Kingfish, blackfin tuna readily available, and you don’t have to go far from shore

Jonathan Parrish with a tuna caught on a 3000 spinning reel with Arash Farah.
Jonathan Parrish with a tuna caught on a 3000 spinning reel with Arash Farah. Photo provided

Over the past few weeks the nearshore waters of the Gulf of Mexico have come alive.

Most anglers venturing offshore have noticed extremely clean water, loads of bait schools and both familiar and unusual predators being caught in pretty shallow water.

The usual suspect is kingfish. The toothy speedsters have been ambushing anglers all the way from the Sunshine Skyway to deepwater wrecks. Where there is bait, there are kingfish. With multiple kingfish tournaments happening in April, it will take big fish to win and no doubt some fish pushing 50 pounds will be caught.

The unusual suspect that has been a welcome surprise to anglers is blackfin tuna. Anglers have been catching tuna as shallow as 40 feet, easily within sight of land.

One of those anglers who never expected to see a tuna was Arash Farah. While fishing a reef in 50 feet of water, Farah noted how clean the water was and how much bait was around.

“The water was so clean and clear that you could actually see the clouds of sardines circling right below our boat,” Farah said. “Sometimes they would come up and cause a ripple on top of the water just a few feet away from the boat.”

Trying to match the hatch, Farah put out a sabiki rig with very small hooks.

“Getting those sardines was extremely easy with a sabiki, five or six at a time,” Farah said. “We were using a max of 30-pound braided line and 30-pound mono leader.”

The sardines were the ticket, and it wasn’t long before Farah had a nice fish on. When it came to the boat he was rewarded with a surprise, as a nice blackfin tuna hit the deck and soon iced in the fishbox.

“It was the first time I caught a tuna,” he exclaimed. “I was thrilled!”

Another blackfin was soon added to the box, also caught on a Spanish sardine. Not long after, Farah had a shrimp freelined behind the boat, resulting in another tuna hook up.

“The shrimp was the most exciting as the tuna hit it right on top of the water just 30 feet away from the boat,” Farah said.

There will be more shallow water blackfin tuna caught as long as bait remains and water stays clear. Usually that lasts until mid May when water temperatures warm and afternoon storms begin to form. Bait schools will then work their way further offshore and north for yearly migrations.

If you want to catch one, now is the best time. The best opportunity will be getting out during low light situations in the early morning or evening hours. Matching the hatch with live Spanish sardines or cigar minnows rigged up with light leader is the best bet.