About 2 miles north of the Chatham cut I started marking an occasional pod of bluefish close to the bottom on the edge of the shelf in 47 to 55 feet of water. Bluefish show up on my 1000 watt Furuno fish finder as scattered yellow and red edged marks. Where they hold tight together they are mostly red. We started trolling at that depth, and the trick was to troll over the fish and either turn the boat to one side of the other or take the boat out of gear to drop the rigs down into the fish. When done correctly both rigs usually will get bit with one fish and sometimes two at once. We hope the bluefish will be of a decent 3-6 pound bait size, but sometimes, especially in October, they just are too big. Within an hour or so we had caught 6 perfect bait sized blues and put them in my custom tuna tubes. Tuna tubes are a way to keep bait fresh and lively without the bulk of a big water tank. They work beautifully at keeping the fish alive and active without them bumping into the sides or a larger bait tank and losing scales or getting “redfin.” I’m thinking I’m ready to head out to the tuna grounds, and called Dougie on the radio to check in, and he had only caught one blue. So we put the rigs back in the water and the next couple of times we hooked up, I had him pull the “Pogy Town” alongside and we passed the bait fish over to him with a landing net, so we could get going. An hour later we were steaming along and within a mile of the tuna grounds and my latest GPS waypoints, I started marking a couple of big red blobs on the video sounder at a depth of 40 feet. Judging by the size of the large red orbs on my machine, there was only one thing that could be ! A couple of giant bluefin tuna. Radioing Doug, who was following closely behind, I said I was going to put some bait in the water. I like to be away from the boats when I am fishing, so I turned south, away from Jimmy’s boat and motored away from him (and the fish) about 200 yards into the tide, and started rigging a bait. To rig a bait I loop the hook with a length of rigging floss, and sew a bridle onto the bluefish’s head with a clove hitch to secure the hook. About one fathom away, and below the swivel, I attached a white balloon to keep the bluefish high in the water column and set the bait out. The engine is still idling at this point, and I felt I was still a little too close to Doug’s boat, so I put the “Marilyn S” in gear and motored the boat away from the live bait and “Pogy Town.” With my balloon a good 80 to 100 yards away, I shut off the engine, and bent down to rig up another bluefish. I use fluorocarbon leader, and according to the sea conditions, varying diameters and strengths. On this day, I think I rigged with the lighter 130 pound test fluorocarbon because of the bright sunshine. I like my leaders long and use a wind on swivel to get the swivel on the reel at least a couple of turns before its time to harpoon the fish. I rigged the second bait and put it over the side and measured 3 fathoms before putting on a balloon and started paying out the line to get the bait away from the boat. I looked around for the other white balloon, to make sure the second bait wasn’t going to foul it, and couldn’t see it. “Hey you guys see the white balloon?” I asked. Still not seeing the balloon, I looked to the rod and it was clear to see the rod starting to get tight and slowly bending. “We’re Tight!” I screamed as I ran to the wheel to start the engine, “Reel that other line in NOW!” (screaming) My poor brothers, didn’t realize what was going on, but were quickly figuring out we did indeed have a fish on, and we had just barely been fishing for 5 minutes! I put the Marilyn S in gear and steamed away from the fish to make sure that the fish didn’t run the line across the bottom of the boat. As I steamed away, the fish was now pulling line off the reel steadily and the clicker was making that sweet sound only a big tuna can make. By now, the boys had got the other line in and put that bait back in the livewell, and the tuna was now under control. I called Doug on the radio to tell him we were “tight” and turned back to fighting the fish. We may have had the fish under control, but he was acting strangely. I began to suspect that we either had a blue shark or a small tuna as the fish was not fighting in the usual manner.
A giant bluefin tuna, when hooked will do many things, always different, as if each fish has a different personality. Some fight hard, some give up. Some take off across the water up high and other go deep. I have had some fish make 4 or 5 runs and then get within 80 feet of the boat and are unmovable for 20 minutes before they start to come again. I set my drags in the 45 pound range, depending upon conditions. When they feel the bite of the hook they usually can strip 50 to 60% of the line off the reel in the first run. This fish was different, he barely stripped off 100 yards of line as I ran away from him, and most of that was me pulling away from him. He stayed high in the water column and once I saw him break the surface. Almost immediately, we began to get line on him, and I took the controls in the stern so I could keep the fish aft during the battle. We had the finger splice between the dacron and the monofilament back on the reel and I now noticed the rod thrumming with each beat of the great fishes tail, and since the fish was coming relatively quickly and not running, I suspected we had a “tail roped” fish. We continued to gain on the fish steadily and while the brothers took turns on the fish, I got the harpoon and tail ropes ready. These fish are too big to be gaffed, so we harpoon them with a removable harpoon head, a “lily” that is attached to a line and is buoyed at the other end. Once “stuck” the fish will usually take off a bit and then using both the rod and the harpoon line pull the fish back to the boat to get him close enough to gaff the tail and get a loop around the tail. Once he is tail roped and tied to the stern cleat, then he’s yours. A whole lot of “bad” can happen in the process of getting him close enough to harpoon and then cleating him off. Things go much better if you are prepared for what can happen. Get the harpoon and clear the lines way ahead of time. Have a backup harpoon, have two or three gaffs and a couple of tail ropes. Things get dropped into the water and broken in the “heat of battle” alongside, when you are trying to tail rope a fish 600-800 pounds, that frankly is a little upset about the lily you just stuck into his side! Its important to have all that stuff ready and have backups before the fish gets to the boat!
By now the fish was coming in smoothly, and quickly, with little fight at all. Sure enough, I could now see the fish coming tail first straight off the stern. Being inexperienced at seeing such a fish, Bion hesitated and stopped reeling for a second when he saw the fish break water. “Keep reeling” I said, “Just keep that fish coming and wind that swivel straight through the guides and on the reel. Don’t stop until I tell you!” Being “tail roped” means the fish gets the leader wrapped around his tail as he swims away, or while he fights the rod, after being hooked. This severely restricts the fishes ability to swim and run enough oxygen across his gills to stay alive. The fish then quickly loses energy and suffocates. The fish came up barely swimming and although he robbed us of a more thrilling and exhausting battle, we’ll take it! Thirty-six minutes after we noticed the white balloon was gone, we stuck our lily into a 600 pound bluefin tuna, and shortly thereafter I called my partner Doug, to tell him the news that we had him cleated off. My two little brothers and I had caught the first of five giants that year, and doing the first one with family made it more enjoyable than ever!
Good Fishing to You,
Capt. Bruce & “Marilyn S”