Chasing Giants

1It’s the beginning of five days chasing giants in the Outer Banks and the ladies are focusing. Yep, assuming their normal napping position on the couch. It’s two hours to the tuna grounds and when those big diesel engines throttle back they’ll be standing tall, dressed appropriately and ready for action. Carry on ladies a behemoth awaits you. Every athlete has their own way of preparing for the main event and if you don’t think tangling with the baddest, hardest fighting fish in the sea isn’t a main event, wake up buttercup – it is. Anything over 400 pounds is a battle of epic proportions that’s going to be a test of endurance, mental attitude and screaming muscles. There is no half time or end of the period once you’re strapped to the rod it’s time to go one on one with just you and the beast for the better part of the next couple hours.

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It had only a few weeks earlier we were in Costa Rica getting some badly needed sunshine and getting in a little warm up action on yellowfin tuna. The northwest is a great place to live but it helps to see the sun once in a while during the winter.

The sun and warmth was great but it had been two years since we last chased the big blue fin tuna off the Outer Banks of North Carolina and we were looking for a repeat of the last trip which was an amazing fishing adventure catching 12 of these giants in 4 days.

Now Megan, Weddy and I were in the Outer Banks again but this time the battles and drama will be captured on film for TV.

It’s day one for “Canyon Warrior’s” and the day begins at 100 fathoms.

You never know what to expect, from one trip to the next, when pursuing any big fish and we were fishing with a new skipper on this trip. The legends and rich history of the Outer Banks includes some big names in sport fishing and Captain Barry Sawyer is one of those skippers that make a trip out there a very memorable experience.

The sun was glowing bright but still barely over the horizon when we arrived on the tuna grounds and Barry soon throttled back the big diesels. The outriggers were laid out and our mate Nick started putting lines in the water. Once the last line went out and into its proper position he turned around to survey his crew – zzzzzzzzz – one of the lines popped off a rigger clip, ‘fish on”. The boat became a buzz of excitement and scrambling people. Things were happening fast.

First up was Josh Hemmert one of the two guest fishermen we were hosting the next four days. Josh and Shane Stutzman were the winning bidders the previous spring at the Tualatin Valley Chapter CCA banquet where Weddy and I donated the trip to their live auction. They had heard the stories and now it was time to feel the rush of adrenaline being strapped to a giant of the deep. Josh was now in for the time of his life and about to be punished.

The tuna was still peeling line and headed for the horizon while we got him settled into the bucket harness and hooked up to the rod. Until the fish stops running there’s nothing you can do but hope he stops before the spool is empty.

The bucket harness is one of the most effective methods for fighting a large fish. I’ve fought big fish on stand up gear and had a great time but when you have people of various skill levels the bucket harness is a great tool that can be adapted to fairly easily. It still requires using your legs, back and arms along with good technique. Bad technique or none at all and a 250 – pound fish could be hours to land.

Josh’s first experience lasted an hour and forty minutes before he had the 450 -pound class fish alongside the boat for a few photos before being released.

A few high fives and the lines went back out getting back on the troll.

It was barely thirty minutes before Shane was in the chair playing tug of war with a similar size fish. He had the benefit of listening and watching me coaching Josh and after tucking away a few mental notes his battle was over in a little over an hour.

When the reel went to singing the third time the ladies gave me the nod and insisted I go first. I didn’t question them even a moment before jumping into the chair and going toe to toe with a brute in the 600-pound class. The first twenty minutes it’s sometimes hard to tell how big the fish is because you need to let them run a little and try to wear them down – somewhat, if possible but after thirty minutes I pushed the drag well over 50 pounds. That’s a lot of drag pressure to put on a fish and easily enough tension to launch you overboard if you get your weight too far over the rod. Just to put this in perspective – we generally have about 7 pounds of drag pressure on albacore or pacific sailfish.

Every time the big fish made a run the line made a crackling sound as it was peeled off the reel.

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A little technique and a lot of pressure finally prevailed but not before working up a good sweat. The beast was finally alongside the boat and after a few pictures it was returned to the deep unharmed.

I stepped back from the gunnel after watching it swim away, exhilarated, sweating and riding a high. The adrenaline was still pumping as I found a place to sit and grabbed a water. Wow, what a rush. Almost two hours going toe to toe with my biggest blue fin yet… A behemoth well over 600 pounds.

The first day was amazing. Two fish over 400 pounds and one up in the 600-pound class. Not a bad start but a weather front was moving in and big seas was about to put chasing giants on hold for a couple days.

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In all the years of coming out to North Carolina in pursuit of these magnificent fish I’ve learned you need to plan on staying twice as many days as you plan to fish due to days when the weather is just too nasty. The weather died down later the third day and the forecast called for calm sea’s the next 4-5 days allowing us the opportunity to get back after them.

We left the harbor two hours before daylight in the stillness before dawn. A time when nature is at its purest state. The occasional truck going by on the highway was the only sound but soon that sound was replaced by the purr of the big diesels as they pushed the big boat towards the promise land where the giants waited.

We arrived on the tuna grounds as the sun was coming up and it wasn’t long before the action heated up to a fast pace, man against beast. Right out of the gate we had a double and Shane landed a dink by blue fin standards but a trophy by any other measure that weighed 186 pounds – a perfect keeper size since it fit below the 73″ slot limit, so in the fish box it went…

Josh had been keeping his fish tight while sitting on the gunnel and when his time came to move to the chair the fish pulled the hook and was gone.

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Megan was next in the rotation but before she got in the chair. I didn’t see it to confirm it – but I’m pretty sure she downed a can of “Whoop Ass” – because she flat put the wood to her 400- pound class tuna and wore it out bringing it to the boat in in a mere 23 minutes. At first we thought it might be a shark because she claimed it was trying to pull her in making her squeal every time it lifted her off the chair – she was sure it was going to eat her but soon it started acting more like a tuna and she settled down getting into her groove with perfect form and technique. That’s what happens when you put the wood to a hot fish, running the drag up before it’s worn down a little. It’s not brute strength but good technique and form that wins the day when you’re a 117 lady up against a 400- pound bruiser with a bad attitude. We pushed the drag lever well past the strike position and things got even more interesting because she was now half out of the chair most of the time. One false move and she’d been over the rail so needless to say I had my hand on the rod lightly to keep her from leaving the boat. It didn’t take long before she overcame the obstacles and won the moment bringing the beast alongside the boat to be released.

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It wasn’t long before Weddy was in the chair playing give and take with another large tuna…and after an hour we started moving the drag lever farther and farther past the strike position. We had so much drag on the fish Megan and I were holding here from flying out of the chair and overboard. The behemoth was trying to pull her out of the chair and we were holding her back while she put the pressure on. These fish were considerably bigger than the last trip two years earlier and we were also putting a lot more pressure on them. We weren’t used to being lifted off the chair and it was a little unnerving thinking about getting too far over the rod and being torn over the gunnel strapped to the rod and fish.

By now the drag lever was well up over 50 pounds of drag and after another 20 minutes she finally had her fish to the boat. A giant of a creature easily pushing 800 pounds.

We hooked 7 fish that day landing 6 ranging between 186 pounds up to 800 pounds. It was an epic day of blue fin tuna fishing.

The weather forecast for the next couple of days was predicted to be very nice and we were anxious to get after them again although we were thinking we might need to find Megan’s stash of Whoop Ass if these fish were going to keep getting bigger.

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The third day started out flying a kite with a weighed squid skipping the surface. Something a little different than I’ve seen for blue fin tuna but what the heck. We worked it for about 30 minutes before a 7-foot tuna crashed it and we were hooked up…it wasn’t a big bruiser like the previous day so it didn’t take long before it soon succumbed to the pressure of man and rod. It was a little guy in the 300 – pound class but it still had to go back.

That worked so well we decided to put out two squids skipping along the surface trying to entice multiple bites but as luck would have it the bite died. Eventually we brought the kite in and went back to trolling ballyhoo and endured a dry spell with no action for a whew hours…no worries we had NCAA Women’s basketball on the TV to keep us company. A few naps mixed in with a little basketball soon faded into a lazy afternoon slumber. The zzzzz sound of the clicker singing woke us out of our stupor and signaled it was time to mount up and do battle. It reminded us of why were there.

Captain Barry had moved away from all the other boats and about 1pm the afternoon bite came on. It was a still a slower day only boating 3 fish releasing 2 of them but we had now landed 12 giant blue fin tuna in three days…

Our fourth day of fishing we were greeted by a smooth flat ocean running at 27-30 knots but it’s still a 2-hour boat ride to where the action starts and there’s very little talking going on since everyone is spread out on the sofa or forward bunks trying to catch up on badly needed sleep.

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The day started chaotic with a double but as luck would have it the fish got crossed up on the hook up and when lines are coming off the reel at Mach III it doesn’t take much to burn through the monofilament and we lost the first two fish. By noon we had hooked 5 fish and only landed 1 but our luck was about to change and we would be on our way to another incredible day on the water.

Weddy was soon hooked up in bucket harness fighting and playing give and take with a 350- 400 – pound fish before it finally gave up after a 40-minute struggle and we released it.

We were now in the midst of a strong mid-day bite and it was now my turn to play with the beast from the deep. I moved to the fighting chair just to relax and enjoy the view but all that did was entice a bite and now I was playing tug of war with another monster from the deep. It turned out to be a small fish, maybe 250 – pounds but unfortunately it was still too long and it had to go back. We pulled him inside through the tuna door to get a quick measurement before being turned around and shoved head first back into the sea. He gave a good tail slap as he shot away unharmed.

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During the next couple hours, we noticed quite a few jumpers. It’s quite a sight to see 8 – 9 feet of fish jumping clear out of the water. The tuna had circled and created large bait balls of blue fish and occasionally a blue fish would jump completely out of the water trying to escape the monster predators. Mesmerized by the sight our mate soon had an idea.
Nick had decided he was going to catch a blue fish and use it for bait. He rigged a series of treble hooks with a lead sinker he could cast into the school trying to snag one of these fish.
It only took him a couple attempts to catch what he was after and now we had a live bait. Once he had it rigged it went back overboard…

The explosion 20 feet from the boat was epic watching 9 feet of fish engulf a 3-foot live bait…. that’s right 3-foot live bait. I didn’t say that wrong… Holy moly, we were live bait fishing with a 10 to 12-pound live bait.

We come from the northwest where a live bait is 3-4 inches long and isn’t measured in feet or pounds. I have fished big black marlin with 5 – pound skip jacks but this was way beyond that.

Megan was next up and quickly scrambled into the fighting chair only to get the bucket harness all hooked up just in time to see the big fish spit the bait. The big tuna had peeled off 200 yards of line but wasn’t hooked well enough and pulled the hook within 20 seconds of the bite.

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She reeled back a mangled but still swimming bait so we set up to do it again and lobbed it back overboard and it didn’t take but a few seconds for a giant to boil on it once again.

Think of a 700 – pound bass exploding on a top water plug right in front of you. If that won’t make you pee your pants nothing will. Once again it was peeling line off at a blistering pace and then nothing – the hook didn’t set and the bait pulled free..again.

Megan was squirming anxiously sitting in the fighting chair watching the furious action unfolding in front of her…by now our live bait was a little worse for wear, swimming on its side, barely alive but still kicking, hopefully enough for a giant to make one more dash at it.

Nick lobbed it back out there again anxiously hoping. It had barely hit the water when another enormous explosion erupted 15 feet behind the boat but this time we let it run longer before running the drag up to the strike position and this time it stuck. The nine – foot monster came totally out of the water inhaling the bait.

Normally you don’t get to see how big the fish is you’re tangling with but when it came all the way out of the water we knew right away Megan was going to have her hands full. A 117 lbs. women was now strapped in and tugging on 800 lbs. of mean beast from the deep.

The first hour was the usual routine of reel most of the line onto the reel only to watch the beast peel it back off 3 or 4 times. On the backside of an hour we started pushing the drag lever forward past 30 lbs. and on upwards of 40-50lbs.
Putting the heat on a stubborn fish with 117 pounds of equally stubborn women is quite the match if you can hang onto her, keeping her from being launched out of the chair and over board. I had a good grip on the bucket harness while she played give and take for almost another hour before the victory was hers as we released the giant to be caught another day. What seemed like an eternity was soon over after one hour and 53 minutes.

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The next day started out like the previous couple days with red hot action right out of the gate.

Lines went into the water at 7:10am and were barely wet before the first fish hit and we were hooked up.

I think the ladies were suffering from lack of sleep after 5 days of getting up at 4am and wasted no time telling me to go first.

That first hook up only lasted long enough to peel a couple hundred yards of line off the reel before it performed a Houdini act and was gone.

Back on the troll we went and the lines were barely back to their normal positions when the clicker went to singing again. I hopped back into the chair then quickly hooked the bucket harness up to the reel and the blue fin rodeo went into full gear.

The first 30 minutes the mate had to move the chair around keeping the rod in line with the fish… normally a function performed by your fellow anglers but mine were AWOL. I looked around once to see if they were even still on the boat and they were sitting together chatting like a couple magpies on a fence and had pretty much abandoned me. Oh well, the battle continued.

After 40 minutes of give and take it was time to move the drag lever forward putting more pressure on the beast. This is the point in the battle where I had to rudely interrupt the magpie’s conversation since I now had more pressure on the fish and could use a little help staying in the fighting chair. The battle continued and so did the pressure as I moved the drag lever forward putting even more serious heat on the fish.

My comatose team mates had now rallied and were fully engaged and showing some signs of their former selves.

Finally, the 500-pound giant gave in to the pressure and came alongside the boat long enough for a few pictures before being released. A few high fives and we went back on the troll. On the hunt for more big tuna.

The hunt didn’t last 5 minutes before the clickers were singing their song and we were hooked up again. This time it was Weddy’s turn as she climbed into the chair while we snapped the reel to the bucket harness. It was game on once again.

The same scenario was playing out as if in repeat mode as she played the same give and take routine.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell how big these fish are until you start moving the drag lever forward applying some pressure to them. Once the drag lever goes past the strike position things change. Your form and technique become more critical if you have any hope of landing a big tuna. Without good form or technique your encounter with anything over 300 lbs. could last many hours. That’s the key to why we’ve been landing 500-750 lbs. fish in less than 2 hours.

Weddy’s form and technique prevailed and soon her trophy was alongside the boat where we released it to be caught another day.

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By 10am we were back on the hunt but the bite had died and Captain Barry Sawyer was searching for more fish.

The slight breeze had died and now the ocean had turned into a pond.

Lunch came and went with no action other than some slight snoring. The couch was feeling pretty comfy when the faint sound of the clicker woke me out of my stupor and I made my way to the door to make my presence known and offer moral support to Megan who was now toying with a 30 – pound yellowfin tuna…No, I didn’t miss a zero – it was only 30 – pounds. A few cranks on the reel and the gaff guided it to the fish box.

They showed on the sonar most of the day but stayed down choosing not to come up for what we were offering. We had nothing to complain about considering the action from the previous days.

Megan occupied the fighting chair the next hour soaking up some sun and anxiously waited for another opportunity to tangle with one of the big bruisers but as luck would have it we ended the day with only the 2 early morning tuna.

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A quiet day on the water to end 5 days of filming “Canyon Warriors” but a great trip overall. We landed 18 blue fin tuna averaging 450 – pounds. I landed a nice 600 – pound beast and the ladies both tangled and landed 800 – pound class behemoths. I can only imagine how much bigger they will be in March of 2019 when we return.

Fast forward 2 years and stay tuned because in 2 weeks Weddy and I will be hosting a couple new anglers for the experience of their life going toe to toe enduring epic battles with giants.

Tight Lines, Del Stephens

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Chasing Giants

Blue fin 2017

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Blue Fin MANIA

Day 1

I started chasing big blue fin tuna off the Outer Banks of North Carolina a few years back and recently was feeling the itch to get back out there for some April tuna action.
I normally try to make it out there late March or early April but March was out of the question this time due to scheduling issues. Most years these fish migrate up the Carolina coastline and many years are gone by the first of April so I gave my buddy Adam LaRosa a call to see if he still had one of his boats fishing out of the Oregon Inlet. Adam owns Canyon Runner Sport Fishing out of New Jersey and sometimes has a boat down in the Outer Banks for blue fin tuna season. Oregon Inlet is about 50 miles north of Hatteras where I have been running out of on previous trips but the blue fin tuna sometimes hang around Oregon Inlet a little longer before jetting on up the coastline. Adam didn’t have any of his boats down there this year but recommended Capt. Dennis Endee on the A-Salt Weapon Charters out of Pirates Cove near Manteo NC. After a few phone calls and emails we had four days of fishing setup for the second week of April. I was stoked now were to stay.
In previous years we’ve rented large vacation homes at huge offseason discounts but those were farther down in the Outer Banks so this year we decided to stay at the Oasis Suites a nice small boutique hotel booking a two bedroom suite with a kitchen just off the living room. It was ideal for this trip since Megan Waltosz wanted to test her wits and grit with one of these big tuna. She was the only member of the “Team Bad to the Bone” tournament team who had not been properly introduced to these behemoths and Weddy and I owed her a trip. Accommodations were now set so onto to airfare.
Traveling from our home in Portland Oregon the easiest way to get there is to fly to Atlanta then on to Norfolk where we rented a SUV and drove 2 hours down to Nags Head NC.Yellowfin Tuna Day 1
It had been a week since the charter fleet had been out of the tuna grounds due to nasty weather so the first day of fishing we moved around a lot trying to locate the tuna. Hunting for these fish by yourself would be like looking for a needle in a haystack but out in the Outer Banks the charter fleet all hunt together and when one boat gets into them they all benefit.
Day one while on the hunt for big fish we practiced on the little guys catching four yellowfin tuna, one black fin tuna and a false albacore. Catching football size fish on 80 wides is way more work than using light tackle.

The next day the fleet had moved farther north and after catching a few more yellow footballs we hooked up on a big boy. Megan was new to the blue fin experience so we gave her the first opportunity in the fighting chair and after a little coaching, to get the technique dialed in, it only took twenty minutes before she had the 200 pound fish up to the boat. This one fit the slot length allowing us to keep it so it came on board. Exhausted with aching arms she succumbed to the mezzanine bench to get a drink and admire her trophy. Scratch that one off the bucket list.

Megans 200 lb BFT

We were fishing the choppy water where the northerly Gulf Stream met the southerly Labrador Current. This area is rich with sea life and sometimes you never know what might take your bait. On numerous occasions we reeled in a small Yellowfin tuna with a small 3-4 foot mako shark chomping on the back half and it would sometimes take a little persuasion for it to leave us with our fish.

The mezzanine bench seat was a great place to wait watching the rods but anytime there was more than 20-30 minutes between fish the gentle rocking of the boat would put one of us to sleep. It wasn’t long before a singing reel, with line peeling off at a blistering pace, would bring us instantly to attention jumping up to go into our routine. The next person up in the rotation would hop in the fighting chair while the others would help to entice another strike then clear lines.

Between the time change and rocking of the boat I got in a couple pretty good naps the first two days.

Day three Capt. Dennis went back to where we had caught the blue fin the day before and lines hadn’t been in the water more than 20 minutes before we heard that sweet singing sound of line leaving the reel at Mach speed. Weddy was first up in the rotation and found herself battling a 300 pound class blue fin tuna. Megan kept the chair pointed at the fish and Capt. Dennis maneuvered the boat to try to keep it behind the boat. After 40 minutes

300 pounderWeddy had prevailed and the big fish came alongside the boat. All those four days per week workouts in the gym along with some nice rod handling technique made it a lot shorter battle than it could’ve been. I’ve seen guys with no technique take an hour to land a much smaller fish. Charter boats in North Carolina are allowed to keep one trophy fish per year exceeding 73” and our crew hadn’t taken theirs yet so we decided to keep her fish.

Barely 20 minutes had elapsed before things heated up again and this time it was a double. My turn in the chair and Capt. Dennis said it acted like a big fish. It dumped line off the 80 wide reel at an incredible speed and finally came to a stop leaving me with less than a ¼ spool of line. The power of these big fish is amazing to watch. The drags were set at 25 pounds at strike and eventually we’d have the levers pushed to 45 pounds to land them. In some cases we’d move the drags up to try to slow them down before being spooled. Most of the time they ran out instead of down even though we were in deep water. After my turn at a 40 minute workout we released a fish in the 350 pound class. It was warm out on the water that morning and I chose to start out with just a tee shirt which turned out to be a smart move. I was still sweating when the battle came to an end but nothing like my very first adventure with one of these monsters when I was way over dressed and not in as good of physical shape as today.

Megan had been sitting on the gunwale of the boat keeping the line tight on her fish while I played mine and once it was released she then moved to the fighting chair and readjusted the bucket harness to fit her. By now she had the technique down and soon we were releasing a 280 pounder.

Megan in the chair

The day was a blur of constant action. If it wasn’t your turn in the chair you were clearing lines, moving the fighting chair to keep the angler pointed towards the fish, taking photos and in some cases giving a warmed up angler a drink of water. Doing battle with a big fish is not just a one person job. It takes help and is very much a team effort or you’ll find yourself on the short end of the deal making it tough to successfully land these big fish.
Most of the action happened by 1pm making for a quiet afternoon allowing for a few more naps. By the end of the day we had each landed 2 fish for a total of 6 blue fin tuna. We had 3 fish over 300 pounds keeping one of them and another 3 fish in the 170-280 pound range. What a day. I couldn’t believe the size class of fish we were catching.

In previous trips out to Hatteras I had caught fish in the 100-300 pound class but it was rare to have one over 250 pounds. We had just caught 3 over 300 pounds and our smallest fish was close to 170 pounds.

Seaguar 1

Once back at the dock we took a few more pictures before heading back to the Oasis Suites where we cleaned up before venturing over to Ortega’z Southwestern Grill & Wine Bar in nearby Manteo. Later that evening I savored the end of a great day with a nice bourbon and good cigar out on the deck while reminiscing the events of a fantastic day. Tired but happy sleep came easy.

The next morning Capt. Dennis eased the big boat out of the slip from Pirates Cove as we made our way down the causeway to start the last day of our fishing. We passed Oregon Inlet and headed east to the Gulfstream. Rain was threatening but we didn’t care we were prepared to give it our all on the final day of what would become one of the most memorable days I’ve ever had on the water. We ran ninety minutes to the Gulfstream and Guy wasted no time deploying the lines. I was still putting on my raingear bibs when the reel started singing. Hopping on one leg and fighting a bobbing boat I made my way to the fighting chair and buckled in for the fight. I was first up in the fighting chair but right away I could tell it was a much smaller fish than I’d been tangling with the previous days and within 20 minutes it was alongside the boat. The smallest blue fin tuna of the trip and it was still 165 pounds. After fighting 300 pounders the day before this was a walk in the park.

Lines went back out and we were back on the hunt. I had just enough time to get a snack before the reels were singing again. This time another double.
Megan was first up in the chair so Weddy camped out on the gunwale and kept the line tight on her fish while Megan worked hers to submission before releasing another nice fish in the 250 pound class. Weddy in the chairWeddy moved to the fighting chair and we handed her the rod locking in the harness for what would soon turn out to be the longest battle of the trip. The fish had almost spooled her and didn’t seem to be showing any signs of letting up. Capt. Dennis backed up on the fish to reclaim half a mile of line that looked like it was running off over the horizon. Slowly the line winched back onto the reel and after a long 40 minutes we saw the monofilament topshot, now another 250 yards to go. She worked to gain more ground. The fish would move to the one side then the other and Capt. Dennis would maneuver the boat to keep the fish behind the boat. Back and forth side to side we’d go and another 20 minutes had gone by. Guy was constantly watching to make sure the line never touched the boat. Early in the fight Weddy had pushed the drag to 45 pounds and this fish wasn’t showing much sign of giving in. She’d gain a little then lose a little. This give and take went on for another 15 minutes before we saw the 130 lb Seaguar Fluorocarbon leader.

Weddys 500lb

Once Guy was able to leader the fish he was able to put a little more pressure on the fish working it to the side of the boat where we were able to get a measurement and a few pictures before releasing the 600 pound bruiser.

By noon we had landed a small 165 pound fish which would eventually be donated to the Nags Head food bank and had released 4 others including the big bruiser Weddy had battled.

The ocean was turning ugly on us and the seas were building so we decided to call it a day and run for home.

Four days of fishing just off the outer banks of North Carolina had produced some incredible action landing 15 Yellow Fin Tuna, 12 big Blue Fin Tuna and a few new friends taking home some incredible memories.

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Catching Tuna On Those Tough Days

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Every year as I prepare for the sport show season I like to add a little fresh content to my seminars and one of things I like to do is ask people what they would like to learn more about in those seminars. After over 20 years chasing albacore off the Oregon coast I’ve learn each season is a little different than the year before and this past season was another year of surprises. Oregon and Washington’s albacore fishery is still pretty much a new fishery for most offshore guys and if you don’t subscribe to being a student of the fishery you could suffer some long days with little to show for the effort. This year the one question that’s came up the most was could you please give a seminar on how to catch fish on those tough days..? That left me thinking about what I do on those days.

There’s a couple things I firmly believe – First and foremost you need to learn how to find the fish. I don’t mean casually learn to find fish but get really good at it. The other key factor is you need to learn a couple methods of catching tuna. The trolling game can work fine most of the time in the early season but what happens when they decide to throw you a curve and you troll all day returning to port with only a couple fish in the box or worse yet you get blanked after running fifty miles offshore. Don’t get me wrong I have been in that boat a time or two although it’s been awhile since the last time that has happened.

The successful guys bringing good numbers of fish back time after time have all learned that one arrow in the quiver really limits your opportunities. Whereas those that take the time to learn new techniques generally fair better than those who live and die by the troll show or those that only know how to fish live bait.

Some of the best tuna fisherman I know fish out of ports with no live bait available and at times don’t care even if it is available. They have learned how to adjust based on conditions they are handed.

I truly believe if you learn three basic techniques you will catch fish on most days. Obviously learning sound troll techniques and a few variations to the troll are one of those methods. Learning to fish swim baits either on the troll or running & gunning casting swim baits to jumpers is also a fun effective method. The third technique that requires a little more investment is learning to work the iron. The rods, reels and gear are very specific to making this work properly and if you buy into doing it right you’ll have enough arrows in your quiver to make a slow day turn into a good day. I doubt you’ll find a faster way to plug the boat than with a couple guys who know how to work iron effectively. The technique is not that hard to learn but it requires a little investment in the proper gear. Parabolic rods designed to load properly paired up with high speed 6 to 1 reels along with a collection of jigs and its game on.

Although you first need to back up and think about one of the most basic steps – how to find fish. If you’re not in an area that has fish you are definitely at a handicap. I use a web based sea surface website such as Terrafin to look for defined temperature breaks with temperatures at or above 58 degrees. I then look to see if the Chlorophyll charts overlay and match up those temperature breaks. The third thing to consider is are these temperature breaks and high chlorophyll count areas known to produce fish. The ocean is no different than a great steelhead stream in that there are areas where fish are known to congregate such as steelhead holding in a tail out on a stream. The ocean is the offshore version of the same thing and has contours from underwater canyons and sea mounds that produce upwellings where bait gets pushed to the surface by currents that also tend to keep and contain them in certain areas, areas where tuna will also congregate. It pays to spend a little time to research these areas online before burning a couple hundred dollars in fuel running all over the ocean without any starting point other than a hunch. If the sea surface website doesn’t have a recent satellite picture due to heavy cloud cover then I like to start by going back to places I’ve caught fish or places historically known to produce fish. The one thing I would also caution you on is don’t chase radio fish as that rarely seems to produce very many fish. On one offshore trip I went to where a bite had been reported the prior day and trolled among a fleet of boats that only produced good radio chatter. Two hours of changing gear and techniques a couple times with nothing in the box was enough for me.  I told the crew to pull the gear and we left for greener pastures. We left the flotilla and ran 20 miles to a location where I’d caught fish three days earlier and only had the gear back in the water less than a minute when we started catching fish. We fished the rest of the day by ourselves with no boat in sight for hours and came home with a nice load of fish unlike most of those who chose to stay where we started the day.

The summer of 2013 was a season where the tuna were not on the surface most of the time and left the guys trolling frustrated and many times empty handed. It didn’t matter if they left port with a live well full of anchovies because many use the troll to find fish rather than other methods of finding fish. On another trip in September I took a friend and two 12 year old boys to introduce them to the addiction that consumes us blue water guys. We passed an incredible armada of boats on the run offshore only to find a floating parking lot of a 100 boats fifty miles offshore. When I pulled throttles back and settled into the water I noticed the tuna were under the boat but down 30-50 feet. I had been listening to the radio on the run out and learned the troll guys were struggling to catch a fish. I could see why as they were too far down to come up for most troll gear. We didn’t even get the troll gear out but instead chose to throw a couple good handfuls of chum while one of my fishing buddies dropped the iron down to them and my wife deployed a couple swim bait rods to drift along. We then put a couple live baits over board and waited.

It only took a couple attempts with the iron before we to started hooking up and pretty soon we had the bite wide open. Once that happened everything in the water was catching fish. We drifted for a couple hours eventually hooking over 50 fish and soon had a worn out crew.

We had drifted most of the morning watching one boat after another troll by and at times coming within 50 yards of us causing our bite to die off and sound the fish. That had to be frustrating for them to watch as we landed fish after fish while they trolled in vain.

This is where learning to use more than one method to find fish and then another method to catch them paid off. We recognized they were under the boat but were down a fair distance and didn’t even hesitate having the confidence to know that we could get them with iron and a little chumming to bring them up. I have to admit having a Garmin CHIRP sonar and set to only 100 feet or less definitely helps to find fish and can be a game changer some days. CHIRP sonar gives you more than 10 times the normal resolution and definition of what’s under the boat and definitely for finding tuna.

The one buddy who was fishing with me swears he hasn’t seen me troll for fish very much the last few times he’s been on my boat. Last summer was a season where the guys that knew how to find fish and knew how to work iron had a great season and in many instances out fished even those with live bait.

I keep telling people it’s not that hard to catch tuna although last summer it was definitely a little tougher than in years past especially if you only had one arrow in your quiver.

Learn the basics then hone your skills and add a few new techniques to your game plan and you’ll improve your odds on those tough days when Charlie decides to be a little finicky.

Here’s a few other tips:

  • Go back to where you’ve historically caught fish – keep a log
  • Check the sea surface temps/ chlorophyll shots
  • Do not run to radio fish – develop your own style & think it thru
  • Remember the basics – birds, jumpers, breaks, etc.. but be willing to think outside the box – Confidence is your friend 
  • This is where the little things matter (10% rule) boat attitude, fishing style, working as a team, learning and using a combination of techniques
  • Use a combination of techniques –trolling, swimbaits, small baits..etc.
  • Drop down to small lures under 4” with troll gear 
  • Keep your spread together but possibly farther back than normal – play with the distance. Try it short such as 10-15 feet as well as way back 75 feet +
  • Diving lures & divers with lures 
  • Troll swimbaits with Flurocarbon leaders 
  • Forget trying to get multiple hookups by continuing to troll after hooked up. 
  • Use chum after a hookup and possible dead baits/chum on a sinker -Salt dead baits to get them to sink better.  
  • Don’t be impatient to leave after a hook up – work it a little 
  • Keep your head up & stay positive, you are going to catch fish – don’t just give in and troll all over the ocean

 

 [DS1]

 

 [DS2]

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But Who Am I..?

My mind still foggy from being rousted out of bed at 4:00am, I wasn’t awake enough to be scared but I quietly followed dad outside into the darkness of pre -dawn. A noise in the barn had spooked our faithful Brittany spaniel and after listening to barking for thirty minutes dad decided to investigate. Sneaking to the barn, a good 1oo yards from the house, was easy even in the dark and still only half awake. I knew this territory well since it was the playing field for our make belief war games when I was younger. Dad chose to go through the barn and directed his not yet coherent subordinate to sneak around to the side to watch the back door and see what comes out. It was like flushing quail from a briar patch, only this time I had no idea what was happening or what might be coming out. It was not uncommon for bums to sleep in our hay loft but they usually didn’t make much noise and we rarely knew they were there.

I stepped lightly over the low electric fence and hugged the edge of the barn, gently peering around the corner and into the darkness. Suddenly something got me and all hell broke loose. Both barrels of my shotgun went off as I was falling backwards into the darkness landing in a howling heap on the ground. Life was pretty much over for me as I knew and I wasn’t going out without a fight and as soon as it happened it was all over. Did it happen or was it a bad dream? I was now awake and I was scared. Dad appeared out of the darkness, ready to shoot anything that moved. He was there to defend and protect, isn’t that what fathers are supposed to do? A quick survey of my circumstances and it became apparent what had attacked me was nothing more than the overhead electric fence leading out to the corral at the end of the barn. I had tangled with that darn electric fence on more than one occasion and it never ended well.

Dad was a farm boy growing up on a large ranch in Colorado and later finished high school in the little eastern Oregon town of Adrian. Eating dust and setting on a tractor must have been passed down in his genes and growing up in the country, my brother and I were a shadow of his past.

Mark Slouka quotes in his book, Lost Lake –“Some say the soul tempered by fire – tortured true – is better for the trial”.

Perhaps it is true but mine was tempered by dirt and tortured by the cold early mornings milking Ol Suzy, our Holstein cow.
We knew no other way of life. Our adventures were the survivable kind, our tragedies ambiguous and undramatic, observed as much as felt. We did not choose it and yet, if I could ever open myself, I suspect I’d find my father’s kind heart and steady hand guiding the way.
At every turn it seemed as if dad had something to teach us. The leader and the teacher while also mom’s enforcer. Dad was always there to back her up if needed. There was always some chore that would take a week to do, constantly reminding us of what we did wrong. We were always innocent you know. After all how much trouble could six little hellions get into? I remember the blue paint he sprayed on all his tools and wondered why – I think it was to make them easier to find just in case we forgot to put them back. Which happened quite often and we heard about it too.

The Pro Rodeo would’ve proud of some of our bull rides. It wasn’t eight second rides, we had no clock. Stay on as long as you could – sometimes it would be but a blink of an eye, other times until the bull gave up and decided it was ok for us to be up there. I think those young bulls had as much fun as we did.

He was my father and I am my father’s son. I used to carry a pocketknife because he always carried one. Now I find myself gesturing with my hands the way he used to do.

For many years I believed most things could be fixed with duct tape and baling wire.

The Fathers day card I could send to him would travel through many years and come to rest in my own mailbox. We are the same but we are not alike. But like him and like many fathers and sons I was filled with things difficult to say.

It’s easier for sons to relate to their mothers. The push and pull between father and son is complicated. Growing up you want his approval while you tell him to go to hell.

He was a stocky good looking country boy when he rescued mom from her difficult childhood. Six kids and 26 years of marriage leave many fond memories of a large family. His jovial laugh was ideal for the role of Santa Clause he played one winter for a local shopping center. But he was always our Santa.

I wonder about my dad and think about him from time to time. What would he be like today? What lessons would he have for me now?

Why didn’t he teach me to say “I love you” until it was too late. Why is that such a hard thing for fathers to teach their sons? Next to my father I am probably the most patient person I know. Thank you dad.

I study the photographs of my dad, looking for myself. I study myself in the mirror looking for my dad. Each day the pages of my life keep turning one chapter after another. Some days I see my dad and I wonder, but who am I?

Dad taught me how to hunt, sneaking through the woods at a snail’s pace. Three steps’s, look and listen. A lesson well learned and reflected by the trophies on my walls, a tribute to the teacher. I still laugh at times, remembering one of our elk hunts. We were sleeping in a wall tent at the base of the Elk Horn Mountains of eastern Oregon and had just crawled into our sleeping bags for the evening when the wind picked up and started rustling the trees. Have you ever heard the eerie sounds of the forest at night while sleeping in a wall tent? It didn’t help that we’d seen fresh cougar tracks along the lake earlier that day. Coyotes singing in the distance – wind stirring the trees puffing up the tent with every gust. Everything is so much louder including moms scream when a wind gust caught the tent flap knocking the tin cup off the metal water can. She had such a death grip on dad there was no way he could’ve saved us from the spooks.
Tired from laughing we eventually surrendered to the sounds and fell asleep.

I’m sure if he were alive today we would be great fishing buddies, setting around telling stories about one adventure after another.

Are you still wondering what happened in the barn that dark morning forty years ago..?
Ol Suzy didn’t give as much milk that morning because she was already in the stanchion and had been visited by someone else’s unfamiliar hands. This saga lived a short life because dad did what dads are supposed to do – He took care of the problem!

What a guy!

I know I wouldn’t hesitate to tell him I love him.

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there.

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2013 Offshore World Championships

This gallery contains 10 photos.

Marina Pez Vela lies in the shadows of Manuel Antonio National Park overlooking Quepos and the Pacific Ocean. Quepos sits on the coast line just three hours southwest of San Jose, Costa Rica and is an easy drive on nice … Continue reading

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Team Bad To The Bone Put’s It All On The Line

8/08/2012

And the Journey begins for us in Ilwaco.

Want to know what it takes to fish albacore three days in a row…total craziness because no one in his right mind wants to do something like that…It will flat wear you out. Especially if you do it The Bad To The Bone way.
 
We started by pre-fishing on Thursday and when we’d catch a fish it got weighed and if it wasn’t a tournament grade fish we picked up and moved leap frogging all over the ocean looking for “Fat Charlie”. Thursday’s result 41 fish on the deck and a few GPS waypoints set for the first day of competition of the Ilwaco leg of the Oregon Tuna Classic.

 
The next day – day 1 of competition we wasted no time going straight to our designated GPS starting point some 40 miles offshore. At the end of the day we had 22 fish in the box and hoped they would be worthy enough to make the podium. As it turned out, they were, and that mode of thinking paid dividends for Team Bad To The Bone when we won the Big Fish competition for Friday and also hit the podium a second time with a 3rd. place finish.

 
Day 2 got off to a rocky start when the live well malfunctioned during the night and we lost 5 scoops of live bait. We were using crew member Stephen Seals new 53ft Riviera, “BOOYAA”, and as with any new boat things need tweaking in the first year. Weddy and I stepped onto the boat the next morning to find a pretty somber crew who had been up most of the night fixing the problem. Beaten down and barely awake we motored over to the bait dock and loaded up another 5 scoops of live bait then filed in line with all the other boats working their way out of the Ilwaco channel to the starting line a mile offshore.

The sun was just peaking over the clouds when the Coast Guard shot the flare sending the teams westward turning the sea into a froth of boat wakes and prop wash. Ten minutes after the start Stephen and I were alone on the fly bridge while the rest of the crew found couches and seats to rest their heads and catch up on badly needed sleep. The land slowly faded out of sight and 40 minutes later the radio squawked to life when one of our buddy boats called to invite us into their wide open live bait bite. It wasn’t much of a debate as we gracefully thanked them and kept motoring to our predetermined destination. We weren’t into catching a lot of fish just 5 piggy’s so on we went and for the next 10 miles we cruised past jumpers. On a normal day we would’ve stopped and worked them but this was no ordinary day, we had one thing in mind – BIG FISH – We had a plan and we were on a mission.
 
It was a quiet ride but soon the throttles came back and the big boat settled into the water as our sleepy crew came to life and we quickly deployed our gear. We were now on the GPS waypoint where we had found the bigger fish the first two days. First trolling northwest then changing directions to see if troll direction had any effect today.
 
Pretty soon tuna were hitting the deck and when the reels would start singing we’d quickly toss chum and go into our orchestrated routine of pitching Fish Trap swimbaits, Live bait, and working the iron while one person cleared lines as we intently worked to get the bite wide open. The bite was mediocre the first few hours as we’d hook one or two on the troll, try to convert the stop but nada and by noon we had scratched out 20 fish.

It’s at this point that the average tuna guy would just give up and stay on the troll but over the years I’ve learned you have to stay with it and keep trying to convert every troll stop into a wide open bite. I teach in my seminars to stay after it because you never know when it’s going to happen and persistence will generally pay off. You have to be ready to spring into action on every stop.

Then a little after 12:00 it happened, hooked up on a troll caught fish and the bite was on. We were soon doing the dance, moving around the boat following our fish – one rod over one rod under, throwing a little live bait for chum once in awhile to keep them around the boat and as quick as it started it was over but another 20 fish hit the deck during the wild flurry. Some on live bait, a few on iron, a couple more on Fish Traps. Then it was back on the troll again and every time a reel would sing we’d go into the same Chinese fire drill.
 
We pulled our gear at 3:30 and pushed the throttles to the stops as we turned the boat and headed for port. We washed the gear with fresh water, peeled off our rubber bibs and grabbed some snacks from the galley – it was over and now we could relax as the big boat cruised for home.
 
It took 30 minutes to pull 56 tuna out of the fish box only weighing the big ones and by the time we backed into our slip we had picked out the five heaviest. Hopefully they were heavy enough.

Three hard days of fishing and 119 tuna to show for it and when it was over we had a 3rd place trophy from Friday, won the Big Fish competition for the second year in a row and placed 6th on Saturday giving us a combined weight that landed us in 2nd place for the weekend. Then after our 25 Bonus points were added from the victory in the Big Fish competition Team Bad To The Bone took a 15 point lead and moved into first place in the IGFA points standings for the Oregon Tuna Classic as we now go into the finale in 3 weeks.

The real winner was the food banks of Pacific County Washington and Clatsop County Oregon when the Oregon Tuna Classic handed them over 10,640 pounds of fresh albacore.
 
Insane craziness but well worth it..

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