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Picture of Kamo Gari
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The Lucky Hat Strikes Again

After several weeks of unsuitable wind conditions, the forecast indicated a nice WX window coming. Conditions were supposed to be calm with accompanying relatively flat seas, low 70F temps and clear skies. What we got instead was heavy cloud cover, thick fog, rain--heavy at times-- and wind gusting to maybe 15+. Seas weren't too bad at maybe 2'-3', but with the rain and wind blowing spray when underway, it was decidedly wet on board. As the temps were in the 40s, it was also pretty cold. Since I foolishly trusted the forecast, I left my rain top at home. At least I had 'me oilskins' bottoms, and more importantly, I had my lucky hat with me. I've had an amazing string of outdoors luck when wearing it on my noggin, with critters ranging from moose to bear to pronghorn to whitetails to hogs to giant tuna and more. Hopefully that old, beat up and decidedly filthy hat would bring some magic with me once again.

I headed south just before 5:00 am and we were launching into the canal and were into Cape Cod bay by 6:30 am. The first five or so hours we saw pretty much nothing but rain, heavy fog and a couple of giant mola-mola thrashing on the surface. I'd gotten intel from another tuna hunter a day prior about where his crew had seen tons of fish. He also reported that the bay and outside was thick with bait and surface feeds were seen all over, with fish in size classes ranging from footballs to giants. Unfortunately they didn't hook into anything. The fish would come to the surface quickly, hammer bait on top, then quickly disappear, and they were determined to get into fish casting at them only.

Having shared the intel the night before, our crew planned to start the hunt a few miles off of P-Town. We'd planned to cruise across the bay and run about and watch for any surface action and keep a keen eye out for birds. Diving birds almost always indicate a surface feed by predators who've gotten bait concentrated. Birds will take great advantage of the situation and swoop down to pick off any small bait fish, or parts thereof, left by the predators below. Shearwaters in particular are like scouts for the tuna hunters. Find the birds and you just might find the feeding fish. Many, us included, actually utilize the radar on board with the gain turned up, to locate clusters of birds beyond what the naked eye can see. But then none of that mattered to us. The fog banks, sometimes pea soup thick, we ran in and out of took the visual cues out of our tool box. As such, the plan to heave metals and other tackle at surface feeds with stout spinning gear went right to hell.

The good thing is that we planned for the possibility of having to use Plan B, and so with a trio of Penn International 80 class winches on board and already rigged up, we headed for the 120' contour line to jig up some bait, which was accomplished quickly. Bait was everywhere. This can work against the tuna hunter, as the fish have so much to choose from, but I'd rather be where bait is thick than a place where it's scarce. Find the bait, find the fish, oftentimes. We had ocean herring, whiting and mackerel in the live well in no time, and all make for excellent tuna baits. And so after running back to a likely place in ~250 feet of water and some quick rigging up with balloons, three livies were sent to their fate ranging from 30 yards to 150 from the boat. The drift was on.

Being where the fish are and being able to read sign is obviously of importance, but then so is luck. Some fish, such as tuna, will key into one kind of bait and will want that type *only*. A guy drifting a large, juicy mackerel through a tuna blitz might not even get a sniff while a dainty herring half the size of the mack won't last 3 seconds in the same scenario. Other times it seems like the fish get a 'drunken chef' mindset and will eat anything in front of them. Squid, pogies, sand eels, butterfish, ballyhoo, bluefish and much more. That's another aspect where the luck part comes in.

We had the first inkling of our quarry's presence less than an hour into our drift. Two of the baits beneath their respective balloons started getting squirrely. Moments later, one of the reels chirped. By the time anyone could put a hand on the rod, the line was slack. Some choice words were uttered and just then, the reel chirped again and the rod tip bounced. Then the line went slack again. More copious cursing flowed. We were all thinking we might have a shark problem and we started pulling the baits in for a check and swap out and or a move. And as we were all slowly cranking on a reel, the close in reel the good skipper was on started screaming, with the heavy duty rod suddenly violently bent over. We were tight!

Davey told me to jump on that reel as he ran for the helm. Catching large tuna often requires not just the proper gear. Being in the right place at the right time, some luck and a competent angler and crew all contribute to success or failure. You need someone at the helm who knows what he's doing. You get the line in the screws, or touching the hull, or tangled up in lobster gear, or whatever, it's game over. Brendan, the young son of one of our other tuna chasing compadres, was aboard for his first outing with us, and charged with getting the other baits in and gear out of the way, keeping a keen eye out for any other boats, and where necessary making sure the line wasn't in danger of hitting anything.

I am always amazed at the power and speed of bluefin tuna, and especially so with fish in the two hundred pounds plus class and over. I can't imagine going to war with a grander--a tuna that weighs more than a half ton, but I'll find out one of these days, I'm sure. Davey has taken many bluefin from 300 to 900 pounds, and one over 1000 pounds. That beast was more than ten feet from nose to fork! As far as this fight went, it was as exhilarating as ever, and according the the GPS, the fighting fish dragged us in a rough circle of roughly 4 miles. He made three intense runs and on the most determined run, peeled off maybe 3 hundred yards of the 200 lb test mono. That reel can generate up to 65 pounds of drag. I had this one set at around 50 pounds. That might not seem like much to those unfamiliar with that kind of hardware, but imagine rigging two 25 pound weightlifting plates to the tag end of a rigged rod and reel and then dropping them off a 4 story roof with you holding on. It'll pull some line but then will easily hold fast with the drag cracked down. The question is, can you hold fast with that kind of pressure?

After about 45 minutes of back and forth, I had the fish's gas tank getting low, and was bringing him in handily. At about 20 yards off the port, I finally saw color and loudly said so, which is standard. Communication is important in this game. The time where these large fish get near the vessel are almost always the most tense times and when most well-hooked fish are lost. I continued to battle the fish and when I had him about 50 feet away and just below the surface on his side, I knew the hard work was coming to a close and the next phase of the hunt was coming. The process of landing a fish of this size normally involves coordination between the skipper at the helm, the rod man and a third guy to keep the line away from the boat, use his eyes for any eventualities as well as running things like gaffs, harpoons and tail ropes and tying off lines where necessary.
All was going pretty much textbook and I began bringing the fish alongside the boat, with it still thrashing wildly and fighting and full of power but tiring, and so yelled, "OK, let's get a gaff ready boys!" The response was silence. I looked over my shoulder with curiosity to see Davey and Brendan looking at each other with their best, 'I thought YOU brought the gaff!' looks. You've got to be kidding me, right? Nope, no gaff. "OK, fine. Get the harpoon ready, then!" Again, silence and I witnessed with low-level horror the same, 'I thought YOU said the harpoon was taken out of the truck and put on board!' looks. I had to giggle a bit. This was going to be an interesting situation to deal with for certain. How do you get a still green, 200 pound class bluefin tuna over the rail when the only thing connecting him to us is the end of a 2" hook stuck in his mouth? Hmm. Now here was a nut I hadn't had to try to crack before.

I immediately said to Davey that if we had Brendan jump on the rod, I'd grab a knife, lean over the rail, handle the line and either slash at the gills or try to get a good bleeding poke into his side behind the pectoral fin, then to jump back on the rod. The idea being that the fight would leave the fish as the blood pressure dropped and we could get a tailrope on him after he got sleepy. Of course, with a powerful fish that would almost certainly go berserk at getting abused by a sharp piece of steel, a guy wielding a sharp knife bent over the side of a bobbing, moving boat might just get more than he bargained for, including a trip to the ER.

Now, when landing a fish of this size and larger--if it's not one big enough to necessitate the use of a harpoon-- by typical means, the fish is normally drawn alongside the boat, with the engine in gear, and the gaff put to the fish's tail. You smartly get the fish's prop out of the water and half of the end game is won. You then tail rope the fish and the rest is pretty much history. Alternately, with smaller fish you can gaff them in the head or mouth and with one or two guys simply muscle the fish over the rail. BTW, you never want to jam a gaff in the throat of a tuna as that is where the heart lies and you don't want damage it, as the heart is what will pump the blood out of the fish as it's dying--which is exactly what you want.

Anyway, with no gaff or harpoon controlling the fish, we had to do *something* to land this beauty. Just then Davey yells to Brendan, "hey B, I just might have a short-handled tail rig with a steel cable in the front hatch but I don't think so. But check!' Brendan yelled back, 'I got it!' And just like that, we were right back in the game. Sort of. That tool is a good one, but is supposed to be used after the fish has been already gaffed...

The way things played out went surprisingly well. Almost looked like we knew what we were doing out there. I was on the rod keeping the fish tight, Davey had hands on the line keeping it and the fish away from the hull, and young gun Brendan had the tail rig. We all talked our way into each move, and when we were all ready and on the same page, Brendan took the shot and nailed it the first try. I let go of the rod and grabbed hold of the short handled tail rig and together Brendan and I pulled hard to get the tuna's thrashing tail out of the water, which was causing a great amount of white ocean to be sent into the air and indeed, onto our laughing heroes. Davey then grabbed the dedicated tail rope and in a flash had it also tight around the horn of the tuna's tail and tied off. Game, set, match!

The three of us hauled the fish on board and I immediately covered its eyes with a wet towel, which almost always calms the dying fish down some. After making the bleeding cut, we put our prize back in the drink to bleed out as we dragged it alongside the boat as we started rigging for another fish. After some time we brought it back aboard, and after taking the obligatory pictures, I prepared the fish in the fashion which sushi/sashimi grade fish need to be. As the lads also forgot to bring ice, I insisted that we head for the barn, as the care of these magnificent animals headed for the table is super important and getting them cold ASAP is a crucial part. And so we called it and started the steam back to port.

The fish taped out at 67" and we all agreed that the weight was somewhere in the 200 pound range. As commercial season is closed, we were fishing purely recreationally and federally permitted vessels can keep 2 fish from 27" to 72" nice to fork per day. Anything over 73" is a giant class fish and must be released. So, we were lucky that our fish wasn't a little bigger, as we'd have had to release it. Which has actually been a problem for some other tuna hunters lately, as all the fish that were being hooked were *too big* and had to be released. Unfortunately, many of these fish are totally burned by a long fight and will not survive it and will be released to wind up as crab and lobster food on the bottom.

The lads only wanted one top loin for steaks, and said I could have the rest. I ended up with probably 80 pounds of high grade, fat rich flesh, from amazing ruby red akami to creamy, marbled pink slabs of belly cuts. A fish of this quality in good market times will sell at wholesale in Tokyo for $3K or more. I'd rather have the fish! I made my wife, who my friends here know is a Japanese national, supremely happy. Other family, fish and hunt buddies and neighbors benefitted and were tickled with lots of wonderful gifted cuts to be eaten raw or cooked. I'm down to the last 4 or 5 pounds after being spoiled by eating it 2 of 3 meals for the past 6 days. I don't yet feel confused or have any hand-eye coordination issues yet, so maybe my mercury levels are still OK. We'll see.
I might some day get tired of this kind of wonderful adventure at sea, but I strongly doubt it. Thanks once again to Davey and Brendan and to my beloved and trustworthy Lucky Hat. May your magic never run dry!


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Posts: 2884 | Location: Boston, MA | Registered: 04 January 2005Reply With Quote
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Picture of Aspen Hill Adventures
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How cool! Let's see some photos!


~Ann



 
Posts: 15683 | Location: The LOST Nation | Registered: 27 March 2001Reply With Quote
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Picture of Kamo Gari
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Thanks, Ann. Just tossed a few pics up but they came out monstrous. No idea how to make them fit the page. Any help, anyone? They're practically un-viewable as they appear now...


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Posts: 2884 | Location: Boston, MA | Registered: 04 January 2005Reply With Quote
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Picture of Use Enough Gun
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Even though the pics are monstrous, that flesh looks heavenly!!! tu2 tu2
 
Posts: 15845 | Registered: 04 April 2005Reply With Quote
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Picture of ledvm
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quote:
Originally posted by Kamo Gari:
Thanks, Ann. Just tossed a few pics up but they came out monstrous. No idea how to make them fit the page. Any help, anyone? They're practically un-viewable as they appear now...


On imgur pick the large thumbnail option.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
J. Lane Easter, DVM
Hunter/Conservationist

DSC Life Member
NRA Life Member
APHA Honorary Member

A born Texan has instilled in his system a mind-set of no retreat or no surrender. I wish everyone the world over had the dominating spirit that motivates Texans. – Billy Clayton, Speaker of the Texas House
 
Posts: 27633 | Location: Gainesville, TX | Registered: 24 December 2006Reply With Quote
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Great story, thanks.


"There are worse memorials to a life well-lived than a pair of elephant tusks." Robert Ruark
 
Posts: 4749 | Location: Story, WY / San Carlos, Sonora, MX | Registered: 29 May 2002Reply With Quote
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Excellent adventure.

I fished out of Chatham in 2009 and caught a 72 inch bluefin.

It was a charity auction trip. The captain did not have an idea Of the size initially.

Then he wanted to use his one commercial permit but did not want to take The risk of taking the rod from me and putting in a rod holder.

It was 45 Minutes of pure hell. The fish was 1 inch under 73. The captain did not talk to us on the trip back or take a tip. He was in a foul mood.

I never want to catch another bluefin on standup gear again in this life.

Mike


Every man has a right to his opinion, but no man has a right to be wrong in his facts.

Bernard Baruch
 
Posts: 11348 | Location: Cocoa Beach, Florida | Registered: 22 July 2010Reply With Quote
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Picture of Kamo Gari
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Ha, ha. I bet your back felt that for a couple days after that. Wink Interesting on his not wanting to move the rod to the holder. Does not compute, but hey, you caught the fish. Not sure what he meant by 1 commercial permit. With a comm permit you can keep 1 legal fish per *day* until the federal quota is filled...

Did you get to keep the fish as a rec catch, then?


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Posts: 2884 | Location: Boston, MA | Registered: 04 January 2005Reply With Quote
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I finally got to try Bluefin Shamsie in Bulgaria. Truly perfect fare. I dream of having blue fin again.
 
Posts: 3766 | Location: Somewhere above Tennessee and below Kentucky  | Registered: 31 July 2016Reply With Quote
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Picture of Kamo Gari
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I can't get the images to post up right here but if anyone cares to check a few pics:

https://www.24hourcampfire.com...s-again#Post15352696


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Hunting: I'd kill to participate.
 
Posts: 2884 | Location: Boston, MA | Registered: 04 January 2005Reply With Quote
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Picture of Aspen Hill Adventures
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quote:
Originally posted by Kamo Gari:
I can't get the images to post up right here but if anyone cares to check a few pics:

https://www.24hourcampfire.com...s-again#Post15352696


Try this photo hosting site. You can upload photos sized for bulletin board use. This is what I use now.

https://postimages.org/


~Ann



 
Posts: 15683 | Location: The LOST Nation | Registered: 27 March 2001Reply With Quote
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Picture of Beretta682E
posted Hide Post
quote:
Originally posted by Kamo Gari:
Ha, ha. I bet your back felt that for a couple days after that. Wink Interesting on his not wanting to move the rod to the holder. Does not compute, but hey, you caught the fish. Not sure what he meant by 1 commercial permit. With a comm permit you can keep 1 legal fish per *day* until the federal quota is filled...

Did you get to keep the fish as a rec catch, then?


When the fish was hooked it was assumed it was a small fish.

So they hooked me up on a stand up and then over time the reel was latched onto a chest harness. Then I had the mate holding my belt on the lower fighting belt. Finally they latched my harness with a rope attachment.

They did not want to take the risk of undoing all the stuff they added to transfer the rod into rod holder on the gunnal.

They harpooned the fish at the boat and used a rope on the tail to bring it in.

The captain was already with some guy in Boston to sell fish.

We kept the fish - gave the boat 1/4 to 1/2 and the rest we went and gave to everyone in Chatham who belonged to my buddy’s beach and tennis club.







I was too worn out to lift the fish. The mate did. I am close to 6-2.

Mike


Every man has a right to his opinion, but no man has a right to be wrong in his facts.

Bernard Baruch
 
Posts: 11348 | Location: Cocoa Beach, Florida | Registered: 22 July 2010Reply With Quote
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Picture of Beretta682E
posted Hide Post
quote:
Originally posted by Kamo Gari:
I can't get the images to post up right here but if anyone cares to check a few pics:

https://www.24hourcampfire.com...s-again#Post15352696


Very nice.

Mike


Every man has a right to his opinion, but no man has a right to be wrong in his facts.

Bernard Baruch
 
Posts: 11348 | Location: Cocoa Beach, Florida | Registered: 22 July 2010Reply With Quote
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My favorite pictures is of the tuna turned into food!
 
Posts: 3766 | Location: Somewhere above Tennessee and below Kentucky  | Registered: 31 July 2016Reply With Quote
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Amazing to me, is how big their heads are! The fish, not you guys.
 
Posts: 3727 | Registered: 10 April 2009Reply With Quote
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Picture of SpicyCrabDip
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Those are some nice tuna.
 
Posts: 49 | Registered: 05 October 2020Reply With Quote
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