Yellowfin Tuna (“Ahi” in Hawaiian) are a beautiful and tasty fish found throughout the world in warm waters. They are probably the most commonly caught offshore gamefish.
Yellowfin Tuna swim great distances during their lifetimes. They attain sizes in excess of 300lbs, although fish this size are only found in the Eastern Pacific and are generally caught in Mexico. Many nice fish in excess of 200lbs are also caught in Panama.
Yellowfin Tuna are very common in sushi restaurants. They are also good seared.
Like all tuna they pull hard for their size. When you get them near the boat they turn sideways and swim in large circles making it a long process to get them in the boat. It’s virtually impossible to horse the larger ones in quickly no matter what tackle you are using.
You should scale your tackle to the size of fish targeted. Small schoolies in the 10-15lb range are great fun on light tackle in the 15lb range, while the large ones require heavy gear and 100lb braided line. For the big guys I recommend an Accurate Platinum ATD 50.
Yellowfin Tuna can be caught with bait and lures. Many techniques will work. These tuna often feed near the surface so topwater techniques can be used.
For trolling, you can try tuna feathers, cedar plugs, and plastic skirted trolling lures. Rapala type plugs also work.
If you find a school of feeding fish you can cast lures into them. One fun way to catch them is with poppers. Both traditional chugger type lures retrieved in a “pop-pop-pause” rhythm. Ranger type lures skipped over the surface on a steady retrieve often work.
Anchovies and sardines work well for the smaller school size fish. Pacific Mackerel work well for the larger ones, while the biggest ones can be targeted with large live Skipjack Tuna in the 2-5lb size. Many baitfish work; just try whatever is in the area that the tuna might be feeding on.
Very large Yellowfin Tuna can be caught fishing baits below a kite. The kite keeps the baits right at the surface. The baitfish splashing on the surface often works when nothing else will.
If you are trying for giants you can try slow-trolling a live Skipjack. That also works well for Marlin if they are in the same area. If you are going to try this make sure your boat has tuna tubes to keep the Skipjack alive.
If live bait is not available you can try “chunking”. This entails cutting chunks of a large bait fish (perhaps a Skipjack) and then tossing them over the size like chum. In one of the chunks hide a circle hook and let it drift down naturally with the rest of the chunks.
Where to get the big ones
The biggest Yellowfin Tuna are on the Pacific Coast of Mexico. The San Diego long range fleet targets these in the fall and most of the biggest ones are caught on these boats. Puerto Vallarta also has some giants, as does Hannibal Bank in Panama. Lousiana is supposed to have a good fishery for the 100lbers if you want to be in the States. All of my big ones were caught in Puerto Vallarta though.