Skipjack Tuna
Typical Size
14-19" (3-9 lbs.)
Decent Size
20-25" (10-15 lbs.)
Nice Size
26-30" (15-25 lbs.)
47.2" (41 lbs. 9 oz.)
Awards Program
Qualifying Size

Genus/Species Katsuwonus pelamis
Common Names Oceanic Bonito, Bonehead, Striped Tuna
Hot Spots Offshore Canyons
Best Time September-October
Best Baits spoons, metal jigs, plastic squid
Best Method Trolling
Skipjack tuna are one of the most recognizable of the tunas. Skipjack tuna vary very little in color and are usually from dark blue on top, steel blue on their upper sides quickly becoming pale silver/white on their undersides and belly. What makes them so recognizable is the three to five long dark stripes located on their lower sides and underbelly. A member of the tuna family, it is a heavy-bodied fish, shaped like a torpedo, with a slender and deeply forked tailfin. The teeth are small and conical. Like the other tunas, skipjacks have no swimbladder and therefore must keep swimming from the moment they are born or else they will suffocate.
Skipjack Tuna
This small tuna is often called oceanic bonito.
Skipjack tuna come and visit us on the south shore only at the very tail end of hot summers, when the water temperature is at it's warmest. The prefer warm water temperatures in the 70s and clear water. They are found only on the offshore canyons in huge schools. Like all the other tunas, skipjacks are voracious predators, feeding on herring, squid, butterfish, sand launce, sardines, needlefish, jellyfish and crustaceans.

Skipjack tuna range from basically Maine to South America along the Gulf Stream current line in the canyons where the continental shelf drop off is significant. They also appear in great numbers in the Pacific ocean as well. Skipjacks undergo seasonal migrations in the more northerly and southerly reaches of their range, influenced by both temperature and food supply. The late summer migration to canyons east of Massachusetts' south shore tends to coincide with the warmest water temperatures of the season.

Spawning takes place in the summer in the open waters. Mature females release about two million eggs which are immediately fertilized by males swimming within the same tight school. Only 1-2 days after fertilization, they are born. Within a month of hatching, juvenile skipjacks look like smaller versions of their adult parents. Within a year, they join the spawning ritual. A short-lived fish, rarely do skipjack tuna live beyond a decade.

You can fish for skipjack tuna with bait, however most fishermen use artificial lures when targeting this fish. If you want to use bait, live bait is best. Herring, mackerel, and sand eels will work. Although live bait is the most productive of the baits, they can be taken on cut bait such as squid and sand eels, but it is best to impart some action to even these baits. If you must use dead bait, minimize the amount of hardware and do not use any weight, letting the bait drift into a school of fish. Simply tie a weightless bait rig using a size 1/0 to 3/0 beak/baitholder hook.

The most popular method for taking skipjack tuna is trolling small skirts, plastic squid, feathers, or spoons. A highly effective trolling setup is the hootchie rig . Trolling speed is very important and is best set at between 4-6 knots. You'll have to adjust the depth of the rig depending upon which level of the water column they are feeding, however they are best known to inhabit the upper half of the water column. This method is best when fish are in the area but their exact position is unknown. If you so happen to find skipjacks feeding on the surface, forget the troll and instead cast jigs and/or spoons and retrieve back so fast that the lure "skips" along the surface of the water. Fly fishermen also do quite well when there are schools of baitfish in the area such as herring or sand eels. Small white deceivers, sand eels, and epoxy patterns are the flies of choice.

Fishing for skipjack tuna is part of an important recreational and commerical fishery. Less so here on the south shore of Massachusetts, due to the trip length involved, but very important to charter boats on the Cape down to the Carolinas. Skipjack tuna fight incredibly hard when caught. Like all tuna, proper handling is essential. Once caught, they need to be placed on a bed of ice immediately. Skipjack tuna die fast, and it not properly iced, can lead to scombrois poisoning. The meat of a skipjack is extremely dark and bloody but turns gray white when grilled or broiled. The meat is tender and has one of the strongest tastes of all tunas. Commercially, skipjack tuna is taken in large quantities during the winter months and is frozen, canned, or salted. Along the south shore of Massachusett's it is more often used as bait for shark fishing and lobstering than personal consumption.