On the Mid North Coast of NSW the longtail season is one of the most hotly-anticipated times of the year for anglers. This is especially the case for so for land-based game anglers, and to a lesser extent those out of kayaks or in smaller boats with restricted range.
For those who fall in these categories, long tailtuna are a very special fish. Many regard longtails as pound for pound the best fighting of all the tuna species, which is why being able to target them from the rocks and close to shore is so appealing for anglers.
While they can grow in excess of 30kg, the average size of a longtail tuna in NSW is around 14kg, with anything over 20kg a real trophy fish. They are a coastal species of tuna, meaning they don't usually venture further then a few kilometres offshore, preferring to hunt schools of baitfish hanging around headlands and shallow reefs. At times they will also move up into some the oceanic bays of estuary systems, particularly places like my home town of Port Stephens.
While Port Stephens is a renowned area for longtail tuna, it's also about the species southernmost stronghold. This is not to say longtails aren't caught south of Port Stephens, but the consistency and predictability becomes significantly tougher.
One of the biggest reasons chasing longtails tuna can be so exciting is the by-catch that comes with it. This ranges from species that while entertaining, can at times be downright pain in the backside, with species like tailor, bonito, mac tuna and sharks often getting in on the action. You'll also run into more prized species such as cobia, kingfish and to the north, Spanish mackerel and even black marlin!
Tagging studies have shown that longtail tuna can travel huge distances in a very short space of time, with one tagged fish recaptured covering 850km away from where it was tagged only 20 days later!
OFF THE ROCKS
There's no doubt longtail tuna are most prized when caught from the rocks. Highly-dedicated land-based game anglers will go to great lengths to catch these fish. Depending on time of year, water temperatures and conditions, these anglers will travel up and down the coast to give themselves the best chance of catching a longtail.
The other thing these anglers do so well and perhaps better then any other fishing group is network together. It is however a very guarded and tight-knit community who don't just divulge their information to anyone. Those in the circle are kept in loop of what's going on, with constant exchanges of reports from up and down the coast. This allows them to have there finger on the pulse for exactly where the action is. Being privy to this information, especially early in the season when the fish are moving down the coast is of great benefit. Depending on how far north fish are being caught you can really pinpoint that first bite of the season to being a matter of days or weeks away. Tagging studies have shown that longtail tuna can travel huge distances in a very short space of time.
If you you haven't caught a longtail from the rocks and want to give it a crack, the best advice I can give you is don't expect too many short cuts. It's not as easy as waiting until you hear few reports of fish being caught.
Most of the time a hot bite will be kept pretty quiet and by the time word does get out, the ledge is packed and the fish have often slowed down or moved on. The best approach is to a get a rough idea when the fish usually show up and start fishing a few weeks earlier then that. While the tuna might not be there yet, you should be able to cut your teeth on some bonito and mac tuna and get your bait catching skills down pat. It's also likely that a few more experienced LBG anglers will start turning up and you will learn a lot from just watching how and what these anglers do. If you're really lucky you may even get taken under the wing by one of them. This scenario will however be very unlikely if you just rock up with no prior experience once you hear the fish have shown up.
Where to start and what you'll need
The best time of year to target longtails is from late February through to May, however some years I've seen fish getting caught until mid July.
Water temperature and quality plays a big role in success with cold, dirty or water with a lot fresh in it not even worth fishing. The ideal setting is clear water with a temperature somewhere between 21-25°C.
The best areas to fish are usually headlands and points that drop off into deep water, especially places with reefy bottoms that hold baitfish.
Often getting in to these areas can be quite a trek, so its important to not take too much stuff, but still have everything you need.
Starting with outfits, most angler will generally take three set ups with them. The first being an overhead lever drag reel loaded with around 600m of 10-15kg mono line on a 7-8ft rod. This is your typical livebait stick, and most of time fished in free-spool, which is why a lever drag is very important. The other big advantage of lever drag reels for this type of fishing is your maximum drag can be pre-set and then repeatedly backed off and back on when fishing a fish. This can be particularly handy when a tuna is being pursued by a shark, as free spooling can sometimes result in the tuna out running the shark. Once it's in the clear, the pre-set maximum drag for that line class can be reapplied quickly and accurately and the fight can recommence. The other benefit free spooling can give you is when your fish is heading towards structure or objects such as lobster traps or anchored boats. Backing the reel off to free spool in this situation can often make the fish change, direction and skilled anglers will use this to their advantage.