Three Tips for Catching Big Blackfin Tuna

Blackfin Tuna Miami, FL

Blackfin Tuna fishing in Miami is an awesome experience.  While blackfins aren’t nearly as tough (or delicious) as their yellow finned or blue finned cousins, they are strong and fierce ocean predators. When schooled up and feeding aggressively, blackfin tuna provide a wild battle on light tackle and fight similarly to small yellowfin.  During the prime months for blackfin tuna fishing in Miami (typically April – June) the larger specimens can grow upwards of 30lbs and its common to catch several at a time off the kites.

Targeting blackfin tuna in Miami waters is a challenge because they are a highly migratory species and never stay in one place for very long.  Large schools of blackfins roam the coast in search of baitfish, typically following bluewater current rips in the 160′ – 220′ range. While kite fishing for blackfin tuna is the preferred method, there are a few tricks of the trade you should keep in mind if the goal is to boat big blackfins in the early  or late spring months.

Leverage Light Sensitivity

Often referred to as the “twilight tuna”, blackfins are notoriously light sensitive…almost more than any other tuna. Their eyes are large and comparable to that of yellowfin and longfin tuna, which means first light and last light conditions are best for targeting this species.  Tuna feed most effectively by staying deep and looking up to spot baitfish. They do this in part because light reflects off bait fish which hang near the surface, making them easier to see.  In low light situations, looking up at the surface of the water increases contrast, which means shadows and disturbance at the surface stands out with greater depth.

During prime season for blackfin, it’s common to hook several of these fish at one time off the kite baits…the fish will literally rocket themselves out of the water or across the surface and crash the baits with a vengeance. Tuna are “ram” feeders, which means they must use their speed to propel the bait down their gullet. This vicious attack makes it easier to hook them with circle hooks, but they do often miss the baits when moving at high speeds.  During low light conditions, their “aim” is actually better because its easier for them to see the bait.

If your deadset on targeting blackfin tuna in Miami waters, schedule your trip accordingly so you’re fishing first light (between 0545 and 0700) or last light (1730 – 1930). We’ve even caught a few while fishing at night for swordfish under a full moon.

Leader Makes a Difference

This is common sense for most anglers who target tuna, or any gamefish with exceptional eye sight – use the lightest flourocarbon leader possible. Typically, when we kite fish for sailfish, mahi-mahi, or kingfish we employ 40lb flourocarbon leader.  The diameter of the leader material is pretty thin, but strong enough to handle abrasive mouths or bills. When targeting blackfin tuna in Miami during the twilight hours, we use 30lb and occasionally 25lb flourocarbon leader – and it certainly makes a difference.

Tuna are tough creatures to begin with and underestimating their stamina is something that can come back to haunt you. Light tackle fishing for tuna is a challenge because you can’t pressure the fish like you normally would with heavy tackle.  Tuna pull all the way to the boat and will die fighting – this puts extra strain on your leader material and connections. While 20lb – 30lb mono will do the job, make sure your fluorocarbon leader of choice is high quality.  The strength and abrasion resistance of the material is critical when it will be under significant stress for an extended period of time. You can catch tunas using minimal drag pressure, there’s no need to bring the fish to the boat quickly unless there’s sharks in the area. With larger blackfins on lighter leaders, you have to compensate with the pressure exerted by the drag.

We recommend using seaguar or yo-zuri pink fluorocarbon for tuna fishing.  In our experience, these two brands perform well under all conditions and are thin enough to fool blackfun tunas with near perfect vision.

Back to Basics Live Chumming

Catching Pilchards at Bug Light

While you can catch blackfins by fishing bluewater edges during low light conditions, live chumming DRAMATICALLY increases your odds.  Blackfins can see baits flickering at the surface from great distances – their eyes are tuned specifically to pick up on flickers of light emitted from panicked or injured baitfish.  In the late winter and spring months, there are massive schools of pilchards holding at the bait grounds off Miami – more than you could ever need.  At the start of each blackfin tuna trip, we spend at least an hour and a half loading all our bait wells to the brim with pilchards.  A few carefully placed cast net throws and you’ll be set for the day. The trick is to keep an entire well of bait dedicated specifically for chumming.

When you’re drift fishing, it’s wise not to dump massive amounts of bait into the water at once. Keep a slow steady line of bait over the side.  Maybe two or three “squeezed” pilchards tossed out into the spread every 30 seconds will do the job.  The goal is to create a steady stream of injured baits that will lead the fish to you as the current draws them away from the boat.  If you “squeeze” or gently crush the pilchards before throwing them into the water, they will flicker and flap more erratically – this is exactly the signal you want to send into the blue.  Toss your baits out into the spread – don’t just dump one or two over the side.  If you can keep a few baits flickering near your kite baits at all times, you’ll be in good shape.

Now – once you get a strike or two and have fish near the boat – that’s the time to start dumping bait.  Tuna will work in a big school to herd the bait into a tight ball. If you see fish busting near the boat, start pitching half a dozen at a time and keep it up until all your lines have been hit.  Tuna will devour all the baits which hit the water…their appetite knows no end. They will keep feeding as long as there is bait nearby and have little fear of the boat when they are fired up. If there are lots of tuna around the boat, you may want to kill the engines as sound can scare them away. Be sure to work the entire water column, as many larger fish will stay deep while smaller fish slam the surface.  Vertical jigs are perfect for this – so keep one ready at all times.

Capt. Charlie Ellis

Capt. Charlie Ellis

Captain at Miami Fishing Charters LLC
Capt. Charlie Ellis of Miami, FL has 25 years experience fishing for big game species like Bluefin Tuna, Sailfish, Swordfish, and Sharks. Capt. Charlie is also an avid scuba diver, world traveler, writer, and entrepreneur.
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