Tuna Madness – Cody Hochen 2017

After 2 weeks off the water, I was itching to get amongst some pelagics. There was a short window of good weather in early March, and despite the threat of rain, nothing was stopping me. Although, when I awoke at 1a.m. to the sound of the gutters overflowing, almost put a dampener on things. Paranoia set in as I anxiously checked the BoM radar every ½hour for the next three hours, praying for the rain to disappear out to sea. Thankfully, the rain didby the time I drove out of my driveway, Galeforce in tow.

Once again, the Sunshine Coast was my destination. This time instead of spotted mackerel, our target was another pelagic: longtail tuna. Built with large aerobic muscles and a long, powerful tail, the aptly named longtail tuna is a fast and strong fish; making it one of the most sought after sportfish in south-east Queensland. It had been 18-months since I had experienced the power of a longtail, so I was champing at the bit to get amongst them once again.

We crossed the Mooloolah River bar at first light and headed north, looking for indicator birds. The rain that had unnerved me earlier had now completely disappeared and the sun was starting to poke through the clouds. It didn’t take long for us to find a large patch of terns busily searching for bait just outside the breakers of the Maroochy River. Their excitement indicated bait in the area so we motored around waiting for ‘our eyes in the sky’ to show even more interest. Only a few minutes later, a patch of terns started hovering 10 metres above the water. Suddenlyit was on. The terns started diving and white water was spewing everywhere as longtailtuna porpoised out of the water devouring hapless baitfish.

I carefully gaugedthe direction in which both fish and birds were travelling. Then Igently positioned the boat 50 metres ahead of the direction the schoolwas heading. Since longtails possess quite a flighty temperament, I kept the motor running to avoid spooking the school.By leaving the motor running and approaching steadily, the tuna are more likely to become comfortablewith the pitch and volume of the motor, allowing closer proximity to a school.Wavering sounds often spooks wary pelagics, particularly larger longtail tuna.

The longtails were playing nicelyby heading straight towards the boat. Tim, my decky, made the first cast. Even he would say that it wasn’t the prettiest of casts, but fortunately the tuna weren’t fussy. His white ZmanStreakzwas engulfed not long after it hit the water. Tim’s fish headed for the horizon as I retrieved my Maria Blues Code in vain. The school shortly disappeared while we chased Tim’s fish, which had peeled some serious line from his 5000 Shimano StradicFJ. After we retrieved the 70 metres of lost line, it started circling around the boat, typical of a longtail in the later stages of a fight. After five laps aroundthe boat, I grabbed the tail of this solid 6-7kg longtail. Unless sharks are in the area, this is the best method to land a longtail tuna. It allows the angler to either quickly remove the hooks torelease the fish, or bleed it outside the boat to then place it into an ice slurry. On this occasion, we immediately bled the fish and put it on ice for some fresh sashimi that night.

The next school that surfaced was a mere 50 metres away, so we idled over and launched our offerings into the melee. My Maria Blue Code was engulfed off the top in a bath of white water. Watching a tuna chase down a stickbait makes this an adrenaline pumping technique and therefore my favourite for targeting surface-feeding tuna. After a five-minute battle, I had a school-size longtail at the boat ready to tail. Unfortunately from the fight, the 30lb leader had frayed and snappedjust as Tim was to grab its tail. And so it was longtails – 1: Cody – 0

I tied on another stickbait with a loop knot and let fly into another school of tuna. Instantly it was smashed off the surface and the tuna took off at a rate of knots, only for my line to part again. The tow point of the lure had sliced through the loop knot. Now it was Longtails – 2: Cody – 0. Annoyed after losing twostickbaits, I tied on another, minus the loop knot. In between my swearing, Tim was hollering in the background as he had yet another Longtail beside the boat ready to be tailed.

As I was learning on this occasion, longtail tuna are a strong and powerful fish that will find any weakness in your tackle. Knots, hooks, split rings, leaders, braid and reels, have to be in perfect order when chasing longtails. My gear up until then, simply wasn’t.‘FG’ knots are necessary for superior strength as well as being slim enough to run through the guides for casting farther to reach schools of spooky tuna. Single hooks, such as Decoy Plugging Singles, are necessary when chasing longtail tuna. They provide a more secure hook up and are removed easily, making them less damaging to fish upon release, as compared with trebles.When chasing tuna I prefer a 7’6” Palms Sea Rapture PE1.5-3 and a Shimano Biomaster SW5000, spooled with PE4 Daiwa EVO 8 braid and 30lb leader. The length of this rod allows me to cast 20 – 40 gram stickbaits up to 50 metres with ease. This setup handles longtail tuna up to 10kg. When the big brutes between 10 – 20kg arrive, a slightly larger combo (PE4-6) is necessary to provide the strength to turn their head and stop their exhausting circles around the boat.

As the sun emerged through the clouds, the longtails quickly disappeared from the area. We travelled further north to Hancock Reef, passing locations from where I had caught tuna in the past, without seeing a single bird or tell tail bust up from the tuna. As we ventured back towards the mouth of the Mooloolah River, it appeared the tuna had disappeared with only the odd scattered fish seen in the bay off Mooloolaba. The tide had just turned so this was the likely explanation as to why they had all of a sudden dispersed. Knowing that we had the entire out-going tide ahead of us, we headed south ofPoint Cartwright towards Caloundra.

About half way between theheadlands, we stumbled across a patch of what looked like mac tuna. Despite this, it had been a couple of hours between fish so we lobbed a couple of lures to the edges of the school. We both hooked up instantly and the fish took off a little faster than the usual mac tuna. After a couple of minutes, the blue backs of two school-sized longtail tuna were beside the boat. Tim’swas tailed and mine was about to be when the single hooks of the stickbait fell out of the fish’s mouth. Longtails – 3: Cody – 0. My frustration was palpable, as the school disappeared and we continued towards the headland at Caloundra.

About 2-3 kilometres before the headland, Tim observedin the distance a frenzy of birds diving amongst a school of tuna. We approached this school as another erupted in the distance. I cast my Duel Adagio into the mix and Tim did the same with his 3” metal slug. Instantly we hooked up. Tim’s once again boltedwhilst mine went deep. I felt the tail beats of what could only be a stinking mac tuna. I had it to the boat in quick time, removed the single hooks, and speared it back into the water. Tim had another boat-side and ready to be tailed. Although happy for Tim, I was having an absolute shocker; and didn’t he let me know about it! Unruffled, I scanned the horizon for tuna schools. We had three to choose from, with not another boat in site. I chose the school with the largest splashes and with fish soaring out of the water, indicating the presence of longtails. After positioning the boat within 40 metres of the action, I let rip with my Adagio. I skipped it across the surface and all of a sudden, a longtail engulfed it. I set the single hooks to ensure they weren’t going to fall out this time. After a long run, it immediately changed direction and came back towards me, swimming under the boat and out the other side for another run. Most of its energy was spent after this run and it started the trademark boat circling. I used my rod to turn its head and after a couple of circles, it was beat. Tim grabbed its tail and I let out a big sigh of relief. I have caught plenty of longtails in the past butI really had to work for this one.

Now that my confidence (and pride) had returned, I was determined. Over the next hour, I landed another four longtails and six mac tuna, while Tim caught about the same. It looked as though a storm was now building over the hinterland, and with this, a small wind chop was developing. This really firedthe longtails up, with quite a few fish getting airbornewhile they chased down my skipping stickbait. The‘afternoon hot bite period’ is quite common in summer and so it pays to stay out a bit longer if the morning has been quiet.

We left the longtails to continue harassing baitwhile we headed for home with the storm hot on our tail. We were content with ourmorning’s session on one ofsouth-east Queensland’s premium sportfish. Although we travelled approximately 60 kilometres to locate schools, all of our action was within 2km of some of the most popular beaches in Queensland. Most of the time it is not this difficult,withschools often found just outside the Mooloolah River bar. It is not too late to get amongst the action. Over the next 3 months,longtails and mac tuna will continue to harass baitfish up and down the coastline of south-east Queensland, providing an excitingand visual form of fishing.