yellowfin tuna fishing in the spread
Aug 17, 2021

Yellowfin Tuna Fishing | Getting on Fish

Yellowfin tuna fishing presents a range of obstacles that can stir feelings of anxiety and frustration in even the best of fishermen. You first challenge is finding fish. Yellowfin tuna never stop moving. If you are lucky enough to find fish, the next trick is getting them to eat. Just because you have bait doesn't mean that your offering will be well received. All you can do is hope you have the right baits and the right tactics. Even if you can get a fish or few to eat, will the school stick around long enough for you to boat several fish? Keeping yellowfin tuna interested in your offering is a game in and of itself. If you can become the source of food, thereby switching the schools attention away from what it was feeding on to your offering, you should be well on your way to yellowfin tuna fishing glory.


Experience sets those that routinely find fishing success apart from those that don't. How you get that experience is up to you. Acquiring the fishing skills to execute on all of this requires spending a lot of time on the water fishing or learning from others who have the operational and knowledge capital. The better yellowfin tuna fishing crews I know make it look easy. They know the fish, where they will typically be found and how to get them to eat. That is not to say these fishermen never struggle. They do. The key is that they know how to adapt their tactics when things get tough.


To say that the majestic yellowfin tuna confounds the endeavors of many a sport fishermen trivializes the struggles we have all faced watching fish busting the surface, all while they ignore any and all presentations. This savvy fish possesses ultra keen senses and the physique of a hypersonic missile. For a game fish that eats damn near anything, yellowfin tuna have discriminating palates, to the extreme. How can a fish have such a ferocious, yet capricious appetite? There are times when they will get locked in on a particular food and nothing else in the world matters. You can throw every imaginable bait and lure to no avail.


One of the more acute senses is the yellowfin tuna is their eyesight. If anything is out of sorts, you are catching nothing. Line, line size, line type, hooks, baits, how you rig your baits or damn near any anomaly is perceptible to yellowfin tuna. There may be no other fish is such honed eye sight. If you have ever observed the high speed maniacal maneuvers this species displays, you have to wonder how they are capable of analyzing your offering and dispensing with it so quickly.


Yellowfin Tuna as Predators

When you think about oceanic predators, tuna may not be atop your list, but they should be. If you could ask any bait school or readily available food source who they fear, tuna would be right at the top. Tuna, sharks and dolphins are among the most efficient predators in the oceans.


The yellowfin tuna is by all accounts a voracious killer, spending most of their time pursuing and smashing food. You could say YFT are opportunistic predators. Their generalist approach to foraging reveals a feeding strategy where a wide variety and size of pelagic prey found in warmer surface waters are consumed. A cross section of primary prey items would include fish, cephalopods, and crustaceans. Some of the specific species consumed by the yellowfin tuna include dolphinfish, pilchard, anchovy, flyingfish, mackerel, lancetfish, other tunas, cuttlefish, squid, octopus, shrimp, lobster, and crabs. On top of that, a whole of host of other seasonal baitfish are on the menu, depending on the time of year and specific geographic location of a given fishery.


With streamlined physiques built for speed, yellowfin tuna are in constant movement. This is all about self preservation. Because they are in constant movement, either chasing food or spawning, their metabolic needs requires them to almost always be on the feed. To not be consumed themselves, these fish move quickly, necessitating a high caloric intake. Beware the local schooled bait fish. This need to feed opens up the opportunity for anglers to zero in on areas that hold food. If you can find the food they want, you can find the fish.


The habitat preferences of YFT are linked to high prey densities that occur in association with specific oceanographic features such as fronts, eddies, significant bathymetry and man made structure, where phytoplankton production is enhanced and therefore, higher concentrations of prey occur. Structure is key in this calculus. Yellowfin tuna love structure. It could be natural topography or man made. It can be stationary or on the move. Physical structure attracts and holds bait, so that is where the tuna will be.


Yellowfin Tuna Love Structure

Most fishermen overlook the reasons why most yellowfin tuna relate to the areas is which they are found. It comes down to structure and current. You may not be able to see it, but it is there. Understanding bathymetry helps to understand how currents flow and why bait uses these physical features. When you add current to structure, something magical happens. The flow of water is manipulated by the physical features of the earth. Current moves plankton and areas where current collides with structure will have more plankton. In essence, moving water colliding with structure over time creates life, a ecosystem, a food chain, a grocery store of sorts. You may not see these forces at play, but they are there and so are the tuna.


You also have areas in the open ocean where yellowfin tuna are crushing concentrated schools of baitfish. This usually associated with some sort of upwelling. Upwelling is caused by current slamming into structure or two converging streams of current pushing up to the surface. This upwelling carries life to the upper water layer, where many pelagic fish feed.


Migrating bait schools will move with the current along the contour of the oceans natural topography primarily for food and protection. This is where the building blocks of life begin. Within this dynamic will be areas of concentration. These are the areas where life is found in higher densities and the same general areas where yellowfin tuna are found. If you can pinpoint these areas, you are in a position to intercept the tuna, as they make their


Understanding the currents and how they move bait is very important. Current can push bait towards structure and it can also sweep it away. The bait is there, it just depends on exactly where. Be sure to look at how the current is moving, so you will know where to start your fishing efforts.


If you analyze the areas where yellowfin tuna fishing is the best, you will find some sort of significant structure. Think the continental shelf, sea mounts, canyons, oil platforms, trawl boats and drill ships. The interesting part is that the structure does not have to be stationary. Life will build quickly, if given the opportunity. Yellowfin tuna will be where the food is and the food is either sheltering on structure or being moved along in aggregated schools. In the case of trawl boats, the tuna have associate the sound of trawlers with that of a dinner bell.


It is just basic biology. Yellowfin tuna must have food. Find the food and boom, that is where you will find the fish. Fishing known points of structure gives you a valuable point of reference and an area where tuna are going to be living and feeding. Look at structure as large and greasy truck stops where fish concentrations are usually high.


Yellowfin Tuna Baits

You can never be absolutely sure what bait the yellowfin tuna will be feasting on, so you have to use your better judgment. This may come down to experience, as far as what you have regular success with, and the bait you can source locally. You have to go with what you can purchase or catch. This may be frozen slabs of sardines or local live bait. The seasonality of baits is also a big factor. In the Gulf of Mexico, yellowfin tuna fishing is good in the spring, summer and fall. There will be different baits available in the spring that are not the same as those you use in the summer. You may have to use green water baits, because they are available. Green water baits don't swim well or last long in blue water. But, you have to go with what you can get your hands on. A good piece of advice is to carry as much bait as you can possibly get on your boat. Bait variety is best, live or dead.


With live baits, the size, shape and swimming action is important. As I mentioned, there will be variances in spring and summer baits in some places. Keep in mind whether you are using green water or blue water baits. If you are relegated to using green water baits, factor in how far your run is to the fishing, as the baits will not hold up well in blue water.


Some of the better yellowfin tuna live baits include bigeye scad, hardtail, threadfin herring, tinker mackerel, disco minnows and poagies. Poagies are a spring bait and don't live well in blue water. They are also not as lively as summer baits, so keep that in mind.


For dead baits that you may use for chunking and chumming yellowfins, sardines, squid, herring, minnows, menhaden or just about any other quality frozen fish baits work fine. You will want several boxes.


When deciding how much of each to take, you have to know what is available. If you cannot get very much live bait, carry more dead bait. Live bait is best, but having dead baits can save the day. Take a mix of both and as much as you can carry.


Yellowfin Tuna Fishing Tactics

Once you have a good assortment of baits, the next challenge is getting them to eat. This is where tactical versatility comes into play. Knowing a variety of fishing tactics for yellowfin tuna is so important. Being one dimensional is a recipe for failure. You just never know how the fish will be feeding, the type of bait they are foraging on what size leader you must use to get bites and so forth and so on.


Keep in mind that you never know when the fish will show up or how far from your boat they may be. You need to be ready before the fish appear. Setting up on the fish or being in the right position is key. What a cluster cuss it is watching folks scrambling to get ready as the fish show themselves. Once you get to an established area, be ready.


If you are fishing fixed structure like oil platforms, tunas will almost always be working upcurrent of the structure looking for bait. If this is an area you know holds fish, but you are not marking any, check to see if you are marking bait. Throwing bait on the surface stirs the fish up. You can get the frenzy going and keep it going by throwing out a gradual steady flow of baits on the surface. This is a good trick.


If you are fishing islands or underwater structure, individual schools of fish will move in patterns around the area. You can pursue the fish or you can sit tight and wait for them to return. It is cyclical. They will always return to certain locations where feed is available. Creating a chum slick with chunks is a great way to draw fish to your boat, where you can then utilize live bait or hooked chunks.


The key in all of this is trying to become the source of food. By doing this you can pull fish away from the structure and other boats. If you can get the fish focused on you as the source, you can systematically pick the school apart.


In all seriousness, yellowfin tuna fishing is fun. There are a shit ton of fishing tactics and techniques that you can use to catch fish. The more you know, the more you can capitalize on finicky fish. Learning or fine tuning your skills trolling lures or baits, chumming with live or dead bait or both, chunking, kite fishing or sight casting will only set you up for success.


Tuna Fishing Videos

If you want to learn more about yellowfin tuna, check out our selection of instructional tuna fishing videos. You can learn how to find fish, driving on fish, baits, bait rigging, lures, chumming, chunking, baiting fish and how to even select bigger fish to hand feed. We cover catching bait, live wells, tackle, gaffs and proper gaffing, rods, reels, drag and fish preservation. These videos are a gold mine of information.


We feature some really smart fishermen. These guys are all way outside the box thinkers who are giving all the knowledge, wisdom and experience you need to get damn good at yellowfin tuna fishing.



Seth Horne

Chief of Content

In The Spread Fishing

The Latest from the Blog

  • florida mangrove snapper fishing william toney

    Gulf Coast Mangrove Snapper Fishing with William Toney

    When your vessel is anchored correctly, the snapper will settle down and respond to a few bits of shrimp being tossed in. One thing I do not do is use lots of chum because that will draw in remora's, spot tails, puffers and catfish.
    Read more
  • yellowfin tuna fishing videos in the spread

    Yellowfin Tuna Fishing Videos | Be a Smarter Fisherman

    Since a yellowfin tuna is a fast moving schooling marauder with finicky tendencies, you really need to formulate sound fundamentals, if you want to selectively target them. Our fishing videos can help you make better on the water decisions by increasing your situational awareness.
    Read more
  • florida gulf coast baits in the spread

    Florida Gulf Coast Best Baits

    I believe that the fish that I'm targeting are used to eating them and they are easy to catch. I use a small hook that I keep on a spare rod just for this purpose. A small piece of shrimp is all it takes to get them.
    Read more
View All