How To Catch Tuna In A Fishing Kayak (And Setup and Fight Advice)


Kayak fishing for tuna is one of my favorite uses for my fishing kayak. It is a more visceral fight with a powerhouse of a fish and an experience not to miss.

Catching tuna in a fishing kayak requires fishing offshore and looking for feeding signs. These comprise of boils in the sea, sea birds circling and diving, and dolphins in the area. A longer kayak provides speed and a medium action rod and strong drag reel will be needed to withstand a tuna strike and run.

Why To Use A Fishing Kayak To Catch Tuna

You could of course ask why a kayak for any type of fishing. However as a former boat owner i can tell you that I wouldn’t look back. After the initial cost of a fishing kayak which still is hugely cheaper than anything else boat wise, you have craft smaller, lighter, transportable, easier to launch and quieter than another boat.

It used to be the case that their negatives were their speed and the effort requires to get to the bait balls and feeding spots but with the advent of lightweight trolling motors that are not just suitable, but also designed for kayaks, and their super efficient paddle systems both of those have been addressed. Of course, you are not going to be hanging a water-skier of the back like a boat can, but that’s not really the point.

Catching any fish from a kayak is exhilarating, but scaling that up to target pelagic species like tuna and you start to feel like Ahab, hopefully with out the ending. It will be a difficult battle with the gear you use, and you will be dragged around for a good while before getting close enough to the kayak to get it on the boat.

What Gear To Catch Tuna In A Fishing Kayak

Balance Your Gear

Although setting up is one of the pleasures of fishing, all types actually. It is also a right of passage working out which rod matches with which reel. Kayak fishing comes with its own set of challenges, one of these is balance.

There is only so much gear you can pack onto a fishing kayak so balancing your gear is even more important that casting or trolling off a larger boat. Manufacturers are starting to understand this and rod+reel setups are becoming more common. However you still have to make the choices with line and lures and we will help you with that here.

We also have covered some lures that are pretty good with tuna in this article, although it was written for boat trolling and casting it translates for our smaller kayaks as well. One thing to remember is that the size of some of these lures may attract larger pelagic fish, or more toothier ones! so scale to the size you would like to target.

Tuna Rod For A Fishing Kayak

A medium action rod with light (ish – it is a tuna after all) tip. This enables two important things. The medium action can take the hit from the strike of a tuna which is frankly like a train and it takes the pressure off the lighter gear you are using.

They also allow a larger selection of lures both surface and deeper versions. The lighter tip allows you to judge your speed better, if you don’t have a finder or GPS that can tell you that, and so present them more effectively.

If you use a lighter and shorter rod it keep the rod down for that final lunge that the fish invariably makes just before you bring it in. Something alone the lines of Daiwa Heavy Action Trolling Rod. will work well. It is listed as heavy but performs medium to heavy

Tuna Reel For Kayak Fishing

Reels also require a little thought when targeting larger species. Spending a little more to get a well adjusted and smooth drag will pay dividends. A drag with a higher pressure can take the initial runs with out causing the fish to create wiggle holes and become unhooked.

You will want a reel with fast line recovery for fish runs, especially when it turns and runs towards you. This will save the amount of time that the line is slack and means you can bring in other lines faster.

You also want a reel with a decent line capacity, 5000 and up. We use braid for the most part, its thinner and you can get more on the spool, but also it means you can watch the lure action better as well.

A reel like the Penn SQL50LW Squall LevelWind is a good match with the rod suggestion and its drag pressure and retrieval will be a match for most species you hook into.

What Fishing Line For Tuna

We use braid, for most saltwater fishing, bite detections, and presenting lures just makes this a better options in our opinion. It is also thinner so more can be put on less if you know what we mean. however, it will still need a leader and fluorocarbon adds a little stretch for those big strikes, especially when trolling , but also protects the knots when casting as well.

How big you go is a matter for you, the sport you want and the spool on your reel, but don’t over cook it. If you know there are 100 pounders in then 30 /40 lb breaking strain is enough, but really you should be scaling down from that and up to 20lb will suffice. Especially if its Albacore and Skipjack and not Bluefin or Yellowfin you are targeting.

What Lures to Target Tuna From a Fishing Kayak

We actually have a full article on skipjack Tuna setups here, and although written for boat fishing it can be adapted to kayak fishing for tuna as well. There is debate about optimal lures to use when fishing for tuna. Which we wont delve to deep (ha!) into here.

But hard body lures can work better if you are operating your kayak under your own steam as they require slower speeds, if you have a trolling motor, or are casting with a decent reel, then Tuna feather and soft body baits can have success as well. There is a nice combo pack here on amazon. .

One tip is to use something a little smaller than the blue water fishers, about 5-6 inches will target fish more suitable to your boat.

What flies to use pike fishing

How To Target Tuna In A Fishing Kayak

Looking for tuna in a kayak follows a similar pattern to looking for tuna in any sports fisher. Follow the birds, they are going to be better than any fish finder you have 99 times out of a 100. You will see them diving into the sea into the rough water caused by both a bait ball and predatory fish shooting up to feed.

How you approach this can save you time and keep you on the fish longer if you spare a little time watching before heading towards it. Keep an eye on the direction it is moving and try to get your kayak in front of it. The other advantage of a kayak is you are not motoring with twin diesels into the middle and you will be relatively unnoticeable to the tuna.

This is going to give you more time and more casts and therefore a better chance to get onto the fish. If trolling it will be easier with a electric motor than we discuss here.

If you see trawlers, frankly you are probably too far offshore for a kayak, however they tend to be followed by larger fish looking for an easier meal. They are also pretty slow moving. Just make sure to stay WELL away from any nets they have behind them.

How To Fight Tuna in A Fishing Kayak

Once you feel that bite, if casting, or hear the reel start to scream if you are trolling, you need to know how to deal with the fight. Tuna often make a run straight out to sea once on a hook. It is like a speed boat so if you don’t have the rod in your hands get it in their quick. Once they have completed or you start trying to turn them, they will again often try to run back towards the boat.

It is at this point you will thank us for suggesting a high retrieval reel, they really do move!! bring as much line in as you can to avoid slack lining during this and then get ready for a few rounds. Try not to hold the rod to high, you are in for a fight and you want the rod to do the work not you.

Eventually the fish will tire and although he wants to swim away he wont be able to with the rag and the pressure on him. At this point he will start to circle the boat, or would do if you are in a 10 tonne sports fisher, in a kayak you may find your self on a steady circular sleigh ride.

The tuna will keep moving, he needs to get the water into his gills, at this point you should test if you can start to reel the line in. Drop the rod and reel the slack, it will not be quick, and you should be both calm and strong. At some point, depending on the size of fish these circles will become smaller and the fish will come to the boat.

Gaffing him in will take some technique and a hooked one is better. Remeber these fish can go to extreme weights and you can to be sure you can do this in one smooth motion.

There are numerous reasons for this, but the one forefront in your mind should be you have a large bleeding, shuddering fish right next to you boat. I don’t think I have to draw a picture to explain what other fish that is attractive too! Which leads us to the next point.

How To Deal With Sharks On A Fishing Kayak

We are in the process of writing a larger article on this in general, so for the purpose of this article we will deal with it just from the direction of getting your tuna safely on board, rather than half of it.

If you fish long enough you are going to get a fish taken by something bigger. Most sahrks will bite and retreat so as you wind in a wounded fish you are likely to be bringing a shark closer to you. The shark has right of way here, it is likely not alone.

If you manage to get your fish on the deck then retreat from the spot slowly for a while and make sure your not leaving a chum trail behind you. Most shark interactions are going to be as you bring your fish to the boat.

If you want to bleed the fish, (recommended for tuna) then don’t do it into your kayak, it will leave a trail of blood behind you for the rest of the day. That will bring them around. It doesn’t mean they are going to attack your fishing kayak, but if avoidable then it should be.

If you do bleed then you can bleed the fish into your cooler box or a bag and sort it out at the dock, or at least away from the action. Also while bringing in your fish close to the boat keep your feet on board, avoid that accident! If you are in particularly sharky waters you can consider the shark shield deterrent which has been test and verified but is not a cheap option at all.

Advantages Of Catching Tuna In A Fishing Kayak

It a very Old man and the Sea thing to do. Just you, a small boat and a large fish. It certainly gave me more satisfaction than doing it off a regular fishing boat and is much more of a battle. It is you against the fish, and occasionally you against what ever wants to eat your fish as well!

Safety tips for Tuna Fishing from a Kayak.

Although we mention sharks above there are some other tips you should heed before setting off. Tuna are blue water fish, or at the very least not shore fish. You will have to head out to find them.

  • This means, if you are paddling all of it, be aware of your limits. You have to get there and you have to get back. Do some practice before hand. This also matters if you have a pedal drive / or trolling motor. You never know when both can fail and you have to go back to the paddle.
  • Always wear a Lifejacket or PFD Buoyancy aid. You never know when an accident is going to happen and these things are the number one rule.
  • Always go with a friend or in a group. It means any emergencies can be dealt with with multiple people and solved much quicker.
  • Make sure you have a way to communicate your location with the shore, it maybe you can use a mobile, but a decent VHF will provide a safety net you can hope you never need
  • Tell people where you are going and your expected time back. It means you do not just rely on the people on the water in case of emergency.
  • A sea anchor, v sheet or even flares would be useful as would a first aid kit. On my kayak literally have a bag just for emergencies set up.

Final Thoughts

It really is an awesome way to catch fish. I love kayak fishing at the worst of times, and this is one of the best. Chasing a fast moving torpedo of a fish, reading the weather, the water temperature. watching out for diving birds and boils on the surface and then casting out or trolling by and holding my breath.

The only sound is the lap of waves against the kayak, the screeching of the birds until suddenly that line starts to tear off the reel and you wonder if you haven’t just made a large an error of judgment.

You haven’t, there is no fishing quite like it!

Marc

Hi I am Marc, when I am not in a classroom teaching you will find me, or more likely not find me, on a boat, trekking through the woods, sitting by a river or pier hoping for tight lines or a straight shot. I have been teaching Outdoor skills, fishing, archery, shooting, Kayaking, Climbing and more for over 30 years. Its about time I shared some of that with you all.

2 thoughts on “How To Catch Tuna In A Fishing Kayak (And Setup and Fight Advice)

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