Yellowfin Tuna in Central America
Yellowfin tuna are found in warm tropical waters throughout the entire world. Typically found in deep offshore water, they have also been known to roam close to shore at times. Yellowfin tuna are a migratory pelagic fish, so they do tend to have fishing seasons where certain months are better than others. Typically found in the top 300 feet of the water column above the thermo-cline, yellowfin tuna prefer warmer temperatures between 70-88 degrees. Yellowfin tuna in Central America are often found swimming and feeding with large pods of spinner dolphins or spotted dolphins. An incredibly popular game fish, yellowfin tuna also have a very high commercial value as they are one of the best tasting fish in the sea.
Most yellowfin tuna in Central America are ‘footballs’ in the 20-40 lb range. To fish for the massive ‘cow’ tuna, which range in the 200-300 lb range, there may be no better spot in the world than Panama. They can be found year round, but the giant cow tuna can be caught on the Hannibal Bank every year between March and August. They are easily recognizable with their dark blue backs that fade into a silvery white belly. Their namesake is the yellow stripe along their sides, fins, and finlets. Adults have two dorsal fins, the second being very long reaching back towards the tail. The crescent shaped tail is designed for speed and power as any angler who has fought one of these muscular fish can attest to.
What do Yellowfin Tuna Eat?
Yellowfin tuna are opportunistic feeders and seem to eat whatever is available to them. Yellowfin tuna in Central America are often found with large pods of spinner dolphins as they chase the same bait schools. As they roam all the oceans in the world their diet is varied and includes small dorado, mackerel, flying fish, squid, crustaceans, and even other smaller tuna.
How to Catch Yellowfin Tuna in Central America
There are a lot of different ways to fish for yellowfin tuna in Central America, and it tends to vary by country. The different fishing methods arise from the type of boats you are fishing on, the other species of fish you may be targeting in addition to yellowfin tuna, techniques the captains are used to, and even the size of the fish themselves. Below are the most common ways we catch yellowfin tuna in Central America:
Live Bait: When most anglers think about live baiting while saltwater fishing, their minds probably turn to marlin or slow trolling for inshore trophies like roosterfish or cubera snapper. Not all offshore anglers know that the best way to catch the biggest cow tuna is with live bait. You can trick the younger, smaller tuna into smashing a popper or crank bait at the surface, but the 100-200+ lb fish have been around the block a few times and have refined taste that only prefers live bait. The best live bait for yellowfin tuna are bonito, which can survive hours in the tuna tubes and are hardy enough to be bridled with a circle hook and slow trolled around.
Poppers & Crank Baits: By far the most popular way to fish for yellowfin tuna in Central America is by casting poppers or crank baits into a surface boil of feeding tuna. This frenzied action is guaranteed to get your heart pumping when the boat pulls to within casting range. Despite the apparent chaos and reckless abandon the tuna are displaying leaping out of the water to feed, they can be incredible locked into a specific bait so if you lures don’t have the right color or the right action they can be completely ignored. This type of fishing is most common in Panama as the majority of fishing operations use center consoles so they can chase down the fast-moving schools all day long and allow multiple anglers can be casting and fighting fish at the same time. This is best done on spinning gear.
Jigging: One of the simplest and most widely used methods for catching yellowfin tuna in Costa Rica is to slowly jig a basic cedar plug behind the boat. The captain will position the boat in front of the pod of dolphins or surface boil and then the angler will slowly jig the plug forwards and back until they get hit. It’s hard to beat the simplicity of both the lure and the action itself, but it produces results time and time again! In Panama many anglers enjoy speed jigging for tuna. This involves casting a heavier metal jig into or in front of a school of tuna, letting it sink, and then rapidly retrieving and jigging it through the water column to mimic fleeting prey like squid.
What is the World Record for Yellowfin Tuna?
The world record yellowfin tuna was actually caught recently here in Central America. Angler Guy Yocom landed a 427 lb beast fishing out of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico in September of 2012.
Where is the Best Tuna Fishing in Central America?
Although yellowfin tuna are caught throughout Central America, the two main countries where we target them are Panama and Costa Rica. The yellowfin tuna fishing in Panama has long been considered some of the best in the world thanks to both the quantity and quality of the fish here. There is a predictable and reliable tuna season most years (March-July), although they are caught twelve months a year. During the peak tuna season in Panama, surface boils are a common site so the most popular way to fish for tuna in Panama is to cast poppers and crankbaits into the frenzy. For this reason, the vast majority of the fishing lodges in Panama use center consoles so that you can run down the feeding schools of tuna all day long. Center consoles also allow multiple anglers can be casting and fighting fish at the same time.