A Quick Guide to Fishing the Floaters
By Brandon Rowan
Night owls rejoice, Texas yellowfin tuna fishing is hot from dusk to dawn. So, it’s pitch black and you’re bobbing along 100 plus miles offshore at the floaters (semi-submersible rigs). Well now what?
First things first, you need chum. The idea is to create a tasty trail of bread crumbs for fish to follow as you drift away from the rig. You could bring a bag of shad or other baitfish to get you started but all the chum and bait you need is right below your boat in the form of blackfin tuna.
Cousin to the yellowfin, these smaller tuna max out at around 50 pounds and swarm the night waters around the floaters. There is no minimum length or bag limit for blackfin tuna in Federal waters. Take the knife to smaller, football sized fish but ice the larger 15-30 pounders. They put up a surprisingly good fight and taste nearly as good as yellowfin, just make sure to remove the large bloodline. So what is the best way to catch blackfin tuna? Jigs are your best bet.
Blackfin are not particularly finicky and will hit just about any diamond, knife or butterfly jig you send down to the deep. Jigs from 6 to 10 ounces with glow-in-the-dark colors seem to draw the most attention. Yellowfin will also hit jigs although not with the regularity of blackfin. In fact, on one trip my two best fish, in the 50-pound class, were caught with glow-in-the-dark and blue 8-ounce diamond jigs.
To start your drift, position the boat down current of the platform and drop your jigs down. Stay alert as you let your lure fall, many times fish will strike as the jig flutters downward. If your line suddenly goes slack, ratchet up the drag and set the hook.
The Japanese style of speed jigging does work in this situation but is tiring and not necessary. A slower yo-yo style of jigging works just fine and if you’re at the right depth then sometimes a few lifts of the rod tip is all it takes to entice a bite. Load your jigging reels with color metered braid to help determine what depth the fish are feeding. Sometimes it’s 30 feet, other times it can be 300 feet.
If things are going as planned, then you should have plenty of blackfin after that first drift. Cut your fish into one to two inch chunks and keep them handy in a designated chum bucket. On your next drift have one angler continue to jig while another tosses out a handful of chunks every couple of minutes. Set up two drift lines, one long and one short, each sporting a large bloody chunk of blackfin at the business end.
Chunking, as it is called, provides your best chance for landing big yellowfin tuna, so heavier tackle is a must. Stout stand-up rods, 50 wide reels loaded with heavy mono, 60 to 100 pound fluorocarbon leaders and strong 4/0 to 8/0 circle hooks are standard gear. You don’t want to be outgunned when that 100 pounder finds its way to your chum line. Don’t be discouraged if the bite doesn’t happen in first 15 minutes. Many good fish have been hooked and landed far from the rig.
Pop the Top
Yellowfin tuna in the Gulf of Mexico sometimes shy away from jigs but will violently assault a topwater lure if conditions are right. It’s a very good idea to have a heavy spinning setup ready at all times for tossing poppers to surface crashing yellowfin. It is not uncommon to see tuna in pursuit of flying fish leap high out of the water. A Shimano Saragosa or Stella loaded with 60 to 80 pound braid on a 7 – 8 foot rod is a common outfit.
The technique for working these lures is similar to the old tried and true popping cork. A sideways flick of the rod tip causes the lure to rush forward and create a commotion on the surface. If the flying fish have taken to the skies, then it could be a good time to toss a popper.
Skimming the Big Pool
Flying fish are tuna candy. Sometimes they’re so thick they’ll fly right into the boat. Other times they drift tantalizingly close by but still out of reach. Your standard backyard pool skimming net solves this problem. Flying fish make superb bait so collect as many as you can and put them to work on a drift line. Nothing beats the real thing.
A Bloody Mess
Tuna fishing is exciting, it definitely tests your arms and back – but it is not clean. Tuna must be bled to ensure the highest quality of meat. Cut the gills or make a small semi-circle cut behind the pectoral fin to drain your fish. You might also want to wear an old shirt you don’t particularly care about.