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February 22, 2013

Schooled on Tuna

The Pacific coast of Panama offers unrivaled casting action for big yellowfins.

The yellowfin will eat both surface baits and subsurface lures like metal jigs and swimming baits, but it’s extra fun to fish poppers because it attracts a surface strike. “I fish Yo-Zuri, Ocean Tackle International and Sebile lures, both poppers and swimmers,” Andrews says. “There are days they will not eat a popper but will still crush a swimming lure like the ­Yo-Zuri Slider or the Sebile Stick Shadd.”

Andrews and his crew use Shimano tackle. “The Stella 18000SW has the fast retrieve that provokes strikes, and the 20000SW is geared lower for fighting,” he says. “Both have extreme drag capability for long runs. I use the Shimano Terez 100-pound popping rod. It has plenty of action for casting but offers lots of backbone too for bringing big fish up from deep water.”

Get in Position

Positioning the boat correctly becomes crucial when chasing the tuna schools. Sometimes the fish are finicky and move constantly, but other times, they go into a feeding frenzy on nearby bait. Patience is key. “When it is a full-on baitball with nothing but white water, keep the boat far enough away so the bait does not come to the boat for refuge,” Andrews says. “Don’t cast in the middle of the boil. You will get bit, but you’ll get cut off. Cast to the outside of the boil; you will still get bit, and hope the fish runs away from the boil and not straight into it.”    

A different strategy comes into play when working the porpoise schools. “First and foremost, don’t run them over,” Andrews says. “I run a big circle around the fish and position the boat in front of the school, with the sun at my back when possible. Then I move in slowly from the sides, scanning the water for fish. Sometimes there is an occasional fish blowing up; other times slow rollers dimple the surface. Many times you will see nothing.” 

Birds diving around porpoise schools are a dead giveaway as to the presence of fish, but it’s not always the large schools that offer the best shot at a hookup, as was the case with the big fish caught by George Large. “Some of my best fish have come from a small spot with maybe a dozen porpoises and just a couple of birds,” Andrews says. “I have hooked monsters in that scenario. There might not be lot of fish there — just a couple of big ones. Keep your distance and fire a cast 50 feet in front of the porpoises.