Chunking For Tuna: Expert Tips 

Experienced anglers who love fishing for yellowfin and bluefin tuna up and down the eastern coast of the United States have learned the tricks used to catch more tuna over the years. Chunking for tuna is one of the favorite pastimes of many experienced anglers because it’s great to eat and it’s great for putting some money in your pocket!

This guide will motivate you and help you learn everything you need to know about the art of tuna chunking to give you outstanding results on your next fishing outing. Let’s find out how!

What Is Chunking for Tuna?

It’s a saltwater fishing technique where anglers on a boat (usually) in deep water over a school of tuna throw chunks of baitfish into the water to make a chum slick that will draw in tuna to bite hooked pieces of fish.

There is also a commercial fishing technique of the same name that we’re not going to talk about in this post. Chunking in that case involves catching tuna by using a hooked line to lure them into a group, or “chunk,” and then quickly encircling the chunk with a net.

The technique involves using a boat to chase the tuna, and then using a hooked line to lure them into a tight group. Once the tuna is in a chunk, the fishermen quickly encircle the group with a net, trapping the fish and allowing them to be pulled onboard.

Chumming and Chunking For Tuna

Feeding Frenzy While Chunking For Tuna

You may already have an idea what chumming for fish is, it’s a well-known saltwater technique that many people use for saltwater fishing to catch fish of all kinds.

Chumming the water in the traditional sense means cutting up fish, especially oily fish, and mixing it with ground-up shrimp, squid, crabs, other fish, cat food, bread, or just about anything and freezing it in bags.

When out on your boat over a school of fish (or even from a pier or dock) you can tie the chum bag on a rope and drop it over the side after puncturing the bag in a few places. This will slowly melt the chum block and send a stream of fish attracting chum into the water downstream.

This attracts small and large fish over time and you can target and catch them with your hooked bait at a better rate than without a chum block.

Chunking for tuna is a bit different. You don’t need to go through all of that preparation, but you do have some prep work to do on the bait.

Start by catching or buying a lot of small baitfish. You can use Atlantic menhaden (aka pogies or peanut bunker), mackerel, pilchards, little finger mullet, blue runners, goggle eyes, or squid. Use whatever is most common in your area. Menhaden are everywhere, so most people targeting tuna use those for chunking.

Cutting Bait

Cutting Baitfish for chum when chunking for tuna
Cutting Baitfish For Chum When Chunking For Tuna

You’ll cut these baitfish up into small chunks 1/2 to 1 inch long. If you’re going out for a day of fishing, you’ll fill up at least one 5-gallon bucket with chunked baitfish to have enough for four hours of fishing. You’ll need 50 lb. (at least) of bait fish to chum with for a full day of fishing.

There are many different ways to chunk for tuna. Cutting the bait into chunks is really the best way, but some people throw the whole baitfish in the water. Others will make a liquid chum mess and use a ladle to toss some over the side regularly. It’s really up to your preference.

Cut the fish into small pieces about the size of a matchbook with a knife on a cutting board. This is the hardest way to do it. You could also use cutting shears or strong scissors and hold the baitfish by the tail over a bucket and cut the head, the body, and toss in the tail. This is quicker and easier.

The final method involves a cutting press that goes on your 5-gallon bucket. Like a cookie cutter, it cuts through the bait. This is fast but gives variable results.

It’s key to have a steady stream of bait fish chunks going into the water so the tuna think it’s worth their time to follow the trail and come in closer for a look and a feed. Ideally, there will be someone on the boat dedicated to ensuring this constant flow of free fish for the tuna doesn’t stop.

Consistency is key. Throwing a piece of cut bait a few times a minute or so should be about right.

Just like you need a lot of baitfish to chum with, you’ll need a lot of bigger chunks of fish to put on the hook. You can try fishing with a headless fish if it’s the right size, up to around 5-7″ pieces are the right size to start fishing with.

If all you have is small bait, catch some other fish to use as bait for big tuna. Cut the head off your bait and bury the circle hook pretty well.

Best Bait for Catching Tuna While Chunking?

Landing a fish caught chunking for tuna

Some of the best baits you can use for tuna include sardines, bonito, mackerel, blue runners, ballyhoo, mullet, and threadfin herring for bait. All of these have worked to land tuna so use whatever you can get your hands on.

The bits of bait you will chum with need to be small enough that many fish species will be able to eat them. Mackerel, bonito, and other fish will follow your chum slick and take a lot of what you throw into the water.

That’s exactly the idea. Get the attention of the fish in the area and get them all feeding.

The tuna are there also, but they are waiting for bigger pieces that these other competing fish cannot eat. Your bait for catching the tuna should be much bigger than the bait fish you’re throwing in as chum.

Vary the size of your bait from 3″ chunks up to 5-6″. This should make them very attractive for tuna lurking below waiting for something they can eat without competition from the other nearby fish.

Fresh Bait Offers You the Best Action

Catching Baitfish With A Castnet

Some old-timers will swear that your bait needs to be as fresh as possible to chunk and fish with on the hook. It makes sense. Tuna don’t cruise the bottom looking for dead bait fish like a catfish. They’re in the top of the water column over deep water usually.

If you use a cast net to catch bait, you have nothing more to consider except you should take care not to freeze the fish before you use it. Catch bait in the morning of the day you go, ideally, and keep it on ice, but don’t freeze it.

If you’re buying fish from a bait shop you’ll need to take care to inspect exactly what you’re getting. Tuna will bite fresh bait much more often than old bait. Don’t waste your time or money by bringing old lifeless bait.

Menhaden are easily caught in many places. Where we fish, the harbors are full of them. One cast of the net will usually get us more than 100 small ones. For small ones we can just cut them in half. A little bigger and we’ll cut them into thirds.

Dead bait should not be soggy, dull colored, or have blurry or cloudy eyes. If that’s what your bait shop is selling, go catch your own because it will be worth your time to get better bait.

If you absolutely cannot find bait fish at the store and cannot catch them with a net, get fresh squid – a lot of it – and cut those up into 2-inch chunks. It’s going to get really expensive!

Best Hooks for Tuna Chunking?

When it comes to catching yellowfin and bluefin tuna, the best hooks to use will depend on the size and type of bait you’re using, as well as your fishing gear. These hooks are what you have to choose from.

  1. J-hooks: J-hooks are a type of fishing hook that is shaped like the letter J, with a curved shank and a straight point. The problem with these hooks is that sometimes they hook too deeply in the mouth or even the stomach and cause the fish too much stress.
  2. Circle Hooks: Circle hooks are a type of hook that is shaped like an open circle, with a curved shank and a curved point. These hooks are designed to hook the fish in the corner of the mouth, making them a good choice for catching tuna without causing excessive damage or stress to the fish.
  3. Treble Hooks: Treble hooks are a type of hook that has three points. This is often used on artificial lures.

The size of hook you use can vary from 2/0 and 3/0 to larger 5/0 hooks, depending on the size of the fish. Here we’re talking about 30 to 60 lb. fish. If you’ve found a school of massive tuna over 100 lb. you are going to need some bigger hooks in the 8/0 range.

Hooks need to be large enough to keep the line away from the tuna’s sharp teeth, so keep that in mind. Using smaller hooks can result in more hookups but also more lost fish due to line breakage.

Hook brands you can rely on are Owner (Mutu), Gamakatsu, and Mustad. Hook sizes are not standardized, so each company has its own sizing that is similar but not the same.

Ultimately, the best hook to use for catching tuna is going to depend on the size of the fish in the school and what you are catching. Once you figure out the size of the hook to use, don’t change it.

Some anglers prefer to bury the hook in the bait and some leave a good part of the hook exposed. Try both ways.

Best Line for Catching Yellowfin and Bluefin Tuna?

Another crucial consideration while fishing for big tuna is the strength of the line to use. Tuna will generally bite all day long on 30 lb. test fluorocarbon leader, but you’re going to lose a lot of fish that are hooked because they break the line.

With a very light line like that, you will have to gently coax the fish to the boat and that can take hours more over the course of a day of fishing.

If they’re biting while you are using 60 to 80-lb. test, you’re going to have a field day catching a lot of fish because few are going to break off a line that strong. You can muscle them in quicker and end up catching more fish.

Start with 60-lb. test and see if you get bites. Vary the strength (thickness) of the leader by dropping down to 50, 40, and finally, 30-lb. test so you can find the strongest line you still get bites on.

In general, the brighter the sun and the clearer the water, the less line thickness you’ll be able to use because thick line looks unnatural and if they see it, they won’t strike.

Best Technique for Catching Tuna While Chunking

Giant Bluefin Tuna

It doesn’t matter if you are fishing on the eastern seaboard or in Texas, the whole idea of chunking for tuna is to create this line of bait that is never-ending. For as long as you’re fishing there should be bait in a line at varying depths dropping down from the surface along with the current.

Tuna and other fish see this line and start to follow it as long as there is consistency. This is why it’s so important to have someone dedicated to the task of tossing in bait so there’s a chunk every 6-10 feet in the water until it gets eaten.

When you drop your baited hook into the chum line, pull line off your rod from the rod tip and let it lay on the surface of the water. This allows your bait to fall naturally, just like all the other cut bait before it fell gradually into the depths.

Pull line from the rod tip, not near the spool so you don’t jerk the bait around, it should fall very naturally.

Flexibility Is Key

Before you start catching the tuna in the school below you don’t know how big they are and you don’t know what they want to eat. Some fish in the school will eat cut bait and some will insist only on eating a tail. It’s bizarre, but that is how finicky they can be.

Vary your line strength. You may encounter tuna that will only bite on 30-40 lb. test. You’d better have it available. Vary your hook size. Use circle hooks, but ensure they are strong and not too big.

Tuna don’t want to see a hook when they strike. Vary the depth you drop your bait, don’t reel it up too soon, big fish may be waiting for it to fall a little further.

If the tide or current is strong, it may be better to float with the current rather than anchoring. Why? The bait on your line will spin less. Spinning bait means no strikes. Tuna are fairly smart about this, and they don’t strike spinning baits or lures.

Tuna don’t like to see the braid and fluorocarbon line connection. Ensure your leaders are long enough, around 10 feet long. 

Wrapping Up

One of the most important takeaways you can get from this article is that chunking for tuna can be done in many different ways. It always involves a steady stream of bait fish cut or whole going over the side to drift with the current and fall down to where the tuna will see them.

Your bait needs to be varied until you find the combination that is working that day. One day the tuna may only bite 4″ diameter mackerel chunks with skin on. Or they might prefer no skin and smaller chunks. You have to keep varying the presentation until you hit on the right bait, line, and hook size.

The pro in the video on this page said that he had a very large tuna swimming around the boat. They tried throwing everything and got no bite. Then he threw a tail into the water to dispose of it and the big tuna nailed it. He quickly put a tail on a hook and caught the big fish. In the stomach, he found the massive fish had only eaten tails that day.

Fishing for tuna of any size is great fun and takes a little bit of work to be successful. Don’t stop learning all you can because when you land one you’ll be addicted to it, I assure you!

Tight lines and enjoy the sushi!

RELATED: Sarasota Bay Fishing Guide

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Brian Hopkins

Brian is an outdoor writer and the youngest member of our team, but he is extremely knowledgeable when it comes to fishing and different techniques for catching different species. He shares valuable information that the younger generation can relate to. When he is not fishing, you can find him hanging with his friends and gaming on his computer.

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