Bluefin Tuna on the Fly

What are Bluefin Tuna? Bluefin Tuna is the largest of the tuna species and can reach up to 13 feet and 2,000 pounds with some living to as old as 40 years of age. They have a torpedo-shaped body with a dark blue-black on the back and white on the lower sides and belly. They are known for their large size and fast speeds. There are three different species of bluefin: Atlantic (the largest and most endangered), Pacific, and Southern. Catching them on a fly is no easy task as tools, knowledge, patience, and luck all come into landing one. Here is my story of how I was lucky enough to get into bluefin tuna on the fly.

My Story About Bluefin Tuna on the Fly:

After spending most of my life outside my homeland I would have never imagined to discover such an amazing fishery just around the corner from where I grew up as a kid.
In 2018, I started hearing from friends at Likeariver, a local fly fishing store in my hometown (Reggio Emilia) that certain areas of the Italian Adriatic Sea held the biggest tuna feeding frenzies these fishermen had ever witnessed. I didn’t waste any time and started doing thorough research on how to get catch a bluefin on a fly. There wasn’t a lot on the internet about fly fishing for bluefin tuna in Italy or really in general and no real local guides offered trips that were specialized in bluefin on the fly. So I kept searching and asking around. One piece of information led to another and soon enough I was in touch with a group of guys who were spinning fanatics and only targeted these massive creatures.
I drove to this little fisherman’s town on the Adriatic Coast.  These guys use these incredibly fast FOCCHI rubber boats (speed is crucial, you have to literally jet from one frenzy to another as they vanish as quickly as they can appear) basically designed and customized for this type of fishing.
So we went out and I was simply stunned by the quantity and quality of fish. As soon as you hit 50mt depth, approximately 15 miles from the coast the scene is simply incredible. Hundreds of bluefin tunas between 30 kg and over 80 kg even 90 kg exploding on bait making the water look like big boiling pots.

Proper Presentation for Blue Fin on the Fly is Crucial.

The boat approaches fast and you have to be quick. A couple of false casts and your fly needs to be right in the middle of the frenzy. They seem to love fairly small flies, a pink surf candy tight on a strong hook, and variate the strip from very fast to slow. Sometimes you just let the current move the fly as soon as it hits the water and that is all you need to do. Accuracy and reactivity are crucial. You usually have 30 seconds or less to try a couple of casts before the fish finish off these massive balls of bait fish and swim back into the deep again.

Best Times to Target Bluefin Tuna on Fly:

The best period to target Adriatic Bluefin Tuna on the fly is from early September until pretty much the end of December. As well sometimes even February…although the colder it gets the more difficult it is to encounter large number of fish feeding on topwater. The beginning of October is my favorite period. The weather stabilizes a bit, it is less windy and calmer. Although the frenzies aren’t as big, the fish are extremely aggressive. Sometimes you can even target a single fish and get it to follow the fly like a tarpon. They are more committed as they seem to get ready for colder months ahead.

Best Flies for Bluefin Tuna:

Since then I started going more and more often as the fishing was simply incredible. The local guys who took me out were quite surprised to see how fly fishing these massive tunas with little surf candy flies was so effective.
  • Pink Surf Candy TMC 600 SP HOOKS SIZE 4/0
  • Black or Tan Surf Candy TMC 600 SP HOOKS SIZE 4/0
  • Larger Poppers like used for GT Fishing (NYAP)
Usually, as soon as you hook the bluefin tuna on the fly, it doesn’t realize it is hooked for a few seconds. The bluefin tends to go for a crazy-fast initial straight run like most saltwater fish. When it finally realizes what’s going on it just hits the bottom like a rock.

Recommended Fly Fishing Gear for Bluefin Tuna:

In the beginning, I was fishing 12 weight rods with floating line and 80-pound leader but that didn’t seem to be the right set up to get the job done. You would cast and hook them well but the fight was simply exhausting and way too long as the rod (G-Loomis 12wt)  wouldn’t put enough pressure to pull them up from the bottom.
So I asked around and I got myself what they call a 20 weight Key-West rod. Its custom-made rod a local guy designed for this type of fishing. It’s very stiff and almost impossible to cast but once you are hooked it does the job without exhausting both parties.
  • Custom 20 Weight Fly Rod
  • 12 to 14 WT GT Floating Line
  • Straight 60-80 Pound Tippet

Tips for Targetting Bluefin Tuna on the Fly:

My number one tip is to not freak out when you see the crazy blitzes right in front of you. Try to keep calm with your cast as these rods are a nightmare to cast. As you prepare to take your cast concentrate on the direction where the fish are going and cast 10 feet ahead of where they are. These fish are insanely fast.

Try different speeds when you strip. Sometimes you don’t need to move the fly too fast. When it is really choppy or windy the fish usually take it as soon as it drops in the water. When it is calm out they usually like a fast strip.

The last tip would be to strip set and watch your line as they take off like a torpedo. Clearing your line effectively needs to be a priority as it can become a safety hazard.

Why You Should Target Bluefin Tuna on the Fly:

The eat, take, whatever you want to call it is always amazing. Sometimes you are so close as they are completely dialed in the feeding that they don’t realize you are right on top on them. And you see these gigantic creatures eating a tiny fly right at your feet. Then BOOM the infinite run and the fight… breaks your back and your arms. You almost ask for help as it seems impossible…. then with patience and some encouragement from your pals (while they make fun of you struggling) they come up and that’s when you feel like you got the fish of a lifetime!!!
Article and photos from Matteo Montanari, a very talented photographer, and extremely passionate fly angler. Be sure to follow him at @matteomontanariphotography.

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