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ARTICLE - How to catch TUNA

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How to catch tuna by Captains Ross and Glenn Hunter


Captain Ross and Glenn Hunter have been around the fishing scene all their lives
Their boats BROADBILL and BILLFISHER have a reputation of excellence in the charter boat industry. In Ross's case, a third generation of family fisherman, he is most proud of his profession and also very proud that his son Glenn chose to follow in his footsteps.

Ross has caught more tuna over his 45 years of wandering oceans that he can remember.

Here are some of the Hunter boys ideas on the most successful way to go about catching yellowfin in a modern environment.



In reviewing these pointers, my mind drifted to the wild early 60's at Montague Island, fishing from my quinnie, working the north pinnacle, trolling live frigates, freshly caught off the seal colony.
We would never troll them long before a "jumbo" of herculean size would devour the bait and on would go the gut busting battle, sometimes for hours
In those crazy, heady days of yellowfin tuna with no commercial pressure, we were certainly spoilt…I can recall catching three fish to 85 kg in a session The fishing was red hot back then, enter long lining in the mid eighties and the decline of big fish was underway.
My theory is that in the seventies we were catching "the fringe stocks", fish that came close to shore to feed on sauries, bellows fish, squid etc…They would travel in the favourable currents that were evident back then, these fish could be caught within five mile of the shore, even around headlands
I talk of big fish up to 100 kg ……………………………………………….Giants of their breed.

Glenn and myself caught these fish at the "Peak"(4.9 nautical mile offshore) off Sydney in the early eighties, massive tuna that could be seen jumping clear of the water on the tide changes chasing surface food.
That was back then, we thought it would ever end and took it for granted. Enter; over-fishing by long-lining and these experiences are no longer…. Why? ….Because in our opinion the fringe stocks have been taken, leaving the bulk of the remaining schools receding into the centre of the Tasman Sea, too far for the average Aussie longliner, but well within distance of the more efficient international fleet.
Typical of the remarkably bad management of our oceans not only by our Governments but International bodies as well, has seen a noticeable decline of these big breed stocks in our accessible waters.
There is now a decline in long lining because many of the commercial boats find the fuel burn versus catches a non viable entity…. bearing in mind that the Captains and owners of long liners are doing nothing illegal,.
They too, are trying to make an honest living from the ocean

The Federal Government has allocated 180 million for the purchase of federal commercial fishing licenses and I am sure many of the long liners will gladly accept the buy out as time goes by.

Yellowfin live for 7 to 8 years They start to breed at about 2.5 to 3 years of age around the 25 to 30 kg mark. Because of their extremely fast growth rate it will enable the stocks to rebuild if left be for while.
We require even tighter bag limits as recreational anglers to help this happen
After all one tuna per day to eat is a big meal….Why not, by all means catch a few more on circle hooks and release them.!
It is not a bottomless pit and every bit will help to ensure future generations may have the thrill of a yellowfin tuna encounter.


Every season in our business is different; it all revolves around the thermoclines and isotherms, the oceanic currents
An example is the '97 marlin season off Pt Stephens, that season we tagged 248 marlin inc 18 in one day on Broadbill..a season where the water didn't get to hot, but stayed blue, right to coastline and never went over 24 degrees, perfect for great marlin fishing

The 2006 yellowfin season has been the same off Sydney.

Glenn and myself have caught more tuna this season than we have in the past decade…….Why?
The current flow has eddied off Sydney in a giant swirl of tuna rich water…20 to 21 degrees right through winter and has basically not moved. As a result the tuna have taken up residency off Sydney as well.
We have caught tuna since May rarely missing out

On our boats we like our anglers to release a fish or two, having all caught one each
The fish have averaged around 25 to 30 kg……… The biggest going 58 kg.so far


Our true challenge at this stage of our careers is catching marlin.
I personally find them a much greater challenge than tuna, but alas they disappear in the Winter and Spring and we have to keep busy, so tuna it is.
Marlin are visual and a "Skippers Dream" to catch everyone is different and there are many different techniques we use which can vary from day to day…lots of skillful boat driving great heart pumping summer action

Yellowfin are "Wham Bam Thank You Mam", gut busting, raw boned tough fishing and the punters love it.
The bellow of the big Shimano as line screams off on that first blinding run will pump the adrenalin through even the most experienced fisho.
They are "balls and all" the toughest fish in the ocean to tame and every angler's dream



Two factors are paramount here; Visual observation on both the sounder and with you're eyes. Always be observant as to what is happening around you on Mother Ocean.on a typical tuna day

We run quite powerful sounders on our boats and it is possible to pick up fish that are schooled under a bait source they show up as speckles sitting under the schools, when this is found we often will set a cube trail up in that area.
Sea birds are so important we love to see the albatross and petrels in an area. The small Wilson's Storm Petrel and Grey Prions and the common tern is also a wonderful guide to tuna schools in the area.
Always remember that you can troll all day and not get a bite on a lure, but you will catch them by cubing.
This has happened on our boats all season., we may have caught ten fish between Billfisher and Broadbill on the troll, this would not be ten percent of our seasons catch when compared to the cubing method.


What is cubing!…well you do not have to be a Rhodes Scholar to do it. Having selected an area to fish, in our case it will mostly be "Browns Mountain" (a 600 foot seamount off Botany Bay) or "The Southern Canyons" to the south off Stanwell Park.
We then drift and at the same time cut a heap of pilchards up generally into three pieces, add little tuna oil and throw a few into the briny in a constant stream. Sort of two or three cubes every 15 or twenty seconds, so you can always see a cube in the trail.
Then the wait starts and patience is a virtue. Some days we have started cubing at 2 pm and not so much as had run until 5 pm however by 6.30 pm have had them boiling everywhere behind the transom.
I recall one night we stayed and hand fed them in the floodlights then drove way leaving them biting


We fish no more than three most time two More lines in the water area pain in bum The cross overs mean lost fish and to many dramas Simple is better, once the fish arrive you can select the fish and hook it up and share them around the anglers on a share strikes system …………………It works OK!


Here we favour short traces of 1.5 meres We use 150 lb Jinkai or similar.
However I have many times fished straight 80 line no trace no swivel on a shy fish that won't feed. There is a risk factor here that a big fish may wear through light trace on a long fight.
We stick to a simple system for charter work 150 lb trace attached by a sampo swivel with 20 or so feet of plaited double. We don't use wind ons for tuna.


On our boats we pretty much use circle hooks for all our fishing
They are dynamite on the marlin and because of our policy of tag and release only on all billfish, we are giving the fish every chance of survival with circles There ability to catch every fish in the jaw is amazing.

With a tuna hook up on these great hooks, we fish around 4 kg strike drag and most times do not work the bait in and out a lot until the fish turn up. We find that stationary bait on reasonable day weather wise will be taken better than one that is worked in and out. Just sit back and chill out until the rod bends…"To bloody easy."
Once a fish is spotted in the slick we will grab a rod, wind it in quickly, putting on a fresh pillie or cube of stripey and then re-feed it back with the ratchet on and light drag . Once the fish eats the bait the drag is feathered on to eventually reach fighting drag of 6 kg on 24 kg.
Don't fall for the old one third of the breaking strain of the line routine or you will snap line. 6 kg of drag is perfect, no broken line, all fish caught in a comfortable manner.

Over the years I have seen all kinds of anglers, some excellent, some bloody hopeless, however when it comes to the end result they all catch their fish and that's what it is all about.
We have checked customer's rods only to find drag settings far to high, so high that the line would have parted on the first run, we naturally back them off, sometimes to be told by the owner
"Mate that was set up on spring scale"
"That's excellent" may be the reply as we back off the drag.
And we always suggest that if they leave it there and they snap off, then they go to end of the strike
They always agree with the back off.
We set our drags by "feel" not a spring scale, however I guess we've set a few over the years.
If you set yours on a spring scale then 6 kg will work well on 24 kg

You see once you have snapped a fish off you have not given yourself a chance it's that simple
Light drags are good and they will be more productive…after all you can always put a little on but it's hard to take it off after the line has parted.


Pillies threaded through the eyes or through the mouth and then back through the gut or cubes of stripey cut into triangular pieces, which will fit into the palm of your hand. Pass the hook through the skin at the very end corner of the triangle, once only it doesn't matter if all you can see is hook. A rampaging tuna is not a fussy feeder; they will grab anything if it's presented reasonably down the slick.
Live bait is not necessary if you can't catch a tuna on a pillie "you ain't gonna catch one at all".
If we have live bait we will pop one out, however it is not paramount.

If you do get a shy fish in the slick, straight through 37 kg will generally entice it to bite The lack of iron mongery of the swivel and the light line will normally work , however if the battle lasts too long the fish may wear through the trace. It's the risk you take.

Both Glenn and myself earn our living from catching tuna in the winter and Spring.
Around January we head to Port Stephens for the marlin season through to late April we have experienced some amazing seasons at this world famous fishery.
Some seasons better than others the 2005 season at the port was an amazing season, a season where we released over 300 marlin between our boats.


Without a doubt my favourite is the week before the full, the fish certainly become more active during this phase, so much so that it is the best time to troll.
Our favourite tuna lures are bib-less minnows , Bloodshot Tuna Hunters and Lazer Pros.
If you encounter jumping fish, then any of these lures will work well.


The 2006 yellowfin season has been a most rewarding and busy season for us off Sydney.
The warm eddy has not moved since May and the fish, whilst not even comparable to the fish of yesteryear have been of quality size 25 to 40 kg giving the customers on our boats some great memories and that is most contenting for us charter skippers.


We hope some of the tips may help you to get amongst them.

Ross and Glenn Hunter

Sadly Captain Ross Hunter passed away 28/11/2018. The charters are still available with his son Glenn Hunter - click on the link above. 


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