Chasing Drag Burners – Luke Fitzpatrick 2017

October through to December can prove to be a frustrating time for anglers in Hervey Bay, due to persistent northerly winds. The natural protection usually offered by the world heritage listed Fraser Island, to almost yearlong south easterly winds is mostly lost as hot and humid air is pushed into the bay from the tropics to our north.

However, windows of opportunity can be found, usually in the early morning. Launching predawn and returning to shore for a late breakfast is usually the best practice and can produce some incredible catches. After taking delivery of a tackle tray loaded with a mix of Austackle lures and instruction to ‘field test’ them,I picked my window of opportunity and set out to do battle with some of the bullets of the sea.

Chasing tuna, be they longtail or large mack tuna is an adrenaline rush. From the moment, you approach a school busting up on the surface, casting, hooking, chasing down and landing, tuna simply do not give an inch. They test every part of your tackle and if there is a weakness they are completely unforgiving.

For myself this spells ‘challenge’. When I opened the tackle tray one lure caught my eye immediately. The Austackle King Stik, a 95mm, 35gram sinking stick bait which comes pre-rigged with dual assist hooks. Although in this case the lures arrived un-rigged with a range of trebles and assist hooks so that I could test a range of rigging configurations.

We have all heard the phrase “match the hatch”, and this is particularly important when chasing tuna. Mack tuna can be very fussy even when they are in a feeding frenzy, leaping from the water, literally destroying everything around them, with the water so churned up you feel you could throw anything at them and they would take it.

BUT many an angler has spent many an hour throwing all manner of lures, at these seemingly willing speedsters only to have their offerings completely ignored. I find that in Hervey Bay lures in the 75 to 100mm range seem to be the most effective, not just on tuna but also on queenfish, mackerel, flathead, grunter and even king threadfin salmon. This makes the Austackle King Stik at 95mm the perfect size and its 35gram weight provides long cast ability to reach even the most finicky of targets.

I launched from the Urangan boat harbour just as the sun started to illuminate the sky and found myself on the eastern side of Big Woody Island shortly after. The tuna schools in the second channel were thick, taking full advantage of the early morning twilight to fill their bellies before heading deeper into the water column as the sun reached higher into the sky. Given the massive casting distance of the King Stik I had no trouble getting within casting range of the first tuna school and let go with a blue demon coloured King Stik fitted with a size 2 treble.

The King Stik landed just beyond the school, I counted one, two, three and then started ripping it back towards the boat as fast as I could, at first, I thought the King Stik had made it through the school without a hit when suddenly, the rod loaded up and that heart pounding sound of the reels drag screaming commenced as 20lb Platypus P8 braid was being ripped off at an incredible rate.

Blue demon, green demon, black night and pearly white coloured King Stiks were thrown that morning, all of them landed fish, with the pearly white achieving a slightly higher hook up rate. One of the first tuna boated politely threw its breakfast up all over my casting deck revealing that they were feeding on 50 – 75mm bait fish thus the pearly white coloured King Stikwas matching the hatch more closely than the other lure colours. I didn’t feel the need to change the way I had rigged the King Stik staying with the single size 2 treble worked well and as I lost count of how many fish were landed I quickly forgot about different rigging options.

Completely exhausted, aching from head to toe I was relieved when the tuna started to head deeper, the sun had risen and it was about 8am, I could feel the slight touch of a northerly breeze so decided to head home, hoping that I had managed to capture an epic mornings fishing on video.

Here are a few useful tips; Ease off the throttle before you approach a school and just watch them for a while, try to sus out which way they are heading, usually they are following the tide, herding bait fish, or heading into the wind. They don’t travel in straight lines as the bait balls they are chasing are ducking all over the place to avoid being eaten, so don’t be surprised or frustrated if you line yourself up with a school, they go down and pop up 50 to 100m either side of you, it is just part of the challenge.

Keep your engine revs constant when you approach the school as a sudden change in engine noise can spook them and send them down deep. I try to cast over the school and retrieve my lure through the school, or simply land it smack bang in the middle. Don’t be afraid to let your lure sink, although it is so hard to not start retrieving when you land that perfect cast. I usually count one thousand, two thousand, three thousand and then retrieve. If I don’t get a hit I count to 5 and then 8 or even 10 on my next cast.

When they hit, hang on and let them run while you fine tune your drag, after their first one or two big runs they generally head deep. Mack tuna tend to head below the boat and long tail tuna seem to do circle work around the boat, either way once the first runs are over it is time to pump and wind, if the tax man is in town, don’t be afraid to go hard and get them to the boat quickly.

 If you are not keeping them for a feed then you need to remember that this is one species that needs to keep moving forwards in the water to stay alive, so grab a quick picture and then spear them back in as soon as possible. If you are going to keep them, then definitely bleed them straight away and place on ice. You can watch the action through Fish & Boat Tube, just look up the title – Chasing Drag Burners. Tight lines and I hope to see you on the water.