Offshore: Proper Tuna Popping - The Fisherman

Offshore: Proper Tuna Popping

Once you dial in a few of these tips, you’ll be connected. Let’s get poppin’!

Here it is, the moment you’ve been waiting for. Up ahead, the water is exploding with tuna smashing bait schools in a frenzy, the action is so intense, that you can barely stand, knees buckling with incredible excitement and your heart pumping so hard you may just white out! The popper or slidebait is loaded, finger on the line, bail open, ready to launch. As you creep up on the blitzing school of tuna, you will need to keep these tips in mind:

Slow It Down

First and foremost, when you are sliding into that tuna school to cast poppers, slow it all down. Like in the Matrix, channel your inner Neo and slow time down as best you can. By not excitedly panicking you will be able to think and act effectively. Before you make that cast, take a second and be aware of your surroundings. Way too many times I see people, myself included, that are so amped up in the super-quick mayhem to cast and hook into a tuna that tips get wrapped with line and snapped, lures get hooked into the gunnel or the outrigger, or worse, into a crew member. Before you launch, take a deep breath, look around, and then fire off your cast.

Ahead Of The Game

Tuna are constantly moving. If you make a cast to where you see them, you’re probably already 50 yards behind. You need to pay attention to the direction they’re feeding in, how fast they seem to be running, and then lead the school with your cast to intercept them so that your lure will land just ahead of them, giving you the perfect opportunity to pull a few fish off the school. Topwater poppers create surface commotion which will usually pull a few tunas out of the pack to chase the lone, fleeing baitfish. I place my casts just outside the feeding frenzy and let the commotion of my lure pull a few fish out of the melee. Unless the tuna have the bait corralled into a stationary ball, in this case you will want to observe the direction of the feed and lead the fish for your best shot at hooking up.

Pop, Pause & Slide

Now, when it comes to actually working topwaters for tuna, there are a few schools of thought. Large concave poppers like the Madd Mantis or Nomad Chug Norris throw a ton of water and are best worked in a long rip-pause-long rip-pause cadence. Slidebaits like the Savage Gear Mack Stick, flash and glide through the water in a side to side, subsurface walk the dog style. Work them in a ‘rip left, pause, rip right, pause’ cadence to mimic a stunned bait.  The key to garnering a tuna strike is to attract them with commotion, then seal the deal with the pause. Tuna dig the pause on poppers or slidebaits as represents the moment they can pounce on an injured bait. There have been many times when I was able to actually see tuna zipping up behind the bait, falling back, rushing it and falling back again—all because it was moving too fast! But when I paused the bait, the deal was sealed. Conversely, you can really rip a popper outrageously to make a ton of commotion on the surface and get the tuna fired up, then slow it down as if it was stunned.

This is not to say tuna won’t hit a ripping popper on the move, but most times it’s the snap slowdown that commits them. Once a tuna hits your lure you need to come tight as quickly as possible, and though that statement may seem like common sense, many times a tuna will hit a popper and you’ll feel slack as either the tuna will be swimming toward you or it will hit on the pause when the line is slack. Once you feel weight, be sure to set up hard on the fish to insure a solid connection and to maximize your chances of landing it. Once you dial in a few of these tips, you’ll be connected. Let’s get poppin’!

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