(Originally published in the November/December 2019 issue of Ski-Boat magazine)
By Rob and Scott Naysmith
IN the previous edition of SKI-BOAT I covered the fishing methods we have found most successful; in this issue I want to go more in-depth with regard to the tackle, traces and the rigging of lures.
Let’s first look at lures because that’s probably how most of us catch our first big eye tuna. You want a lure that swims fairly straight with a little wiggle. Big eye use speed to catch their prey so if the lure darts around they can easily miss it; that’s when you see those awesome swirls and splashes around your lure. Yes, they love the action, but they can’t turn sharply enough, so for the best hook-up rate the lure must be exactly where they calculate it’s going to be.
As mentioned in previous issues, the lure size should be close to what they’re feeding on, so lures between 5- and 8 inches are ideal. The hook size should suit the lure and be spaced with beads to get it to sit just inside the skirt. I like using a 10/0 to 12/0 Mustad Southern Tuna hook because of its shape and strength; the inward curve of the tip and barb allow the hook to hold around the hard jawbone. The bite leader should be mono, not wire, of about 1.8mm to 2.5mm, clear and soft. The big eye has little time to inspect the lure, but if something looks out of place, it won’t eat it.
Big eye come up from the depths to eat and use their speed to outrun their prey, so this results in most strikes coming in from the back, totally blind and unexpected. With the hook placed in the back of the lure your hook-up and holding rate increases as most often the hook sets well in the mouth, gills or throat. Gill or throat hook-ups shorten the fight substantially.
I prefer to use nothing more than a two metre leader of thick material because this enables the angler to wind and hold the fish next to the boat. A longer leader will keep the fish away from the gaff man, and you certainly don’t want him leaning outside the boat to gaff a tuna. Don’t be scared of using up to 2.5mm diameter leader, but it must be clear mono, not coloured or flurocarbon. Tie the leader directly onto the main line with a double three-turn Uni-knot or splice on a top-shot loop and connect with a Bimini.
Your trolling outfit can also be used for bait fishing. Simply cut off the lure or swivel you’ve attached it with, and tie on your bite trace as discussed in the previous edition. In drift fishing you going to have to get your bait down deep so a sinker is necessary, and the deeper you’re going, the heavier the sinker. It doesn’t have to be a pretty sinker because it’s not coming back. I use one or two elastic bands or a piece of thin copper wire to attach the sinker to the front eye of the swivel, just strong enough to keep it attached.
For bait fishing I like using a circle hook because it’s been proven to give the best hook-up rate and it holds way better than a J-hook. I always say: If the spool turns, the fish is on, and it will stay there.
Baiting up is a matter of choice as long as you adhere to a few basic rules:
• Make sure the hook protrudes proudly;
• Make sure your hook is super sharp;
• Keep the bulk of the bait below the hook;
• Use ultra-fine elastic thread if you must tie-wrap the bait;
• Make your bait look sexy … all fish like a sexy bait.
Bait fishing during the day means you must go deeper, sometimes all the way down to 200 metres. For ease of explanation let’s say we have a thermocline at 40 metres and something that looks like interference down at 120 metres; we want to position our baits around those depths. We’re going to use two lines — the first we set is the top line to around 45 to 50 metres, with the lighter of the two weights and out on a balloon around 50 metres from the boat. Then we set the deeper line to about 130 metres with no balloon, straight off the rod tip. Sit back, relax and wait, keeping an eye on the balloon and the sounder, and making sure you put on the alarm — it makes for more excitement.
When the balloon disappears or breaks away you know the fish is on, or if your strike comes from the deep line then the rod will bend and line will peel off. There’s no balloon bobbing like a float on a dam, nor is there any nibbling and light tugs as you see in the movies — it’s all or nothing. One minute nothing and in the flash of a second line is peeling off the reel at unimaginable speed. Let the games begin!
FIGHTING FOR YOUR LIFE
When the action starts, first relax, put on the stand-up harness and make sure you’re totally prepared, because the minute you lift the rod out of the holder your life will change forever. Don’t worry that the line is melting away, that’s just the way it goes.
One of the questions I am asked most often is “What’s the part of fishing that excites you the most?” Both Scott and I were born into a world of fishing, so we’ve had an unbelievable opportunity to experience catching so many fish, but through all of that, there is one answer we both agree on — our favourite moment is those few seconds as the fish picks up your bait or lure, turns its head and releases all its energy at once. And few fish do that better than a tuna. It’s the speed, power and suddenness of the strike, the determination, unrelenting focus and single-mindedness of the fish all combined into one brief moment — and the world stops turning right there.
Then reality kicks in — like a mule. I equate the initial run of a big eye to throwing a spinner at a passing train and trying to stop it. Of all the tuna most likely to strip your reel, this is one of the biggest culprits. The reason for this is that a big eye can turn on its head and rocket all the way through the many temperature changes, currents and depths right down to the ground, without even batting an eye.
You can’t even chase it like other fish. You stand there holding on while your arms stretch, watching the line melt off your reel, all the time knowing that someone will have to wind it all back on. This is your opportunity to think about the drag setting on your reel, remembering that the setting on a full spool increases exponentially as the diameter of the spool decreases. Then add to that the increasing drag created by the huge bow of line being pulled through the water. You need to constantly slacken off on the drag as the fish has its way with you.
For the sake of this article, let’s say your big eye stops before you run out of line. Now the work begins. This is what you dreamed of — that huge fish hanging on the gantry with you smiling widely by its side. All that’s left to do now is wind it back to the boat. Okay, so it’s far away, but you’re good for it and it won’t be the first time you’ve wound so much line onto a reel. And with all the confidence, smiles and banter you can portray, let’s get this done! And suddenly nothing wants to work — the rod won’t bend any more, the reel won’t wind the line on and, to make matters worse, your arms are beginning to ache.
This is a good time to get your stand-up harness on, if you’re not already wearing it. Strap it on so it’s comfortable, clip in the reel and let the harness do the work. Lean back as if you were going to sit down, then wind yourself back up. Keep doing this until the fish takes all your line back again, then you start the same procedure all over again. By now your brain’s becoming a little tatty; what was rational a few minutes ago is now mush. In fact you’re beyond thinking too deeply.
Suddenly you begin to realise you have muscles you never learned about in school, and they burn like fire. But your mates are watching so you keep a brave face although your smile is now lying on the deck. Pull, wind, pull, wind … keep the rhythm going even if it’s only a quarter of a turn at a time.
Keep the fish’s head facing towards you and drag it up from the deep. Time ticks by while the sweat stings your eyes and soaks your shirt. Your arms are numb but your back hurts like hell. Your hearing has faded and your eyesight is blurry for the most part. This is about the time you consider breaking off this fish. Suddenly you no longer care about that photo at the gantry; actually you’d rather just go home and sleep. But it’s now that the strong, steady beat of the fish that keeps you hanging in.
BRINGING HIM IN
“Colour!” Suddenly you hear angels singing and you smile for the first time this hour; you could kiss the guy who shouted that. And deep down in the blue you get glances of the sun’s rays flashing off your fish as it swims powerfully on its side, tail beating strong in the unending circles.
The circle — usually in a clockwise direction — is actually more oval than round. One side is lower than the other, so use this advantage to beat your fish; hold on the downward side and pull on the upward side. Keep the head towards you as hard as you can because every centimetre of line counts. This is when you have to apply all of the little energy you have left.
Be aware that you may need to work the reel drag if the fish takes off again and, yes, they often do, luckily not to the same extent as the first time.
As the fish rises in its circles to the surface, stand hard against the gunnel to keep your line from touching the boat as it swims underneath. Slowly it comes, and another circle.
The gaff-man should be standing ready beside you with a second gaff on the other side. Patience is the name of the game — put the gaff into a deep fish and you could lose everything, including the gaff-man.
Some rules for the gaff-man:
• Always gaff over the fish, that way you can watch the positioning of the gaff hook;
• Always aim for the head. A head shot means the fish comes towards you if it gets cranky, and with the bone there’s less chance of the gaff pulling out.
Suddenly it’s all over. The fish lies still in the water while you lie still on the fishbox; the rest is up to the crew.
First a wire is pushed down the inside of the fish’s spine to humanely despatch it quickly. Now incisions are made to bleed out as much blood as possible before the heart stops pumping. Once this is all over the fish is hauled in over the gunnel and this is the first time you realise the true size of the beast you have fought so hard to subdue.
If you can, remove the stomach and gills and fill the fish with flaked ice to preserve it. Once the fish lands on the boat, keep it on that side of its body from then on; the top side will be prime meat while the bottom, although still excellent, will have carried the weight of the fish. The fish is then gently lowered into the fish box and covered with ice to reduce the core temperature as quickly as possible.
Back at the dock it’s time for those photos you’d initially dreamed of and which are now well deserved. Keep it quick, though, and get your fish out of the heat as fast as possible — no lying around in the sun. Get it up onto the filleting table in the wash bay and let the fun begin.
PREPPING IT TO EAT
When filleting a big eye the aim is to get four distinct fillets, two from the top and two from the bottom, off each side. The prime fillet is the front half of the top — it is firm and full of flavour with a good bit of fat. The bottom fillet around the stomach section, is rich in fat and mouth-wateringly tender with a lighter flavour. Those fillets at the tail end, although still more fatty on the bottom and more tasty on the top, are not quite of the same high standard and tend to be more stringy.
Probably the best way to eat big eye tuna is while you’re filleting it. Those little slivers from a misguided knife will just melt in your mouth. Forget the wasabi, soy or cooking, just eat it like nature intended. You will never find another fish quite like a big eye — that buttery mouth feel, subtle yet present tuna flavour and a tenderness that just melts away. But for those less adventurous, there’s always sashimi, the festive grilled-on-a-braai style, fried in a pan method or even oven-baked. This is one fish you have to try — it’ll rank as one of the best on your list.
My favourite way to cook big eye tuna is to cut the fillet into thick cutlets and then cook it either in a gridle pan or on the braai over a hot heat, with no salt, spices or flavouring. Sear the meat until it turns white halfway up the outside, flip it over and do the same again, then immediately take it off the heat. Place it on a plate and get ready to serve with a chilled glass of your favourite white wine. By the time you cut the meat it will have cooked through and left a faint hint of pink in the middle. Tuna cooked this way is so tender you can eat it with a spoon.
Big eye tuna are rich in Omega 3 fats, making them one of the world’s healthiest fish to eat; they rank second only to bluefin in the Japanese sushi market, making them one of the most sought after tuna species worldwide.
A top gamefish for the sports angler, a wonderful fish for the table and a beautiful fish to look at, big eye tuna will always be one of my top fish to catch. By the time you read this final article in the series on the big eye tuna they would have arrived in our waters off Cape Point, and this time you have the knowledge to go out and catch yourself one of those bombers. It will seldom be easy, but it will be rewarding, that’s for sure.
It’s been a privilege writing this article with my son Scott; I’ve learned so much by listening to his new methods, ideas and raw excitement. I’ve been learning how to become a better fisherman all my life, but there’s no better feeling than learning from someone you taught.
If readers have any questions regarding this or the previous articles feel free to contact me on (021) 712 1069 or email <firstname.lastname@example.org>. Alternatively visit me at my boat shop — Down South Marine — at 29 Estmil Road, Diep Rivier, Cape Town. Tight lines and sea you on the water.