Targeting Blackfin and Yellowfin Tuna in the Panhandle Region with Capt. Pat Dineen

The best blackfin tuna fishing in my region takes place from late summer through early fall around the Southwest Break where the water goes from 150- to 210-feet in depth. You can slow troll live baits, chunk and chum or even do some live bait chumming. You want to be over the rock bottom.
If you’re specifically targeting blackfin tuna you want to fish a 30 pound monofilament or fluorocarbon leader. Expect some cutoffs from the kingfish which will be in that same area that time of the year, but if you go heavier or use wire you just don’t get the number of bites you would get with mono or fluorocarbon.
Hook size depends on the bait. Most of the guys who are trolling will have a stinger hook rig, with a hook in the nose and a second hook in the tail of the bait, so you don’t have to drop back to the fish and you don’t miss the fast-striking fish. Some anglers will even use a small piece of #3 wire from the nose to the tail hook, which will allow them to catch the kingfish that eat the tail off the bait. I’ll use a 1/0 or 2/0 hook for the nose hook, and then a #4 treble hook for the tail hook.
Another good option in my region is to target blackfin tuna around the offshore oil rigs. They’re on those rigs year-round, and you can catch all you want at night with a Turbo rig. The drawback is that the fish around the rigs are usually under 10-pounds. The ones you catch on the break in the fall are usually 22- to 27-pounds—really nice fish.
The Petronas and the Ram Powell are some of the better rigs to fish. The best rigs are in anywhere from 1,900 to 6,000 feet of water, and that’s where you’ll find the yellowfin tuna as well. At night you can catch the blackfin tuna on diamond jigs, but if you slow troll a live flying fish around the rig at night you can bet a giant yellowfin will crush it.
Keep in mind that the yellowfin tuna are almost always on the up-current side of the rig—I think because the current sweeps the bait into the light around the rigs and the yellowfin are there to eat them the second they come close. A lot of time you can see the yellowfins on your chart plotter. They look like large individual spots or marks. Whether you’re trolling or drifting around busting fish, you want to be up-current of the fish to get the bite.
We catch the flying fish at night using a long handled dip net—the kind you use for dipping shrimp around the bridges—and basically scoop the flying fish with the net as they swim through the spreader lights. You can dip them up, put them in the livewell and when you have a few baits, put one out. They usually last about two minutes.
Blue runners are also a good bait live bait for tuna, and we even use some of the small blackfin tuna that we catch on the diamond jigs. You’ll want to catch your blue runners close to shore before you run out, because if you plan on catching bait around the rigs, a lot of times they’re just not there. A three or four pound blackfin tuna is a great bait for yellowfin tuna. And then in the early morning we troll around the rigs with naked ballyhoo on monofilament leaders and do very well on the yellowfins.
When we’re live baiting for yellowfin tuna we typically use 80- to 150-pound fluorocarbon leader, but if we’re trolling ballyhoo where there’s not a lot of leader in the water, I’ll bump up to 200-pound fluorocarbon. Most of the time we’re fishing a 6/0 or 7/0 4X strong tournament circle hook through the nose of the bait.
There are also times you’ll see the fish busting and jumping in open water, and you can use your chart plotter to determine which way they are moving, then run ahead of them and either deploy some live baits, chum chunks or troll ballyhoo in front of the school. Every once in a while you’ll see some of those deep water shrimp boats working the ruby red shrimp out there, and you can troll around those boats and pick up a yellowfin or two.   
The average yellowfin in my area are 50- to 60-pounds, but in the fall out by the oil rigs they average more like 80- to 120-pounds. So plan for the big fish, bring some live baits with you, and hopefully you’ll find

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