Chasing the yellowfin tuna: Malaysia's waters are rich with diverse tuna species

Local fishermen with their big yellowfin tuna catch.

With its extensive maritime border, Malaysia boasts diverse tuna species, providing a rich fishing ground for recreational and commercial anglers.

Beyond the challenging and sought-after yellowfin tuna, our waters host a variety of other tuna species.

Among these are neritic small tuna species such as the longtail tuna (also known as ikan kayu or tongkol hitam in Malay), mackerel tuna (referred to as kawakawa or bonito), and frigate tuna (locally known as tongkol selasih), which are typically caught with basic fishing gear.

The deep waters of the South China Sea and the area off Sabah’s eastern coast are home to many oceanic tuna fish, including yellowfin, bigeye (Thunnus obesus), albacore (Thunnus alalunga), and skipjack (Katsuwonus pelamis).

This variety of tuna species, particularly the yellowfin, allows anglers to face exhilarating challenges and test their skills against some of the ocean’s most formidable opponents.

Yellowfin tuna, found off Semporna near Sabah’s Mabul Island, is renowned for its strength and fighting spirit. It turns fishing into an adrenaline-pumping battle of wits, strength and endurance.

This tuna, weighing 30 to 50kg, inhabits deep waters, often reaching depths of up to 50 metres.

Anglers can target yellowfin using jigging or the mid-water technique.

Jigging, which involves moving the lure vertically to mimic the erratic movement of baitfish, and the mid-water technique, which targets fish feeding closer to the surface, are both effective methods.

However, the real challenge begins when the yellowfin tuna takes the bait.

Known for its incredible strength and speed, this fish can pull the line off the reel at astonishing speeds.

The initial strike can surprise even the most experienced anglers.

An aerial view of Mabul Island. The island is an accommodation stop for those who are keen to fish yellowfin tuna in the Celebes Sea.An aerial view of Mabul Island. The island is an accommodation stop for those who are keen to fish yellowfin tuna in the Celebes Sea.

This moment, marked by the tightening line and the dramatic bend of the rod tip toward the water, signals the start of the “fight”.

Reeling in a yellowfin tuna involves more than physical strength; it’s a strategic dance requiring anglers to read the fish’s movements and know when to apply pressure and when to give line.

This allows the tuna to tire out, preventing line breakage or equipment failure.

The rod and reel become extensions of the angler’s body, with every movement of the fish transmitted through the line, demanding constant vigilance and adaptability.

The battle with a yellowfin tuna can last for hours, testing the angler’s skill and endurance. It’s a rollercoaster of highs and lows as the fish makes powerful runs for freedom.

The need for heavy-duty rods and reels with robust drag systems becomes evident as the high-strength line must withstand the fish’s sudden surges and the prolonged stress of the fight.

Some of the Borneo yellowfin tuna caught after a day’s outing at sea.Some of the Borneo yellowfin tuna caught after a day’s outing at sea.

Using a wire trace can also prevent the line from being cut by sharp coral or the fish’s razor-like teeth.

The clear waters off Semporna are breathtaking but can present additional challenges such as currents, waves and weather, all of which can impact the success of the fishing trip.

Successfully landing a yellowfin tuna beside the boat is a fulfilling moment that captures the spirit of sport fishing.

For those who practise catch-and-release, releasing the fish adds a conservation aspect to the adventure, ensuring these magnificent creatures continue to flourish for future generations of anglers.

Lastly, the “fight” with a yellowfin is more than just a physical battle; it’s an enriching experience that is both exhilarating and rewarding.

Happy fishing!

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StarExtra , Outdoors , fishing


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