Anglers often joke about the premise of a big fish taking a rod out of their arms, but if ever there was a scenario where that could actually happen, it’s the giant yellowfin tuna patrolling the drilling rigs of the Northern Gulf of Mexico. Brutal strikes, blistering runs, a relentless fight and prized fillets make these sickle-finned beasts one of the region’s top targets.
Catching yellowfin is a blast; eating them is even better. But if this were a simple pursuit, everyone would do it. Gear up physically and mentally so you’re ready for a fish that’ll test your tackle and your will.
Working Mustad Feather and Flash Sabiki Rigs around the perimeter of offshore rigs is a good way to load the well with fresh blue runners (“hardtails”) or threadfin herring (“greenbacks”), while cast nets are the way to go for inshore schools of menhaden. There is a tendency to think giant baits equal giant fish, and that is not necessarily wrong. However, even whopper yellowfin can be picky at times, so carry a variety of bait sizes.
Complement your live baits with frozen sardines and Boston mackerel, as chunking often plays a key role in the tuna game. Most anglers prefer anchoring or motor drifting a promising area, watching for fish marks on the sonar, and free lining live baits on flat lines or kites. If you’re marking fish but they don’t rise to the livies, chumming with dead baits and dropping chunks on weighted lines typically gets ‘em going.
Whatever natural baits you use, always keep a jumbo popper rigged on a heavy power spinning outfit. Tuna often drive bait schools to the surface or come up chasing flying fish — both present excellent opportunities for slinging a noisy surface bait their way. Make sure to retrofit your bait with Mustad Inline Jaw Lok trebles to ensure your best shot at boating a Gulf giant.
For live bait drifting, you’ll want stout 5 1/2- to 6-foot conventional outfits with high capacity reel carrying 80-pound TUFLINE ADX Enforcer 8X braid backing, 250 feet of 80-pound monofilament top shot and a wind-on leader of 80 to 100-pound-pound TUFLINE XD Fluorocarbon. Two-speed reels help manage the blistering initial runs and the brutally tough tug-of-war. Use double uni-knots to link all the line and leader elements, and snell a 3X strong 7/0-8/0 Mustad Demon Perfect Circle Hook on the business end of the rig.
Expect a Lengthy Battle
If you’re not 100 percent sure of your stamina, yellowfin tuna fishing will quickly clarify it for you. These fish pack incredible power with unbelievable endurance, so settle in for a long engagement and stay well hydrated.
Fight the good fight and you’ll hear someone shout, “We’ve got color!” That means your tuna is rising into eyesight distance. So keep the pressure on and gain line with a steady cadence of pulling up to guide the fish on the outside edge of its “death circle” and reeling down on the inside of each pass.
Double gaffing is usually needed to lift these beasts aboard. After the requisite bragging photos, bleed the fish, ice thoroughly, and then spend the trip back dreaming of fresh sashimi or seared ahi — the rewards of a successful yellowfin battle.
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