Northwest tuna fishing in the has gone gang busters in the past few years, making it one of the fastest growing fisheries in the state especially for salmon anglers seeking increased fishing opportunities.
Fleets of sport boats head 50-60 miles offshore in search of albacore tuna which travel up the west coast every summer from July-September. Here are some different techniques for catching these feisty and tasty offshore rockets.
Trolling: One of the most popular and accessible tactics for catching albacore tuna is trolling. Fast trolling is done at speeds between 6-9 knots. Lures commonly trolled at fast speeds include feather and rubber-skirted jigs or “clones,” large floating and diving plugs like Rapala’s, and cedar plugs.
Trolling uses a combination of the boat’s prop-wash and action created by the lures to simulate a commotion that tuna associate with feeding. The tuna see the action and believing it is bait or possibly other fish feeding on the bait come to the surface to pursue the gear. This is commonly referred to as “raising fish.”
Trolling gear is deployed on standard tuna rods with heavy main line and leaders, The equipment must be heavy enough to withstand the force exerted by a 30 or 40 pound albacore when it hits a lure traveling 7 miles an hour in one direction as it swims full speed in the opposite direction. We run open face reels like Shimano Torium 30’s with 500 yards of 65lb Power Pro braided line.
Trolling is an effective way to locate fish when signs indicate there are tuna present IE: bait in the water, jumping fish or diving birds. Many tuna anglers use trolling to find tuna then switch to one of several other methods to score large numbers of tuna.
Swim Baits: During the season, conditions and fishing pressure can cause the tuna to stop biting fast trolled gear. That may be because trolling does a bad job of imitating what the fish might be currently feeding on. Slowing down the troll is one way to change your presentation to try to incite a bite. Typically, this is done at speeds between 2-6 knots. While slow trolling it is better to focus one swimbaits.
Swimbaits are rubber tails threaded onto a lead-headed jig hook (often 2-4 ounces). These lures all perform well at lower speeds. Swim baits are also great to cast at tuna boils with spinning rods and when transitioning from trolling to jigging or live bait fishing in what’s known as the slide. The slide is the time from when you take the boat out of gear when hooked up on a tuna and start to pull gear while the boat slows to a stop. Throwing swim baits out during the slide is a great way to score extra hookups on albacore.
Jigging/Live bait: Once you hook one or more fish on the troll or you simply find an area where you think tuna are schooled up, it’s time to stop the boat and fish the drift. Typically, the best way to start a live bait stop is to hook fish on the troll raising the school of tuna towards the boat and then using bait to keep them there as you hook and land more fish.
A common way to attract fish to the boat is live bait chumming. Most boats use live bait thrown in the water to help draw fish towards the boat.
If the fish are not near the surface, vertical jigging Butterfly Jigs is a good way to draw them up. Vertical jigging employs Butterfly Jigs called “iron” that are dropped straight below the boat to just below whatever depth the tuna are believed to be holding, and then retrieved with an erratic jigging motion. While this is being done, other fishermen will often cast and retrieve swimbaits, which fish much closer to the surface. A swim bait rod can also be casted, and then placed in a rod holder, where the action of the ocean swells help keep the swimbait looking lively. Whether it is the fish hooked on the troll, or a fish hooked on the stop, it is important to try to keep one fish in the water while others attempt to entice another bite. The hooked fish in the water helps attract other tuna to the area.
Once the school of fish is near the surface, a live anchovies can be hooked onto the line, and then free-spooled to allow the anchovies to swim away. Live bait rods are lighter then trolling rods and use 20-25 pound mono with hooks in the #2-4 size live bait size. The angler can assist in pulling line off the reel, finding the balance between allowing the bait fish to swim away from the boat, and having too much slack in the line. When a tuna zeroes in on the bait fish and picks it up, line will start to peel quickly off the reel. Give it about a 5 second count and slowly engage the drag which buries the hook into to tuna’s mouth and the fight is on!
Washington currently has no limit on number of rods in the water per angler while tuna fishing or a daily catch limit on tuna. The really limiting factor is ice. Tuna when caught are warmer then the water they swim in and need to be bled and iced down to ensure quality fish for the table. Start the bleeding process by cutting the two arteries under the gills and place the fish head down in a bucket to bleed out. After 10 minutes in the bucket tuna are placed into an ice salt water mix or slush to rapidly cool the tuna. After cooling, the fish are iced in coolers or fish boxes. Once you’re out of cold storage your’re done fishing. Any tuna not bled or properly iced are not worth eating so don’t keep more then you can properly ice!
Cooking: Albacore tuna has a firm, beef steak type texture, with large flakes and a mild rich taste to it. It has a much lighter color than yellowfin or bluefin tuna, ranging from light beige to a rosy pink color in the raw state.
It is also more fat content and has the most omega-3 than the other tunas.
The meat itself is not as firm in the raw state, so it is not the best for sashimi. Albacore has long been known as being the highest grade of canned tuna, known as the “white meat tuna”, but it is also is a great fish for cooking.
If you like grilled tuna you will love Albacore, for the best flavor it’s best served rare. To help prevent it from turning tough and drying out you can marinate before hand and baste it as you cook it.
Tuna Tournaments: The NW is home to several tuna tournaments including the Oregon Tuna Classic
The Washington Tuna Classic
Westport WA. August
Tuna tournaments are great fun, just watching 50-80 boats race offshore to catch their biggest 5 tuna in a limited amount of time is something you just have to experience.
Capt John Keizer