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Tuna (Blackfin)

Fishing for Blackfin Tuna

Blackfin tuna are among one of the most popular fish species in the entire world, and for good reason. They are great fighters, plentiful, and are great eating. Blackfin tuna can also be challenging, making catching a big every fisherman’s dream.The blackfin tuna belongs to the Scombridae family, or family of tuna and mackerel. The blackfin tuna is one of the smaller tunas, reaching an average maximum size of about 30 lbs, though some fish are near 50 lbs. The average blackfin tuna caught will usually be around 15 lbs, which still provides plenty of delicious tuna steaks.

Blackfin generally inhabit waters closer to shore than most other tunas, and can be caught in waters as shallow as 30 ft. They tend to prefer warmer cleaner waters, and are most abundant in water temperatures above ~70°F in water depths of over 300 ft. One exception is the Florida Gulf Coast, particularly NW Florida, where blackfin will often inhabit waters much shallower and cooler for the winter months, feeding anywhere from within a few hundred feet of the shore to 60 or more miles offshore. While in shallow waters, they generally form smaller schools of anywhere from five to ten to a few dozen fish; offshore, they often form schools of hundreds of fish. Blackfin also school regularly with other similar fish. Inshore they do this most often with false tunny (known as bonito or bobos); offshore they school with other tuna species including skipjack tuna and yellowfin tuna. Blackfin tuna feed on small fish, squids, crabs, shrimp, and other invertebrates. They are prey to other larger fish such as yellowfin or bluefin tuna, marlins, and sharks. Blackfin tuna are highly migratory predators, and not very structure-oriented. Nevertheless they migrate to find food, and often their prey is structure-oriented, which is helpful to know when you are trying to locate a school. Tuna feed throughout the water column, from the surface to depths of several hundred feet, possibly up to 1000'. They feed throughout the day and night, with the heaviest surface feeding occurring during periods of low light; during the day they generally feed at deeper depths.

The tackle used to target blackfin tuna is very similar to the tackle used for king mackerel. In fact the gear is the same for king mackerel fishing as for blackfin tuna fishing, with a few differences. One is line: you want to use a heavier line when fishing with blackfin tuna in general, to enable you to put more pressure on the fish and stop his runs without risking breaking the line. Also, you don't use wire when targeting blackfin because they tend to become 'leader shy' and refuse to bite. Use single hooks are used instead of treble hooks, for the same reason. The key to catching blackfin is keeping as low a 'profile' in the water as possible: this means using fluorocarbon leaders, smaller hooks, and clean knots. Other tackle that is helpful is a good sharp gaff, a good pair of fishing gloves, and polarized sunglasses for locating fish near the surface. You may also want to invest in a good pair of marine binoculars to help in locating these fast-moving fish, as the farther out you see them the more time you have to get set up. Also, if you are planning on doing a lot of chum fishing or chunking when blackfin tuna fishing, a chum grinder can save you a lot of time and hassle. Finally you will need a good pair of needle-nosed pliers or a dehooking device to recover your hook.

Now that you are geared up and rigged, it's time to find these fast-swimming tasty treats. While blackfin tuna are not structure-oriented fish, the critters they feed on often are. So good areas to start looking for blackfin are near-shore reefs, floating grasses, jetsam, oil rigs, and behind shrimp boats. In fact, if you find a shrimp boat culling its nightly haul, you can almost bet money that there will be blackfin in abundance around it. Oil rigs are another hotspot for tuna, as they provide shelter for thousands of forage fish and other kinds of food they like. If you don't have a shrimp boats and oil rigs in your area, don't despair; tuna were caught long before the oil rigs existed and are still plentiful. What you need to do is locate the bait, or areas where bait is likely to be, and concentrate your efforts in those areas. Rips, tidal lines, reefs, floating junk, it doesn't matter what it is; if it holds bait it can provide excellent blackfin tuna fishing opportunities.

Once you are in a good area, it's time to pick a fishing tactic. There are two primary tactics for blackfin tuna fishing: trolling live baits or artificial baits, or fishing with live or chunk baits and chum. Both methods work well under different circumstances. Trolling for tuna is best done at dawn or dusk while chumming and chunking are most effective from a slowly drifting or anchored boat. Blackfin tuna are normally a by-catch when trolling for other species, though a welcome one at that. Trolling is a great way to locate fish and cover a lot of ground. The best lures to troll for blackfin are 6-9 inch Jet Heads or Gatling jet lures. I prefer purple/black, red/black, or pink/blue for my trolling lures. Another good lure to troll is a straw. Yes that's right, a plain old straw cut down to about a 3-4 inch piece with a hook at the end of it can catch plenty of blackfin tuna. Use biodegradable straws when possible to avoid harming the environment should you lose your "lure." Blackfin tuna are amazing fish and every angler should get the chance to pursue them at least once. Although challenging at times, they are great fun.

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