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May 20, 2010

Four Choice Yellowfin Tricks

When the yellowfin tuna show up in Bahamian waters, these techniques will help you score.

Each spring, huge schools of yellowfin tuna swim into the waters surrounding the Bahama Islands, and since it appears the Bahamian government has denied the permit application of the brothers who wanted to purse-seine the tuna, it looks as if this exciting fishery will be around awhile longer.

Knowledgeable captains find yellowfin in a great many spots in the Bahamas, and since the fish migrate through the islands all summer, you might find them anywhere on a given day. But the fish return to certain places like clockwork each year. These include the Northwest Providence Channel, the deep body of water between Grand Bahama Island to the north and Great Bahama Bank to the south, Tongue of the Ocean east of Andros, the reefs north of Harbour Island at the northern end of Eleuthera, and the pinnacles just north of San Salvador. But any island along the eastern edge of the chain can hold fish at one time or another.

Finding the fish usually isn't hard - but catching them can be a different matter entirely. Yellowfin spend the vast majority of their time far below the surface. If you're lucky enough to intercept them on the rare occasion when they rise to feed on the surface, you are way ahead of the game. But what about the other 90 percent of the time, when you know the fish are there but they stay deep? How can you elicit a strike in those circumstances?

We've all played the game of chasing schools of tuna around the ocean. They pop up a mile away, so you steer to where you see them only to have them sound and pop up again where you just were. It can be frustrating: Yellowfin behave differently in the Bahamas than they do in places like North Carolina, where in winter they seem neither leader- nor boat-shy. Maybe it's because of the warmer water, but they can definitely be boat-shy and skittish in the Islands.

After many years of chasing the fish myself, I noticed that certain skippers scored consistently with yellowfin when many of the rest of the fleet did not. I therefore sought out the advice of these pros and have learned several techniques which will maximize your chances on yellowfin in the Bahamas even when other boats seem to have no luck. As with all types of fishing, it's all about creating your own luck.

Joe Mahler /

1. Go Deep
By sending a swimming plug deep beneath the boat with a Z-Wing, you remove the association between boat and lure, and you put the lure directly in the zone where the tuna are feeding most of the time. This combination often proves deadly.

Richard Julylia knows more about subsurface fishing than just about anyone I know. He worked as a sales representative for Cannon Downriggers when I first met him in the mid-1980s, and he had made a name for himself as an expert at catching wahoo off Matanilla Shoal, the western edge of the Little Bahama Bank. He later became a consultant to Kristal Fishing, the builders of quality electric deep-drop reels, and he has become a master at deep-dropping.

But Julylia also likes fishing for yellowfin, and he has refined a technique that has proven deadly in almost all situations. "It's exciting to troll baits on top when the tuna are up," Julylia says, "but as we all know, tuna spend most of their time deep. With that in mind, I started to target them with downriggers. Over the years, I have tried many different combinations of baits, downriggers, weights and speeds.

"I prefer to use artificial plugs like a Rapala CD [CountDown] 18 or CD 22, or Yo-Zuri or Braid lures," he continues. "When you're using frozen natural baits, they often get damaged without tripping the release. You can use any type of downrigger, but I use a Kristal XL 651 reel loaded with 200-pound braided line and a high-speed Z-Wing." Julylia doesn't use weights to keep the lures down, preferring the simplicity of the Z-Wing. "The angle of the line while trolling with the Z-Wing will be about 45 degrees," he says, "which means that your lure will run at about half the amount of line you have out, so with 100 feet of line out, your lure is down about 50 feet."

Julylia rigs a Black's release clip 4 feet above the Z-Wing. "On my 50-pound rod, I let out about 200 feet of line with a CD 22 Rapala at the end," Julylia says. "I then wrap a No. 64 rubber band four times around the 50-pound line and put both ends of the rubber band in the clip. This allows a clean release without damaging the line. I lower the Z-Wing to about 150 feet, always keeping pressure on the reel as I deploy line. I use only one downrigger at a time, and I troll at about 6 knots. My choice of lure colors are black, white and purple."

By putting his lure where the fish are swimming, Julylia gets strikes when everyone else comes up empty. And by keeping a sharp eye on his depth sounder, he can mark the schools of fish beneath the boat, keeping the lures at the right depth and passing through them again and again. The fish aren't as skittish when they're deep, far from the boat traffic above, and always seem eager to bite.