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Posted 12th September 2023

The Southern Bluefin Tuna Run By Hayden Speed

The Southern Bluefin Tuna Run By Hayden Speed
The Southern Bluefin Tuna Run By Hayden Speed

The Southern Bluefin Tuna run is becoming increasingly popular with anglers all over the country. Many are travelling to places such as Waihau Bay, Tauranga and the Coromandel peninsula with hopes of connecting with one of these barrels. This is a relatively new fishery that has only been fished recreationally for the last 7 years or so. Promisingly, as years go by, the biomass of the school that comes through our waters seems to be increasing significantly each year.

These tuna appear off Hawkes Bay in late May and make their way around the corner of East Cape in early June. This year has been no different with the tuna showing up in numbers off Waihau Bay in early June. There has been an exceptional run this year, with tuna still being caught in numbers off the East Cape well into August.

As with any form of fishing though, there are no guarantees - and after two days fishing on previous trips without success it was a relief for the third trip in late July to pay dividends!

A perfect weather window presented itself and we loaded up and headed back down the coast for another mission - this time with 2 days to complete the task. Once again we drove down the night before and after a short sleep in the boat, we were up at 4 am to join the queue of boats heading out wide.

Before making the trip down I had studied the Sea Surface Temperature (SST) charts as this would hopefully point us in the right direction. When looking on an SST chart for Southern Bluefin and gamefish in general I’m looking for temperature breaks, changes in chlorophyll and where the currents are. Ideally, if you can match a change in SST with some nice clean water and a bit of current you should have a recipe for success. On this day I noticed a nice patch of water around 1100m off Lottin Point.

We headed towards Lottin and arrived in glassy conditions before the sun was up. We deployed some lures in the water and started tracking east. This area seemed alive with the sounder showing steady fish and bait signs. As a result, it didn’t take long before my Saltiga LD 60 was hit and started losing line quickly! This was swiftly followed by another hit - we were on a double!

After clearing the remaining gear and getting clipped into our harnesses we began the fight. It was pretty magical to be hooked up to a double of Southern Bluefin Tuna as the sun rose over the East Cape, in absolutely dreamy conditions. Both of these fish had eaten lures rigged on ‘daisy chains’ in the short and long corner positions. A daisy chain consists of 3 hookless skirts running above the standard game lure. I just use small skirts that are designed for game lures and I position a small ball float in the head of the lure to give it some shape. When rigging the lures I will add a crimp at 1m spacings - this positions these skirts and creates the desired splash action. Running daisy chains creates splash and commotion that I’ve found really appeals to the bluefin. Since beginning to run daisy chains last season 4 of our last 6 tuna have been caught on these. Nowadays I wouldn’t fish for bluefin tuna without a couple of daisy chains in the spread.

After a short fight, my younger brother, Tyler, managed to get his fish to the leader. Unfortunately upon leadering it in, the fish made a dart upwards and managed to shake the hook - bugger! We would’ve let this fish go anyway but it would have been nice to get a tag into it beforehand. Meanwhile, my fish had now gone deep and was putting up an impressive fight. We were idling forward while ticking in and out of gear. This created a bit of line angle which can help to plane the fish up towards the surface. However, this particular fish was pretty comfortable sitting at the 80m mark. After over an hour, it was clear that we needed to change strategies to work this fish up. As tuna often do, it was beginning its ‘pinwheel’ circles. We decided to follow this and constantly idle in sync with the fish's circular pattern. This seemed to have pretty immediate effects and allowed me to put some more line back on the reel.

Finally, the leader appeared and we got a glimpse of the large Southern Bluefin attached. Dad reached over and began attempting to bring this fish within range of a gaff. It definitely pays to have someone on the helm as this created for a few intense moments as the fish got nearer the boat! Eventually, after a good tussle on the leader, Dad patiently managed to get the fish within gaff range before I lent over and buried the gaff into the fish’s gill plate. Ideally, it’s a good idea to gaff the tuna in the head as this preserves all of the excellent meat. However, this doesn’t always go to plan with an energetic tuna boat side!

We pulled the Tuna aboard before we could really admire the size of this fish, which had put up an impressive fight - lasting an hour and 45 minutes. This was the first trip for my new Saltiga LD 60 on a bent-butt Tournament Game rod and after 20 minutes of trolling it was put into action on a big bluefin tuna. This was an epic combo to fight the tuna with and made the long fight as comfortable as possible! I know I could’ve pushed the drag up to try and reduce the fight time. However, on this occasion we were more than happy to just be a bit more patient to make sure we had every opportunity of being successful.

Once landed it is important to get as much blood out of the fish as possible. It is insane how much heat these fish create - especially after a long fight. If you stick your hand into their gut cavity you’ll see what I mean. Therefore, in order to best preserve the eating quality of these fish it is crucial that you bleed and ideally gut and gill the fish. Bleeding the fish is a straightforward process. Making a small incision just behind the pectoral fin will really get the blood pumping out. To gut the fish, I make a circle around the anal hole on the belly of the fish and then cut and release the gills of the fish. Then you will be able to pull all of the gills and guts out of the fish in one movement. This then creates a cavity which can be packed with ice. It’s important to bring ample ice for the tuna.

We were pretty stoked to have a solid bluefin onboard by 9 am! The lures were set yet again to see if we could make the most of this hot bite and catch another tuna to tag and release. 30 minutes later after marking a lot of fish on the sounder we had yet another double strike. With only the three of us onboard Dad and Tyler jumped on the roads leaving me to be the deckhand. However, these fish only turned out to be a nice bycatch of two very large albacore.

Pretty happy with the day's efforts we decided to call it a day and head back into Waihau for an early finish - allowing us to make the drive home and clean up with plenty of daylight left!

It was pretty awesome to land a solid Southern Bluefin Tuna after a very impressive fight. This was a stubborn fish but the Daiwa Saltiga LD 60 paired with a Tournament Game 5-6 performed flawlessly and managed to get the result for me. Waihau Bay delivers yet again!

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