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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Team Bad To The Bone Hauls Away the Hardware

 

8/28/12

To say Team Bad To The Bone had a good tournament season would be a huge understatement.

The success of any good tournament team starts with planning and discussions on where to fish as well as the tactics to be used. This team came together four years ago when it seemed I was always looking for a new crew for each tournament. While at the same time Stephen Seal and Anthony Warren had found their new passion – chasing albacore but they too were also struggling to put together a team for each of the Oregon Tuna Classic tournaments. Stephen had been to one of my tuna seminars and as luck would have it we ran into each other again while in Sitka Alaska fishing and the beginnings of a new friendship emerged which would later lead to more fishing trips and discussions of merging our teams and as they say “the rest is history”.

A few 2nd and 3rd place finishes along the way with a few Big Fish trophies to our credit but the 1st place bragging rights have eluded us by mere ounces on more than one occasion. Elusive no more as we left Ilwaco early Friday morning on BOOYAA. We were more intent than ever on securing that top spot. Our honey hole had been scouted our earlier in the week and was 35 miles southwest and waiting for us. About 30 miles out we came across half the Ilwaco charter fleet and most were dead in the water on live bait stops. We pulled the throttles back and got the gear ready to deploy but had to wait five very long minutes for the mandatory 7:30am lines in so as not to violate tournament rules. A little jumpy and excited to see all the boats dead in the water we couldn’t wait and at 7:31am the first lure went into the water.

Archer bar on the long rigger with a Zuker zucchini broomtail trailing then an Eat Me Lures Mexican flag inside on the short rigger and a pink & white Ballyhood Albacore Allstar on the flat line clip off the corner. The other side had a similar spread and down the middle was a new lure yet to be mentioned but very deadly on previous trips this season. I’ll talk more about it this winter during one of my seminars because you’re going to want one, for sure.

 

We picked off a few fish here and there while trying to convert the hookup into a live bait stop and were adding a couple fish to the box on every stop. We graded each fish as it came over the rail and after awhile determined we were not catching tournament grade fish and needed to move to a new location. Right here is where a good tournament team separates itself from the pack. You have to be willing to stop fishing while in the middle of a wide open live bait stop and move to a new location in hopes of bigger fish. Some teams get the bite wide open and if the fish are coming over the rail they’re happy but just catching fish doesn’t work on tournament day. Leaving fish to find fish just doesn’t seem right but that’s exactly what we did.

 We turned the boat in the direction of our original intended location, just a few miles away, and went on the hunt for bigger fish. We’d put the lines and they were hungry and chomping still catching fish as we went but prepared to stop if the size of fish got better. Soon we were making circles on the honey hole barely getting a line in the water before zzzzzzzzzzz and we’d go into convert mode trying to get the troll stop converted into a wide open live bait bite. Someone would scatter a scoop of live bait over the water while others were getting mr squiggly hooked up and over the rail to entice a bite and within seconds a silver bullet would streak by taking the bait, “hooked up”. Those words are music to any angler and they rolled out like a choir singing amazing grace. We were in harmony with the fish gods. One rod over the other rod under and chasing our fish – we were doing the dance although sometimes it seemed like we were weaving a mess but we had it down. It was like a well oiled machine get’er done. Once in awhile we’d bust a fish off and you’d only have to reach into the salon for another rigged rod, bait it up and send it over the rail to hook up within seconds then go right back into the dance.

At 3:30 we shut down the fishing machine that is “Team Bad To The Bone” and turned the 53 foot Riviera towards our next destination, Garibaldi and the weigh in. We had a 48 mile run and didn’t want to waste this effort by missing the deadline.

We crossed the OTC demarcation line with 20 minutes to spare and pulled up to the fuel dock as we waited for other boats to offload their catch of the day. Putting 525 gallons of fuel onboard gave us plenty of time to pull 45 tuna out of the fish box carefully sorting and weighing the bigger ones. The fuel nozzle was slow and we were worn out. A few minutes later our five heaviest fish hit the scale at 124.70 pounds.

Tired and sore from reeling in 45 fish we washed the boat and checked our gear prepping it for the next day. Weddy and Megan represented us at the captains meeting while Anthony and I replaced a few top shots and hooks. Soon the gear was ready for the next day and we set down to a great flat iron steak dinner prepared by Anthony on the back deck. We discussed strategy for the next day and agreed, based on what others had experienced, we really needed to go back to the same place the next day.

 

Sleep came easy but morning arrived way too fast as we rolled out at 5:00am and once we were loaded up with live bait we pulled out of port.

I truly believe you have to have a very strong will to succeed since it seems we’ve had a few obstacles with each of the tournaments. As with any new boat with lots of systems they tend to have a few bugs to work out in the first year and we experienced an electrical issue with the heating system tripping a breaker so we did the next best thing – we improvised. We borrowed a hair dryer from Megan and now we had ourselves a new defroster for the first few miles. His name was Anthony.

The plan for day two was to run back to where we had been the day before which was easier said than done. Nothing like running straight into a sporty ocean with wind and swells coming out of the northwest and taking occasional spray over the top of the fly bridge 25 feet above the water.

Three hours later we arrived at the honey hole to find green murky water pushed in by the strong northwest swell and wind. Oh well, no one ever said tournament fishing was easy. We went on the hunt for cleaner water working west and a little north. That hunt didn’t take long as we got a report of a defined color break from green to blue only a few miles away and in twenty minutes we were hooked up and proceeded to put 20 fish on the deck in the first stop. We kept them going in spite of drifting back into the green water a few miles and were fortunate enough to pick up a 34.7 pound green water hog which would later win the Big Fish pot.

 

The bite eventually died and we quickly ran back up to where we originally hooked up. We barely had two rods in the water when we hooked up again and it was on all over again. We were back in our zone and the machine was running smooth. “Welcome to the dark side” never had a truer meaning. It wasn’t as stellar as some of our previous trips but we were making it happen. This time another 23 fish went into the box and the grade of fish seemed a little better than the day before.

Thoroughly worn out we felt confident as we turned the big boat for home and was looking forward to a smooth ride downhill to Garibaldi. Once the fish were offloaded and weighed we jumped on the task of cleaning up the boat before relaxing with a few cocktails on the back deck.

A mixture of 90’s country music and soft rock floated through the boat while Weddy fixed her well known meal of marinated Greek lamb chops, Greek salad and honey roasted corn.

Sunday the day started out with a mandatory polygraph given to all the top finishers for each day of competition. And in spite of being the guy that wrote the questions for the test you’d think I would breeze right though it – and I did but I still got nervous. Did we properly bleed all those fish..? I heard everyone got nervous on that one. When the action is fast and furious on the back deck it wouldn’t be hard to miss bleeding a fish.

We arrived at the tent anxious to hear the results and didn’t have to wait long before learning we had won the Friday competition then had to set through the auction before hearing what we were waiting for and was a little surprised by our efforts.

By the numbers here’s how it went…88 tuna caught for 2 days, 78 tuna donated to the food bank, 1st place Friday – 2ND place Saturday –winners of Saturdays Big Fish competition – winners of the Garibaldi Tournament Champions and 2012 OTC Tournament Series Champions winning the official invite to the IGFA Offshore World Championships in Costa Rica next spring. $3,700 in prize money all donated back to the food bank – $3,000 worth of Shimano Terez rods, Talica & Trinidad reels with line as Tournament Champions. Not sure what were going to do with those since were sponsored by DAIWA. All in all 5 separate trophies for 2 days of competition and add that to our 2 trophies from Ilwaco and the tally – 7 trophies for the 2012 OTC season. We went into this season tied with one other team for winning 5 trophies over the last 5 years but that has now changed a little.

We may have taken most of the trophies but the food bank was the real winners with over 16,000lbs of tuna donated this season.

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Wide Open Tuna

In the quiet serene of the early morning, long before the sun comes and most people are still soundly sleeping, the day of a tuna fisherman is underway. The welcome sound of water rippling across the boats hull and the low rumble of the motors piercing the darkness is music to our ears as we gently make our way out of the harbor. The intent for two of my buddies is to be on the tuna grounds at the break of daylight to get into some early morning fishing action.

Preparation began the night before as my crew rolled into the Oregon coastal town of Garibaldi and over dinner with my crew members, we discussed the boats leaving the dock before daylight and head out to sea. My crew and I easily made the decision to allow our buddies to leave before us. After all this was not a tournament day and with my years of experience while chasing albacore I knew we would be fine sleeping in and casually leaving port whenever it suited us, this morning it was 8:30 am. Yes I know, very few hardcore tuna guys would never be caught leaving at such an outrageous or late time.

 The Bad to the Bone crew and myself had just come off a second place finish at the Ilwaco leg of the Oregon Tuna Classic the week before, and we were hungry for another shot at the top spot going into the next tournament. There is nothing wrong with second place, but we strived for the bragging rights that accompany being number one.

The upcoming tournament would not have live bait available, so this trip was all about honing our skills working the iron and functioning in harmony as a team. When you watch successful tournament teams, each crewmember has a designated job to do and they do it well. Today we are going to define each crewmember’s position and fine-tune it to perfection. Our mission was simple – find the fish, get the bite wide open and work it like a well-oiled machine.

Getting the bite wide open, is one of those mystic feats most tuna fisherman long to experience and once achieved, it is the ultimate accomplishment. Learning how to do it consistently requires paying close attention to details then perfecting your techniques every time you are on the water. Once achieving this feat a couple times, it could be compared to running a marathon. Every one has the ability to achieve this success but only those who try will experience it, few will master it.

The fog had lifted long before we slow poked out of the harbor. Passing through the no wake zone the big Hydra Sport leaped up out of the water as the throttles found their way to the stops.  A quick hour and fifteen minutes later the boat settled to its destination 60 miles southwest of Garibaldi. Tuna Town, Cross Hairs, all monikers for the “Promised Land” for tuna fishing, or better known as 125 x 45. We stopped a few miles short of where the others said they’d be so this was a good starting point. Tuna Town is not just one spot, but an area and well known for producing good numbers of fish. The currents and upwelling’s from the sea mounds and canyons below offer a rich environment for food and warm water most of the summer. It’s an easy run from Newport or Depoe Bay, but the trek from Garibaldi will require a little more fuel and can beat you up going home if the north wind picks up. Today it was a pond with no wind, no swell and not a boat in sight.

My crew quickly deployed 4 rods and we started to troll while I called one of our buddy boats to see if they were still in the area, we were fishing. It was 9:45am as the return call informed us that they were about 5 miles from us but not having much luck and had only just landed their first fish of the morning. We agreed to stay in touch and as I hung up the microphone the corner rod began to sing – fish on!

I immediately pulled the throttles back into neutral then back into reverse. I wanted to stay close to the hooked fish. At the same moment the crew was going into our orchestrated Chinese fire drill. One person was throwing chum while the others were pitching all the available swimbait rods in the direction of the hooked fish. Once the swimbait rods were out they went into rod holders and the crew was now grabbing the iron rods and proceeded to vertical jigging. My job, as the skipper is to stop the forward momentum of the boat and back up a little just to stay close to the hooked fish. You have to be careful not to back up too far passing over the fish or worse yet, creating a mess with the still deployed trolling gear. If I can keep the boat positioned within 20-30 feet we will be in perfect position. One of the keys to this whole scenario is advanced planning of what you’re going to do when you find the fish. Questions arise; do you keep trolling to try and hook up all the rods or are you going to try to get a wide-open bite and work the fish from dead in the water? Some boats keep trolling too long and have a hard time doing both. Early in the season it may not make as much difference but once you get into August, it’s critical to stop immediately if you have any hopes of getting things going.  

As the action continued, in less than 30 seconds the swim bait rods were going bend’oh, jig rods were hooking up and the bite was now wide open. My job was to be the deck hand as I scrambled to clear troll gear and get the troll caught fish into the boat. For the next hour and 15 minutes I rotated jobs with the various crew as they would fish and then run the deck continually switching positions.

In order to keep the bite wide open someone has to run the deck. That encompasses – tossing a handful of chum about every 5 minutes or so, gaffing fish, cutting the gills, placing them in the bleed bucket and eventually getting them onto the ice in the fish box. At the same time they may have to replace a torn Fish Trap (swim bait) once in awhile or possibly a mangled assist hook when needed. Our crew is five people but it can be done with 2 or 3 as long as someone is running the deck while others are fishing. When a fish trap is replaced, the deck hand can pitch it back out and put it in a rod holder and now it’s fishing again. One of the nice things about albacore fishing is you can fish as many rods as you can handle. There is no limit other than your ability to manage what’s out. When I’m fishing with a crew of five people, I could have as many as 7-12 rods in the water at any given time that equals four people fishing and one deck hand.

Fish Traps (swim baits) with the rods in the rod holders works well while vertically jigging because they will typically drift fish out away from the boat and not fall very deep even when there’s very little wind drift. You normally won’t have to worry about them getting tangled with the people working the iron. If you have live bait available, that will add another dimension to the game. If live bait is not available but you have access to frozen or dead bait that also works well for chum and can also be fished on a live bait hook pitching it out to drift fish just like you would a Fish Trap. A word of warning: When the bite is wide open albacore will hit just about anything bobbing around so make sure the bail is set, or you could have a mess on your hands.

 

It won’t take long before you’ll be looking at each other, arms aching, blood everywhere (including all over you), the tuna will be darting everywhere under the boat and it looks like a giant aquarium at feeding time. The frantic workout that goes along with a wide open bite will soon have you shedding clothes down to your tee shirts, tank tops and even skivvies so dress in layers otherwise you’ll over heat and possibly lose a few pounds during the aerobic tuna dance. You only had to look around a little to see clothes piled everywhere this day. It’s enough to make one wonder if the phrase “Fish Naked” came from a wide-open bite.

It’s blood, guts and glory paired with pandemonium and soon you’re wondering when it’s going to stop and it may not stop for hours. In our case we usually discuss how many fish we want to keep before we even leave the dock. This was not a normal morning for us as we slept in, stopped for lattes and casually left long after the sunrise. The excitement of the Chinese fire drill was now worn off by the time we realized we hadn’t had this particular conversation. Amidst all the pandemonium I raised the question and in sequence almost immediately everyone stopped dead in their tracks. In that moment everyone froze, looking at me with one of those blank “Oh crap” stares. We quickly did our tally, how many fish for you and you and on down the line. The count for how many we had hoped to keep was far less than was already in the box. Not quite the problem you hear people complain about and no grumbling was heard as we landed what was now on the hook and immediately retrieved the other rods before they could hook up again. It’s hard to stop in the middle of a feeding frenzy, but that’s exactly what we did. Our day was done and it wasn’t even noon yet. Our first stop with just over an hour of fishing there was over 32 fish in the box.

 A few high fives, a quick drink and we began the cleaning up of the bloody carnage that was the crew and the boat. Another critical thing to remember is, do not rinse the boat until you’re done fishing or you may lose your bite and will have to move to find another school of fish. It won’t take long for the sharks to show up during a wide open bite but rinsing the boat while dead in the water whacking’em will speed up their arrival and too much blood in the water can also turn them into feeding machines sometimes leaving you with only a tuna head to reel in.

In our case we set down and took a break to cool off before cleaning things up. If you’re not the type of person that wants to stop at a mere 30 plus fish or if you just wanted more, you could easily keep going.

In many cases people lose the bite and decide to go find more fish. That is certainly one option but I would suggest you stay put, take a break and have something to drink to cool off or maybe just have a snack. What’s wrong with taking a break, the fish did and if you work it right they’ll be back and probably before your rested. If you have live bait, put out a couple rods leaving the clicker on with the bail open. They’ll let you know when their back and you’ll soon be back at it going wide open again. No live bait, don’t worry, use dead bait or a swimbait. Whatever you do, don’t rinse the boat out or you’ll have to move to another location and start over.

One of the biggest things about tuna fishing is finding the fish. So there you are working them over and all of a sudden you lose your bite. They may not have gone anywhere but down, so use your iron and go after them and bring them back up. It’s not as hard as you think, and always worth a try. If you have a lot of drift, you may have drifted out of the area that was holding fish and might just need to move back up to the original spot and get them going again. If you’re chumming and have the bite wide open they’ll follow you a long time.

Be aggressive go after them and work’em over. It will show you a whole different side of the sport that’s fun, exhilarating and a serious rush for all you adrenaline junkies. The “dark side” as we call it will get even darker and the addiction stronger.

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Odell Lake Monster Mack’s

May 1997

Traveling down the Cascades Lakes Highway I was looking forward to a couple days of fishing on Wickiup Reservoir with some buddies. You never know what to expect or who might show up from year to year. This annual fishing trip always generates wild times, a lot of laughs and a few new friendships. I’m not sure the designated tree for the beer can pile is indicative of how much fun we’ve had, but maybe the size of the pile might tell who showed up that year. We stood around the campfire catching up on the past, telling jokes and stories, while the beer flowed freely into the night. Sometimes well into the wee hours making it difficult to find a crew awake and sober enough to crawl out of their warm snug sleeping bags at the crack of dawn. The lite drinker that I am, I always try to make sure my buddy Tom Shew is along. We’ve shared many fishing trips and Dr. Pepper being his drink of choice makes mornings a little more enjoyable for both of us.

This adventure would prove to be a soggy one as a cold front was threatening with rain and snow. It was early May and in the cascades that can mean beautiful sunny weather one moment or snow blowing sideways the next. I’ve learned you have to be prepared for anything.

I was just coming off four days of guiding for Mackinaw Lake trout at Odell Lake and the fishing gods had been good to us with fantastic fishing and exceptional weather. My fingers were still tender from being in the water and around sharp teeth and fishing hooks. Four days of guiding had yielded 34 Mackinaw ranging from 8 to 31 pounds, releasing all of them for another day and creating a great start to the season.

The first day on Wickiup was typical Cascades weather. The sun shined, then it rained followed by a light snow, sleet and the wind blew. Out on the water we stayed inside the comfort of the boat canopy keeping the heater company and only went outside long enough to reel in a kokanee from time to time. Fishing was slow, as it very often can be when the wind blows, making it difficult to control the trolling speed. The water was 37 degrees and most of the peaks around still had plenty of snow covering them. When the wind came up it would pierce the layers of clothing like cold sharp steel.

By 10am we retreated to the warmth of the campfire at Gull Point Campground with only a dozen kokanee in the cooler to show for our efforts. Shivering, the warmth of the fire slowly penetrated us and soon we were debating what to do next. After a warm breakfast in our bellies, I informed my two fishing partners, Tom Shew and his buddy Gary, this kind of weather was normal for this time of year and we could pull the boat to chase Mackinaw back at Odell. Being adventurous chaps, and with no hope of getting back out on Wickiup until evening made the decision easy to make a trip to Odell Lake.

Within an hour we were on the water at Shelter Cove Resort. Tom stepped into the boat and almost tripped as he caught sight of the enormous plugs dangling from the rods and grinning with a puzzled look on his face. I smiled and remarked, “big plugs equal big fish”. These two had never fished for the monsters of the deep in Odell and didn’t have a clue of what was in store for them or what to expect. If the plugs were any indication, they were in for a big surprise.

The weather was cloudy, cold and a light breeze blowing from the west created the signs we needed for great Mackinaw fishing. The Kokanee fishermen had all surrendered to the shelter of their RV’s and we had the lake all to ourselves. As I began coating anchovy oil on the plugs, I noticed them looking at each other laughing and shaking their heads in amazement. I continued with my routine clipping the lines into the downriggers and sending the plugs into the darkness below. My companions intently observed my every move as I precisely went through the motions of the techniques I had honed. Having never experienced this type of fishing was intriguing and the duo was about to get introduced to a whole new world of chasing deep-water predators. Having only fished these monsters for two years, I was also still learning the ways of these magnificent fish and the opportunity to share this was a real treat for me as well.

We were trolling Ace High Canadian plugs made by Silver Horde for commercial salmon trollers. Attached to 4 feet of leader topped with a 6-bead chain swivel that was snapped into the main line swivel. During the early part of the season you want to put the plugs out about 100 feet behind the boat before clipping them into the downriggers and sending them into the darkness below. Once you get into June and the fish have been chased, they get a little wary and you need to let them out 125-150 feet behind the downrigger before clipping them in. Then the task of running one lure snaking along the bottom while lure number two maintains at least 10 feet above to keep from tangling can be a challenge.

If you think more is better, forget it. I’ve ran four set-ups on 4 downriggers and you’ll catch fish but you’ll have a smaller average size. If you want to catch the big boys you need to run big lures and remember their spooky. When trolling plugs like Lymans, J- Plugs and Silver Hordes it’s critical to keep your trolling speed over ground at 2.5-3mph. Too slow or too fast and the lures won’t be as effective and as these speeds you’ll also need to stay close to your downrigger to constantly be adjusting it as the bottom goes up and down. It’s a lot of work to do it right but after you land a couple of these brutes you’ll be hooked and understand what it takes to catch trophy size macks.

Mackinaw lake trout were planted in Odell Lake in the early 1900’s and because they live on the bottom and only periodically come up to feed, it takes the use of a good fish finder and a downrigger to put your bait in their feeding zone. Combine the technical difficulty of this fishery along with the abundance of the Kokanee and it’s no wonder people have left them pretty much alone, but today that would change!

Barely trolling 400 yards Tom asked “What does that mean when that pole is limp like that”? I grabbed the rod reeling frantically trying to get all the slack taken up from trolling deep and fast; the “race” as I call it. The fish is shaking his head trying to spit the plug while the fisherman reels furiously to get the line tight –Who will win? I handed the rod to Tom as we won the first round. Gary followed by example when the other rod also went slack. Amazing, it couldn’t be, a double – my first!

It wasn’t long before we were starring at a pair of 8 to 10 pound fish lying on the floor of my boat and I told them, “These are small ones but the best eaters if you want to try them on the grill”. The cross-eyed look on their faces told me they weren’t sure of what to believe next. Smiling and happy we threw them in the cooler and went back to fishing.

By now it was snowing and the shoreline was nowhere to be seen and we didn’t mind as we more concerned with watching our rods popping up slack. Trolling up the lake and following the 140-foot contour line we huddled around the heater to keep our fingers warm.

Now thoroughly impressed I told them I was changing the rules of the game. I would no longer be joining in the “race”. Whoever is closest to the rod should grab it and reel like crazy till it’s tight. Twenty minutes later the score changed as they hesitated looking at the limp rod debating who should grab it. That brief hesitation didn’t produce the outcome they hoped for. You’d think after I threatened them with the boat paddle they’d get faster, but that wasn’t the case. Soon the score was fishermen 2 and fish 2 but my mates were quick to catch on with no more misses the rest of the day.

I wanted them to experience the “race” and the battle getting the most from this adventure while adding a few more memories.

They got faster at reeling up the slack and the fish got bigger when the guys soon released two fish, each exceeding 18 pounds.

The day was capped by Tom’s victory over a 32 pounder smiling from ear to ear as I took the photograph. This would not be a day he’d soon forget as he released the fish and we soon headed back to Shelter Cover to load the boat.

Tired from bobbing around in the boat and tugging on Odell’s monsters we couldn’t wait to get back to Gull Point Campground at Wickiup to tell the others as the campfire would have a few more stories tonight.

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