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Light Tackle Southern Bluefin Tuna - Our story so far.

26 May 2013 11:00 AM - Catching big fish on light line is at the very core of game and sportfishing, giving the fish a real chance of beating the angler and the tackle. Here Chris Baty details his journey of chasing SBTs on ever lightening line.

OK so this story goes way back to when I was a young fella just starting out in Compleat Angler. The guys that I worked with liked to push the envelope by catching big fish on light line........and the concept was addictive. So one day while we were offshore catching small Yellowfin Tuna on heavy tackle I decided to try and spin one up on 4kg line. First cast I hooked a fish on a small metal lure. I nervously fought that fish for the next 45 minutes expecting to lose it the whole way but I gained line bit by bit and finally had it beaten at the boat. I remember when I saw the Striped Tuna slide within reach of the gaff my heart sank a little, I really wanted it to be a Yellowfin and was disappointed not to get it. I had to remind myself later that a 7.5kg stripey on 4kg line was still a great fish to catch.

Many years and a move to melbourne later and I found myself getting invited down to Portland by some mates to fish for SBTs with Matthew Hunt. I just had to take my 6kg outfit......just in case. That day was the start of a new beginning for me. After catching a few fish on the relatively heavy 15kg & 24kg tackle I slipped a lure out on the 6kg and it got bit next pass of the school. That fight was a fairly straightforward affair that eventuated in a 21kg fish hitting the decks and my mind was made up, I was going to do as much of this light tackle stuff as I long as there wasn't the chance of a real big fish coming along.

Not long after that I had a few custom rods made and got some smaller lighter reels (Shimano Talicas) so we could go down to 4kg and even 3kg if we found the right size fish. I missed chasing the SBTs during the 2011 season so I've only just managed to get my first SBT on the 4kg gear just the other day. I'm lucky to be able to call on the help of some really knowledgable anglers for help and advice. When you can use the brains trust of guys like Peter Pakula, Tim Simpson, Jim Allen or Dean Butler you've got a fairly good head start. So here's a few things we've learnt along the way.

Line - Because of the lightness of this gear you need everything working in your favour. By fishing nylon line we are effectively fishing through a big bungy chord that makes setting a hook quite difficult. Low stretch lines make a big difference so for this reason we are using the IGFA rated Platypus Low Stretch line in 8, 6, 4 and 3kg and have had great results so far. We use this in the Orange colour to help us keep track of the line's position. It's far easier for the skipper to see where your line's going if it's bright orange than if it's translucent blue. It also makes it easier to work out which way to go if your lines cross over mid fight or while trolling.

Hooks - Here we had to do a big rethink on what we would normally use. Fishing for Tuna normally sees hooks going in easilly especially on 10kg and up. When trolling with lighter gear we might be trying to set a hook with as little as 1kg of drag and this puts other challenges before us. The further back the lure is the more stretch there is in the line and that only accentuates the hook-up issue. We've tried a few different set ups and have now pretty well settled on twin hook shackle rigs using Lightweight Pakula Dojo Hooks wherever the lure is big enough to allow for it otherwise we use a single Pakula Katana hook. Both these setups give us a good percentage ratio of captures to hookups.

Lures - Because of the drag associated with bibbed hardbodies we tend to steer clear of them and troll skirted lures instead. Having said that I'll be gearing up next trip with some shallow diving (read less drag) Halco Laser Pros. So far with our skirted lures we've stuck with high end brand names. We really only get a small amount of time to devote to this so we simply go with the best. For mine that means sticking to Pakula and Black Bart lures. In the Pakula we'll run Cockroach, Mini Sprocket, Mozzie, Micro Uzi, Fluzi, Uzi and Needy and in the Black Bart it's the El Squid Jnr, Tuna Candy and Cabo Prowler. While we've had success on most colour combos at one point a few have become favourites. In the Pakula that's the Torro, Golden Yakka, Lumo, Illusion and Fallen Angel and with the Black Barts it's the Pink/Rainbow, Lumo and Mackerel Pink.

Leaders - So far we've run all our lures on 80-100lb leaders but we're starting to think about going even lighter so that A. the lures will have even "MORE" action and B. we get more bites from finnicky fish. Even when we've fished the 80lb we aren't noticing much scuffing after a fight. I know some guys who go right down to 40lb and I've caught plenty of Longtail Tuna up north on 20lb leaders so I think we'll drop down to at least 40-60lb soon. While I've never been a fan of using wind-ons, preferring to stay with the traditional double to snap to leader, we have started using Halco wind-ons to make it easier to clear the decks once a fish is hooked up. So far we're pretty happy with that set-up but the jury is still out on a final call. We may be back to our old system next year, it's all a matter of trial and error.

Reels - Mostly we've been using the Tiagra 12s, Talica 10s and Talica 8s. I'm loving the Talicas for their compact size, light weight and beautifully smooth drag. The thing I don't like about them is how agrressive the drag curve is. Which means if I go from strike (1/3 breaking strain) and go one click past strike the drag is now past the breaking point of the line. This allows no room for adjustment through the fight. We've had legendary reel guru - the late Jack Erskine re-work the cams so that's no longer an issue. Once this was done they were beautiful!

Drags - We're fishing a strike drag that is 1/3 the breaking strain of the line and then push that up to 1/2 once the initial chaotic part of the fight is over and the fish has settled down. Occasionally I'll add light finger pressure to the line while lifting or trying to turn a fish. The only way to know how much pressure you can apply is to occasionally go too far so don't feel bad about the losses, just chalk them up to experience.

Fighting the fish - As you can imagine this is where the real art of the light tackle game is. There's no brute force here it's all finesse and technique. First things first you need to keep calm while line melts off your reel and do everything possible to keep your light delicate line from getting caught up with the lures and teasers being cleared by the other guys. Now we're pretty new at the whole fighting these things on light line. Up until recently most of our fish have stayed up nice and high in the water and the fight has been fairly straight forward. But recently that has changed. On 4kg gear we've had fish go deep and stubbornly hang there. We found that by circling around the fish we were able to get them to lift easily the first few turns. The more turns we did the less we gained but it still broke the stubborness of the fish and we won the fights. But those fights were on relatively small fish (10-12kg) and the fights were taking approx 40 minutes so I thought I'd ask a few of the gurus to see what they had to add that might help. Peter Pakula had the following point to make.

"Drive away from the fish and down current of it, you'll lose a bit of line first which will be a bit disconcerting but the fish will pop up to the surface. As long as you're fishing a drag at least 1/3 the breaking strain of your line and the fish is not greater than 10:1 then this technique will work."

Tim Simpson had this to add

"When fighting tuna - and most other fish too - I would suggest NOT getting over the top of them if you can help it. Above them you are either pulling against the water resistance of the whole side of their body (if they are on their side) or if they are still upright, you're pulling straight up above them while they're angling their big 'wings' to plane themselves down. This is much worse with yellowfin but even bluefin have pec fins that will make it hard for you - and they do angle them down to paravane themselves away from you.

I feel that it is much better to keep an angle on the line so that you are leading them towards you rather than trying to force them upwards against their efficient planing design. If (when) they dive under the boat, you simply keep idling the boat out away from them to maintain some angle. Unless they dive really deep, you should be able to get some angle on the line and lead them.

The secret to fighting a big, stubborn fish - especially one down deep - is to drive the boat off them at various angles to the direction that they seem to prefer swimming. Sometimes you will intentionally drive off 100m or more. You will usually find that one particular angle seems to get the most reaction and success with getting them to break out of their pattern and do something. Try 360-degrees until you find it. Once you find the effective direction, keep doing it. Over and over. The fish will break it's pattern but then eventually settle back into it. Every time it settles into a pattern, do whatever you can to break it. Usually it will be by pulling from that same angle. If you keep stirring it up and keep making it struggle rather than settle into a comfortable fight, you will force it to make a mistake, or tire itself - then you can catch it.

Often it pays to find out which way the current is running - and then pull the fish down-current - so it can't paravane down deeper into it. (But the current may be flowing in a different direction down deep.)"

Our technique worked but you can sure bet we'll try some of the above stuff as well given the chance. I'll just add this, keep the rod work smooth and consistent. Make sure you keep as much pressure on as your set-up will allow and be ready all the time for a shot. Quite often a shot comes early and if missed doesn't come again for a very long time.




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