blackfin 01This seminar teachs you about an exciting and basically untouched fishery, blackfin tuna. The tips and tricks can be easily used for kings, dolphin, red and black snapper, yellowfin tuna, cobia and amberjack on occasion. For the other species, you would need to change terminal tackle (leader and hook size), rods and reels, and location, but the basics are about the same.

To give some history on blackfin tuna here along the emerald coast and where we are today: When I was a teenager, we almost never caught blackfin tuna from the pier, at best a couple a year. In 1985 Hurricane Elana hit our area and something changed. Every Fall from the full moon in August to as late as Christmas, the ballyhoo showed up on the local beaches and the blackfin tuna followed with the best runs on the full moon and new moon. There were many day the pier would catch in excess of 50 a day. My best day from the pier was three in one day.

In 1995 Hurricane Opal hit, once again something changed and the ballyhoo that showed up along the beaches in giant schools quit and so did the blackfin tuna. Now the pier catches two or three per year just like when I was a teenager in the late 70’s.

blackfin 02Even though the blackfin tuna don’t come all the way to the beach for pier fisherman to catch they do venture quite close in good to great numbers. Here along the Emerald Coast we have some of the biggest blackfin tuna anywhere, our average is about 25lbs and we catch them up to 35lbs or so.

When and Where to Catch Blackfin Tuna

We catch some blackfins starting in mid-March until Christmas time. The peak of the season starts with the full moon in August and ends shortly after the full moon in November. Several area charter boats specialize in catching these great eating tuna and it is not uncommon for them to catch 10 to 20 a day.

While the blackfin tuna bite all day and night, the prime time is 30 minutes before sun up and the first three hours of daylight and the last three hours of daylight until about an hour after dark. During the time of the full moon there is normally a great bite right during the middle of the day from 11am to 2pm when the moon is on the opposite side of the earth.

While you can catch them relatively close to shore 5-15 miles out over natural bottom or man-made reefs, most of the prime location lay some 20 to 35 miles offshore. Here are a few examples of places you can catch tuna here along the emerald coast:















Sometimes you only need to go a mile or so offshore. Isaiah caught this blackfin tuna fishing just offshore on his kayak August 2014!!

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Rods and Reels

You can use either spinning or conventional tackle. In most cases the same outfits you use for kings, cobia and snapper are ideal. These include:

Shimano Torium 30

Shimano Tallus Rod

Penn Fathom 40

Penn Rampage Rod

Shimano Spheros 8000

Penn Battle 7000


blackfin 06blackfin 07As for line I prefer 65lb Power Pro Braid, but if you use 30lb to 60lb mono you would not hurt my feelings at all, as I know not everyone is as big a fan of braid as I am. I just like that the diameter is very small and allows for more power and better action on your baits.

Chumming, Chunking and Live Baiting

While you can catch blackfins trolling with Yo-Zuri plugs, cedar plugs, islanders, softheads and ballyhoo the most effective way to catch them here is chumming, chunking and live baiting.

Some of the best chum is fresh bonito, of course frozen bonito, Boston mackerel or king mackerel will work as well. I’m sure most of you have seen the show Wicked Tuna; we’re fishing similar to them and one of the big keys is to have enough chum to last for the day. We sell Boston mackerel by the flat and comes in 25lb or 33lb flats. I would not go with less than one flat, and really you need two flats. If you are using bonita I would say six to seven nice size bonita or kings for a days fishing. What you are looking for is at least one (if not two) full five gallon buckets. I would also take two 5lb blocks of chum I could deploy in a chum bag.

For you chunk chum you are going to use, cut the bonita, Boston mackerel or king mackerel cut into chunks about one inch squares and keep most of it on ice until you are going to use it, the fresher the better. You want big enough pieces to attract the tuna but not so big to fill them up. 

Lastly, this takes more work on your part, but there is no better way to attract and catch tuna of any sort than live chumming. Go back in the bay and cast net five to 10 gallons of live baby menhaden or ly’s and dump them in the live well. Throw these out with some chunk chum and you will have fish on!!

Once you chose a fishing spot it may take only a few minutes to an hour or more to attract the tuna and get them fired up. You don’t want to drift too fast. So, if the current is fast, or the wind is blowing, or the seas are rough, you may need to deploy a sea anchor to slow your drift. A five-gallon bucket with a rope handle makes an inexpensive sea anchor. Hang the chum bag over and start throwing scoops of chum over until you get a nice slick behind the boat. If you have not seen fish or gotten a bite within an hour this will be your clue to try a different spot. You need enough chum but not too much, let a few pieces disappear and have time to work ¼ to ½ way to the bottom before throwing the next scoop.  

You will attract many other species so be prepared for those as well; kings, cobia, dolphin, sharks, amberjack, and snapper.


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Rigs and Baits

Fish no more than four rods, one with a balloon, two just free-lined, and one deep with a slip lead. Tuna are leader and hook shy. For those who don’t know, Fluorocarbon was originally designed for tuna fishing. Fluorocarbon works by being the same density as saltwater and not refracting light, making it invisible to the fish.

Leaders should be at least 10ft and up to 20ft, on the balloon rig and the free line rigs splice the leader direct to the main line with no swivel so you can reel most of the leader onto the reel. You will have to have a swivel on the slip lead rig to stop the lead. For leader I suggest 40lb Seagur Fluorocarbon, hooks either a 5/0 to 7/0 Owner Mutu Light or a #2 treble hook. Plan to loose quite a few hooks to kings and dolphin and have plenty on hand.

I am going to give you a secret on bait, you have plenty of choices all of which are good. All should be live for the best results, cigar minnows, herring, threadfin herring, small hardtail, some of the baby menhaden or ly’s you use for live chumming, pieces of the fresh bonita or mackerel. Ok here you go: the secret baits are live pinfish! Yes, tuna on pinfish! Blackfin love them! The other nice thing about pinfish is the other fish don’t seem to like them as much as the baits mentioned earlier so when you get a bite it is normally a tuna. Lastly you can catch them on Shimano Butterfly Jigs and Berkley Swim Shad Power baits, 5in or 6in size. 


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Blue Runner
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Threadfin Herring
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Cigar Minnow
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Boston or Northern Mackerel
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Finger Mullet


After the Catch!

Tuna spoil quickly and proper icing will ensure a yummy dinner. As soon as your tuna comes aboard make a small incision almost to the backbone under each pectoral fin and cut a ring around the tuna’s tail, stand him on his nose in a bucket or cooler and he will quickly bleed out in a couple minutes, this helps in preservation. Then have a cooler with a slush mix of salt water and ice. The salt will lower the freezing point and preserve the meat much better than just ice. I use the ice mix for all species and it just keeps them better than ice alone.

Once you are home, filet the tuna as normal and cut out the red meat along the spine. Eat fresh, or vacuum seal and freeze. You can do anything with blackfin tuna that you do with yellowfin tuna. My favorite may surprise you and most people think you can only sear tuna quickly on a grill.

If you have a Primo or Big Green Egg grill, set the temperature to 275 to 300 degrees. Cut the tuna in about 1in thick pieces, spray with olive or avocado oil, salt and pepper, and dredge with powder Italian seasoning (the powder works much better than dressing). Grill at this low temp for about five to seven minutes per side. Yummy right off the grill but store in the fridge overnight and crumble over salad the next day with fresh avocado and mango for a wonderful delightful salad for lunch or dinner!! Using the Primo or Big Green Egg grill at these low temps won’t dry the tuna out. No worries!!

ctg gaffs coloredDon't forget your gaff!!

This article was written by Half Hitch fishing expert, Tim Broom. Get the PDF here! pdfGCSSS-blackfin-tuna.pdf