GETTING THE BEST FROM TUNA LIVEBAITS…
Surface trolling is basically what it is all about, and here you have a whole new spectrum of fishing opened up. I’ll start with big baits, although these are not easily used by the novice, who usually take them straight out of the ice box, ready rigged. Fresh bait requires a lot more time. First you have to catch, or buy it, preserve it, prepare it, rig it, preserve it again, and then finally fish with it. I personally know of nobody who does all this with the exception of the professional deckhand on a gameboat.In this context I am talking about the angler that simply turns up and goes fishing. They have heard or read all the different ways to rig baits but when it comes down to doing it yourself, then they generally pass to the back of the bus .In the world’s top marinas, the crews main job will be bait prep, sometimes rigging dozens a day, and they make the job look easy. In fact it can be difficult and you need a trained eye to spot if a bait is working properly or not. I can’t rig baits quickly but I can rig baits, especially when fishing alone.It gives you some degree of satisfaction to see the rod fold over and the reel starts to wail. It can be difficult when a pro-crew who expects a big tip for doing all the rigging, find I want to do it all myself. I’m slower, but if you are chartering, then you should call the tune. Of course if you can’t do it properly then leave it to the expertise of the crew who will then ensure you catch the most fish possible.
Basically there are two types of baits. Those that drag along the surface and those that pulls beneath. Of course, just to be difficult there is the rigged Ballyhoo, which runs both above and beneath the surface. However I’m going to deal with the easiest to rig first, so you get used to the following procedures. Your first intention having got hold of some bait is to keep it looking as natural as possible. A damaged bait will not look right, so discard all but the perfect. Let’s look at live baiting for marlin or big shark. You find a school of bait, and you may already have a spread of big marlin lures out. There is a good possibility there will be a marlin tracking the baitfish, so I personally like to leave two long rigger lures out, just in case. I have a great faith in lures, and pulling through bait schools will greatly increase your chance of a strike from a billfish.
You will need to bring in the two flatline lures and the centreline as well, if used. Replace them with small weighted squid, the size determined by what size of Tuna you are seeing in the school. Take off any snap swivels you may have on the line as these create bubbles when dragged through the water and you will get false hits from the Tuna hitting the swivel, not the lure. Tie on the squid to clear 50lb mono, run back the squids, but in contrast to marlin lures, run the squids in a line across the stern. For some reason you get more strikes. If you really are keen to use livebait, then take off all the marlin lures and run a couple of squid in their place.
You might get multiple hook-ups when running through a school of Tuna. If you do, net and rig the Tuna one at a time, leaving the others in the water, but close to the boat. Once rigged, drop them straight back, attach the leader to the big rod’s swivel, and then go for the second bait. Three livebaits run at once is about the maximum without risk of a cluster. Fish one livebait,long,from one outrigger, the other a bit shorter and the third goes as a centreline about thirty feet from the back of the boat. Basically you will just be bumping the boat in and out of gear, travelling at barely two knots, just to keep the Tuna livebaits tight, and away from the boat. If you don’t have a net to bring the Tuna aboard, lean over the side still holding the leader, and grab them by the wrist of the tail. Turn them upside down as you bring them in, and tuck them under your arm.This keeps them quiet. If the fish is a “bleeder” forget it, and go for another one. You need about 30 seconds to rig a Tuna with what is known as the BRIDLE RIG. Your livebait trace should consist of 12/15 feet of heavy cabled wire, terminating in a 12/0 or 14/0 hook. I use the 7731 Mustad which has no offset point. To the bend of the hook you will have attached a half hitched loop of Dacron, about 6 inches to the front of the bend.
With the Tuna tucked upside down, poke a crochet needle through the front of the eye sockets, right by the bone, and it will go through with little pressure. Slot the loop of Dacron over the crochet needle’s notch; withdraw it, pulling the loop of Dacron through the eye sockets, and then half hitch the end round the bend of the hook. Drop the tuna straight back in the water, but hang on to the leader or snap swivel and clip it onto the rod you want to use.Livebaiting with this rig is quite deadly, and you will find, if done properly, that the Tuna will be just as fresh and lively after four hours of trolling, as it was when you caught it. But of course we hope it gets eaten before that!
After you have set three baits, to check whether they are still lively and kicking, lower the halyard of the rigger holding that cord lightly across your finger and thumb. With practise you will identify the thrumming vibration as the livebait darts about. Unfortunately toothy critters like shark love to see a fat Tuna tethered down, and can hit them at speed, chopping the tail off. This ruins them for any chance of getting a marlin, so regular checking of the rigger halyard for vibration, at least every ten minutes, is vital. If you feel no vibration from the Tuna’s tail, bring the bait in and see what has happened. Another tip to look out for is if you spot the Tuna bait spiralling way back in the boat’s wake. It has either had its tail clipped from a Wahoo, or has been pushed to the surface by a following shark.Again, bring it in slowly, and check it out. I personally never like pulling less than two livebaits, three is a bonus, but one just does not give me confidence.
For bridle rigged livebaits you will need to fish with a drop back. This is a large loop of loose line that billows in the wake behind the boat between the rod tip and outrigger clip. It can be up to forty feet long. Obviously this is easily spaced with the outriggers, but for the livebait fished short on the centreline you will need some sort of release clip to allow a drop back to be used. The best way is to make a short tag line of about two feet and run the livebait to its intended position. Wrap a rubber band around the line into a snap swivel or clip. Then peel off your loose line drop back from the rod tip, and make a few sharp pulls to make sure the reel does not go into overrun with a take, but is free enough to give line to a taking fish without too much resistance causing it to spit the Tuna. If you do get a take, knock the boat into neutral, wait until the fish has taken up the slack from the drop back, then run the boat forward and lock up the reel. It may be better to leave the rod in the chair or rod holder if using the heavier 80/130lb test outfits. Once hooked up, slow the boat, and fight the fish as per normal.
The only alternative to the Bridle Rig, but there are variations, is when you fish somewhere like East Africa where there are plenty of Shark,Barracuda,Kingfish,Wahoo etc that enjoy chopping the big baits to shreds. Then you need a double hook rig, and fish from a tight line, or downrigger. Of all the livebaits around, from Bonito, Skipjack, Kawakawa, etc the Yellowfin Tuna in the 8lb range is the most durable. You can keep them out of the water slightly longer while you rig them, and they are generally more active when you pull them at two knots.First,bring the Yellowfin in. He may be too big to tuck under your arm, so turn him upside down in a wet towel, kneel over him on the deck, keeping him in that position between your knees. Bridle rig him in the usual manner, but this rig has a surprise for the Shark and Wahoo in the shape of a “stinger” hook set a bit further back. If you aren’t interested in IGFA records then you can space the hooks apart about a foot or so. Even though I may have a cabled steel trace I sometimes rig a smaller 8/0 hook onto number 19 wire and Haywire Twist it to the eye of the first hook. Then simply nick the hook at the back, under the skin of the Yellowfin, not too deep, and run him back in the wake. Ideal distance would be 60/100 feet, and tag the line to the downrigger release clip with a rubber band, which absorbs his action and prevents false alarms. You now don’t need a drop back and once you have lowered the Downrigger to the desired depth, lock the reel up on strike drag. You will still need to watch the rod tip as even under the tension of the lead Downrigger ball, you will see the jolt of any strike. There follows a relaxation in the tension of the rod as the predator moves off with the Tuna, taking up the angle of slack to the rod tip.
I have had a variation of this rig I use on small Bonito baits of 5lb or less that I like to drag along the surface using the outriggers. They provide great attraction qualities for Giant Trevally, big Kingfish, Black Marlin and even big Sailfish. If a Sail comes up on a 5lb bait he won’t get it in his mouth, but he will readily hit the belly strip or Ballyhoo that you have run back to skip alongside the big bait. On calm days, when you are running a spread of Ballyhoo and/or strip baits,the big Bonito acts as a teaser, but also can take big fish in its own right. I have had a few GT’s over 50lbs on the surface doing this. The Bridle rig as per livebaits can be used, but in a rough sea any hook mounted too far onto the Tuna head makes it dig down, pulling the line as a false alarm from the outrigger clip. It needs to be skating over the surface. Rig the Dacron with a longer forward loop, and then sew this to the very tip of the Tuna’s mouth, making sure to sew the mouth shut as well, and this will pull the bait far easier.
Any water rushing through the mouth and gills will ruin the natural appearance, and eventually lead to a spinning or broken bait. Sew up the outer gill covers, and obviously the mouth. I like to sew the dorsal fin up, making it appear rigid, as the bigger Tuna will drag on their sides. A tip worth knowing if you are pulling two livebaits is to sew up one pectoral fin. This makes the bait roll in the wake, coming to the surface, as though it is gulping air. It can be deadly and the largest Blue marlin I saw taken on this rig was in excess of 500lbs. It ate the Tuna right off the stern and we all watched it happen.
On the outrigger baits with the deadbait you’ll often find a small Black Marlin or Sailfish will take the bait, but even though you fish a drop back it starts jumping and ejects the bait before you have the chance to do anything. I suffered this for years, and now rig a “stinger” hook, spacing it in accordance with IGFA regulations, by placing a small 8/0 in the tail, the top hook just above it. I cut a slit in the back where the hook has gone into the meat, lay the shank of the hook in this, then sew the cut closed to help hold the hook shank down. I then half hitch a loop of Dacron around the trace itself, crochet the loop through the eyes, and half hitch it back to the leader again. Either that or I sew the Dacron loop to the lips of the bait to stop it “digging in” during rough conditions. Having both hooks set far back in the bait I put the reel line into a tag line with a rubber band as I would do with lures, and run it straight onto the reel’s strike drag. As soon as a fish plucks at the bait one of the hooks will take hold, and as it turns away, the rubber band that holds the hooks breaks and the strike goes straight to the rod top. This technique helps pick up those bonus fish that are raised on a standard trolled deadbait, but fail to hold it long.You can place both hooks on one flank and tail of the tuna, or you can “Saddle” rig it, by bending the wire across the back, placing a hook on each side and sewing them into place. The Saddle rig does seem to have a slight edge on hook-ups with baits over about 5lbs.Smaller baits seem to be taken whole. The only argument against this rig that I have heard is that all predators each a bait head first, and my hooks are near the tail.However,I work on the theory that the line is going to come tight to the rod tip BEFORE the fish has even thought about turning it head first ……Good Rigging !
COPYRIGHT: Graeme Pullen. All rights reserved.