The Yellowfin Tuna must surely be the most striking and attractive of all the Tuna species. With its vivid yellow colouration and large sickle-shape fins, they are rather easy on the eye. I’d longed to admire one up close for many years and Ascension Island happens to be one of the best places on the planet to tangle with one. This article details my first encounter with these incredible fish back in 2015.
When I’ve spoken to other anglers of their experiences with these fish, there were similarities in their responses. Expressions such as ‘the pain’ and ‘the burn’ were common, they all shared in the elation and relief of finally getting the fish to the boat. These fish fight long, they fight hard and they fight deep. Titanic battles, up to and sometimes over two hours long seemed to be the norm and with specimens that can reach over 300lbs in weight, it’s no surprise either.
With our visit being in February, the odds weren’t too favourable as it’s low season for the Tuna. They are present in their largest numbers throughout the summer months but the locals swear there are resident fish available year round, albeit smaller specimens up to the 150lb mark. Craig, our skipper, insisted that it would happen. We’d just have to work that little bit harder to make it so.
There are many ways of catching the Yellowfins that Ascension is famous for and when at their most numerous the most exciting has to be using a large surface popping lure. I’d imagine there’s little in the world of fishing to top the experience of seeing one of these leviathans smashing into your lure. It’s also possible to catch them by trolling large lures, pitching live-baits at showing fish or chunking for them.
Chunking is the technique the local guys use to deadly effect, either anchored up or on the drift. They are masters at creating a chum trail and drawing the Tuna to the boat. They simply freeline chunks of fish on large circle hooks down the chum line, letting out line gradually to ensure the bait drifts in a natural fashion. It’s simple and very effective.
Given that it was low season, chunking and trolling large lures were to be our best chance of finding a few fish. The numbers simply weren’t there to justify the exhausting task of chucking huge poppers around all day. I just wanted to be connected to one and wasn’t fussy about how it happened. The real thrills start from the moment of connection when all hell breaks loose……or so I’d been told!
As detailed last month, our first attempt at chunking for the Tuna was unsuccessful and day two proved no different. The fish just didn’t seem to be around. However, things can change fast on Ascension so I wasn’t too worried at that point in time.
Proving just how fast things really can change out there was some interesting news from one of the local guys, Kimbo. He rocked up to the ‘Saints Bar’ late on our second day with tales of how he managed to boat 6 Yellowfins up to the 100lb mark. They hadn’t been seen for days and then they just appeared out of nowhere at dusk. It did wonders for our confidence!
The following afternoon, Dave, Craig and I headed out to Kimbo’s spot full of excitement. He had kindly left his anchor out there so all we had to do was locate the marker buoy and tie up to it, putting us on the spot of his previous success. We were well loaded with slabs of frozen sardines for chum and bait. Would the Tuna show up again though?
Craig is a master at creating a chum trail, he’s been doing it for years and got to work the moment the boat had settled. According to him it’s all a question of timing, little and often being the key. As I stared down into the cobalt blue depths, I could see the enticing trail drifting down the tide. The blood and the scent combined with the flash of the chunks as they flutter away must be very appealing to the Tuna.
Dave and I were like coiled springs, the anticipation was incredible. Some days you just get the feeling that it’s going to happen. Everything felt right, the current was good as well. Not too fast and not too slow. Craig was also making all the right noises.
We’d been trotting our half sardine baits down the chum line for an hour and a half without any action. Then from out of nowhere line started tearing through Dave’s fingers. He wound down to the fish and his rod took the load. Immediately, the line started to cut up through the water and we were treated to the sight of a fine looking dorado cartwheeling through the air. It was all lit up in incredible shades of blue, yellow and green. Not what we were after, but there were no complaints. Catching these fish is always a thrill.
As they often travel in schools we expected more dorado action straight away, but it then went quiet again. Another half an hour passed while Craig kept introducing the chum and then I finally got a chance. Line started pouring from my spool and my heart began to race. As I slammed over the bail arm and wound down to the fish, I hoped that this was the Tuna I’d been waiting for. What happened next can only be described as the most incredible run I have ever experienced from a fish!
In contrast to Dave’s fish, mine sounded immediately heading straight for the bottom. The shimano stellas drag howled in protest as the rod bent to the butt and Craig screamed “TUNA!”. I held on for dear life as the unseen beast tore 100m of braid from the spool before finally stopping. It was then that the hard work began. The task of pumping this fish back up through the depths was the most intense battle I had ever experienced with a fish.
It truly was a case of ‘one step forwards, two steps back’. As I gained a little line and pumped the fish up a few meters, it would respond by ripping all of it and more from the reel. It was a battle of wills with my heavy popping rod bent to the butt, taking on its full fighting curve. After some time, the fish stopped running for the bottom and started to circle way down deep below us. Craig was quick to point out this fact and reckoned that I now had the advantage over the fish as it had tired a little. It sure didn’t feel like it to me as the ache in my back and arms became apparent.
Craig explained that as the fish circled there was a point in the rotation that I could pump it up a turn or two. When the fish came around directly below us, I had the advantage. After a few attempts, I found the sweet spot and got into the rhythm of bringing the fish up little by little. Without a doubt this was the most stubborn fish I had ever been attached to. I now knew exactly what people meant when they talked of ‘the burn’ and ‘the pain’! Especially as we were using spinning tackle!
Some 30 odd minutes after hooking it, the impressive sight of a chunky Yellowfin came steadily up from the depths, circling slowly. With its tail beating a relentless rhythm, the sight of it gave me a final burst of energy and I was able to raise the fish to the surface. Craig grabbed the leader and gaffed the fish through the membrane of the bottom lip for unhooking. The circle hook was easily removed from the corner of the mouth and we bought the fish into the boat for a quick photo. As I gazed at my prize, I was fascinated by the ‘design’ of these incredible creatures. Evolution has done them proud. Every fin has its own recess or slot that it folds into making them perfectly streamlined and efficient. They’re built for speed.
Watching the fish steam off back into the depths after the release was a joy. The feeling of relief and elation was overwhelming. I’d been told all along that there’s nothing that fights quite like a tuna and after the experience of catching my first one, I’d have to say I agree. I was beaten.
For the remainder of our trip the Tuna were around every day and we experienced some incredible fishing. With every fish that was fought my technique improved. Most of the fish were in the 70 to 120lb class and to be honest I’d not really want to hook one any bigger on the heavy spinning tackle! The sight of numbers of Tuna in the clear water all circling the boat and competing for the chum is something I shall never forget. It was incredible.
Join me next month for the final part of my ‘Ascension Island Diaries’ where I’ll share some of the other highlights from the trip with you all. Until then – Tight Lines!