Tuna Fishing

South of Sunny San Diego

CopyRight @ 2006

Before I ever went diving, I was a fisher.

I was 12 years old when my Father had a job in Long Beach and rather than commute every day, he took an apartment. One week in summer I went with him. (that was an adventure in itself, riding my bike wherever I was led by curiosity) He took me to Queens Landing and set me up to go on a half-day boat the next day. I spent the day catching bonita and bass on the Estrella and I was hooked. Whenever I could go fishing or to the ocean for that matter, I was there. I did the same thing at my Sister's apartment in Venice Beach when I was about 14. Hanging out on the pier, hand casting a weighted treble hook to see what I could snag. Hand lining for perch off of Malibu Pier. I loved it. Elsewhere I've written about the Sea Dream where the mind just drifts in the sea breeze with the smells and sounds of the ocean.

Well, that mostly came to a sudden end when I was 15 and discovered diving. Still, I occasionally fished. I made a lot of trips with Kevin out of Channel Islands Harbor fishing for the deep water rock cod. That was a lot of fun, no matter how often I got sick. I went fishing a few times on local boats with my buddy Paul. I used to do real good. My skills had been developed over a lot of time and devotion. I can feel my hook, even 450 feet below.

One day, Paul mentioned going on a tuna trip out of San Diego. I had done a few one day trips out of there, but he wanted to go on a longer one. This was a 3 day trip he planned. He had gone before on multi-day fishing trips for tuna. Sure. It sounded like fun.

I borrowed some rods, reels and other gear from my friend John who had done some serious tuna fishing, but not recently. We went down in Paul's pickup. I was completely jazzed looking forward to it. We got arranged at the Point Loma Sportfishing dock. The 90 foot or so Vagabond came in from the previous trip and we could see some big tuna. The report was that the fishing was great. Then we saw the fishermen coming off the boat. They didn't all look so good.... They said that the last day had been rough, very rough. Oh... Did I tell you how seasick I get? Well, I sure wasn't gonna turn back now.

Point Loma Lighthouse. Big... Nuclear Fish.

It was amazing seeing the big tuna tied along the rail and fish after fish pulled out of the brine hold below decks. These were fish mostly from 40 pounds to well over 100 pounds including yellowfin tuna, bluefin tuna, dorado and a few others. We helped get the fish carts to the parking lot. It was quite a project getting the boat turned around, but we were aboard and heading out of San Diego Harbor. It was going to be a long run south before we wet our lines. The food was good that night. The water was calm. I was trying to be on good behavior and not too wired. It was easy to get to sleep in the stateroom with just Paul and I. It was not a crowded boat.

Different generations of war craft. A Vietnam War River Boat and a modern Guided Missle Cruiser. San Diego has numerous military bases.

The next morning we had breakfast while still under way. While I wasn't exactly looking for trouble, I let it be known that I considered lobster diving to be the most exciting ocean sport. That got me a few hairy eyeballs, but it wasn't considered a crime, quite.

We could see other boats and the skipper slowed some to try to figure out where he wanted to start. We could see other boats in the distance. I was starting out with 40 pound line on a long pole. I had a giant Senator Reel with 60 pound line as well on a short stick similar to a telephone pole, but I didn't want to start right away with a rig made for 200 pound plus fish. This should be good for 60 pounders at least and it's pretty optimistic hoping for fish like that.

I listened to what they told me. You hook your bait, big anchovies and a few sardines, and then throw it over at the port side of the stern. You move across the stern in a line and up to the middle of the starboard side with your bait going with the current. Then if you don't hook a fish, you go over to the port side, get in line and do it again.

People were getting fish. Then you had to go around them as they fought the fish where it wanted to go. Wow! Those were serious fish. The second time I got up the starboard side half way, I got hit and I do mean a hard hit. I had it on for a few seconds and it was gone. I was blown away. I had never had a fish hit me so hard. I was back on the other side immediately with a fresh bait in the water. It was chaotic as 5 or 6 people fought large fish all around the boat.

Again, half way up the starboard rail, I got hit again. I gave it a few seconds and then set the hook hard. Wahoo! This was bigger than any fish I had ever caught and fought like a game fish. It peeled off about 300 feet of line before it even slowed any, but I was tightening up the brake and trying to slow it down. I wasn't feeling too sporting on a crowded boat with a number of other hookups around me. I moved up the rail some to the bow with it, though we went back and forth. I kept reeling and pumping the rod and it kept just staying out. I went around the anchor and then back. It was like nothing I had ever done.

Now this was all extremely exciting, like few sports are, but I was starting to notice a few things. First was that while it was fun, after near an hour of it, it was getting tiring. I was in great shape, but so was the fish. Second was the pole. It seemed like a nice pole, but it really wasn't a tuna stick. In fact, it was a bit of a noodle. I would heave it up and instead of pulling up the fish, it would bend double. I'd try to reel in line as I lowered the pole, but it hadn't pulled any up. It had just bent. Oh yah. Like everyone else, I had a belt on that had a large "bellybutton" that the base of the pole went into against your gut. This was like the base of a crane that you pulled the fish up against. It gave you great leverage. I had this old classic leather one from John. Well, it had disintegrated about 10 minutes into the fight, so I was doing this all with my arms. That's definitely the hard way. Really, few people would have been capable of it, but I have very powerful arms by any standard.

You can tell that this is the first fish and it's well less than an hour after I hooked it. I still didn't know what I was in for.

After about and hour and a half, I was getting the fish near the boat. I could see it shooting by back and forth about 20 feet down and 40 feet out as it fought for its life.

The fish was getting tired. (So was I). When I got it close I called for the gaff. It was the skipper of the boat, Mike that came by with about an 18 foot gaff. The fish came in position and he expertly gaffed it. One big yank and it was about a 60 pound bluefin tuna on the deck. It is an incredibly big, sleek animal, obviously exhausted from the fight. Along its back, fingertip sized fins still turned side to side showing just how well this creature is adapted to racing through the water after its prey. I gave one of my numbered tags to the deckhand who stapled it to the fish's gills for identification and then it was quickly sent into the freezing brine water below deck.

Then you do it again. I took maybe a 10 minute break, but I was right back in line again.

Again I hooked up in just a couple tries and again I fought it for more than an hour. It was a beautiful warm, sunny calm day. Sea birds were overhead in the breeze. The crew was yelling to each other as they worked together on bigger fish. We could see other boats miles away, all apparently doing as good as us. Paul was hooking up and doing the same dance. These were big fish and actually, more often than not, they got away. If a the knot on a hook wasn't perfect, the line came up with a curly cue on the end where it had come undone. If the hook wasn't thick enough, the fish cut loose. If you were careless, the line broke. Every so often the deckhands would throw a few anchovies overboard to attract fish, but most of the time there were hookups.

Paul and I were both hitting them.

There were a few older gents aboard that had probably been fishers for 50 years. I watched one elderly guy fight a tuna for more than an hour. He got it in and went into the galley for about two hours to get his breath back.

There were a couple of young ladies, probably less than 30, with large plastic rod bases that covered across their whole waists. I'm sure those helped, but those ladies were game and fought the fish just fine with all the boys on the boat. Later when we were leaving the docks, Paul made a comment to one of them. Her response at the time made me think that they were very charming, normal young ladies, aside from the fact that they were quite up for a contest of physical strength and wits with 100 pound tunas. .. or probably anything they could hook up.

These fish aren't opalescent like some tuna, but they are beautiful in the water.

Evening came softly. The ocean was still calm. The sunset was nice. It was funny that a couple of miles away or a maybe five miles away, various boats could be seen during the day. You could tell they were getting fish partly because of radio reports, but also because they were just drifting in one place. They had no desire to move. But one boat, the Morning Star, seemed to be constantly shifting position. Apparently they just couldn't get on the fish. It seemed really odd.

Dinner was good. It was a spacious galley and lots of good eats. Mike, the skipper came to me and asked how it stacked up to lobster hunting. I had my reservations. Lobster hunting is like nothing else, but I wasn't going to mention them just now and it had been some awesome fishing. I had gotten in 3 fish from about 60 to 100 pounds. I gave him an enthusiastic thumbs up. He seemed satisfied.

No, I wasn't enjoying myself.

That evening I was up on the bow in the dark babbling away with some other of the younger fishers on the boat, the near thirty crowd. While the fish weren't supposed to be cleaned on the boat, a crew was cleaning one for some reason or another. He said "whoops". While making the big back cut along a 60 pound bluefin, he had mis-cut. He had made his slice a good inch off the bones of the back. He cut again and took off a slice of tuna a foot long, eight inched wide and about an inch thick. He held it up towards us and said "sushi anyone" One guy grabbed it and we all ran for the galley in the dark, somebody yelling "wasabi".

I woke late that night as I often do. It's not the safest thing, but I went to the rail and watched the night. It is gorgeous and peaceful on the sea at night. The moon made a golden path on the calm ocean. On the one side, the water was lit by powerful boat lights. I saw some smaller fish, but no tuna. Watch long enough and I dare say the schools would go by. Watch longer and you might see some of the giant sharks that follow the tuna. I call them the tuna wolves.

The next day we did it again. I tried a few times with the big reel on the telephone pole, but it felt so stiff and unresponsive that after a few walks on the rail, I went back to the other limpy rod. I was wishing I had a pole support. It was real slow for a few hours. Then it picked up again. The fish seemed bigger today.

The crew had cleaned the decks the night before, but there was still some fish blood in places. Soon the decks were crimson again. Cleaning goes on all day and at the end of the days fishing.

It's a tough, messy sport

I saw a guy about 10 feet up the starboard rail hook a fish. Bang. His pole slammed into the rail about three times as he tried to get control and moved towards the stern, but it was too late. Three smacks on the rail and it was gone over the side out of his hands. From the flash of gold anodizing I saw, it was an expensive Penn International that went over.

I saw the older guy I had watched the day before. He got a nice hookup and was fighting it at the middle of the boat. About 10 minutes after he hooked up I got one too. We were about 20 feet apart fighting for probably 60 more minutes. Both of us had our fish within 30 feet of the boat. Mine wasn't ready, but the deckhand tried to gaff it. He missed and spooked it. It went screaming up the boat and cut the line of the other guy. I felt bad, then I saw how totally tuckered out the older guy was and I felt really bad.

I hooked up over and over. I got some and I lost some. Then I got one I knew was big. It just took off and emptied half the line off my spool in one run. Then it took off again and I thought I was going to lose all the line on my reel. I locked down the brake as much as I dared and hung on, trying to make it fight the springiness of the pole. I say that the rod was soft, but it pretty stiff actually. It would have been fine for a 30 or 40 pound fish, but not these. People thought I was nuts trying to fight these with no pole support, but there weren't any extras on the boat. I watched another guy get a big hookup and he was about to get spooled when the crew tied the line from another pole and reel onto his reel and threw it over board. At least 200 feet of line came off that before they were able to get it started back in. I know that two other poles were yanked overboard that day. I kept fighting the one I had on. After about and hour and fourty five minutes I got it up to gaff. Two crew members yanked this one aboard. Mike said that looked over 100 pounds.

Some of the hardest work I've ever done for the fun of it.

The afternoon was getting along. It was nuts, but the fishing and the fishers were slowing down. The skipper said that the Morning Star still had just not been able to get onto the fish. Did anyone mind if we moved and gave them our spot? Heck, it looked like another spot I could see in 20 miles, but I didn't care and no one else seemed to.

We moved maybe a mile or so. Some fish were caught, but it had slowed down before we left. I hope the folks on the Morning Star caught something. Both days we had seen them cruising from spot to spot. It was time for the long ride home. On the whole trip, the ocean had stayed marvelously calm. It felt perfect.

It's beautiful on the ocean, but the Coranodo Islands show how harsh it is.

We got back to the dock and they said the fish would be brought up and laid out on our numbers marked on the sidewalk. "Keep an eye open. Fish have been stolen from there." I figured with hunters like these that few things would escape peoples eyes.

Getting ready to offload.

It was a lot of work. The crew pulled the fish from the hold and put them in the carts, but we pushed the carts up the dock and the ramp to the parking lot. Weigh in time showed that the largest fish pulled to deck on the trip was over 160 pounds. The fish were frozen solid from the brine. They had put short pieces of rope as loops through their gills and mouth so that they could be lifted and managed. We loaded 13 fish in the back of Paul's truck on plastic. At the store we got enough ice to cover them. We should have had something over that to keep the wind off. All the ice melted on the trip back to LA. That was OK. If it hadn't melted some, we probably would have had a much harder time cleaning the fish. I helped Paul and then went to my parentís house to manage mine. I had previously bought a lot of aluminum foil and large plastic bags. Cutting up large fish is a challenge, but I got them all done except for what I left out to Bar-B-Que and smoke the next day. Suffice to say I had tuna to last me for a long time. A lot was eaten fresh, I smoked all the rest... except for that five pound rack I dropped in front of Randy's Siberian Husky, but that was OK. I think that dog still likes me. He got all the scraps I saved too. I gave away a lot of smoked fish. That's how I met Dave, a great fisherman, but that's another story.

That is not a mini-truckIt took a long time to eat all that, but it's the tastiest fish there is.

I was told that that was one of the most amazing fishing trips ever and that I had used up all my fishing luck for the rest of my life on it. I know it wasn't true cuz I went on more trips with Paul and kicked fish butt again. Still, there weren't any more trips like that one. That one was special.

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