3 anglers posing for picture holding 3, hundred plus pound yellowfin tunas

Panama Tuna Fishing at SFPIL

The Yellowfin Tuna fishing here in the Gulf of Chiriquí, Panama is undoubtedly some of the best in the world! Each year like clockwork huge schools of Yellowfin Tuna, along with thousands of Spotted Dolphins, migrate north up into the gulf feeding on spawning Baitfish, Squid, and Crabs. Our lodge’s island location, 12 miles offshore, is the perfect spot for short runs to the Panama Tuna fishing grounds in the Gulf of Chiriquí. Fish with Captain Shane Jarvis on Sport Fish Panama Island Lodge’s boats the “TOP Cat” and the “Scandalous” for the ocean’s hardest fighting, and best tasting, fish: the Yellowfin Tuna.

Celebrating anglers posing for picture holding medium sized yellowfin tuna

Starting in February the Tunas start to show up down around the southern tip of Isla Jicarita and begin to slowly work their way north up into the Gulf of Chiriquí. As the months progress they move further and further north. By late March they are near and around Hannibal Bank and Isla Montuosa. Usually by around May or June, depending on water temps, the Yellowfin Tuna season here is at it’s height. This is when we see the most “Tuna Frenzies” or Tuna boils…when we come across areas of Tunas wildly feeding on bait balls they have pushed to the surface! The Tunas generally hang around in numbers till July or August and we will occasionally catch them later in the year as well.

Airborne yellowfin tuna with birds circling in a Gulf of Chiriqui tuna boil

Panama Tuna Fishing Methods

Fishing methods for Yellowfin Tunas here consists of using live bait, poppers, jigs, cut bait, and even trolling the artificial lures/Ballyhoo. Depending on whatever the Tunas are concentrated on feeding on at the time will usually dictate what bait or method we try first. Sometimes the fish can be finicky…and we need to try whatever method it takes to get strikes…sometimes throwing everything we have at them at least once to see what works.

Serious angler kneeling on deck of T.O.P. CAT, holding tail of large yellowfin tuna

By far the most exciting method of Panama Tuna fishing is casting poppers. A vicious top water strike on a popper will get an excited yell out of most any fisherman. And the brutal battle that follows will put any fisherman and his spinning gear to the test! Be prepared and in good shape if you want to cast poppers all day as it can be tiresome.

SFPIL angler with his fishing rod in mouth while holding yellowfin tuna that has lure dangling from its mouth

Jigging for tunas also produces strikes and is even more exhausting than popping. Timing the school of Tunas as they past underneath the boat and vigorously jigging the iron through the Tunas sometimes is the ticket. Also casting jigs or irons to moving Tunas will get them to hit.

Clients at Sport Fish Panama Island Lodge holding large yellowfin tunas aboard the T.O.P CAT

Live bait usually gets the most action and we will use a number of different types of live bait depending on the situation. Big baits catch big fish. And a bridled Bonito, Skipjack, or small Tuna will get the attention of the big “Cow” Tunas. If these baits are around we will try them first to see if a big boy is around. Blue Runners (Green Jacks) are our “bread and butter” live bait for Tunas and are generally easy to catch right around the island. We bring a live well full of them out with us everyday if available. A Blue Runner will generally attract a strike from a lurking Tuna.

240 lb Monster yellowfin tuna being held by two anglers aboard the T.O.P. CAT

One of the better ways, but not necessarily the most exciting, of Panama Tuna Fishing is with cut bait. We will use frozen Sardines and chum up the Tunas behind the boat with only a piece of a frozen Sardine. Sometimes when nothing else will work…this is deadly! Not super exciting way to fish but when the big Tuna inhales your chunk it’s game on!

Three anglers holding 230 pound yellowfin tuna, smiling with beers


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