BIG BOY! Part 2

Techniques for catching big eye tuna

Donavan Cole with 4kg juvenile big eye caught and released off Angola.

(Originally published in the September 2019 issue of Ski-Boat)

By Rob Naysmith and Scott Naysmith

THE July 2019 issue of SKI-BOAT briefly covered the methods we have found most successful for targeting big eye tuna. In this issue we will go into more detail and give you the nuts and bolts to really work with. As we said before, big eye fishing requires understanding and knowledge if you want to be regularly successful, and that success starts before you even leave home.

To know where to start looking is of paramount importance, and some areas are more likely to produce big eye than others. Weather charts play a vital role in calculating where best to search for the big eye.

Unlike with yellowfin, you’re not looking for warm water — in this instance you look for the cooler patches. You don’t look for a bright sunny day, you want a cloudy day. And here’s a secret that very few people know — look for slack water.

You will seldom find big eye inside of the 500-metre contour, so go deep. Big eye are often associated with longfin (albacore) tuna — not swimming with them, but about 100 metres below. The reason for this is that they both enjoy similar conditions — diffused sunlight (a longfin has fairly large eyes as well) and the same food preferences.

Sardine, mackerel, squid and anchovy make up the most common diet you can match with a trolled lure. Sauries and flying fish are usually left for the yellowfin and, to a lesser degree, the longfin. This is important information when selecting a lure type and size.

Most of the big eye caught during daylight hours are taken early in the morning and again late in the afternoon, although this is less pronounced when it’s overcast and more especially if it’s raining. Night fishing is the most regularly productive method, but you need to plan your trip during calm weather and ensure you remain in constant contact with a land station and other boats in your area. The two main methods of catching a big eye are by trolling or drift bait fishing.


Colours and types of lures were covered in the previous article, so here’s where you put them. Lures can work anywhere in the spread, but I find the most consistent positions are action lures placed on the outside edges of the white prop water, and as a shotgun way back on a bird.

Never underestimate the power of the trusted Yamashita Bulb Squid in both the 6- and 8-inch sizes. So often anglers make the mistake of thinking that tuna like huge lures, and the bigger you can troll the bigger the fish you’re going to catch. That concept is not exactly true; tuna prefer a particular food size in different waters. In the Cape the main food sources for big eye tuna are pilchards, squid, mackerel, anchovies, hake and angelfish, so offer them lures closest in size to those foods. That limits the lure size to a maximum of 8- to 9 inches. I have not yet tried night time trolling for big eye in our waters and I don’t know of anyone who has, but I firmly believe that if the correct lures are deployed on a bright moonlit night, the anglers could be pleasantly surprised. Here I tend to think of Lumo bulb squid on spreader bars as a start … thereafter my mind begins to run away.


This is where the new generation of anglers like my son, Scott, come into their own. They have the dedication to gather new information, they use all forms of modern technology to research their target species and they have an absolute passion for catching big fish. Growing up with a mad dad like me taught him to think out of the box, to question and to steal with his eyes; the ability to do this gives any angler a huge advantage. So over to Scott ….

Although we catch a few big eye while trolling, we have found that this is not the most productive method to target them these days. We prefer the search and bait method for a very good reason — these fish live deep and spend very little time above 100 metres. Once you’re in your chosen area you need to expand your echo sounding range to around 160- to 200 metres; a zoom display from 80- to 150 metres is a bonus. This is where a more powerful transducer comes to the fore and although some smaller 300w to 600w units will boast they can reach below 800 metres, the fish marks are so much harder to spot, if they’re visible at all.

On Jabulani we use a 1-kilowatt, standard broadband P260 in-hull transducer set on 200hz (high frequency). I find the Chirp transducer doesn’t give the same target definition even with its mid- or highest frequencies. Remember the sounding cone gets progressively larger as it goes deeper, so it’s better to use a narrower beam and know that the fish are right under your boat. The low 50hz frequency gives a wider cone but less directional definition.

The main areas to look in the water column are just below the thermocline (you need a good sounder for this) and again around the 100-metre mark; these are the preferred depths for big eye. They clearly identify themselves with bold, definite “tuna marks”.

Once we identify the fish we set out our baits — mainly whole squid about 30- to 50cm in length. I set three lines at the most, and then only if conditions permit. Strong drifts, be they as a result of current or wind, make things difficult in that your bait is usually not where you think it is. Light drifts are perfect for setting lines.

The primary line goes down to 100 metres, the second to 50 metres and the third, usually only at night, to 25 metres. The 50- and 25-metre lines get balloons and the 100-metre line is fished straight off the rod tip. The 25-metre line is set at 100 metres from the boat and the 50-metre line at 50 metres. (See diagram 1.) We mark off our lines prior to fishing, or count out the lengths as we drop. Baits should be set slowly to avoid the bait doubling back on the line. At times we use a running set for the 100-metre bait in that we drop the bait and sinker and motor out the line. This way the bait gets down quicker with only a slight chance of a tangle.

Depending on the bait type and size, the traces we use have either a single 10/0 to 12/0 J-hook or a 10/0 circle hook, on a 2-metre 1.5mm to 2mm bite trace. This is fastened to a quality swivel on which the glow-light and break-away sinker are also attached, followed by a 4-metre leader connecting to the main line. (See Diagram 2.) Glo-sticks and sword lights, both day and night, are an advantage, with green or red being the best colours. Keep them at least 2 metres away from the bait because squid are attracted to these lights and love destroying your beautiful baits.


Night fishing is hugely productive as the big eye tend to come closer to the surface depending on the moon phase. The only problem is that swordfish and bluefin tuna also like feeding higher in the dark, so the only time you really know what you’ve hooked is when it comes alongside the boat. I erred in the last article by saying the fish come higher in a new moon; actually it’s the opposite. My apologies, I just mixed up my moons. The bright moon brings the fish closer to the surface, so the period from neap tide waxing moon, through full moon to neap tide waning moon, or first to third quarter moons, is most productive.

It’s not worth wasting pilchards to chum because big eye don’t really respond very well from the depths in which they live. All chumming will do is possibly attract longfin, yellowfin and blue sharks. It’s not that big eye won’t swim in the chum-line, it’s jut that they don’t seem to enjoy chum as much as yellowfin do. Having said that, unless you know of a better way to catch a big eye, this is the only bait method that will catch you one. When you bait up, avoid using thin fishing cotton because it’s like a spiderweb in the water. Rather use single strands of old fishing cord, thin string or cable ties to fasten your bait on. Just make sure the bait cannot be smacked or pulled off the hook; strange things happen down deep.

You can try deep jigging to pass the time between strikes; big eye love jigs and spinners dropped down to 120 metres, retrieved to 50 metres then dropped again. The activity also attracts them to the baits. But that’s just the “getting there” part; in the next edition we will describe our tackle so that you go out there prepared. We’ll also get those primal instincts flowing with the hook-up, fight and ultimate landing of these beasts — if you get that far. In addition we’ll show you how to release them safely or prepare them for the meal of a lifetime. Just when you thought you’d found your favourite fish ….

If you have any questions you’d like to ask regarding this article feel free to contact me by e-mail <> otherwise wait for the next edition of SKI-BOAT — it’s going to change your way of fishing. You can also find me in my boat shop — Down South Marine (021) 712 1069 or visit our website <www.downsouthmarine. com>. It’s no good trying to contact Scott, he’s always fishing.

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