The Gulf of Mexico is a great place to target tuna, with everything from Giant Bluefin, to yellowfin and the most commonly caught blackfin tuna. Because the Gulf is shallow, if you’re going tuna fishing out of my region, you can expect to make a long run—the larger the tuna you’re targeting, the longer the run. Blackfin tuna can be caught around the bait schools in as shallow as 40 feet of water, but the yellowfin and Bluefin tuna tend to come out of the deeper waters of the Gulf.
We’re fortunate that we have a lot of wrecks that hold bait in my region. Blackfin tuna are a fast-traveling species that often mingles with little tunny (bonito), so they regularly come as an incidental catch around reefs and wrecks in fairly shallow water. Any time you find a school of bait around a wreck or in open water when offshore, you have a chance of encountering blackfin tuna in my region.
Blackfin tuna tend to be a bit boat and leader shy, so you want to put your baits out away from the boat, and use a 30 pound fluorocarbon leader and small circle hook when targeting them. I like the 2/0 2X strong VMC tournament circle hook, which won’t straighten out even on a big blackfin.
Just about any live bait will work, but I prefer Spanish sardines, which are a smaller bait than a threadfin and one the blackfins can easily eat. Pilchards will also work, and if you’re anchored up, don’t be afraid to live chum with smaller pilchards to draw the tuna closer to your baits.
Just about anywhere in the deep open waters of the Gulf of Mexico you can expect to encounter yellowfin tuna, and often they have blackfin tuna in the same area. Larger yellowfins will even eat the small blackfins, so a lot of the blackfin tuna in the same area will be over 20 pounds. You can randomly come across tuna while running, but the best way to specifically target these fish in the open Gulf is to use your boat’s radar to locate birds on the surface.
When tuna feed, then push the bait to the surface, and that attracts birds either looking to grab a baitfish, or to eat the chunks of baitfish left when a tuna feeds. Either way, flocks of birds are a constant indicator of tuna in the area. By adjusting the contrast/gain on the unit, you can find these flocks of birds, follow their course direction and then get in front of the moving schools of tuna.
Big tuna like big baits, so everything from a rigged naked ballyhoo to purple or dark colored diving plugs or cedar plugs will catch these fish. Tuna swim faster than a lot of other species, so you’re usually trolling at around 10 knots. Get in front of a moving school, deploy your lures or baits, and get up to speed and let the tuna catch up to you. When you get a bite, keep going and try to turn one bite into multiples as other members of the school eat your offerings. Once the fish are brought to the boat, you can locate the birds on your radar and again begin the process of getting in front of the fish.
Blackfin tuna in the Gulf can range in size from 10 to 30 pounds, so most anglers like to fish them on 20 to 30 pound gear. Yellowfin tuna average 40 to 80 pounds, with fish over 100 pounds common, so 50 to 80 pound tackle is the norm. The exception is live baiting around the offshore rigs to the north, where there are huge tuna caught at night using live blackfin tuna or big blue runners for bait. A lot of these fish are over 100 pounds, and blue marlin are a common incidental catch, so most anglers use 130 pound gear.
Blackfin tuna can be caught at any time on the offshore wrecks, making them a great species to target in my region. Yellowfin and the deep water blackfins require a lot more effort to catch, but the meal you have when you get home makes it worth the long runs, and the memories of days on the water fighting big fish will last a lifetime!Captain Tips