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Year-Round Yellowfin

If yellowfin tuna are on your mind, Venice Louisiana is your destination.

By Chris Holmes

 

Yellowfin tuna are found accross the Gulf of Mexico, but one state stands out as the undisputed leader in both size and numbers. Seasoned anglers and captains travel from all over the world to Louisiana to get in on the action.

"Be it the fixed platforms in hundreds of feet of water or the gargantuan 'floater' rigs that are anchored in thousands of feet off the continental shelf., these structures serve the dual purpose of fueling our nation and the Gulf's fisheries"

From footballs to compact cars, Venice, Louisiana, has the tuna you want, almost whenever you want them.

What makes this area so special for yellowfin? Oil and gas production platforms act as vast artificial reefs that sustain complete ecosystems and provide habitat for virtually every creature that lives in the Gulf. Be it the fixed platforms in hundreds of feet of water or the gargantuan "floater" rigs that are anchored in thousands of feet off the continental shelf, these structures serve the dual purpose of fueling our nation and the Gulf's fisheries.

However, the rigs are not the only life-attracting features off the Louisiana coast. The Gulf floor is flush with sea mounts caused by salt domes as well as large expanses of live bottom and ledges. Throw in some wrecks and reefs and you have a tuna factory that produces like no other.

There is no one single method of catching tuna off the coast of Louisiana-- it's multi-dimensioinal. Trolling, drifting and chunking live and natural baits are all proven methods to hooking up with fat yellowfin. The successful tuna fisherman is prepared to employ one or more of these methods on every trip. Captian Jerry Allen of Poco Loco Charters knows what Venice has to offer tuna fishermen. As he succinctly puts it,"Venice is heaven." Although some methods are seasonably preferred, the good news is that yellowfin tuna are available out of Venice year-round.

TROLLING AND DRIFTING

Trolling live baits is a tried-and-true method of snatching tuna near an oil rig. While there are days when bait is scarce, this is far from the usual case. Making bait is usually the first order of the day on a trip out to the tuna grounds. "Some days, all it takes is 10 minutes to have the bait wells overflowing and others, 30 minutes' work yields bait wells that are still empty," said Allen.

However, on most trips it's an easy proposition. Pull up to a rig, debris line, or mooring buoy and deploy a sabiki. Drop. Reel. Repeat.

Though a variety of baitfish can be caught, most captians prefer blue runner, locally called "hardtails." Hardtails are hardy, strong swimmers and can be deadly effective on tuna.

Tuna will often be found up-current of the rigs. Slow-trolling near the rig while keeping an eye on the sounder helps pinpoint where the fish are holing in relation to the rig. They may be sitting next to it; they may be several thousand feet away. It may take a few passes through the area to locate the fish or make the decision to head to the next structure. When the wind and current allow, a quiet drift can also coax hungry tuna to the bait.

 

CHUMMING

Tuna are simply suckers for chum. If you get a good chum line going, yellowfin tuna are virtually certinan to crash the party if they are anywhere in the vicinity. Seeing tuna and catching them are entirely different matters, however. Sure, you may luck into a tuna by willy-nilly tossing out bait chunks, but precision preparation and technique ensures continued success. If you plan to chunk for tuna, have an adequate supply of bait on hand when you leave the dock. You will likely be able to catch some additional bait, but if it is scarce, you want to already have what you might need. Tuna fight big and feed big, so don't underestimate the large amount of bait needed to attract them and keep their attention.

Menhaden and bonito make excelent chum and bait. Cut the chunks into various sizes so you can better size the bait to the size of the tuna encountered. You can always cut bigger pieces down if necessary. For on -the-water chunking, heavy-duty kitchen shears make quick work of cutting the bait down to size. You can hold the bait in one hand over the gunnels and cut it directly into the water with the other which is considerably safer then wielding a knife in rolling seas.

Chunking tuna is a team effort. Cutting bait, dispensing bait and deploying hooked chunks in an orchestrated manner greatly increases the success ratio. The goal is to keep the chum line going, the fish feeding and then tricking one into eating a bait with the hook. Big tuna didn't get big being stupid-- they will routinely, maddeningly engulf chunk after chunk while summarily refusing the one with the hidden surprise.

The key is making the hooked bait look and act exactly like the others. It should be similar in size and should drift and sink at the same speed. Flurocarbon leaders and well-hidden hooks make it easier to fool wary tuna. Reels should be in free-spool with the clicker on. A coil of line in one hand is used to feed the bait so it receives no resistance from the rod and drifts in the chum line with no distinction. A quick reaction to the drag lever is necessary to engage and reel once the tuna strikes.

 

 

Yellowin are not the only fish to come to the chum line. Inevitably, bonito are the first to arrive. Not as line shy as tuna, you will likely snag a few to add to your chunking supply. Blackfin tuna will usually come to the party as well as kings, amberjacks, and of course, sharks. Don't give up if yellowfin seem scarce. They are usually last to arrive, but do so with grand entrance. There's no mistaking these blue and yellow submarines when they come roaring through the chum line.

MOBILE FADS

Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs) are usually man-made objects deployed to attract and hold a variety of pelagic fishes, including tuna. Chunking for tuna works well near the usual structure like rigs, wrecks, live bottom and sea mounts. However, gaining in popularity is a method that had anglers heading for the shrimp fleet instead of the rigs.

"During the fall, the tuna, big tuna, seek out the shrimp boats which act as a mobile FAD," said Capt. Allen.

The shrimp fleet pulls trawls in the Gulf and the tuna shadow them. Like deer coming to a feeder, tuna and a variety of Gulf fishes have caught on that these vessels mean free food. When the trawls are hauled on board, the catch is sorted and the relatively small amount of marketable shrimp is kept, while the vast amount of bycatch is discarded back to the water. Birds, fish and marine mammals all join in the mayhem to feast on the discards.

Unlike rigs, the shrimping fleet moves with their intended catch and is often here today, gone tomorrow. There's no punching numbers into the GPS and landing on the fleet from day to day. Many charter captains have developed relationships with the shrimp boat captains and get information on their location and current conditions. Weekend anglers targeting shrimp boats may find themselves making long runs only to find that the fleet has moved on.

Finding a shrimp boat is only one piece of the puzzle. First and foremost, courtesy is the name of the game. These boats are working and don't take kindly to anglers that interfere with their operations; or worse yet, cause problems with their gear. Always attempt to hail the captian on the radio or make voice contact if safe to do so. Most will not mind you fishing near their boat as long as you don't cause problems. Many are willing to barter a basket or two of bycatch for a fresh tuna, a few bucks and sometimes, even a cold one. Or two or three...

If the shrimp boat is in the culling process, a chum line is already started for you. The goal is to deploy chum of your own and attract the fish from the shrimp boat to yours. Using chunking techniques as outlined above, be prepared to encounter some big yellowfin. Once hooked up, work the fish away from the shrimp boat to avoid getting tangled in its nets or cables.

FIGHT OF YOUR LIFE

A tuna battle can make a grown man cry. Screaming runs followed by the "spiral" will cause pain in muscles you didn't even know you had. Settle in, and fight the fish with slow, methodical pumps using the rod to gain line whenever you can. The plan is to get the tuna worn out before you get worn out. Guess what? It doesn't always work that way. The first sight of color will reinvigorate you, but if the fish hits triple digits; that fight is far from over. As the fish finally nears the surface, have the crew prepared to get it on board at the first opportunity. When a big yellowfin hits the deck, you will scream and rejoice. And then collapse.

Tuna fishing off the coast of Louisiana literally offers the opportunity to catch more than you can handle. A recent trip by Capt. Allen, although shortened by weather, typifies Venice success.

"We wound up with three yellows all over 100 pounds with the largest being 188," he said. "When we got back to the dock, Capt. Eddie had two over 100 with one being a 224, Captain Peace had one about 170 and Captain Bret had a 150. All-in-all, we had seven giant yellows lying on the dock and it was 2:00 p.m. Gotta love Venice."

There is certainly a lot to love.

 

Chris Holmes has vast fishing experiance across the United States and also in Canada, Mexico, Central America and the Bahamas. He is an award-winning outdoor writer and photographer with photo and story credits in state, regional and national putblications. He currently serves as executive director of the Louisiana Outdoor Writers Association.

Captain Jerry Allen runs Poco Loco Charters out of Venice, Louisiana--pocolococharters.com and Facebook at Poco Loco Charters.


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