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When you think of the biggest and most exciting fish to fish for, most people think of marlin, mahi-mahi, striped marlin, black marlin, or tarpon. They all strike lures with insane speed and have the longest runs of any fish out there. But there’s a species that’s just crazy to catch that’s often overlooked: Yellowfin Tuna.
Yellowfin tuna grow to massive sizes and can swim almost 50 mph. This means when you hook into one, you’ll have the fight of a lifetime. It’s not uncommon for fishermen to spend 30 minutes to an hour reeling one in. They’re known for taking hundreds of yards off reels when they dive deep to try and avoid getting caught. We consider them the hardest fighting fish in the world. So what are the best yellowfin tuna lures? Don’t worry, we’ve got you.
In this article, we’ll cover all the things you need to know to start fishing for yellowfin tuna: what they are, the appropriate tackle for yellowfin tuna, and the best lures for yellowfin tuna. All that will be left will be for you to get out on the water and catch one!
In a Hurry? Here’s Our Top Picks…
For casting for yellowfin tuna, the best lure is the Yo Zuri Bull Popper. They’ve been designed specifically for yellowfin. For jigging for yellowfin tuna, we recommend using the Shimano Butterfly Jig. They come in multiple sizes and are great both small and large yellowfin. For trolling for yellowfin tuna, we recommend using either Captain Jay’s Trolling Skirts or the Joe Shute Ballyhoo Skirt streamer. Chartreuse and green are the top colors.
What Are Yellowfin Tuna?
Yellowfin tuna (which are called Ahi in Hawaii) are a type of tuna fish named for their yellow fins. The dorsal fin as well as the finlets between the tail and the dorsal fin are bright yellow.
Another differentiating feature of yellowfin tuna is that their fins grow to be much longer than other tuna species (like big eye tuna) – sometimes their finlets stretch all the way back to their tails.
Yellowfin tuna grow to be massive: the largest recorded yellowfin tuna caught weighed 388 lbs and was over 6 feet long. Since they grow to be especially large, yellowfin tuna enjoy eating a variety of smaller baitfish and squid.
Author Note: They also can swim very fast, which allows them to hunt flying fish, mackerel and sardines. As we mentioned before, yellowfin tuna can swim up to 50 mph!
Yellowfin tuna are a schooling fish that enjoy hanging out with other underwater creatures such as whales or dolphins. This is often because they’re where the yellowfin tuna’s food is.
Tuna are epipelagic fish that live in the top 300 feet of the ocean but are capable of diving much deeper. Yellowfin tuna also enjoy schooling close to flotsam or buoys. Top tip: don’t confuse them with Yellowtail!
Where Do Yellowfin Tuna Live?
Yellowfin tuna live all over the world but are most often fished for in areas with warm ocean temperatures. This can be off the southeastern seaboard of the United States as well as in the Pacific Ocean. San Diego, Oahu, and Mexico also have large Yellowfin tuna fisheries.
If you’re wondering if you can go yellowfin fishing where you live, if the weather is warm year-round you most likely can. They share the water with other pelagic species of fish such as marlin, wahoo, and bonito.
As we mentioned earlier, yellowfin tuna live primarily in the top 300 feet of the ocean. They like to congregate near underwater shelves where the water goes from thousands of feet deep to only several hundred. This is common around islands (like Hawaii) and some coastlines.
The Best Tackle for Yellowfin
Since yellowfin tuna grow to be hundreds of pounds, you’ll need to fish for them with appropriate equipment. This means using a large saltwater spinning reel if you’re casting for them, or a large trolling reel if you’re trolling. In either case, you’ll want to use the highest test monofilament line your reel can handle. Often times the bigger fish can only be caught when trolling, but don’t be surprised if you hook a +60 fish while casting.
Author Note: As far as rods go, we like to use a heavy-duty trolling rod or a thick saltwater spinning rod. If you’re trolling for yellowfin tuna, make sure you’re rod is rated for fish huge fish.
How to Fish for Yellowfin Tuna
There are many different fishing techniques that work well for yellowfin. Both live/real bait and artificial lures will work depending on your presentation. We’ll cover our favorite techniques and the best yellowfin tuna lures below.
The Best Artificial Yellowfin Tuna Lures
The best size artificial yellowfin tuna lures are between 6 and 8 inches long. If you want to catch a big fish, you’ll need to use a big lure. We really like topwater plugs and imitation sardines for yellowfin tuna casting.
Once you found a school of feeding yellowfin tuna, try casting a Yo Zuri Bull Popper. These have designed specifically for yellowfin.
Jigging can also work really well once you’ve found a school of yellowfin tuna. We like using an XL candlefish or a Shimano Butterfly Jig. Try and match the coloring to either squid or sardines. This works well for most species of tuna – including Skipjack Tuna.
If you’re planning on trolling, use an XL rubber squid or a streamer like the Joe Shute Ballyhoo Skirt. We’ve seen success with all colors, but chartreuse seems to be the most popular choice. These also work well for other pelagic species such as striped marlin.
As far as presentation goes, we recommend casting your lure close to where the yellowfin are feeding or jumping and retrieving quickly. Try and imitate a wounded baitfish on the surface.
For jigging, drop your lure down to ~40 feet then pull up 4 to 5 feet at a time quickly. Let the lure flutter back down and repeat. For trolling, go fast – around 10 to 15 mph.
The Best Natural Yellowfin Tuna Lures
If you’re planning on using live bait, sardines and small mackerel work especially well. Herring also make for great live bait if you can find a school of them that the yellowfin tuna are feeding on.
Top Tip: Use a large circle hook and a 100 lb monofilament leader in case you hook into a monster. If you’re not sure what kind of live bait to use, swing into the local fishing shop and talk to the workers. They’ll let you know what’s been working well in the area.
It’s also worth noting to check what the local fishing laws are. Some states do not allow using live bait for certain kinds of fish.
How Far Offshore Do You Need to Go to Catch Yellowfin Tuna?
If you hire a charter or go out in a fishing boat, you will typically find schools of yellowfin tuna as close as 50 miles from shore, but if you want to have a shot at catching trophy class tuna you will have to travel farther than many of the other fishing vessels to reach them.
75 to 100 miles from shore will likely have you contacting and catching yellowfin tuna of larger sizes, so if trophy hunting is your game, this distance is to be expected.
Where is the Best Yellowfin Tuna Fishing?
There are several locations where yellowfin tuna fishing can be out of this world in terms of action and size. Due to the vast range of the yellowfin tuna, many of these locations are far away from each other, but if you find yourself on vacation in these areas keep these fishing opportunities in mind.
- Catalina Island, California
- The Florida Keys
- Oahu, Hawaii
- New England
- Venice, Louisiana
If you are visiting these areas or live close to them and have some spare time, we recommend hiring a charter to chase yellowfin tuna for a great fishing experience.
Yellowfin tuna aren’t usually what fishermen think of when they think of a trophy fish. But as Finn can attest (he caught a 150 lb yellowfin last summer – see below), they’re the catch of a lifetime. If you want to learn how to clean a tuna, check out our guide on how to cark a tuna.
We hope you now know what the best yellowfin lures are and how to fish them. Got a favorite yellowfin lure of your own? Let us know what it is in the comments below. And if you’re looking for advice on catching Yellowtail, check out our article on the best lures for California Yellowtail.