Big Baits for Big Marlin

Bobby Byrd & John Cochrane
Big Baits for Big Marlin

Strengthen your offshore arsenal with tuna tubes

Here on the Texas coast we are blessed with some phenomenal fishing. Whether inshore, offshore bluewater or skinnywater, Texas has a lot to offer. With the excellent blue marlin fishing Texans enjoyed this past summer; one item bluewater fisherman may want to consider installing on their big game boat is a set of tuna tubes.

Most offshore boats are equipped with bait wells that can be used for many types of bait. The most common bait found in deep water for big game fish is the blue runner. It is a very hardy bait and along with its bruiser cousin, the rainbow runner, provides anglers with two great marlin baits to keep in their livewell. Although many marlin are caught every year on these runners, members of the tuna family are favorite meals for marlin and even though "elephants eat peanuts" a bigger bait can entice a big marlin to attack. Our favorite is the skipjack tuna with silver sides and black stripes, blue marlin absolutely love eating them. Bonito, which are technically little tunny, are also very hardy baits. Blackfin tuna round out the list of the most common baits used of the tuna family and are normally easy to catch around the rigs. The problem is keeping these tuna alive and ready to use as bait. Tunas are constantly swimming pelagic predators, and even the smallest specimens will not live more than a few minutes in a bait well, thus came the invention of the tuna tube.

A tuna tube is basically a plastic or fiberglass tube; usually 6 to 8 inches in diameter and 2 to 3 feet long, round or oval in shape and mounted vertically with fresh seawater pumped into the bottom and allowed to spill over the top. Because of this, many tuna tubes are mounted on the transom where overflow runs directly overboard.
Variations include freestanding cockpit models and others are incorporated integrally into decks and gunwales. The tuna is placed in the tube head down and "swims" into the current created. The inside of the tube is painted black to calm the bait and the bottom is cone shaped to direct the bait's mouth directly into the flow. A dedicated high-flow saltwater pump is used to provide fresh clean saltwater and designers are careful to keep turbulence to a minimum, eliminating bubbles which can lodge on the tuna's gills. Valves are used to adjust water flow and a manifold is normally used to handle multiple tubes. Most anglers mount at least two tubes, but more can be added if you have the space and enjoy this technique.

When catching bait, careful handling is very important. Remove or modify hook barbs on bait rigs to make them easier to remove. The least amount of handling, the longer tuna will stay alive in the tubes. The exception to this would be having a rigged bait ready to pitch to a marlin, which is a great feature of using tuna tubes. If you do have to handle a bait, use a clean moist towel and keep handling to a minimum.

The greatest advantage of tune tubes is the ability to catch a tuna and have it ready to go without stopping to catch another each time a fish is caught or a bait dies. Tuna are easiest to catch early in the day when they are up near the surface and then kept in tubes for later use. Many times it is just a matter of having the bait available for a marlin to eat and we can remember trying frantically to catch a bait later in the day when the bite is on and the bait is down.

Tuna tubes are used by many boats here in the Gulf and even more so along the western coast of Mexico. They have proven to be a very useful tool in the big game angler's tackle arsenal. You can check them out at your local tackle shop or online;, or

To learn more about tuna tubes or big game fishing in Texas, come by our Fox Yacht Sales office at Tops-N-Towers. We're always happy to answer your questions. At Fox we have an extensive inventory of brokerage boats as well as new CABO and Riviera Yachts and we will be glad to help you find a boat or sell yours. For more information call our Seabrook office at 281-291-0656 or call Capt John Cochrane direct at 409-739-4817.