Albacore Tuna Fishing Out of Tauranga in the Bay of Plenty

The author with a 14kg albacore which grabbed a lure intended for marlin.
The author with a 14kg albacore which grabbed a lure intended for marlin.

Game Fishing with Andrew Padlie

During the winter months fishing around Tauranga becomes pretty much limited to the usual table fish species. Not knocking the area as the bottom fishing can be red hot at times, but it seems the same situation occurs all around the North Island. Only recently though we have found something to keep us game fishing junkies from suffering withdrawal symptoms, quality winter albacore tuna fishing.

Here in Tauranga, we have only in the last couple of years taken advantage of the late winter run of albacore tuna. Now we aren’t talking about the little albacore that shows up in plague proportions during the summer. No, the albacore or “monster-core” range in size from the smallest of around 7kg to the bigger fish of around 20kg, with the odd fish over the 20kg mark. Now, this might not sound so great, but after two or three months of not catching a marlin or yellowfin tuna, these little babies really get the blood running again. It is albacore tuna fishing at its best.

Buzz with a 14kg albacore caught a Major Island.
Buzz with a 14kg albacore caught a Major Island.

I really look forward to the albacore run each year. When they are on the boil it’s not uncommon to have multiple strikes with all reels screaming
and still have albacore looking for lures and leaping out of the water around the boat. If that doesn’t sound like fun, then you must be on the wrong planet for a start. How we fish for them in Tauranga around Mayor Island is actually quite simple.

Tackle for Albacore Tuna Fishing

The tackle used for albacore tuna fishing is really the angler’s preference, but tackle in the 4 – 10kg line range seems to be more popular in Tauranga. There are many rods and reels on the market which will handle these fish, with a heavy action rod or fast taper being more to the angler’s advantage when it comes to lifting that stubborn fish. The strength in these fish is incredible, fights can last well over an hour on 4 – 6kg tackle. I guess the colder water during the winter acts in the albacore’s favour, as it takes a lot longer for the fish to burn itself out. It’s a proven fact that tuna caught in colder water fight a lot harder than in warmer water. Just ask any Whakatane tuna fisherman!

Finding Albacore Tuna

Finding these fish is not always easy, but we have found some indicators which will make it easier to find them. The most important factor is baitfish, as without food the fish will not be around. It is not always easy to know if baitfish are about though, but the easiest way of finding them is to watch the sounder. Most times when a strike occurs we have noticed a big red blob on the sounder. The albacore must ball the bait up, most likely squid, and slowly push the bait up to the surface. Another factor is water temperature. Between 15 degrees C – 18 degrees, C is the best to begin the search. Also, water depth is important, the deeper the better. A good depth to start is 100m or more, as any shallower you may encounter Basil the Barracouta, and end up cutting the trip short to have to go and see the local tackle store.

Birdlife is a very important factor in all aspects of fishing. When searching for albacore, terns seem to be the birds to look for, with the brown mutton ducks also good indicators. With all these indicators I have mentioned you should be in for some interesting fishing if you find them all at once.

Lures for Albacore Tuna

Hmmm. Now, these things are very good at catching fishermen, but are they good at catching fish? Well, we have lures on the boat which have caught tuna and some that haven’t. The top albacore lure we have is a dark green/yellow Red Eye lure. This lure has caught numerous yellowfin, albacore, skipjack, and kingfish, and I would say it will end up catching a marlin one day. This lure has caught one of our biggest albacore to date, a 19.41kg fish which holds the New Zealand junior record on 10kg, caught by my sister, and which I still haven’t heard the end of. She also holds two other New Zealand records, which she loves to rub in my face, damn it.

We also have other lures that work as well but have found any lure with a weighted head which spends more time just under the surface works a treat. Size can also be very important. The normal size used is around 3 inches long and the reason for this is that line weight used usually determines lure size. A rule I go by is the heavier the line weight, the bigger the lure you can use. It’s good to vary lure size with albacore, as who knows what they are feeding on.

Lure colour is not important, but anything with green seems to work the best.

One tip I have picked up from a good mate of mine is to use larger hooks in tuna lures than you normally would. Since using hooks sometimes three times bigger than the normal hook size, the amount of pulled hooks on fish have dropped and at the end of the day you finish up catching more fish. The bigger hook in the lure doesn’t seem to put the fish Off either. Also, another tip I’ve found useful is to try running all your lures in a line across the wake. Only do this when you find the area the fish are in. You will be surprised at the number of multiple strikes you will get.


Chunking for albacore, as far as I know, has not been attempted yet out of Tauranga, as the success with lures has been outstanding. I have been talking to local longline fishermen from the Bay of Plenty, who have told me of albacore they have caught which have gone over the magic 30kg mark, which I believe can be caught by recreational fishermen using chunking methods. Actually, it can be easy if you stop over one of these red blobs on the depth sounder and just started chunking.

So if you game fishing junkies are hanging out for action during the winter, how about heading out of your local port in search of albacore, or just come to Tauranga and sample some of the action. I am sure you would not be disappointed. The Tauranga Sport Fishing Club also holds an albacore tournament each year. Just give the club a call to find out more. Also, the charter boats will take you out to catch albacore. They all know how and what to look for, and you will rarely come home disappointed. I hope to see you out there.

To contact the Tauranga Sport Fishing Club just call (O7) 578 6203. You can also check out the club’s website

More Albacore fishing.

Rigging Albacore Tuna Lures.

David McLean with a 17kg albacore tuna caught at Major Island.
David McLean with a 17kg albacore tuna caught at Major Island.