NBS Extreme Angler
THEHUNT FOR A GIANT
The hunt for giant Bluefin" is an ongoing adventure documenting one man?s pursuit of one of anglings greatest treasures, the giant Bluefin tuna.
Friday, September 22, 2000
The trip was to begin early, a 2:00 am departure from Stage Harbor, Chatham, MA, with Capt. Eric Stewart, owner and captain of the "Tammy Rose". The "Tammy Rose" fishes out of Rock Harbor, Orleans, MA, but today we would be fishing aboard the "Hampton Caught II", a beautiful Nauset 33? Bridgedeck, located in Stage Harbor, and outfitted for some very serious offshore fishing.
Our planned early morning departure proved futile, as the wind was blowing at 20 knots out of the NW. Definitely not a good time to be venturing 40 miles offshore! It was decided that we would try again at 6:00 am, as the winds were gradually decreasing. I headed home for a couple hours sleep, eager to begin my long awaited adventure.
Upon returning to the dock at 6:00 am, I found Eric readying the rods, engine warmed up, and the live well full of feisty bluefish. The morning looked good, as the winds had subsided to 10 knots, and the sky was clear. We eased away from the dock and slipped into the main harbor, only to discover that the tuna fleet was still at anchor. These are the guys that make their living fishing for tuna, and the fact that they had not gone out was disturbing.
We left the harbor and headed south towards Monomoy Point. From there we would turn southeast and steam for the "BB" buoy, a known haunt of the giant tuna. Monomoy Point is an area of multiple rips and a very confused sea. What we encountered there convinced us that a trip offshore would not be in our best interest. Saturday?s forecast looked promising, so we decided to head to the east side of Monomoy and troll for bluefish, the preferred live bait for tuna fishing.
Within the hour we had caught a dozen nice bluefish, all about 6 lbs. This was the perfect size for what we wanted. With fresh bait in the live well, and a promising forecast for the following day, we headed for the dock, eagerly anticipating the next day?s trip.
Saturday, September 23, 2000
I arrived at the dock at 2:00 am, again to find Eric readying the boat for the long trip offshore. The winds were out of the SE at 5 knots and the seas were minimal. The prospect for the day?s fishing looked great as we untied and eased our way out of the harbor.
Our trip to the "BB" buoy was to be a long one, 3 ? hours on a good day. As we steamed towards Monomoy Point it was clear that we would not be making the journey alone. There were boats in front of us, behind us, and on either side, all steaming to the SE. Tuna fishing is serious business, and it appeared that every tuna boat on the east coast would be fishing off Chatham today. This thought was further reinforced as we neared our destination. The horizon was aglow with the lights of 250 boats, some trolling, some steaming, and some drifting. The radio was alive with chatter, and there was a definite excitement in the air. We slowly eased our way through the fleet, constantly checking water depth and temperature, looking for the perfect spot to set up.
We decided to head to the eastern edge of the main body of boats, due north of the "BB". As the dawn began to break, we turned into the wind and shut the engines down. Here we would set our baits, eagerly waiting for the feeding tuna to make their presence known. The 4 matched Penn International 130?s were set in the rod holders, and as Eric rigged the baits, Cory (the mate) and I blew up the balloons.
This method of fishing consists of suspending live bluefish, at varying depths, below inflated balloons. We also rigged a whole, dead herring, and dropped it 90 feet below the stern. With the baits in place, and the early morning sun inching it?s way above the horizon, the wait began. The only sport I can compare to tuna fishing is deer hunting. If you have ever spent countless hours in a tree stand, eagerly waiting for a buck to magically appear, then you can appreciate the drama of tuna fishing.
After about an hour of inactivity, the fleet began to break-up. Each boat heading to where they thought the fish might be. We decided to head south, so we pulled the baits in and steamed toward a small pocket of boats barely visible on the horizon. Eric had caught a fish here on a previous trip, so our hopes were high. The constant radio traffic indicated that no one was into fish yet, although there were faint murmurings of small fish to the north. Again we set the baits, and again we waited. At least the weather was cooperating. There was a faint breeze from the SW, and the early autumn air was pleasant. We passed the time listening to the constant radio noise eagerly waiting to hear that the bite was on.
After another hour of drifting, we decided to again head south. A short 20 minute ride brought us to another small pocket of boats. We eased into position on the northern edge of the group and set the baits out once again. Then the planes came. A circling plane is a sure indication of a school of fish. Spotter planes are hired by commercial harpooner?s (stick boats) to locate fish and guide the boat into striking position. Just off our stern was a circling plane.
We were all excited at the prospect of being this close to fish. We constantly scanned our baits, hoping that one of the balloons would disappear below the surface. Suddenly a fish broke the surface off our port bow. Now the adrenalin was really pumping! Planes overhead and fish breaking water, it doesn?t get more exciting than that! But no matter how hard we hoped and prayed, nothing happened. The plane headed south and the sea was still. The fish had either moved or went deep. We waited awhile longer and decided that we better make a move. But where? Again we heard inklings of some action to the north. Committing in that direction would mean an hours steam, and there were no guarantees that we would find fish. The plane had headed south. It was a tough decision, and we finally decided to head south. Another ten miles and we were in 500 feet of water. Again we found a small pocket of boats, and again we eased into position on the northern edge of the group. We didn?t want to go further south because there was obviously a school of fish being pursued by the stick boats. We noticed that the plane had company. There were now two planes circling the area, soon to be joined by four more.
The six planes were all making tight circles about a ? of a mile off our bow. There were approximately 30 boats in the area, with ? of them being stick boats. We quickly set the baits, praying the school would move our way. The planes kept circling, but as far, if not farther, than they had been when we arrived. The tension began to mount as we watched our baits struggle against the balloons. The radio gave no indication that the bite was on, yet we knew that there were fish close. As the minutes passed our frustration grew. Everything was right, so why weren?t we hooked up? I was scanning the horizon to the north when it happened. I heard Eric say ?what the??and then all hell broke loose. The next words I heard were ?We?re hooked up?! I immediately began reeling in the closest bait, hoping I could clear it before it was tangled with the other lines. Corey headed for the bridge to start the engines and Eric was reeling for all he was worth. Eric told me to forget the other lines and start reeling the rod that went off. He headed for the cockpit controls as I reeled as fast as I could. My heart sank as I realized that whatever hit the bait was no longer there. So I thought! Eric screamed ?Reel! Reel! It?s headed for the boat!? I was reeling as fast as I could as he slammed the boat into gear. We lunged forward for what seemed like an eternity before the line finally became tight. Eric eased off the throttles as the drag began to sing. I struggled to keep the rod tip pointed at the fish when we realized that we had a problem. The fish was streaking across our stern, and we still had three baits out. To get tangled up now would be a disaster. Quick thinking by Eric and a sharp knife cured that problem!
With the other lines now clear, Eric quickly stowed the other rods. We then struggled to transfer the remaining rod to the fighting post. From here I could swivel the rod and keep the tip always pointed at the fish. With this accomplished, the fight began.
It is impossible to describe the shear power of a giant bluefin tuna. The rod was bent at a precarious angle, and the line had so much tension on it that water droplets danced as if dropped on a hot skillet. My stomach was in knots as I watched the line melt off the spool, fully anticipating that at any moment the line would part and the fish would be gone. As the initial run slowed, I struggled to gain back what the fish had taken, literally an inch at a time. Miraculously, I was actually gaining ground! Temporarily that is! What ever I gained, the fish would take back, and then some. After what seemed like hours, I finally had all the backing on the spool, and was gaining on the mono. Soon the remnants of the balloon passed through the roller tip, which meant that I was within 50 feet of the giant fish. My heart sank as once again the fish headed for the bottom, taking back all the line that I had fought so hard to gain. This scenario repeated itself three more times. Finally the line began to angle high off the stern. The fish was coming up! Emotions were high as we anticipated our first look at the fish.
The fish came up briefly twenty feet off our port side, looked us in the eye, and slowly sank below the surface. The fish was tired, but definitely not ready to give up. The giant tuna made two more lazy circles before surfacing again; it?s iridescent shades of blue shimmering in the autumn sun. I would be hard pressed to describe a more beautiful sight.
It was now time to hopefully end this battle, but there was one more thing left to do. The fish had to be harpooned and tied off before a victor could be declared. Eric grabbed the harpoon and took aim. I held my breath as he launched the shaft. The fish rolled and the harpoon slid harmlessly over it?s back! There were a multitude of things that could go wrong at this point, and my mouth was dry as Eric hauled back the harpoon and took careful aim. Once again he launched the shaft, this time striking the fish hard. We quickly hauled back the line, bringing the fish close. I grabbed a line and struggled to loop it over the tail, fully expecting the fish to make one last attempt at escape. With the line safely wrapped around the tail, I pulled the fish tight to the side and tied it off. It was over! I sat on the stern, emotionally drained, staring at the fish in utter amazement. After two years of trying, I had finally caught a giant!
In real time, the fight was relatively short, about an hour start to finish. In terms of intensity, it seemed like an eternity. Words cannot truly describe the experience, it must be lived to fully appreciate the drama. If you can believe in the hunt, handle the intensity, and put in the time, then pursuing the giant bluefin is definitely an experience worth attempting.
If you are interested in booking a tuna trip, or want more information, you can contact:
Our mate, Corey Stewart! 500 lb. Giant Bluefin Tuna
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