Albacore, or long finned tuna, often take commercial fishing boats a couple of hundred miles from shore. Commercial boats stay out until their freezers are full.
Fortunately, there is a time of year when tuna come close enough to shore (usually 25-50 miles) so that sport fishermen can get in on the fun.
These fish migrate up the coast of California, typically hitting the waters of Monterey and San Fransisco about late August.
Following their arrival, good fishing may last for as little as a week or two, or may extend for several months.
There are years when tuna fishing gets hot as close as ten miles from shore. These are the only times most sport fishermen consider tuna fishing in their own boats. At other times it’s probably best to venture out on a well-equipped, fast, large party boat especially rigged for tuna.
Typically the boats leave in the wee hours of the morning (about 3 a.m.) and are back in port by 7 p.m. Cost ranges from $50 to $75. There are also overnight-one day ($125) and two-day ($250) trips available.
When and Where: Tuna Fishing Season
It varies. Two of the better tuna grounds are Soap Run and Pioneer Sea Mount. These are both 35-55 miles out off the coast of Davenport. Tuna season from year to year is unpredictable.
In some years there may not even be a sport season because the fish are too far offshore. Check often with party boat operators, tackle shops and fishing publications, starting every August.
How to Catch Tuna – Fishing Techniques
Trolling is the most popular technique for taking tuna. But before going into trolling specifics, a word about where to troll. After all, it’s a big ocean. Most experts look for water in the 63-65F range with 60F being the minimum. The second good fish finder is bird activity.
Birds actively pursuing bait fish means that tuna may be doing the same thing from down below the forage fish swarm. When birds are spotted, run the boat through the edge of the activity, not through the center. No need to chance scattering the bait fish and feeding tuna.
Tuna or Albacore trolling is characterized by the following:
- Trolling close to the boat. The theory goes that to the tuna, the wake looks like a bait fish feeding frenzy.) Put the lure right in the white water wake of the boat about 50 to 70 feet behind the stern.
- Fairly rapid boat speed (perhaps 7-10 knots) to move along the feathered or rubber-skirted jig at a good pace.
- Party boat captains usually troll in square grids of about 20 minutes per leg until fish are located. A zigzag pattern is also a good approach.
The other method of tuna fishing is used on party boats and some private boats after a school of fish is located by trolling. The boat is stopped and scoops of bait fish (usually anchovies) are tossed into the water to raise the tuna up to the surface. This technique is called chumming. Fishermen drift live bait near the surface.
Since tuna move in schools, it’s always a good idea for even private boats to try drift fishing after a trolling hookup is landed. Frozen anchovies often work even without chumming. Drift, facing the wind, so that the rig is not under the boat. Casting out a Salas or similar jig can also work.
Tackle and Equipment
Tuna are big, fast, open-ocean sport fish. They are one of the most sought after game fish in California ocean waters. A good fish averages 15-30 pounds with some ranging up to 40 pounds or more. Essential equipment includes the following:
- Large, iced, fish storage box (or cooler, or plastic trash container) and a good-sized gaff.
- A 6-6 1/2 foot medium to heavy trolling rod with roller tip and a 4/0 to 6/0 sized reel filled with at least 300 yards of 50-80 pound mono-filament line. This heavy equipment is needed to quickly land the first fish so that chumming and drift fishing can begin before the school disappears.
- For drift fishing, a light to medium action, fast tapered, 7 foot rod mated to a conventional reel capable of holding 300 yards of 25-30 pound test line is suggested.
Tuna Lure and Bait
The most productive tuna jigs:
Description: Chrome-plated or abalone-pearl head and a natural feather or vinyl skirt.
Colors: Dark colors (like black, purple, green and yellow) during darker periods. Light colors (like red and white, red and yellow) in bright periods.
Size – 4-10 ounces.
The preferred bait is live anchovies. The best are 3-4 inches long, green backed (they seem friskier), with no scale loss or other signs of deterioration. For surface fishing, hook the anchovy through a gill cover. For deeper action, nose hook the anchovies and use a 1 or 2 ounce rubber-core sinker about 30 inches up the line. Use the sharpest hooks money can buy. Nickel-plated Gamakatsu hook in #4 and #6 are a good choice.
Cleaning and Cooking
Tuna is most often steaked. Make sure the the dark flesh is removed from each piece. Like salmon, tuna has a relatively high fat content. Also like salmon, the most popular way to prepare it is barbecuing. The smoke seems to add to the flavor.
Poached albacore tastes like canned tuna, but even better. Poached albacore may be stored in the refrigerator for several days or frozen for a short time. Sauteing albacore is also popular. These strong tasting fish work well in recipes with spicy or tomato-based sauces.