• Published:March 31, 2021
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The cows have come home. Capt. Keith Denette, the originator of long-range fishing trips out of Puerto Vallarta, on the Pacific coast of mainland Mexico, just proved that this town is still tops for giant yellowfin tuna.

It is tough to peg any one spot the best yellowfin tuna location in the world. The sport has so many variables and Mother Nature is a tricky business partner. With the hot water of El Niño a thing of the past, Puerto Vallarta is still number one if you’re looking for a giant yellowfin tuna on a short-range trip.

The PV tuna fishery has morphed over the past 10 years. Day trips to the close-to-home zones like Cleofus Bank and Roca Corbetena still produce 200-plus-pound yellowfin called “cows.” But it’s the open water well offshore of the Tres Maria Islands that have proven themselves as home to yellowfin over 300 pounds and sometimes 400. The protected islands create a unique ecosystem thanks to deep-water upwellings that collide with bathtub-like surface waters, creating an environment that is a perfect case study of what giant yellowfin tuna look for in a year-round fishery.

Denette cut his teeth running yachts and catching big tuna and giant marlin off Cleofus and Corbetena in 1998. Then he bought a Southern California-based and built sportboat and brought it to PV in 2007. This vessel, the Maximus was taken by Mother Nature last season. Not to be stopped, Denette and crew have a new rig, the Constitution, an 80-foot sport boat that is available for 2.5- to 4.5-day trips to the waters outside the Tres Marias.

The last few trips in late 2016 and early 2017 have been nothing short of excellent, with every passenger catching a cow. On Denette’s last trip, the team hooked into a holy grail, catch-of-a-lifetime for So Cal angler Kevin Boyle. This beast of a yellowfin tipped the scales at 413 pounds!
"The local market weighed in a 250-kilo (550-pound) yellowfin tuna caught on a longline."
-- Capt. Keith Denette

“We’ve been seeing huge fish the last few trips, honest 400-plus-pounders flying out of the water,” says Denette. “This past trip we had a 304, a 308 and the 413 to go with six other cows.”

The largest yellowfin caught on rod and reel was John Petruescu’s 455-pounder caught on the Excel at the Hurricane Bank in 2012. Crew assistance disqualified it from breaking Guy Yocom’s 427-pound yellowfin world record caught in September of the same year.

The big news around PV these days wasn’t just the 413… Denette said the local market weighed in a 250-kilo (550-pound) yellowfin tuna caught on a longline.

With the yellowfin tuna growing so big down here, perfect rigging and stout tackle is obviously paramount if you want to get one of these fish to the boat. Boyle’s 413 was caught on a rig that the crew on the Constitution has perfected. They call it the Double Trouble Balloon rig and few boats use it outside of the West Coast.

“We’re really into the balloon for the big fish,” Denette says. “It gets most the gear out of the water, and gets the baits away from the boat, which is a deadly combination.”

The Double Trouble Balloon rig was born on San Diego long-range boats and consists of two leaders of identical length and a helium filled balloon that keeps the bait on the surface. A swivel on one end attaches to the main line. A pair of big circle hooks, the Constitution uses Mustard’s 4X Demon hook, is baited with a live caballito (goggle-eye). For the leader they use 135-pound Izorline.

“It’s light when compared to the leader we use for the kite, but a lot of the times the line gets in the water,” Denette says. “We like the 135 Izorline because it gets bit better and the bait swims better than when you use 200- or 300-pound test.”

A rubber band, four feet of Dacron and a 36-inch balloon finishes off the rig. Above the swivel about 25 feet is where the crew attaches the balloon. From there, the helium-filled balloon skips the bait back, downwind and along the surface.

“The crazy thing about Kevin’s 413 is that it fought like a 200-pounder. We had been seeing all of these blow ups -- the boil on the kite baits wasn’t anything that made us think we had a 300-pounder, let alone a 400,” added Denette.


The big allure to PV is the ease of getting to the fish. Anglers fly into the international airport in Puerto Vallarta, take a quick cab ride and get on the boat. After a 7 p.m. departure the boat is on the grounds the next day. It’s a far cry from San Diego’s long-range fleet, which has three-and-a-half to four days of travel to reach destinations like the Clarion Island Buffer Zone and Hurricane Bank.

Season to season the any of the three zones off Puerto Vallarta can put you on 200- to 300-plus pound yellowfin. For that reason, PV is still the place to be.