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February 08, 2010

Six Top Yellowfin Spots

Six top spots to battle behemoth yellowfin tuna - and then some...

Kona, Hawaii

Amos Nachoum

While Hawaii's Big Island is a mecca for big blue marlin, the cobalt Pacific depths that start just beyond the harbor also hold the promise of big numbers of yellowfin tuna (ahi). While monsters are not everyday events, yellowfin topping 300 pounds have been taken in Hawaiian waters.

Size: The general range of larger yellowfin is 120 to 170 pounds; however, tuna in the low 200s come in on occasion and may, though rarely, register in the mid-200s.

Odds: Pretty good during prime season with a skipper who knows his stuff to nail at least one yellowfin in the 120- to 200-pound range. "It's not unusual for [full-day] charters to come in with four to six ahi averaging 150 pounds," says Jim Rizzuto.

Season: Resident schools are available all year and joined by in-migrating yellowfin during summer months (which offer the best shot at the biggest fish).

Run to the Fish: Particularly during summer, schools of ahi move in closer to shore to feed on skipjack, which usually hang out over the 80- to 100-fathom ledges or gather around FADs.

Conditions: Generally calm on the leeward west and south sides of the Big Island, but generally rough to the north and east. Especially calm most of the time in the big lee that forms west of the island's tall peak.

Charters: You'll find dozens of charter boats to choose from, most of them top-shelf convertible offshore-fishing machines. Four notably ahi-successful skippers: Kevin Nakamaru (Northern Lights), McGrew Rice (Ihu Nui), Marlin Parker (Marlin Magic) and Russ Nitta (Lepika). Rates for full-day charter trips typically run in the $800 to $1,000 range.

Methods: Big Island skippers look for porpoise (dolphin) pods to capitalize on the dolphin-tuna association: Where they find large pods of dolphin, they monitor the sounder for tuna beneath. "Greenstick" boats enjoy the highest tuna hookup rates. That means dangling plastic squids beneath a line running from a tall, flexible mast to a "bird." The line to the trolling rig breaks away on the strike. Sometimes live baiters enjoy action from big Kona tuna, and especially when they're located around FADs and patrolling deep waters, a downrigger set at 25 to 30 fathoms with a bridled livey or cut bait is often the ticket. Many fish, like ika-shibi (i.e., squid for tuna), show up on dark nights. During the day, best bets are full- or new-moon periods.

Accommodations: Tourism is the economic engine that sustains Kona, so not surprisingly, it's loaded with hotels of all sizes, stripes and prices. Finding something to your liking should not pose a problem. Traffic can be a drag, though; booking at a facility fairly close to the Kailua-Kona Harbor will make life easier. Costs vary from moderate to pricey.

Other Opportunities: For anglers, the prime big-tuna time of summer also happens to be the best season for big blue marlin. (In fact, many old pros maintain that the biggest blues follow schools of yellowfin.) But throughout the year, these waters offer marlin, wahoo, mahi and shortbill spearfish.

In terms of general tourism, hey, it's Hawaii! If the wife and kids aren't fishing, they'll have absolutely no lack for other activities, water-related and otherwise.

Travel Costs: About $700 to $800 from Miami to Kona and $600 to $850 from Los Angeles.

Source: Jim Rizzuto has fished Kona waters and written about it for 45 years. He's the author of the Fishing Hawaii Style series, Fishing Hawaii Offshore and 10 annual books specifically devoted to Kona fishing. See it all at