Tuna are one of the most sought after fish species on the oceans by recreational and commercial fishermen. They are not only great for eating, they are also one of the hardest fighting fish to reel in. For these reasons, tuna are on top of the list for all deep sea anglers.
Whether you are fishing the Atlantic, Pacific or Indian Ocean, you will find tuna swimming in those waters.
Yes, there are actually nine different varieties of tuna in saltwater fisheries around the world. These include bluefin, yellowfin, blackfin, bigeye, albacore, skipjack and a few more. Not all tuna are alike though. In this article we will breakdown the different tuna types and how to tell them apart since they can seem to look the same.
Types of Tuna
Bluefin are the most popular tuna species for most anglers and foodies. Mostly due to it’s high fat content compared to other fish and how giant these fish can become.
Bluefin tuna have the ability to grow to weights over 1000lbs and 8 feet long! The world record biggest tuna caught by rod and reel was a whopping 1400 pounds.
They are highly migratory fish and are known to swim thousands of miles per year. Atlantic Bluefin tuna can be found in the waters off the coast of Canada, along the United States, Gulf of Mexico and across the ocean into Europe. Pacific bluefin tuna range from the Western Pacific, Japan, Australia and over to the West Coast of the United States and Mexico.
Bluefins are known for their beautiful coloring of metallic blue on top and shimmery silvery-white on the bottom. Their colors help them blend into the water below and above them, which helps when it comes time to hunt.
These fish can fetch high prices in the Japanese markets and also are the subject of fishing shows. If you love tuna sushi and sashimi, it is probably bluefin tuna you have been eating.
Named for the distinct yellow marking and fins, yellowfin tuna are the second most popular pelagic tuna.
Yellowfin tuna have a very distinct yellow lateral line that runs from their head to their tale. They can be found across the globe in warmer waters of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans.
The name “Ahi” is a Pacific culture term used for both yellowfin tuna and the bigeye tunas. They can grow to sizes above 200 pounds and are a popular target for off shore fishing.
You can identify a yellowfin versus other tuna, because of the yellow and their pectoral fins extend beyond their second dorsal fin. Restaurants often have Yellowfin steaks on the menu.
Often confused with yellowfin, the bigeye tuna gets it’s name from the larger sized eyeball. They are also called Ahi in the pacific regions. Bigeye is preferred for sushi due to the higher fat content than yellowfin.
They can grow to lengths over 7 feet long and 400+ pounds. Bigeye tuna are known for preferring deep ocean waters hundreds or even thousands of feet deep.
Bigeye tuna has a long, torpedo-shaped body. Its body is a dark, metallic blue in color, which turns to a lighter bluish-white towards its belly. They have two dorsal fins. The first dorsal fin on its back is a dark yellow color, its second dorsal fin and anal fins are a pale yellow, and its finlets are a bright yellow with black edges.
Their main diet consist of squid and small bait fish. Unlike bluefin and yellowfin, bigeye do not have a line and dot pattern on their belly.
Albacore or Longfin Tuna
Also known as Longfin tuna, Albacore have an extended pectoral fin that reaches well beyond their second dorsal fin. This feature makes it easy to identify an Albacore versus other species of tuna.
They prefer colder waters compared to the tuna above so you can find them in Northern regions of both the Atlantic Ocean and Pacific Ocean. Albacore is a popular fish for eating and particularly they are well known for being the canned tuna of choice, solid white albacore.
Albacore tuna may grow up to 4 feet long. They have slight genetic differences depending on whether they live in the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian Ocean, or Meditteranean Sea. They can swim as much as 50 miles per hour. They swim with their mouths open in order to breathe.
Also made famous as the “Chicken of the Sea” they have a lighter colored almost white meat compared to other species of tuna like bluefin which is dark red.
Blackfin tuna are the smallest of the “fins” maxing out at 40 to 50 pounds and they do not exceed 3 feet in length.
They are sometimes confused for small yellowfin, but you can tell them apart because blackfin have silver or dark vetral finlets by their tails rather than yellow. Also the pectoral fin on a blackfin tuna do not reach the 2nd dorsal fin.
These tuna can be found in warmer waters like off the coast of Florida and as far South as Brazil.
If you are trolling, use small squid lures to entice a bite from these fish and they are fun to fight on light tackle.
Skipjack tuna are less known for their table fare and more for their light tackle fishing fun.
Typically not one of the top choices for foodies, the skipjack can be an exciting fish to catch and can be found swimming the same waters as most of the tuna above.
You can easily identify a skipjack tuna by the horizontal stripes on the lower side of their bodies. Skipjack swim in schools and get their name from lots of surface action jumping and skipping around while feeding.
The dogtooth tuna earns it’s name from a mouth full of gnarly teeth. Tuna are big and aggressive predators already. Now throw in a set of sharp chompers and you have one scary fish.
The dogtooth resembles more of a cross between king mackerel and a tuna. They can be found primarily in the waters of the Pacific and Indian Oceans.
The Australians refer to them as a “Doggy” and others call them white tuna. whatever you want to call them, make sure you don;t stick your hand near their mouth if you land one in the boat.
Also known as false albacore, these small tunas are really fun to catch even though not so great for eating. They are however perfect for catching much bigger pelagic fish like marlin and bigger tunas.
If you run by a school of little tunny, expect to have multiple bites in your trolling spread as they are aggressive eaters and travel in large groups.
These are the perfect fish to catch for kids and folks who are new to deep sea fishing to catch using light to medium tackle.
Bonito are often confused with little tunny. You can tell the difference by the markings on their backs. Little tunny have a swirling pattern, while bonito have horizontal lines.
Bonito are often green in colors and are on the smaller size usually only growing to a few pounds. They are more like mackerels than tuna, but they are fun to catch and will also make for great baits to catch marlin.
Trolling small spoons or squid baits is the preferred method to catch bonitos.
What type of tuna is the best?
We could probably write an entire post debating which tuna is the best. Most people consider the best tuna for eating and sushi are bluefin, bigeye and yellowfin. These are the best served as raw tuna and even cooked.
As an avid offshore fisherman, these three are my primary targets when tuna fishing. They not only taste great for dinner, but they grow to very large sizes and put up epic battles on stand up rod and reel.
That doesn’t mean the other six tuna are not great. They are also fun to catch and some fresh tuna can be tasty meals.