A Lesson on Longtail
  |  First Published: April 2010

For anglers venturing into the waters of Moreton Bay, or further afield to locales such as the Sunshine Coast and Hervey bay, tuna are a prominent species.

All species of tuna can be caught in an array of situations with the appropriate approach. Longtail tuna are the desired targets of many anglers and knowing the basics of chasing this high-speed sashimi will definitely put you in with a great chance of catching a few on a regular basis.

Let’s look at two of the most prominent situations in which tuna can be targeted.


Topwater chaos will get the casting arm of any angler twitching in anticipation. Tuna species will herd huge schools of baitfish (predominately whitebait, frogmouths, anchovies or hardiheads) to the surface where they will attack and engulf them in a well-orchestrated series of attacks.

This wanton mayhem will sometimes continue for hours or it may be over before you get remotely close to the action, it all depends on how much bait. Being ready for an onslaught can make the difference between a solid hook-up or missing out on the chance to even getting a cast away.

Surface feeding schools can provide an easy fishing opportunity, however this is not always the case. Tuna can get very pedantic in their feeding, often only being interested in exact replicas and profiles to the bait on which they are currently gorging. Longtail tuna are especially prone to this tunnel vision and it can be very frustrating when they refuse virtually everything cast before them.

Nevertheless, there are various different offerings worth trying when the going is tough. Let’s look at a few of the different lures that are worth trying when targeting surface feeding schools.

Slug it to ‘Em

Without a doubt, the most common lure cast at tuna is one colloquially referred to as a slug. These chromed metal offerings can come in many weights and profiles, but most are either chromed machined metal (usually copper or brass) or chromed cast white metal (a mix of lead and tin). Many of these are locally made, often cottage industry, but there are a few imported ones worth their salt.

The basic slug technique is to cast towards, or past, the school and then retrieve the slug flat-chat through the melee. Speed is the ultimate key in this situation, and you can never wind too fast. If you are getting follows, albeit no hook-ups, it is not because the tuna cannot catch the slug but instead because you are not winding it fast enough to entice him to strike. Spinning reels with high-speed ratios that will retrieve a minimum of a metre of line per turn of the handle are highly desirable.

Quality casting rods, generally graphite, will assist in getting the offering into the strike zone. There is a broad array of tackle in varying price ranges that can get the job done in line classes between 4-10kg. A visit to your specialist tackle dealer will allow you to investigate the possibilities and to get some informed advice on an outfit to suit your budget and your locale.

There are many brands of chrome slug that will work, with offerings from Spanyid, Lazer, Halco, Gillies, River2ea, TT Lures and Maria being just some of the better known ones. Usually weights between 15-35g will do, with the smaller profile usually receiving more action that the larger ones.

Most of the baitfish that these species feed on is fairly small and therefore having some very small offerings such as the TT Jellybean is a good ploy.

One lure that I have been using very successfully over the last year is the Maria Mucho Slug, which will hold in the water at much higher speeds than any other lure I have used of similar weights. The 25g model with the olive back is an absolute beauty but these offerings will require a treble and split ring upgrade to make them worthy of a longtail capture.

Casting slugs to tuna schools is as basic as it can get: Cast close to the school then wind back as fast as you can. Simple.

Stick it to ‘Em

In recent years anglers have experimented with plastics to target tuna. Many have worked, however the stick bait style plastic seems to present the best strike rate.

Stick baits can be as small as 3cm or over 15cm in length and are generally fished on a very light lead jighead or on a resin-head jighead. Obviously this lightness can pose problems in the casting department, especially in windy conditions. You will often require a different rod to cast the lighter models than you would use for your chromed offerings. A rod with a fast taper (softer tip and powerful butt) is ideal. Obviously a little extra length doesn’t hurt either.

I am currently using a Nitro Magnum Butt for this task and find it very suitable. It is soft enough in the tip to cast light weights, yet possesses a good degree of power in the butt and I have landed longtail to over 16kg on it.

Plastics such as Berkley 3” Minnow, Zoom Flukes, Bass Assassin SW, Terminator Snapback, Gulp Jerk Shads and Gamblers will all work on tuna. I have a preference for the Berkley 3” Minnows in bullhead brown, galaxia green or cas clear rigged on a Squidgy Finesse Resin Head 1/0, as these are relatively transparent which makes them look natural in the water. The lack of a definite edge to the profile also means they work well on profile-orientated fish.

These plastics are often worked across the surface with a long sweep of the rod and then a small pause, as the rod is brought back to the starting position and the line wound up. This is repeated several times until the plastic is out of the strike zone.

A second retrieve method is to make small jabs with the rod tip and a wind of the handle. This has the stick bait plastic darting erratically.

The third retrieve is the easiest of all; Cast the plastic into the strike zone and then just allow it to sink, whilst leaving the bait arm open. As line begins to trickle off after a take, just flick the bail arm over and wind to set the hook. This technique often comes into its own when the fish are just milling around and feeding at random, which is often the case early in the season when the bait fish are small. Longtail in particular, will casually sip this minuscule, clear bait as they randomly circle in an area.

Try Fly

The aforementioned situation is also a good opportunity to use the fly rod. This approach is especially easy for beginners as the fly just has to be cast to the general area and allowed to sink. Using a slow sinking, intermediate line, such as a Scientific Angler Striper taper, will produce the desired effect.

A 2.1m to 2.7m fluorocarbon leader between 6kg and 10kg and a baitfish profile fly such as a Bay Bait, Surf Candy, Polar-fibre minnow or Glassy will complete the rigging.

Generally, fly rods between #9 weight and #12 weight are used for longtail tuna, however you are likely to encounter by-catches of mac tuna, frigates and bonito which can be handled on rods as light as #7.

If, whilst descending, the fly line speeds up or veers to one side, then a strip-strike will set the hook nicely. If tying your own flies for this situation, try a circle pattern hook, such as a Gamakatsu SC-16, as this will generally set in the corner of the mouth, which greatly reduces the chance of abrasion weakening the leader.

Topwater Tuna

An exciting and productive way to catch tuna, especially when they are feeding sporadically and sparsely in an area, is to use surface lures such as poppers and stick baits.

Poppers such as Cotton Cordell Pencil Poppers and Kingfisher Fat R’s are easy to cast and can be worked across the surface in an erratic and high speed manner that can excite casually feeding longtail into a frenzy. You will often see a torpedo-like bow wave behind your popper before the smashing strike. It is exciting and adrenalin pumping fishing.

I find that when I come across tuna that are feeding individually, casually sipping the occasional hapless baitfish off the surface, a surface popper is just what I need to solicit a strike.

Hard stick-baits can be worked similarly to plastic stick baits with long sweeps of the rod tip or with short, sharp taps of the rod tip that has the stick-bait zigzagging across the surface like a disorientated garfish. Strikes can be very visual and exciting, which makes this form of fishing well worth a try.

Live baiting

If surface feeding schools are not visible or you seek a more relaxed approach to your tuna fishing, then try a spot of live baiting. This can be partaken anywhere that baitfish gather, such as beacons, prominent ledges, current lines and in major channels.

The first thing is to acquire a few baitfish. A Sabiki style bait jig worked around beacons and other structure will soon produce some quality baits such as yakkas, slimy mackerel or pike. These are generally pinned through the nose with a single hook or through the nose and back with a twin-hook snelled rig.

Baits are generally fished in the upper layers of the water column, predominately the upper third. I generally suspend one bait a couple of metres below a balloon and just put the other out with a small sinker on it so it falls and rises throughout the column, depending on the pressure on the line from the current.

A basic rig has the hook/s on a 60lb to 80lb (preferably fluorocarbon) leader of at least 2m length. A small crimp can be used to keep the ball sinker around 50cm above the hooks. I like to use a wind-on leader set-up to allow the leader to be wound in through the rod tip and onto the reel. Circle hooks will increase the chance of lip-hooked fish, which makes release quicker and easier.

Put your baits out so that they are well spaced to avoid tangles. Lever-drag reels are best as they allow the baits to be fished in free-spool with a ratchet on. When the fish grabs the bait and runs off with it, simply push the lever up, allow the tension to take up and the circle hooks will set perfectly in the corner of the mouth.

Dropping these same baits behind working trawlers will also produce longtail tuna. These fish will often follow the trawlers and feed on wounded baitfish that fall out of the nets. You will also definitely hook a few sharks like this but it is a good way to find longtail at times. Make sure you are well behind the nets whilst doing this as you can be fined for interfering with commercial fishing activity.

In Moreton Bay try live baiting around any of the beacons from the Four Beacons north to Caloundra, the Curtin Artificial and Western Rocks.

Baits can also be dropped around surface feeding fish, however this is fairly hit and miss, with so much smaller bait around.


Hopefully these basic techniques for targeting longtail tuna will help you to get connected to a few in the near future. Longtail tuna can reach over 35kg in weight but are more commonly caught in the 10-15kg bracket in Moreton Bay.

One fish produces plenty of meals and as they are best eaten fresh, there is no need to keep more than one per session. Like all fish, they are a limited resource so subsequent fish should be carefully released. They are best eaten lightly seared and straight off the grill. Smoking the cutlets can also be a good way to consume them.

Try some of these techniques and most of all keep your eyes peeled when traversing throughout Moreton Bay as longtail tuna can pop up anywhere at any time. At least having a spin rod rigged and ready for casting will greatly increase your chances of getting a successful cast away once a few are sighted. Even the smaller tuna are a lot of fun and can really make for an exciting day. Good luck.

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