Anytime Is the Best Time

If you want to catch yellowfin tuna in my region, you’re heading out to the rigs, and the closest to Destin or Pensacola are the Petronis or Ramp Powell and Marlin Rigs. They’re 95 miles from Destin, and more like 80 miles from Pensacola Pass.

You can catch yellowfins all day long, but the best bites are always at first and last light. These fish average around 50 pounds in the spring, but in fall or winter they range up to 150 pounds or more, but most of them are 50 to 90 pounds.

By far the bait of choice is a hand-sized blue runner, although if you have some nice herring or cigar minnows they will certainly eat those as well. I use a 6/0 to 8/0 VMC Circle hook depending on the size of the bait, with a 50-foot top shot of 60- to 80-pound Sufix fluorocarbon, and 50-pound Sufix monofilament line. I do not use hi-vis line when tuna fishing. The fish definitely see the line.

Yellowfin will school and feed on the up-current side of the rig, which is usually the north side of the rig. These fish will be anywhere from a couple of hundred yards off the rig to a quarter mile off the rig, but rarely much further. You can mark them on your bottom machine; they’ll come up and go down repeatedly, which allows you to position the boat right over them and slow troll live baits in their path.

I like to hook my baits through the bottom jaw and out one nostril or through the eye socket, and fish one bait on each outrigger, and then a flat line down the middle. If we find we’re still not getting bit, we put a sinker on the flat line and drop it down or use a downrigger to position the bait at a specific depth where the fish seem to be most. Another effective way to fish them is with a kite, which keeps the baits away from the boat and splashing on top, so you get these incredible surface strikes.

Another good technique when they’re down deep is to use a Williamson Speed Jig. Drop it down to the depth that you’re marking fish and work it back to the surface. If you catch them busting bait on the surface, you can throw a Yo-Zuri Hydro Popper or another type of big popper and do well.

You’ll want to change out to heavier hooks, because you need to have 50- pound Sufix braid on your spinning rods, which will straighten out some of the standard hooks.

Blackfin in the Fall

We catch blackfin tuna in October and early November on the Southwest Edge or South Edge, where the bottom rolls down from 150 feet to 200 feet and you get them to chase smaller live baits like cigar minnows or herrings. These fish are usually 25 to 30 pounds—real footballs. And you’ll sometimes catch a fish or two while kingfishing.

We also encounter a lot of blackfins around the same rigs we catch the yellowfins on, although these fish are only 10 to 15 pounds on average. They’re loaded up with blackfins, but you just don’t catch them on top, but at night with a chartreuse, blue or green Williamson Speed Jig you can sink the boat with blackfins.

The technique is to drop your jig until it stops. You’re in 2,000 feet of water, so you won’t hit bottom. When the jig stops, it’s because a fish ate it. You might miss the bite, but if you jig it a few times, you’ll get another one immediately.

The nighttime blackfin bite is usually very close to the rigs. The tuna are holding tight to the rigs so they don’t get eaten by something, but if you have underwater lights on the boat, you can turn them on and the fish will literally follow the boat away from the rig.

We also find a lot of blackfins—and even yellowfins—around whale sharks in the fall months. Whale sharks are up on top feeding, and the tuna will be right by the fish’s face.

Tight Lines and Good Fishing,
Captain Rick Murphy