If you’re serious about your angling game, you know that there’s nothing quite like fishing for Tuna. These mighty predators boast unparalleled game qualities, and are a regular item on angler’s bucket lists. Still, not all Tuna species are created equal. Today, we’re counting down the top species of Tuna, as well as where and how you can catch them.
As we go down our list, we’ll dive into what makes these incredible fish different from each other, as well as which will test your angling skills the most. To make our list, we compared qualities such as size, fighting capabilities, and “x-factor” (taste, looks, etc.)
Just before we start our countdown, however, let’s take a quick look at a few of the cool features that set Tuna apart from other “run of the mill” fish.
What Makes Tuna Special
Tuna are among a small group of fish that have the ability to auto-regulate their body temperature. This allows them to swim in a variety of habitats, as well as achieve an array of hunting capabilities. These fish are active predators, and with their muscular, streamlined bodies, they can achieve speeds unthinkable to almost any other fish.
Many Tuna species are highly migratory fish. Bluefin Tuna, for instance, can travel thousands of miles, crossing entire oceans to make it to their spawning grounds.
And then, there’s the taste. The old “the chase is better than the catch” saying might be true for most other fish, but with Tuna, catching is only half the fun. Heck, a good bite of Tuna is what got many anglers into fishing in the first place!
Magnificent as they are, the individual species of Tuna can be very different. In size, they range from little feisty 30-pounders like Little Tunny and Blackfin, to mighty goliaths like Yellowfin and Bluefin.
As you can imagine, such different fish will have different eating habits, too. Tuna eat anything from crustaceans to sardines and mackerel. This means that when you’re fishing for Tuna, you’ll have an assortment of bait options to choose from.
#9: Little Tunny (False Albacore)
IGFA record 36 lb 0 oz (16.32 kg), caught in Washington Canyon, New Jersey, USA.
Where to catch Little Tunny
Starting our list, False Albacore are petite gladiators that swim in the tropical and warm temperate waters of the Atlantic Ocean. You can catch them anywhere from Bermuda to Brazil, and South Africa to Great Britain.
How to spot a Little Tunny? Unlike other Tuna species, they boast distinctive slithery patterns on their topside.
How to catch Little Tunny
Flocks of diving seabirds are a clear sign of a Little Tunny school swimming nearby. Seeing as this species feeds on small pelagic fish near the surface, they tend to attract large numbers of birds of prey. So much so, that a single flock may consist of up to several thousand birds!
False Albacore might be easy enough to find, but catching one is a totally different ball game. These guys definitely punch above their weight, and will fight you for every single inch of line.
False Albacore is a great light tackle fish, and they are a popular target for fly fishing enthusiasts. You can also catch them by trolling or casting using small whole baits or strip baits. If you don’t have bait, small lures will often get the job done just as well.
This is a rather polarizing specimen in the angler world – its dark, murky flesh is held in high regard by some fishermen, yet disdained by others. If you’d like to eat False Albacore, you’ll need to bleed and ice it as soon as you pull it onboard. Otherwise, you’ll be looking at one unappetizing piece of meat.
#8: Skipjack Tuna
IGFA record 45 lb 4 oz (20.54 kg), caught in Flathead Bank, Baja California, Mexico.
Where to catch Skipjack Tuna
Skipjack Tuna inhabit a wide range of coastal and oceanic waters. They spawn in equatorial waters pretty much year-round, but are more seasonal in higher latitudes.
In the Atlantic, you can find them from Argentina to as far north as Massachusetts in the summer months. Skipjack Tuna are what you’d call a “highly social creature.” They school together with Blackfin and Yellowfin Tuna, forming very large groups of fish.
Oh, and don’t let their common name – Arctic Bonito – confuse you, this guy is a proper Tuna.
How to catch Skipjack Tuna
As we mentioned, Skipjacks like to gather in giant schools of fish. Sometimes, they make groups containing as many as 50,000 individuals! However, strength in numbers doesn’t really apply to these guys. Definitely one of the “spookier” fish out there, these guys will flee as soon as they sense that you’re in the area.
For this reason, you’ll need to troll your bait far behind the boat. If you prefer jigging, make sure you circle the school of Skipjack until your bait sinks. This way, they won’t notice that the bait is dropped from a boat.
Skipjacks often fall prey to Sharks and larger Billfish. For this reason, it’s not uncommon to see half of your catch bitten right off the hook. On the flip side, Skipjacks can come in handy as great bait for a Shark or Marlin.
In terms of food, Skipjack Tuna are among the most popular options out there. With 70% of all US canned Tuna coming from Skipjacks, this is one very commercially important fish.
#7: Dogtooth Tuna
IGFA record 230 lb 15 oz (104.5 kg), caught in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
Where to catch Dogtooth Tuna
One of the largest fish on our list, Dogtooth Tuna is something of a cross between Skipjack and a canine. It roams the tropical and subtropical areas of the Indian and western Pacific Ocean, especially around the coral reefs.
Mostly a pelagic species, Dogtooth also enters shore waters during the warm seasons. You can find them along the reefs, channels, passes, or rocky areas, always on the lookout for some tasty reef fish.
For all the mean looks, Dogtooth Tuna is not actually a true Tuna! This fish is actually a close relative, and the largest member of the Bonito family.
How to catch Dogtooth Tuna
Dogtooth Tuna fishing is rewarding in that they will gladly bite whatever you’re offering. However, that is not to say that they will go down easily. Quite the opposite. Deep trolling works well on Dogtooth, as well as live bait fishing. They mostly feed on Mackerel, but will readily gulp up mullet and squid, too.
For smaller specimens, you could also give lure popping a try. Keep in mind that you’ll need to continuously keep those lures moving, or else the Tuna will lose interest.
When hooked, Dogtooth Tuna make a shap dive into deeper waters. Don’t panic, this is what they always do. The goal here is not to muscle the fish out of the water, but to tire it out.
#6: Longtail Tuna
IGFA record 79 lb 2 oz (35.9 kg), caught in Montague Island, N.S.W., Australia.
Where to catch Longtail Tuna
Longtail Tuna live in the tropical and subtropical Pacific Ocean and throughout Southeast Asia. As seasonally migratory fish, they gather in large feeding schools off the western and northeastern coasts of Australia.
To avoid confusing it with Southern Bluefin Tuna, anglers in Australia call this guy “Northern Bluefin.” This, however, caused people to confuse the species with Pacific and Atlantic Bluefin.
For all the similarities, the other three Bluefin Tunas are much larger than Longtail, which rarely grow bigger than 70 pounds. In addition, their frame is noticeably more slender than other Bluefins’, and their fins are shorter, too.
Though largely coastal, the Longtail generally avoids low salinity areas near the mouths of big rivers. These fish are often observed making dashing bursts through dense shoals of bait fish, showering spray as they do so.
How to catch Longtail Tuna
Longtail Tuna are something of a conundrum at times. You can often see big schools near the surface of the water, and end up without a single hookup. At other times, this fish will take lures and baits without you even knowing it was there. Be prepared for a tough fight both on the surface and deep down.
Trolling small feathers between coral reefs at high tide produces strikes. Artificial lures and saltwater flies are a popular strategy as well. In Australia, the best time to catch Longtail is during the dry season, which occurs in winter.
Like all Bluefins, Longtail boasts incredibly tasty meat, which is equally good if you cook it and as sashimi.
#5: Blackfin Tuna
Where to catch Blackfin Tuna
This minuscule, yet impressive opponent lives in warm and tropical waters of the western Atlantic Ocean, particularly around Florida. These are pelagic, schooling fish that generally gather near the surface to feed. Their diet mainly consists of small fish, squid, crustaceans, and plankton.
Blackfin are genetically similar to Bluefin and Yellowfin Tuna, but are much smaller in size.
How to catch Blackfin Tuna
An excellent light tackle species, the Blackfin can be taken by trolling or casting small baits or lures, including ballyhoo, mullet, and other small fishes. You should also consider using strip baits, spoons, feathers, jigs or plugs, or try live bait fishing from boats at the surface of deep waters, one to two miles offshore.
One thing you’ve got to take into account when fishing for Blackfin is their superior eyesight. Boasting perhaps the largest eyes out of all Tuna species, Blackfin will easily spot your line in the water. For this reason, make sure you’ve got the lightest fluorocarbon you can get. Although it has some local commercial importance, this one is predominantly an angler’s fish. It is a spunky game species with good quality, flavored flesh.
#4: Albacore Tuna
IGFA record 88 lb 2 oz (39.97 kg) caught in Gran Canaria, Canary Islands, Spain.
Where to catch Albacore Tuna
The mighty Albacore can be found in tropical and warm temperate seas worldwide. This fish usually remains in deep tropical or warm waters, with their routine offset only by seasonal migrations into colder zones (South Brazil and the Gulf of Mexico). In the US, the most iconic Albacore Tuna fishing grounds are along the West Coast, from California to Washington.
And while this fish is certainly not a giant, it sure makes up for it with pure strength and endurance. This is one of those species of Tuna that must constantly keep swimming to survive, and this endurance is something you’ll definitely feel on your line.
How to catch Albacore Tuna
Albacore are an excellent light tackle game fish. The tried and true way to catch Albacore is live bait trolling. Mullet, sardines, squid, herring…they all produce hookups. It’s the fight that you’ll need to prepare for.
Like with many other Tuna species, you’ll need a fluorocarbon line to account for Albacore’s superior eyesight.
Commercially speaking, Albacore Tuna are among the most important fish out there. They make up around 20% of all canned Tuna in the US, most of which is generated by the US West Coast fishery. Albacores spawn early in life and often, so the species is thankfully in no danger of being overfished.
#3: Bigeye Tuna
IGFA record 435 lb 0 oz (197.31 kg), caught in Cabo Blanco, Peru.
Where to catch Bigeye Tuna
Bigeye Tuna inhabit the warm temperate waters of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans, making rather extensive migrations. Most of all, you can expect to see one along the upper US East Coast, as well as the mid Atlantic islands.
Bigeye tend to swim in deeper waters than other Tuna. During the day, they roam depths between 980-1600 ft. During the nighttime, however, Bigeye swim closer to the surface, similarly to Swordfish.
How to catch Bigeye Tuna
A few decades ago, Bigeye wasn’t actually recognized as a separate species but a variation of Yellowfin Tuna. Although the two are similar in many respects, the Bigeye’s second dorsal and anal fins never grow as long as those of the Yellowfin.
Nowadays, catching a Bigeye means that you’ve earned your stripes as an angler. It also means that you’re in for one delicious meal.
Bigeye Tuna fishing methods include trolling deep with squid, mullet or other small baits. Artificial lures and live bait work well, too.
#2: Bluefin Tuna
IGFA record 1,496 lb 0 oz (678.58 kg), caught in Aulds Cove, Nova Scotia, Canada.
Where to catch Bluefin Tuna
Hold on to your rods, because we’re entering giants’ territory. Bluefins are probably the most physically impressive out of all Tuna species, and for a number of reasons.
As we mentioned, these fish migrate across entire oceans. To survive these long journeys, Bluefins have developed a number of impressive adaptations. Large and sudden temperature changes don’t seem to phase them, and they seem to have very few natural predators. They are also expert hunters, fast swimmers, and can live up to 50 years!
Not counting the smaller Longfin Tuna, there are three distinct subspecies of Bluefins. There’s the Atlantic, Pacific, and Southern Bluefin Tuna.
In North America, you can catch this monster on East Coast battlegrounds like the Outer Banks, and Cape Cod, as well as at tournaments such as Prince Edward Island’s Tuna Cup Challenge. Across the continent, California towns like San Diego offer some of the toughest action.
With the biggest specimen ever caught clocking out at 1,496 pounds, it’s a redundancy to say that this is the largest Tuna and one of the largest true bony fish.
How to catch Bluefin Tuna
Bluefin Tuna fishing methods include still fishing or trolling with live or dead bait. These are giant fish, so to catch them, you’re obviously going to need some appropriately-sized bait. Herring, Mackerel, and even smaller Tuna tend to produce the best results.
This fish is the largest and strongest out of all Tuna species, so be prepared for a grueling battle.
As overfishing has already lead one of the three subspecies of the Bluefin Tuna – the Southern Bluefin – to the virtual brink of extinction, please remember to go after these gracious opponents on a strict catch-and-release basis.
If you are determined to land one, go for Pacific Bluefin, as it is the least endangered of the three. And if you do catch one, what you’ll be in for back ashore can only be described as one of the best culinary experiences of your life.
#1: Yellowfin Tuna
Where to catch Yellowfin Tuna
Drum roll, please, for the pinnacle of Tuna fishing. Occurring worldwide in deep, warm oceanic waters, the Yellowfin is both pelagic and seasonally migratory, but has been known to come closer to the shore if you ask her nicely.
Every fisherman’s favorite, this fish is an irreplaceable specimen of any prime fishing destination around the globe, and for a good reason. From Mauritius and the Maldives, to US hotspots like Venice, LA, expect this warrior game species to take you for a ride of your life, no less exhilarating or fulfilling than going after the likes of Marlin, Sailfish, or any other monster marine predator.
How to catch Yellowfin Tuna
Fishing methods include trolling with small fish, squid, or other trolled baits such as strip baits and artificial lures. Chumming with live bait could be worth a try as well. Whichever technique you choose, remember that this is not the kind of fish that’s going down without a fight. Yellowfin Tuna will exhaust every inch of your and their own strength before they surrender. After all, we wouldn’t have it any other way, would we?
Worth The Effort
Catching a Tuna is one of the most demanding and rewarding feats an angler can accomplish. Tuna fishing trips are demanding, often requiring you to spend a whole day or more in the ocean.
These incredible fish will put your wits and your strength to the test, but should you pass it, you’ll a part of one very select club of fishers. And more often than not, you’ll be rewarded with a meal you’ll remember for a long time. So what are you waiting for? Find a charter near you and start battling monsters!
So, let’s turn it back to you. Which of these species have you caught? What’s your favorite Tuna to catch? Any Tuna fishing tips you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments below!
Sean is an optometrist who left day his job to write about fishing. He calls himself a lucky angler because his favorite fish, Mahi Mahi, can be found almost anywhere – even though he’s lost more of them than he’s willing to admit. Obsessed by all forms of water sports, you’ll find him carrying one of three things: a ball, a surf board, or his fishing rod.