Itís not too late to land longtails aboard your trailer boat. NICK BROWN delivers good advice on how to hook these speedsters before the season closes off.
As you receive this issue there’s still time to get out amongst it for a longtail tuna from your trailer boat. Also known as northern bluefin this species is often more associated with land-based fishing, but can be bagged from boats as well.
From late April into mid-May you can still land some quality longtails along the NSW east coast especially places like Port Stephens. There’s even some longtails around in early June, but of course every season is different.
If you’re reading this in late June and missed the longtail run, don’t despair. This story will at least give you the knowledge and inspiration to have a crack at them next year. Or adapt these techniques to other areas where they’re still present in the cooler months.
Longtail tuna (Thunnus Tonggol) are the largest inshore coastal tuna NSW anglers are likely to come across on a regular basis. Very rarely a nice yellowfin tuna is caught from a trailer boat close to shore. However, we don’t see them in the numbers we once saw, or should see.
Other smaller tuna likely to be encountered include mackerel tuna, striped tuna, Australian bonito, Watson leaping bonito and frigate mackerel.
A MISSILE FISH
Longtails are streamlined shaped, speed missiles that are right up there with some of the fastest fish in the ocean. As their name suggests they are a long and slender tuna, especially towards the tail. Most of the longtails we encounter at Port Stephens average around the 15kg mark. Some years we have caught the odd small longtail around 8kg, while other seasons the common run of fish has been 18kg-23kg, with the odd horse between 26-28kg thrown in. Longtails grow to around 35kg, so you never know the size of the next fish you might hook.
Livebaiting for longtails from your trailer boat is an easy and relaxing proposition. The golden rule is not to get to close to any of the land-based based gamefishing guys and to give them plenty of space. Most of the areas we fish are in front of headlands that comprise of patchy offshore reef and sandy bottoms of between 10-25 metres in depth. They all hold baitfish at various times.
Longtails will come into the downstream sections of Port Stephens on occasion chasing bait around breakwalls, moorings, and the Corlette wreck, so if you just have a small tinnie and can’t get outside there is a chance you can still pick one up inside the bay. You are best to anchor in these locations, using either a sand anchor or reef pick, and wait for the fish to come to you.
On occasions longtails can be seen busting up and chasing bait on the surface, and it may be possible to get a quick cast away with a popper or metal. However, the most consistent way to get attached to a longtail at Port Stephens is to use live bait.
THEY LOVE CLEAN WATER
You will need to have a plumbed livebait tank on your boat to hold your baits, although you can get away with a bucket, regular water changes and an aerator. A berley bucket with also help attract and keep the baitfish close to your boat, which means that when a longtail comes cruising in your livebait should not be far away. Berley consists of old fish frames, bread and tuna oil. Once the bait arrives in the trail, break out a handline with 8lb mono, a small long shank hook and thin sliver of pilchard on the end, or alternatively, a bait jig. The three best live baits are slimy mackerel, yellowtail and garfish.
Longtails prefer clearer water and will shut down during flood conditions. The best water temperature range we have found at Port Stephens is around 21-220C, and a light, cool autumn westerly wind signals prime tuna time from March through late May. Further up the NSW North Coast, longtails start to appear around late January and February at hotspots such Yamba, Port Macquarie and Forster.
We like to use 8-10kg to the get the best out of longtails. If you are feeling game, you might want to break out the 6kg or even 4kg, but you can bet that at some point you will hook a fish that you won’t be able to stop, whether it be a 30kg model, or big dirty cobia that often travel with the longtails.
A lever drag overhead loaded with at least 500m of mono and matched to a suitably rated rod for the line class you are fishing is the outfit of choice. As for terminal tackle, hook size is usually within the 6/0 to 8/0 range depending on the size of your livebait. Some anglers prefer livebait style hooks, while others will go with an offset light gauge octopus hook such as a Mustard Penetrator, or even a circle hook. You can use either a torpedo float or balloon rig to drift your livebait out behind the boat. Longtails don’t have sharp teeth but they do have sharp eyes, especially in clear water, so trace material should only be around 50lb to 60lb. You can go to 40lb, but if a fish is deeply hooked, the trace can wear through on a protracted battle. You will also need to think about that big cobia that may also be lurking.
SMOKING FAST RUNS
Once hooked up, you will commonly be blown away by the sheer pace of a good longtail on its first smoking run. These fish can really move! Sometimes you may come across a fish that slugs it out close, but most longtails head for the hills at serious speed. This can be nerve racking at first, but it just a matter of keeping your cool and being confident in your tackle. With several hundred metres of mono stretched to horizon, it is not the time to thinking about poor knots, dodgy line, sticky drags or any other terminal problems.
Longtails fight tough but fair, so take your time and concentrate on winning some line back with smooth pumping and winding. As the tuna gets close to the boat it will commonly start to circle. Be wary of the anchor rope and outboard propeller at this stage and it should just be a matter of time before you are able to land your fish.
Last season we realised just how important tide changes can be sometimes be when fishing for longtails. The first session we sat at anchor for around three hours before any action started, approximately 30 minutes before the low tide was due to turn. We missed a couple of runs in rapid succession, before hooking up and losing a longtail. A small hammerhead ate the next bait, and then, as if a switch had been turned off, the action stopped as quickly as it started.
The following day we went back and just fished an hour either side of the tide change in the middle of day. It didn’t take too long to get a hook-up. After dancing around the boat for a short period, Byron Gardiner was rewarded with a great longtail of around 20kg. The fish was caught on a live slimy on 10kg tackle and chose to slug it out at close quarters for most of the battle.
Early morning and late afternoon are sometimes other good bite periods, as are overcast days. However, often it is just a matter of being patient and waiting for the fish to arrive. We have caught longtails at all hours of day in different types of sea conditions ranging from flat and glassy periods through to 2.5 metres to 3 metres of swell with 15-20knots of SE wind.
KEEP THEM ON ICE
We usually keep just one fish a season for some tuna steaks, fish cakes and sashimi. If they are bled, placed on ice and kept in the shade, they are not too bad to eat as far as tuna are concerned. Yellowfin and albacore are better in the food department, but the main reason to go longtail fishing is for the sheer light to medium tackle sportfishing entertainment.
Remember to be considerate and keep your distance from other boats that are already anchored up and fishing before you are. Also try to release unwanted tuna in the best condition as possible so as to look after this great recreational fishery, and enjoy it for many more years to come.
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