Three Tips for Catching Tuna on a Small Boat

It never ceases to amaze me just how much information can be gained by asking an open ended question to just the right person. In this case, the right person was Captain Duane Mellor, of Seasons Sportfishing, and the open ended question was, “Hey, I’m going to be writing about the offshore bite in my column this week, got any tips for private boaters?”

In his usual clear and well thought out manner, Mellor shared three tips that may sound simple but will make a huge difference in what you catch the next time you’re on the water.

“Find good water, avoid other boats and stepped on areas.” “Fish stealthy.”

If you’re chasing breaking tuna or tuna under terns, DO NOT change the RPM of your motor(s) until you pull them back to make your casts. The slower you motor up to them without changing the tones of you motors, the longer they stay up and the more likely they are to eat your hooked offerings. The bottom line is that tone changes spook tuna.”

“Save all your dead bait and use it for chunking. If you meter of hook tuna on a kelp or in open water, whether it be on bait or troll, start a slow chunk line. 2-3 pieces of chunk every 30 seconds, mixed with a pop-eyed live bait every minute or so. Those tuna will climb right up the “chunk ladder” and stick to the boat really well. The occasional live one mixed in the chunk line will get them fired up and result in biting fish and a good show around the boat.”

The only thing that I can add to these tips is an explanation of what Mellor means by finding good water. “Good water” is any water that is likely to hold fish, doesn’t currently have a bunch of boats fishing it and hopefully didn’t have a bunch of boats fishing it right before you got there.

While this may seem like a daunting proposition, it’s a lot easier than you might think. Fishdope is an excellent place to start when looking for good water. The first step is to take a look at the reports to see what’s been biting. Then you can take that information and compare it against the sea-surface temperature (SST) and chlorophyll charts.

For example, if you read a report of yellowfin at the Upper Hidden Bank, you can check the current water temp and clarity in that area to see if it looks like it might still be holding fish. If the water conditions have changed in the area that the fish had been biting, you can use the current SST chart to predict where those fish might have moved. It’s as simple as looking at what the charts from when they last bit and then seeing where that good water had moved since then. If you get keyed in on going directly to an area where the fish had been biting, you’re likely going to end up in a zone that’s got a lot of boat traffic.

Once you’re on the water and headed to an area that you predict will be holding good water, you need to start looking for signs of life. In a fishy looking area, you’ll see things like birds, bait, porpoise and sometimes whales. You don’t need to see all of those things to get bit, but seeing any of them can be an indicator that there are fish in the area. If you find an area that looks good, slow down and spend some time looking for fish. And once you find them, just follow Mellor’s suggestions and you should be golden.

If you’d like to jump on a trip with Seasons Sportfishing, to learn more or just catch some fish, you can visit their website at and sign up to receive emails about available spots on upcoming trips.

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...