How to Leader a Tuna

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leadering tuna fish

Note slack line being dropped back over the boat and into the water, not being coiled or put on deck.

Leadering pelagic species like tuna is an art, and when done improperly, it’s often the stage of the game where big fish get lost. We’ll get into the do’s and don’t in a second, but first, check out this short video that includes one important tip:

Along with this, always remember:

  • When the fish surges, give way. Holding the leader too firmly results in break-offs. But don’t just release the line; let it run through your hands while you apply about as much pressure as the reel’s drag would.
  • Use gloves when leadering, without fail. Otherwise, the line WILL cut you.
  • Keep your feet widely-spaced and your knees bent to maintain a low and solid center of gravity, while bracing your thighs against the gunwale. You won’t be able to grab for a hand-hold, if the boat rocks and rolls.
  • For the same reason, don’t raise your hands above your head to try to pull the fish up one last little bit. Take your time, let go with one hand, and grab the leader again in a lower position even if it means delaying the gaff shot.
  • Never wrap the slack leader in coils, or let it get loose on the deck (where you may accidentally step on it or get tangled in in), as you take it in. The best move is to drop it back over the side of the boat. When fighting from a dead boat it will naturally coil to some degree when sitting on the water (depending on how much memory the line has). And when fighting from a moving boat water pressure will pull the slack line back in a bow, keeping it out of the way.
leadering tuna fish

Note slack line being dropped back into the water, not being coiled or put on deck. (Normally this picture shows an ideal moment to gaff, but this fish was being released).

If you’re ready to move on to the next stage, check out How to Gaff a Tuna. But as we said earlier, there’s a real art to leadering a tuna. And while the above tips should help, truth be told there’s only one way to really learn how to leader big tunas effectively: lots and lots of experience.



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