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Fishing for Blackfin Tuna in Key West

The Blackfin Tuna is an excellent light tackle species, with good speed and endurance in the fight and high-quality meat.

Blackfin Tuna (Mycteroperca bonaci)
The Blackfin Tuna is the smallest of the tuna species. It grows to a maximum of about 46 pounds and 42 inches long. The body of the Blackfin is oval-shaped, with a bluish-black back, gray to silvery sides, and a white belly. A series of finlets run to the rear of the dorsal and anal fins. The dorsal finlets are dusky bronze with white edges while the ventral finlets are usually gray. The absence of yellow on these finlets distinguishes the Blackfin Tuna from all other tunas, but the dorsal finlets sometimes fade to yellow upon death. A prominent yellow to golden-colored lateral band is present on the sides of the fish but usually fades upon death.

Blackfin Tuna Habitat and Behavior
The Blackfin is the only Tuna with a limited range – although it is a highly migratory species, it is only found in the Western Atlantic, sometimes as far north as the waters off Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, but more usually from North Carolina south to Trinidad Island and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It also enters the Gulf of Mexico. It is a warm-water fish that migrates to find their preferred water temperatures above 68°F.

Blackfin are schooling fish, and they often from large mixed schools with the Skipjack Tuna. They hunt over reefs, around wrecks, and in bays as well as offshore. Blackfin feed both at the surface and in deeper waters, and their diet consists of small fishes, squid, crustaceans, and plankton. Blackfin are primarily a game fish, but they are fished commercially in some regions.

The Blackfin Tuna is a fast-growing, short-lived fish, and a five-year-old fish would be considered old. Blackfin reach sexual maturity at 2 years and spawn in the open sea during summer. Around Florida, spawning season extends from April to November, with a peak in May, while in the Gulf of Mexico spawning apparently occurs between June to September.

Fishing for Blackfin Tuna
The Blackfin Tuna is an excellent light tackle species, with good speed and endurance in the fight and high-quality flesh for the table. What they lack in size, they make up for in numbers and willingness to bite. In Key West, Blackfin are caught in the Gulf out by the Shrimp Boats, and in the Atlantic on deep wrecks and offshore under schools of Mahi-Mahi and baitfish. Diving birds will help in locating schools feeding on baitfish in open water.

Blackfin can be taken by trolling or casting live baits, like ballyhoo, mullet, and other small fishes, or strip baits. They will also hit spoons, feathers, jigs, or plugs. Fishing deep wrecks with live baits and chum can be very productive, and the waste and by-catch from the shrimp boats also get the Blackfin biting fast and hard.

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