How to Become a Better Tuna Fisherman

Regardless of the species targeted, there are some fishermen who’s consistent success makes them stand out from the crowd. Among those who don’t experience the same level of success, it’s easy enough to attribute the track record of these better fishermen to the fact that they’ve been doing it longer or spend more time on the water. Until recently, that argument had been hard to disprove because everyone started fishing at different points in their lives and spent different amounts of time doing it.

That all changed when the bluefin tuna showed back up in force off the Southern California coast.

Due to it being over 100 years since these fished had visited our waters and these fish moved and acted differently than the tuna we’d caught in the past, this was a completely new fishery and all of us where starting at square one when targeting them. As expected, lots of anglers have targeted these tuna in the six years they’ve been here and while most have had occasional success, others, who have spent the same amount of time targeting them, have gotten really good at finding and catching them. So, what sets those better fishermen apart? Having an interest in learning.

To explain what I mean, let’s take two private boaters, we’ll call them Bob and Dave. Both Bob and Dave have averaged five tuna trips per year and averaged ten hours on the water each trip. 5 trips x 10 hours each x 6 years = 300 hours spent targeting bluefin tuna by each angler. Both are also Fishdope members and have access to all the latest offshore fishing reports when they head out. That is where their similarities end.

Bob, has no problem fishing in a crowd and is happy to run directly to yesterday’s hot spot, while Dave would rather drive away from the fleet and look for his own fish. While Bob would likely have much more consistent success than Dave would over the first few years of this tuna run, over the next few years, the 300 hours that Dave spent exploring and figuring things out would start to pay off. Flash forward to 2021 and while Bob was still looking for boats to fish around, Dave could take one look at the previous day’s report and with an extremely high level of success, drive away from the fleet and directly to some tuna he could have to himself.

While there are a lot of Bob’s and very few Dave’s, there are also a good number of anglers who fall somewhere between those two extremes. If you’re one of those, I suggest taking some steps towards becoming a full fledged Dave. As someone who took the Dave route since these fish first arrived, I can share some tips that will help you get better at this and any other fishery you decide to take on.

The first question you should ask yourself when you hear that the fish bit in particular location is, “why?”. Let’s say I check Fishdope and see that there were some bluefin tuna caught at the 43 Fathom Spot.

The first thing I’d do is check the SST and Chlorophyll charts to see the water temperature and color along the bank. Then I would check where the water that was holding those fish came from and where it’s going.

For example, if there had previously been fishing biting at the 302 and similar water between the two banks, it’s likely the fish pushed up the ridge from there to the 43. If that same water extends to the east, there could also be fish on the 182 or if it extends up above the 43, there could also be fish on the Clemente Ridge or 289.

Armed with this information, you can now plan your trip based on checking likely spots that don’t have boats on them with a fall back plan of going to yesterday’s hot spot if you don’t find fish on your own. By driving around looking for fish by yourself, you’re going to get better at noticing the subtle signs that indicate the presence of fish that don’t have boats on them. Things to keep constant track of are water temperature changes and color breaks. When I’m running offshore, I’m glancing at my temp gauge every couple of minutes from the time I leave the harbor until I return to it at the end of the day. By paying attention to where the water temp and color breaks are, I can draw a mental picture that orients them to the banks I want to check and let’s me know when to start and when to stop looking hard.

“Looking hard” is one of those things you’re going to get good at if you spend enough time searching offshore. When we are looking hard, the boat slows down below twenty knots and everyone is looking in different directions in silence. You’d be surprised at just how much you’ll miss while having a conversation with your buddy. While not looking for anything in particular, we will look for anything out of the ordinary. Could be a tern that locks in on a spot of water for a few seconds or a raft of sheerwaters flaring up and hopscotching forward a few yards. Might be a calm spot in the water or a quick splash off in the distance. Whatever you see needs to be checked out and all of it is important, even if it doesn’t result in fish.

The more time you spend watching the rhythm of the ocean, the easier it becomes to spot the irregularities that lead to finding fish. I can tell you from experience that if you dedicate 300 hours to learning how to do something you’re going to get very good at it. So much so, that eventually finding your own fish will be so ingrained that you’ll feel like you can’t miss.

Erik Landesfeind is BD's Southern California Editor and has over 30 years of experience saltwater fishing for a range of species in both California and Mexican waters. Erik is also an active freelance writer and the author of the weekly column So Cal Scene, which BD publishes every Friday. In So Cal...