Targeting Blackfin Tuna In The Panhandle Region With Capt. Pat Dineen

August is a little early for the prime time blackfin tuna bite in my region, but you can still find a lot of these fish on the offshore rigs. Those offshore rigs are loaded up with blackfin tuna year-round, but most of those fish are small and the guys fishing the rigs are usually looking for the bigger yellowfin tuna.

For the big blackfin tuna, October and November are the best months in the Panhandle Region. That’s when you get them along the Southwest Edge or the Mingo Ridge which is where the natural bottom breaks from 160 to 220 feet of water. The fish like to run these drop-offs along the current edges.

To target blackfin tuna, you can slow-troll live baits like mature 5 to 7 inch threadfins, sardines or cigar minnows or even anchor up and chum the tuna up. Most anglers bump troll along the break, staying along the bottom drop-off. Expect to get cut off by king mackerel at the same time. Every now and then you’ll find the blackfin tuna busting on the surface, or if you find a whale shark, you’ll definitely find them, but the majority of the blackfin tuna in my region are caught blind trolling.

When targeting blackfin tuna you’ll want 20 to 30 pound tackle, and it seems the charter boats use conventional gear while the recreational boats use spinning gear. The conventional gear doesn’t twist up the line like the spinning tackle does.

Blackfin tuna can be leader shy, but most of the time you can get away with 30 to 40 pound fluorocarbon leader. If you see blackfin tuna and can’t get bit or others are catching them around you and you’re not getting bites, then you can drop down to 20 or 25 pound fluorocarbon leader. Your hook size should match the bait—usually a 3/0 to 5/0 circle hook that you’ll run through the nostrils of the bait.

The blackfin tuna we find in the fall months are usually pretty good size, somewhere from 18 to 30 pounds, and they pull a lot harder than a bonito or other fish of the same size. The fish we find this time of the year on the offshore rigs 95 to 120 miles out are usually under 10 pounds.

On the rigs, you can catch the blackfins night or day, and the best bites really take place at night, particularly if you are throwing jigs. The jig bite turns on right after dark, and shuts down at first light. During the daytime, you’re better off trolling with feathers or small naked ballyhoo.  


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