Tuesday, July 27, 2021

“Hardtails" Around The Globe
These “mini tunas” offer great challenge and big time reward.
By James Hamilton

High octane, line-peeling good times are in store for fly fishers hunting hardtails around the world. Hardtails come in all shapes and sizes, from true tuna—such as giant bluefin and yellowfin—to various species of kingfish and mackerel. Following are profiles of several hardtail species, fish that are bound to impress anglers with their appearance, speed, and determined fights.

Albacore

Thunnus alalunga

Albacore are the largest of the subspecies in this lineup, and can be found around the world. These fish are particularly abundant in a number of Pacific fisheries, including those in Australia and the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. Albacore range greatly in size with the average Pacific Northwest fish registering between 12 and 30 pounds. These fish travel in schools; when lucky anglers cross their paths the action can be fast. Because of their size and fighting ability it’s smart to carry at least one 12-weight rod in your quiver when pursuing them—some of these fish may grow past 50 inches long and broken rods are a possibility. There is a substantial commercial market for albacore. The Pacific Northwest fisheries are healthy, but albacore is the cornerstone of the canned tuna industry and is deemed as “near threatened” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature(IUCN). While they may be tasty, in most places it’s best to practice catch-and-release with these torpedoes.

Longtail Tuna

Thunnus tonggol

The longtail, or northern bluefin tuna, is the petite cousin of the Atlantic and Pacific giant bluefin tuna, a sought-after fish that may grow to 1,000 pounds or more. While longtails are small relative to their cousins, by no means are they an insignificant target for the traveling fly fisher. Longtail are native to the Indo-Pacific region, they grow to 80 pounds, and are ideal fly rod fun. Like many of their hardtail brethren, longtails are partial to small baitfish and prawns; the size discrepancy between these predators and the flies used to catch them is astounding.

Blackfin Tuna

Thunnus atlanticus

Blackfin are the smallest of the Thunnus. These fish rarely exceed 39 inches long and 45 pounds. Blackfin are unique, only being found in the western Atlantic Ocean. They prefer warm water, over 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Blackfin can be caught as far north as Martha’s Vineyard on the U.S. East Coast in the summer and fall, and as far south as Brazil. Blackfin are considered to be the perfect fly-rod tuna, thanks to their diminutive size and willingness to eat a variety of flies, ranging from baitfish to crustacean imitations. Fortunately, blackfin tuna stocks are considered to be healthy, not even remotely threatened. So, bring a bottle of soy sauce when you’re chasing these speed demons because blackfin sashimi is best enjoyed extremely fresh.

Mack Tuna

Euthynnus affinis

Any Aussie angler worth their salt would be quick to tell you that these fish combine the tenacity of a tuna and mackerel, but don’t make for great table fare. Don’t sell them short, however—they are an ideal target species as they tend to feed in shallower waters compared to other tuna species. If mack tuna are working an area, look to the sky and find the birds. More times than not you’ll find mack tuna busting up bait balls. Macks are found throughout the South Pacific, however most fish caught on the fly are taken in the northern waters of Australia, from Sharks Bay on the west coast, up and around to the Queensland/New South Wales border on the east coast. Mack tuna can grow to 33 pounds, with the average fish coming in around 12 pounds. Mack tuna often mix with schools of longtail tuna, so don’t be surprised if you catch one while chasing the other.

False Albacore

Euthynnus alletteratus

The false albacore, also called little tunny or bonita, is a classic example of one person’s trash being another’s trophy. To big-game anglers in Florida, false albacore are considered bait. Other anglers, in Florida and farther north, wait all year on bated breath to chase them with fly rods on their home waters. These mini tuna are found in the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea. They’re often called false albacore, due to their striking resemblance to the larger, Pacific albacore. The largest “false alibi” on record weighed in at 37 pounds. They can reach speeds of 40 miles-per-hour, which is why they are famous for blistering-fast runs. Notable U.S. destinations for these fish include the south coast of New England, from Montauk to Nantucket, as well as Harker’s Island in North Carolina.

Bonito

Katsuwonus pelamis

The bonito, which is often called skipjack tuna or mushmouth, is found in tropical waters around the world. Like the false albacore, offshore anglers consider the bonito as nothing more than bait for sailfish and other large species. Calling these fish “sailfish bait” is vastly underplaying their merits as a gamefish and table fare. As long as you’re in a tropical or subtropical climate with water temperatures above 68 degrees Fahrenheit, these fish should be accessible. They grow to two-and-a half feet long and are particularly popular with fly fishers in the northeastern United States, where anglers enjoy chasing them in tandem with false albacore during late summer and fall.

The Wrap

There are a number of consistent tenants to consider when chasing any of these species on the fly. First and foremost, timing is key—these highly migratory species are either around or they’re not. In addition, persistence pays—if you don’t get them on day-one or day-two of your trip, keep hunting. If they’re around, you’ll eventually find them in numbers. No matter when or where you encounter any of these tunas, and whether you’re fishing a tiny bay anchovy pattern or a big, heavy mackerel imitation, make sure to strip fast and set hard. Once you’re buckled into one of these depth-chargers you’re in for a serious fight. Make sure your gear, and your arms for that matter, are ready for a serious fight.