Carolina Bluefin Tuna
"Ya gotta put the boots to um!"
By David Moss
A friend of mine once told me a story about a big Norwegian fellow who
handlined for big tuna. One day in the midst of a fight with a very large
fish my friend asked the big Norwegian how he did it. The big guy Grunted
"You gadda poot da boots to um "
Each year in the waters off Cape Hatteras North Carolina large schools of blue fin tuna hold up in their winter migration to feed on an abundance of baitfish. It was mid February when I got an invite to go. News that the bite was on and red hot had made its way to the Internet I checked it out and without hesitation I accepted.
February Hatteras Bluefin tuna fishing is risky. Weather is the main problem. This is partly the reason that many anglers make the trip once for the experience of fighting these heavyweights and don't return. With the chances of getting blown out so high, most captains will allow you to reserve a boat for three days and only fish two. Our trip was exactly this. We arrived on Friday, and checked in to our beach house which was conveniently equipped with a weather station radio. The weather forecast was for southeast twenty five-knot winds. The next morning it was blowing thirty. We arose anyway and headed for the Boat. Our captain was waiting inside the ship store. He was a man of few words and it wasn't going to take but a few to convince us to stay in.
"I guess we'll try it tomorrow," he said. "It's supposed to blow out of the North by afternoon down to fifteen."
"No problem. Capn.' Lets go boys." And with that we were on our way back to the house.
The next morning was not much better but with the winds expected to diminish as we got out. We dropped over two six foot bent butts equipped with Penn 120 and began searching and trolling. Within twenty minutes we hooked into the first fish of the day. The technique is to troll and hunt until someone locates the main school. Then the mad tuna rush begins and within minutes thirty or so boats converge to about an area the size of four or five football fields. Our Captain located a school of fish on the sonar and yelled down from the bridge, "Get some chum out!"
We were chumming with cut and whole bunker. I watched a whole bunker drift on the surface behind the transom of the boat. Several white-faced gulls and Northern Gannets began to hover over the bunker. Northern Gannets are large Albatross shaped birds that can dive from considerable heights to catch fish in manner similar to terns. A Northern Gannet can easily dive to a piece of chum five feet below the surface. Collapsing his wings a Gannet began to dive for the bunker. As the giant seabird the hit surface the sea exploded into white foam. I watched in amazement as a six foot long bluefin shot through the waves and crashed on the bait. Seconds later, a drifting line snapped taught. I grabbed the rod as the line drew tuught from the waves. I slammed the drag to strike and held on.
I've caught some large tuna in my days but nothing came near to this. As my friends franticly strapped me into the stand up harness. I suddenly realized that I was now harnessed to the fish. It was almost feeling of who's caught who. I was harnessed to the reel, and the reel had two hundred-pound test line on it and I had no idea what size fish is on the other end. The soles of my shoes were now my terminal tackle. What if the line backlashed or the reel suddenly froze?
If I can pass along one piece of advice to anyone who gets into a fight with a bluefin tuna, it's go out and buy the best pair of boat shoes you can buy. I made my way to the back of the boat and braced my knees against the washboard. Now the water was closer, and my knees were a pivot point with my shoe soles under more pressure.
One of my fishing companions was appropriately nicknamed "Tower of Power." He was six foot four and easily three hundred and fifty pounds. The Tower owned and operated a Roughneck bar somewhere outside of Philadelphia. I yelled to Tower to "Hang on to my harness." It is a very good idea to have someone standing close behind you whenever stand up fighting any large fish just in case the unpredictable happens.
Later in the day the unpredictable did happen. I had just set the hook into a very large tuna. On its initial run the fish was taking off line so fast that I was worried about a backlash. The Penn 50 reel was spooled with braided specter line. Suddenly, as I was increasing the drag to slow down the fish, the line buried itself into the spool and jammed. I had just hooked the fish and was not braced against the stern. The force of the fish was so great I could do nothing but drop to the deck in a sitting position. I was pulled to the transom. I braced my feet against the transom, pointed the rod strait and the line snapped.
In spite of the dangers fighting giant tuna with stand up rods it is the most fun, and if done correctly, the most time efficient way of getting these muscle fish to the boat.
If you would like to give a try. Call Captain Jerry Shepherd on the " Tuna Duck" at Hatteras Harbor Marina. He will show you how to PUT DA BOOTS TO UM.
Evan on a giant at Haterras One of the beasts
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