Five key tips for jigging for bluefin tuna

JIGGING FOR BLUEFIN TUNA has been the most effective tactic for catching these big fish in recent years. Among the most key factors for success in jigging up a bluefin are working the specific depth the fish are in, using the right-size jig to their current forage, putting in lots of time with your jig in the water and using a heavy, abrasion-resistant leader to ensure getting the BFT to the boat. This 277 pounder ate a 320-gram Nomad Buffalo jig.


  1. Depth is critical

The captain slows the engines and starts a slow circle. He comes over the loud speaker and advises he’s metering fish at 40 fathoms. He says they are big ones, “Use your heavy gear.” Everybody drops down. One guy’s jig stops. He turns the handle and he’s solid.  Immediately, another angler is bit. And another. Three fish going. Some guys are still dropping and don’t get bit. Have you solved the riddle?

The captain said he was metering fish at 40 fathoms, 240 feet. Three guys got bit when their jigs were fluttering in front of the fish at 40 fathoms. The guys who didn’t get bit and kept dropping were quickly well below the fish. Fluttering your jig at 500 feet is useless if the fish are suspended at 240 feet. I mark my line at 100-foot intervals to 400 feet.  If the captain is metering fish at 30 fathoms, or 180 feet, I’ll drop to my 200-foot mark and wind up 20 cranks and drop again. You are normally hit on the drop. Most guys mark their line with a sharpie, but I use rubber bands so I can feel them going through my fingers and guides.

The perfect scenario is no wind and little current and there is no or little scope in your line so when you reach your 300-foot mark you know you are at 300 feet. It’s much trickier with wind and current and scope.

  1. Size matters

Size matters for all sorts of reasons. The tuna may be preying on small forage fish and show no interest in a giant jig, or vice versa. If there is any wind or current, you’ll need a heavier jig to get you down to the sonar marks quickly and minimize scope. So have a variety of jigs of different weights and sizes so you can deploy the best one in the conditions you are fishing. Ask your crew member to help pick the best jig from your box. I’ve been very successful with the Nomad Buffalo and Streaker jigs, their names for their Flat-Fall and knife-style jigs. And, I carry all weights from 80 grams to 500 grams to optimize the conditions I’m fishing. You can lose jigs to chew-offs, saw-offs, sharks, sea lions and tangles, so be sure to have several of each weight. At night and at 30 fathoms, light and color are absent from the jigs and I believe color doesn’t matter, but other really good anglers and friends vehemently disagree

  1. Do glow-in-the-dark jigs work?

Of course they do. But I believe charging them while fishing catches fewer fish. Here’s my logic: The fish are suspended at say, 40 fathoms, and are down there feeding on stuff that does not glow in the dark. The fish seem to have no trouble finding and eating forage fish at depth that do not glow in the dark. Their lateral line is an extremely sensitive and complex organ that helps them find prey, avoid predators and avoid collisions with other fish when mauling a bait ball in a feeding frenzy. I believe the lateral line detects vibration and the tuna will know precisely where your jig is with its lateral line.

Glow can’t hurt, but I don’t take valuable time out of the water while fishing to recharge my jig every two or three drops. Charge your jigs in between stops, not in between drops. My other logic is that you can only hook a fish when you are working your jig where the fish are suspended in the water column, say 40 fathoms, or 240 feet.  Working your jig between your 200- and 300-foot markers keeps your jig in the zone.  Reeling all the way up to the surface to recharge your jig takes you out of the zone. You will not get bit reeling up between 100 feet and the surface to recharge your jig; or holding the jig in your hand recharging the jig; or when dropping the jig back down between the surface and the first 100 or so feet. This is a waste of valuable time out of the zone. Be IN the zone. Trust the tunas’ ability to use its lateral line to see or feel your jig as it passes through the narrow column of water where the fish are hanging out.

  1. Use heavy leaders for abrasion resistance

Tuna have very sharp teeth and they know how to use them. Bigger tuna have bigger teeth and violently shake their heads. They also have huge mouths and suck in baits or jigs when they are falling or fluttering through the zone. Tuna inhale baits and jigs in a nanosecond and if hooked deeply the line will be subject to abrasion and being chewed off during the fight. Super heavy monofilament or fluorocarbon leaders help minimize this. Fluorocarbon is not needed to hide the visibility in the dark of night or at the depth  we are mostly jigging but it is more abrasion resistant. Use the most abrasion resistant line possible — for example, Seaguar Blue Label is more abrasion resistant than Seaguar Premier or Gold, which are the best for fly-lining baits during the day.

You can also use monofilament, but the cost for a 4-foot leader of fluoro is negligible so I’d advise fluoro. Using 200-pound test fluoro or 300-pound mono should minimize chew-offs from sharp, aggressive tuna teeth.

  1. Time in the water

You always hear captains and deckhands talk about “rail time.” You can’t get bit in your bunk, having a cocktail, visiting in the galley or resting between fish. More time in the water and fishing smart will always result in more fish for any particular angler, or between two anglers with identical skill levels. You paid a ton of money for the trip and gear, so don’t waste time out of the water. My mellow or more civilized angling buddies will take exception because their vacation is not just all about fish count. I get it, and in fact, I agree. But if you do want to maximize your time pulling on fish, you have to maximize your time at the rail. Enjoy the sunsets, sunrises, camaraderie, great meals, cocktails in between stops.