Blackfin Tuna Middle Weight Champ

By: Terry Tomalin

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Pound for pound, the blackfin tuna could be called the middleweight champion of the Florida fishing. These open-ocean predators are strong, fast and capable of long, drag-melting runs.

This species, found in tropical and temperate waters of the Western Atlantic, travels in schools, like mahi-mahi, and will often feed on the surface, slamming everything from live bait to artificial flies, making them the prey of choice for many Gulf fishing charters.

The Florida Keys have long been known for tuna fishing charters, thanks to a unique geological feature in the offshore environment called The Humps. These seamounts, or underwater mountains, rise more than 1,000 feet off the ocean floor, triggering a natural upwelling of nutrient-rich seawater, that in turn attracts baitfish, and the open-sea predators that feed upon them.

Without The Humps, blue-water fishing in The Keys would not be the same. The underwater topography is what makes this region ground zero for big game fishing the mainstay for many Florida Keys outfitters.

Blackfin tuna don’t get as big as their cousins, the better-known bluefin and yellow fin. A 30-pound blackfin is considered a great catch, but bigger specimens have been caught in the Lower Keys. In fact, the world record blackfin tuna weighed 45 pounds 8 ounces, and was caught in Key West on May 4, 1996.

An open-ocean marauder, the blackfin is found from Massachusetts to Rio de Janeiro and throughout the Gulf of Mexico, but the species seldom ventures into waters cooler than 70 degrees. Blackfin feed on a variety of small baitfish, but be prepared for a battle royal, because this fish is also a favorite food of legendary blue marlin.

Most charter boat captains prefer trolling for blackfin tuna because these feisty fighters will hit everything from skirted ballyhoo to silver spoons. But you will find this species anywhere in the water column, and as a result, can also catch them on butterfly jigs and live bait. Even anglers out grouper fishing have been known to hook blackfin tun on flat lines as they bottom fished.   

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