Chunking for Tuna | Fishing Videos
Chunking for tuna is essentially the same all around the world. Sure, you will find regional differences in the type of baits used and techniques, but the mechanics of chunking works the same. Cut up appropriate sized pieces of fish and feed them out to awaiting tuna, that's the gist. The biggest challenge is finding where tuna are aggregating. After all, tuna want one thing: food. So, find that and it is game on.
No matter if you are yellowfin tuna fishing, blackfin tuna fishing, bluefin tuna fishing or whatever type of Thunnini fishing you are doing, tuna are driven to eat. Keying in on whatever the prevailing bait fish happen to be, tuna are opportunistic feeders with ravenous appetites. This is a fish that is constantly on the hunt and never stops moving, expelling lots of energy in the process. Because of their continual movement, tuna eat constantly. Tuna, of all varieties, are savage predators.
A tuna's insatiable need to consume it's body weight in food each day brings with it advantages and disadvantages for fishermen. The advantage is that knowing where the food source is or at least isolating areas that show productive signs puts you well down the path of finding the tuna. The disadvantage is you still have to find what the tuna are feeding on any given day and then entice them away from it to feast on your offering. Easy, right? Not all the time. It's a double edged sword. Preparation and confidence in your knowledge combined with a dollop of patience gives you an advantage.
The use of satellite mapping services is a great way to help isolate areas of potential productivity. Data points like ideal water temperature, chlorophyll levels, upwelling and current edges are useful in helping to find fish. If you can correlate these data points with known structure, your chances go way up. Finding tuna is not always easy. Learning to use satellite maps and having knowledge of where the fish aggregate and why is key to your success. For example: chlorophyll charts help find clear blue water and signs of life; higher concentrations of chlorophyll mean more baitfish. Food is the driver and food usually does not stray far from the protection of structure, unless moved by currents or the biological need to migrate. Even migration routes will correlate to some type of bottom structure. Tuna have relatively predictable seasonal migration patterns.
Schools of tuna will eat acres of baitfish daily, so they are constantly on the search for more. Tuna go where the food is and the food moves with the currents and changing water temperatures. The pattern is really pretty basic. The tricky part is that these patterns change a bit every year. Water is in constant movement and as the temperature rises and falls nutrient levels will change. These nutrient levels drive the food chain, especially at the lower end where many smaller baitfish live.
Structure is your friend. Find it, learn it and understand why fish are attracted to it if you want to have a lot more success on the water. How the water moves against it has a lot to do with how much life will be on it. In the absence of physical structure, currents can serve as structure. Open water fishing is perhaps that hardest type of fishing. This is where your knowledge of what the water is doing is the difference between catching and not. Upwellings, current edges, temperature breaks, gyres act create barriers or “walls” trapping bait.
There are a lot of variables involved in finding tuna that when understood will really improve your overall tuna fishing productivity. Before you ever think about diving into chunking for tuna, take the time to learn tuna behavior. There are a few fundamental areas of knowledge that good tuna fishermen are keenly aware of, at all times, before and during fishing. Water temperature, current, winds, structure, prevailing food sources, what bird activity tells you, if anything, baits, baiting tactics and how not to spook the school are all important to understand. Know you water temperature, currents and structure intimately. Keep track of when tuna arrive each year. The more you know, the more fish you will catch.
Anglers looking to improve their tuna fishing abilities should seek to acquire knowledge about both predator and prey. This information becomes indispensable, especially considering that saltwater fishing involves so many variables and changes daily.
What is chunking for tuna?
The concept behind chunking is pretty darn straightforward: situate yourself in an area known to hold tuna, have a bunch of hacked up baitfish, toss handfuls of those fish bits over the side to attract tuna and then introduce hooked baits. That's it in a simplified nutshell. In practice, there are a lot of details that go into this seemingly simple process, which will result in improved catch numbers. This all holds pretty well no matter the tuna species you are targeting.
Know the fishing grounds
Know your tackle
Know your baits
Develop a system that works
Adapt as necessary
For this discussion, the focus will be on yellowfin tuna. Big bluefin just require the use of tackle on a magnitude order much higher. But, the tuna chunking techniques work just the same.
The best advice I can provide on yellowfin tuna leader size is to use as big a leader as the bite will allow. If the bite is aggressive, you can easily get away with a bigger leader. Where you start really depends on where you are fishing and the size fish you encounter on an average basis. Fishing in the Gulf of Mexico, I would start out with 130 fluorocarbon. Scale down if the tuna are finicky. Go from 100 to 80 to 60 until you find the leader size that does not adversely effect the tuna fishing.
A good standard is to use 25-30 feet of leader material to start. You don't want the leader to get down to less than 10 feet. As your leader gets close to this mark, change it out for another 25 foot length.
You can catch 200 lb tuna on 60 lb fluorocarbon, if that's what it takes. The battle will just be longer. When using the lighter leader, make sure the drag is not set too tight and take you time with the fish. Do not try and horse the fish to the boat. Be patient, unless there are sharks, then do whatever is required.
A big factor in managing the fight is meat preservation. You want to get the fish in as quickly as possible, to prevent lactic acid build-up in the meat. The shorter the fight, the better for meat preservation.
Circle hooks are by far the most commonly used style of hook for tuna. You really need something that is going to easily drive itself home. The hook size you use depends on both the size of the tuna and how aggressively they are feeding.
In the Gulf of Mexico, the average size fish is a little bigger than other fisheries in the western Atlantic, so you find bigger hooks being used. For larger fish, well in excess of 100 lbs., 11-12/0 hooks are used and 7/0 for fish under 100 lbs. Bigger fish = bigger baits => bigger hook.
In the Bahamas, where yellowfin tuna are on average smaller than tuna in the Gulf of Mexico, many fishermen will use 3/0 – 5/0, depending on the bait. For goggle eyes, the 5/0 is more widely used.
If you can get away with bigger leaders and bigger hooks, why not. The goal is to put fish in the boat.
To learn more about tuna fishing tackle and terminal rigs, check out our collections of Tuna Fishing Videos. Here we go into great detail about fishing tactics, techniques, rods, reels, rigs, baits with several outstanding fishermen from around the world.
In each area of the world where there is good tuna fishing, there will be differences in the predominant baitfish. Get to know these little fish. Knowing what tuna are feeding on, in a given fishery, can help you select the type of bait to use for your chunks. You can buy baits for tuna fishing from your local bait shop or catch your own. It is a matter of time and effort.
When buying bait, make sure of its quality. Quality is king. Don't be afraid to open the box and examine the baits. Look for discolored skin, sunken or cloudy eyes, fins that are withered or beat up and freezer burn. Avoid baits with these characteristics. You want baits that look freshly caught and have been well cared for. In the packing process.
As for the type of baits you should use, keep in mind that most good purveyors of bait are catching it locally. So, know the baits that swim in your waters. Herring, menhaden or pogies, hardtail or blue runner, sardines, butterfish, mackerel, squid and even by-catch (if available) make great tuna baits.
Chunks for Tuna Fishing
Chunks are most commonly 2-3 inch pieces of fresh or frozen fish. You can cut your chunks with a knife, a pair of shears or any type of chopping tool. With by-catch that you acquire from local trawl boats, there is not need to cut it up, as the tuna will be used to feeding on it.
How much bait you need depends on how far you are going and how long you plan to fish. A good starting point would be 50-100 lbs of frozen baits per day of fishing. This could work out to around three to five flats of herring and one or two flats of sardines and several packages of frozen squid for a day. It is better to have too much bait than not enough.
When cutting your chunks, look for the larger, fresher looking baits. Put these to the side on ice in zip-lock bags and used as them for hooked baits. They will serve the same purpose as by-catch.
How well you prepare for your fishing plays a huge part in your success. Get your chum baits, loads of ice into coolers, and tackle ready in advance of leaving. Pay special attention to ocean forecasts, sea surface temperature maps and chlorophyll charts before ever getting to the dock.
A good tip is to make sure you open a flat and give it a blast from the wash down hose to start it thawing, before you even leave the dock. Precut as much as possible or at least a half a flat and put it off to the side in preparation for when the bite turns on. No one wants to cut up chunks when the rods go down, so be ready. The number one mistake made after a hook-up is that chunks are not thrown continually. Everyone has a job and someone must be assigned to continue throwing chunks, to keep the school of fish behind the boat. A school of yellow or bluefin will stay close by as long as the food source is present
Tuna Chunking Techniques
Once you have found the fish or are in an area where tuna have been active, the mechanics of how to chunk for tuna is pretty simple. While it is not an art, it is a challenge. There are a couple of thought processes on how to approach the fishing. You can set up and wait for fish or run to where fish are working. Both will catch fish.
By chunking for tuna, you want to become the source of food. You do this by creating a trail of bait, chunky chum slick of sorts. Once you start working, many times bonito show up first, sometimes blackfin and then the yellowfin tuna.
When the yellowfin tuna show up, keep throwing bait. You can do this from anchor or drift. It is critical to keep fish active at the boat with steady stream of chunks. By becoming the source of attraction, you will hold the tuna near your boat. The longer you go, the more likely the big fish will show
To hold the attention of the tuna, keep the chunks flowing steadily, stay active. Toss out a handful of chunks, watch until they disappear from view, then toss out another. You can sweeten the slick by adding a dose of menhaden oil to your chunk bucket, which not only helps draw in fish but also smoothes down the surface ripples.
Slow and steady wins the chunking for tuna race. This is not a sprint, it is a marathon. Be patient, don't get discouraged. Just because you don't see them doesn't mean they aren't there. Yellowfin, in particular, hang on the periphery of the bonito, and show up after the party has started. They will also leave before it is over.
With tuna feasting on your chunks, you can start throwing hooked baits. Be sure to present the hooked bait the same way as those that the tuna are feeding on. It is absolutely paramount that the bait falls through the water at the same rate as the chunks you are throwing out and that it is not spinning. Anything to the contrary will spook the tuna. This is a savvy predator, so pay close attention to how you play out your presentations. Your bait has to look as natural as possible to the tuna.
When you are ready, have your rod in a rod holder, in freespool, with the clicker on. Before the bait sinks enough to cause tension, grab your line just beyond the rod tip, strip out five or six feet of line, and drop it on the water’s surface so that your bait sinks unrestricted
There are two main fields of thought related to tuna chunking techniques. You can drop hooked baits into the water and wait for any fish to find your presentation or you can wait for the right fish to come thru, throw a bait out and basically hand feed a big fish. In the hand feeding example, you are essentially timing the circle of the bigger tuna.
Either example involves rigging a line with no weight or float. With the clicker on, set the drag so line can be stripped off the reel by hand, keeping enough drag tension to prevent a backlash when a strike occurs. Strip line from the reel and allow the baited hook to drift naturally along with the handful of chunks. If you are waiting for any fish to eat, let you bait drift out 100 yards, wind it back in and repeat. With the hand-feeding technique, you can toss you bait in and carefully let it drift out a fe feet, retrieving it as necessary to keep smaller fish from eating it.
Once the tuna takes the bait, let the fish peel off 3 or 4 seconds of drag, before you bring drag up and start reeling. If you are using big baits, give it a bit more time. Reel on it from the rod holder, for the initial phase of the battle.
Here is a great video on the principles of chunking yellowfin tuna. You can learn a great deal about finding fish, tackle, baits, chunking techniques and fighting tuna to the boat with our library of tuna fishing videos.
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