods are rigged to hold up. His live-bait and chunking rig is a 6.5 foot Shimano rod and Shimano 50 LRS.

"The type of fishing I do is all stand-up," says Allen. "The rods I use are built so that they will reach over and around the outboards. That's important when you're working a big tuna."

He spools 750 yards of 80-pound Power Pro with 200 yards of 80-pound mono top shot. The top shot is attached to a 130-pound black Spro swivel with a Palomar knot--preferred because it doesn't slip and travels easily through the guides.

Hook size varies, matched to the bait, but most of the time Allen uses a 7/0 Mustad Demon circle hook for live baiting and chunking. The farther back the hook is placed, the deeper the hard tail or threadfin will swim--a good thing to know when trying to target different levels of the water column.

"In a strong current, I'll hook them in the top of the head," says Allen. "If the current is not running too fast, I'll hook bait through the shoulder, or farther back toward the tail. The main thing is to watch your fish finder. That way you can get an idea about how deep the tuna are feeding."

Live baiting is effective just about any where you find yellowfin. The same goes for chunking.

When chunking, Allen says chunks of pogies tend to float too high, so he preferes red meat. Tuna belly meat is perfect. Chunks can be cut at the dock, then bagged and frozen.

One super-fine way to catch tuna out of Venice is with chuggers. Talk about some blowups! The best way to fish the big chuggers is with a Hydro Popper on a spinning outfit. Casting and working chuggers is tiring, but if you're looking for eye-opening blowups, this is the way to go. Having a big yellowif come unglued on an oversized chugger is one of the finer moments in offshore fishing.








Night Moves
There are two ways to catch tuna at night under the lights of a rig: jigging and casting chuggers. Jigging is productive, but strenuous. Chuggers are more exciting.

With a 6-to-8 ounce Silver Diamond jig with 4/0 to 5/0 treble hooks, make a short cast, feed out line to a desired depth, then yo-yo the jig back up.

Rig 7-to-9 inch Shimano Butterfly jigs with a pair of 5/0 to 7/0 Owner Dancing Stinger hooks. Fish a slow steady yo-yo action, or reel it like crazy with occasional jerks of the rod tip. The second tactic is most productive. Best colors are blue-and-sliver, white or pink-and-silver.

Cap. Jerry Allen recommends chuggers on spinning tackle, a 7-foot rod with the reel spooled with 400 yards of 80-pound Power Pro tied to a swivel with a foot of 80-pound fluorocarbon leader. Popular chuggers are a 4-inch Yo-Zuri Hydro Popper in blue-and-chrome and an 8-inch Yo-Zuri Surface Bull Plug. Work them fast and hang on.

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