Species spotlight: Yellowfin Tuna

Yellowfin tuna are targeted around a lot of rigs in the Gulf of Mexico once the weather begins to warm.

These big, bluewater fish are fun to catch, quite tasty on the dinner plate

Yellowfin tuna, Thunnus albacares, swim throughout all the tropical and subtropical oceans of the earth. Recreational anglers chase them, trolling lures and pitching baits. These fish are fun to catch and excellent table fare.

Among the largest of all tuna species, yellowfins have surpassed 400 pounds. Their name comes from the bright color of their second dorsal fin, their anal fin, and the smaller fins between those fins and the tail. The main body appears a dark metallic blue, fading to silver on the fish’s belly. Twenty vertical lines, which vary in visibility, run along the belly.

The oldest yellowfin tunas have disproportionately long second dorsal and anal fins. For decades, fisheries biologists believed they were a different species of tuna entirely.

Often misidentified as a pelagic fish, yellowfins are actually epipelagic, meaning they live in the open ocean, or pelagic zone, but spend the majority of their lives above the thermocline in the upper layer of that zone. This upper layer, called the epipelagic zone, is usually no deeper than 330 feet. However, yellowfins do infrequently dive as deep as 3,800 feet.

During certain times of the year, in certain regions and under the right conditions, yellowfins swim very close to shore. This expands the numbers of anglers who can target them, as smaller boats can reach them when they are closer to shore.

Yellowfins are a schooling species, and their schools often travel with schools of similarly sized fish in a variety of species. It’s common to find them schooling with other tunas, dolphin, and even larger fish like billfish and sharks.

What they eat

In some parts of the world, yellowfins show up in large numbers for several years, then disappear for years. Most fisheries biologists believe this is mainly due to the species temporarily finding more suitable conditions in other areas, which change due to weather and other factors.

Anglers trolling for yellowfins never miss the opportunity to troll past floating debris like logs, pallets or other floating objects. These objects attract baitfish, so tuna are always nearby. Likewise, offshore anglers who encounter grass lines on the surface often throw surface plugs or pitch baits all around the edges, drawing strikes from these fish.

Yellowfins eat mostly zooplankton for the first few weeks of their lives, then turn to other fish and squid. They are skilled hunters and fast swimmers, easily chasing down and devouring flying fish, sardines, small mackerel and other fish. As they get larger, smaller members of the tuna family become prey.

When younger, yellowfins commonly become food for larger tuna, seabirds, wahoo, sharks and billfish.

They are extremely strong swimmers that can reach speeds of 50 miles per hour and can maintain a high rate of speed for long durations. This offers them an advantage over fish-chasing predators — and the fish they are chasing.

Table fare

As table fare, yellowfin are often prepared as sashimi and other raw dishes. Another popular way of preparing yellowfin is to sear it on the grill.

Across the globe, yellowfins are referred to as Allison tuna, true tuna, long fin tuna, yellow tuna, YT, and tunafish.

Despite their telltale yellow fins, anglers sometimes misidentify yellowfins as bluefin tuna, albacore and bigeye tuna.

Mike McElroy III caught Mississippi’s state-record yellowfin, a 236.6-pound fish, on March 30, 2020, while fishing 80 miles out of Pass Christian.

The world-record yellowfin was caught in Cabo San Lucas by Guy Yocom in September 2012. That fish weighed 427 pounds.

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