Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Little tunny: Love at first bite!

Capt. Rick Grassett of the Snook Fin-Addict in Sarasota shows off a fine fly-rod little tunny caught in the inshore Gulf of Mexico.

There are several wonderful things about fall in Florida: The air and water begin to cool; The rainy season is over and a tri-named fish shows up in the inshore Gulf of Mexico.

When little tunny (also known as bonito or false albacore) are around, Capt. Rick Grassett of the Snook Fin-Addict (http://snookfin-addict.com/) in Sarasota is a happy camper. LT’s, as they are sometimes called, are one of his favorite fish.

“They’re everything you want,” said Grassett. “They are strong, make fast and exciting runs and they’ll eat an assortment of lures and flies.”

When Grassett has a rare day off in the fall, he’ll head into the inshore Gulf of Mexico and begin scouting for little tunny. He prefers the area south of old Midnight Pass, but he has a number of spots which can and often do produce. Top areas include Point o’ Rocks off Siesta Key, just north of the Venice Inlet, the area between New Pass and the Colony Beach Resort on Longboat Key and just north and south of Longboat Pass.

“They can be spread out or you might find them in a particular area,” said Grassett, who operates out of C.B.’s Saltwater Outfitters on Siesta Key. “You just have to find them.”

On a recent trip, Grassett launched his Action Craft flats skiff at Ken Thompson Park on City Island near Sarasota and headed out New Pass.

“I heard there were some little tunny in this area yesterday,” he said.

Grassett slowly motored north, looking for signs of fish along the way. He looks for baitfish on the surface and/or diving birds.

“I’ve been getting into fish south of Midnight Pass,” he said. “Let’s try there.”

There were no diving birds or baitfish along the way. But as he neared the northern tip of Casey Key, Grassett saw a flock of diving birds about a mile away.

“There they are,” he said. “Looks like busting fish below them.”

Those busting fish were little tunny and Spanish mackerel. Although you might find both species mixed together, that’s not always the case. It wasn’t in this instance. Under one bait school it was mackerel. The other had little tunny.

“You can tell by watching the busts,” said Grassett. “Mackerel don’t make much of a disturbance and they’ll often jump.

“Little tunny really disturb the water.”

For this action, Grassett prefers fly tackle. He advises 8- or 9-weight rods and sinktip lines (to get the fly down a little. The reel must be capable of holding 200 yards of backing.

Leader should be at least 6 feet of 20-pound fluorocarbon. No need for fancy tapered leaders here.

“I’ll use a short length of wire if there are a lot of mackerel around,” said Grassett. “That keeps the bite-offs down. Plus, it doesn’t seem to bother the little tunny.”

As far as flies go, he uses his Grassett’s Snook Fly. Most any small baitfish imitation will work.

“Size is important,” Grassett said. “Sometimes the little tunny get keyed into a certain size bait and won’t even look at your fly if it’s too big or too small.

“Figure out what they’re feeding on and adjust accordingly.”

Of course, spinning enthusiasts can get in on the action. Grassett advises medium to medium-heavy rods and reels in the 3000 to 4000 sizes.

“You need at least 250 yards of line and a smooth drag,” he said.

A ¼-ounce white bucktail jig is about all you need. However, plastic-tailed jigs and Diamond Jigs also will work.

“You can use an assortment of plugs, but there’s really no need,” said Grassett. “It’s not much fun breaking off a $10 lure.

“Keep it simple.”

Little tunny aren’t considered great eating, so Grassett releases all he catches. That they aren’t prime food discourages some folks from pursuing them.

“That puzzles me,” said Grassett. “Little tunny are among our sportiest fish.”

Grassett said recently he suggested one of his clients give them a try, but got a strange reaction.

“I told him they were around and that they’re great fly-rod fish,” he said. “But all he said was ‘Didn’t you tell me they aren’t good to eat? Why would anyone want to do that?’ “

To each his own.

Tarpon and bonefish aren’t considered food fish in the United States, but that doesn’t stop a legion of anglers from pursuing them.

We only have occasional bonefish. And tarpon season is over.

But we do have little tunny. And they’ll stick around until the water gets too cold. That’s when they’ll head for their winter waters in the Caribbean. They’ll return in late winter or early spring.

“I wish we had them year round,” said Grassett. “They’re really great fish.”

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