For quite a few years now we I have been hearing stories from all of my tuna buddies about the big bluefin they see on occasion busting the water. I also hear the stories about guys getting spooled by something unseen and hear the speculation about what it could be. Adding to all of that was Tred Barta visiting the Oregon Tuna Classic www.oregontunaclassic.com last year and giving the guys a little clinic on how to target these big bluefin. This really got my good friend Del Stephens who is the chair of the Oregon Tuna Classic and one of the pioneers of sportfishing for Albacore in the nw determined to find out once and for all if those fish are out there in big enough numbers to target. Del has been on a mission this winter learning everything he can about fishing for bluefin and putting quite a bit of money into his quest. He has attended seminars back east, invested who knows how much money in new tackle, and spent some time actually fishing for bluefin in North Carolina. He recently asked me to go on a trip to Hatteras, North Carolina and fish with him but it was last minute and I couldn't go. Not going turned out to be one of the biggest mistakes of my fishing career. Below is Del's account of the trip when he returned.
When you think of places like the Outer Banks names like Oregon Inlet, Nags Head and Hatteras come to mind. From Portland Oregon there is no short way to get there either. The closest airport is Norfolk, VA and then a 3 hour drive down the coast line and onto the island traveling south through the little coastal communities that dot the outer banks.
I had researched a few charters and had wanted to go after giant blue fin tuna when out of the blue I received an email, that was forwarded to me, from a charter skipper who had fished one of my friends on a previous trip and he was sending him a note to say “they were in.”
The first morning I arrived at the Hatteras Village Marina at 6:15 am road weary and blood shot eyes from dealing with the time change since it was only 3:15 am Oregon time. A brief introduction to Captain Dan Rooks and his first mate Mike Edwards and we cast the lines and eased out of the slip in the morning darkness. It wasn’t long before we dropped lines in the water and started trolling. A few skirted ballyhoos on the long riggers and a couple lines down the middle to fill the spread. It was a nice day on the ocean and we could hear the radio chatter of other charters working the area, all in search of these big fish. After an hour of trolling with no luck we picked up the lines and ran another 10 miles to where a bite was reported. We dropped our lines in and within 10 minutes I had my first blue fin tuna on the hook and was doing battle. I quickly realized I had way too many clothes on and was over heating bad, I was plenty warm for a boat ride but too well dressed for this workout.
The first day produced constant action once we got into them about 10:00am and by 2:00 pm I was ready to call it a day. I yelled up to the bridge and told Captain Dan I could handle one more and then I’d be done for the day. A few minutes later he obliged and we had number 8 on the hook. The tally now was 8 fish landed, 7 tagged and released with a nice 125 pounder in the box to take home. What a first day, landing fish ranging from 125-170lbs and doing it in 10-15 minutes each time. My muscles were tired, my whole body was exhausted and felt like a noodle. I had three days of fishing with these guys and if this was any indication of how things were going to be I was in for the time of my life.
Day two I was groggy but chipper as I said good morning to the guys and climbed aboard for another day. We started trolling where we left off the day before and after an hour with no action I was nodding off sitting on the ice box against the bulkhead. The seas were forecasted to be rough in the afternoon and we had a three foot wind chop with occasional white caps. I was lacking sleep and still tired from the day before but sleep would have to wait. At 10:30am I moved into the salon to have a snack and my thoughts wandered back to the day before. Another hour of trolling, looking for more blue fin tuna, and it was time for a sandwich. I had just taken my first bite when the sound of singing reels told me we had found the fish. I made a dash for the fighting chair for our first hookup of the day, a triple, and my thoughts were now focused on the task at hand. What a way to start the day. The first fish was barely 100 pounds but the skipper ask if I would keep it and donate it to the community, so it went in the box. Now it was on to number two and the either the activities of the day before were taking their toll or this was a much larger fish. The second fish was kicking my tail, my muscles were screaming and my whole body ached as this battle was an endurance test of strength and will. This fight took longer but after what seemed like an eternity we were able to tag and release a tuna well over 250 pounds. It was now onto number three and by now I was hot and overheating bad. Mike took my hat off, threw it into the salon, and after a short battle was surprised when the fish came to the boat in just a few minutes. A nice fish in the mid 150’s but considerably smaller than number two. Mike tagged and released the third fish as I stood up out of the fighting chair on wobbly legs.
A few high fives and I turned around making my way to the salon to shed some clothes and cool off. I downed a bottle of water and set on the bench in the salon with my legs and arms just hanging limp trying to let them recuperate. A brief five minute rest and the sound of singing clickers brought me back to the fighting chair. This time, a double, and I set out to cranking them in slow and steady…pump, lift and reel…pump, lift and reel. By now my muscles were loosening up and the fish were coming in easier. I was starting to focus more on technique and now that my muscles were warmed up it didn’t seem so awkward. The first fish came in, was tagged then released and Mike handed me the second rod. I caught a glimpse of other fish darting back and forth past the back of the boat. It was incredible, they were swarming all around us and it reminded me of a live bait bite with albacore. I was working the fish, slow and steady, when out of the corner of my eye I saw a ballyhoo sailing past me out over the back of the boat. Suddenly six feet of fish came clear out of the water just ten feet behind the boat and inhaled the bait. What a sight, another 150 pounder on the hook and now fish number three was waiting for me. I was now in a groove and focusing on my technique and was now bringing these brutes to the boat in less than 10 minutes. Another fish tagged, released, and I was on to number three and a moment later another ballyhoo went sailing past me out the back of the boat. The bait landed and was in the water less than 10 seconds when there was a huge boil from fish crashing the bait, all competing for food, and now number four was on the hook and waiting for me. What started out as a double had now turned into a four fish hookup.
Finally number seven had been tagged and released and I stood up out of the fighting chair and told Captain Dan we needed to break yesterdays eight fish total. He said no problem and I headed to the salon for more water and a rest. We didn’t even have all the gear out again and we were hooked up again. I took the rod and after a short fight number eight was now tagged and released. We had established a routine now and things were getting easier. The fish were coming in within a few minutes tagged and being released. I had just enough time to have a snack, sip of water and soon the sound of the singing clicker indicated number nine was on the hook. I dashed out of the salon and took up the position in the chair to do battle with our last fish but the skipper couldn’t resist seeing all the fish swarming behind the boat and pitched another ballyhoo out the back hooking another fish. I guess it would be a ten fish day.
In no time I had them up to the boat, one at a time, and Mike tagged and released them.
It was only 1:30pm and I couldn’t believe we had landed ten fish in just two hours. There was no way we would’ve achieved this if it had not been for Mike’s coaching me while I focused on my technique battling these magnificent fish. If you’d told me I could land ten fish between 100 and 250 pounds all in a manner of two hours, I’d of said “no way” but that’s what just happened. I felt a sense of satisfaction and a definite feeling of accomplishment and couldn’t wait to tell my buddies back home. The skipper and his mate had really put on a show and with some coaching this angler had experienced way more than I had ever dreamed possible.
The wind had been forecast to build in the afternoon so it was a good time to be headed in for the day. I finished the rest of my sandwich and lay down on the bench as we started the long run back in. We were 55 miles out, 15 miles farther than the day before and now had a sporty sea. Fortunately it was a following sea and should make for a smooth trip.
The next morning I was at the boat with a smile and Captain Dan took me up to the little café at the marina store for a cup of coffee. He mentioned we were not in a big hurry since we were only going to be running a short distance to the where we’d be fishing today. We pulled out of the slip as the sun was breaking over the horizon. It was a beautiful sight shinning against the low cloud cover.
We rigged a diver rod for Wahoo, a few close lines for yellow fin and had a couple lines out for blue fin tuna. The morning eek by slowly with no action but around noon we picked up a couple small yellow fin tuna and a black fin tuna that went in the box. We were trolling over sunken wrecks and some under water structures and after a few passes over the same wreck the skipper noticed fish below about 150 feet down. He ask if I knew how to use a butterfly jig and after a nod of acknowledgement he said if I wanted to give it a try he’d stop the boat over the wreck and I could try my luck. He asks if I was very good with the butterfly jig and I told him I was pretty decent at it. He said to take my pick of the jig rods in the salon since they had been left by another fisherman and they didn’t really know much about them or how to use them and maybe they could learn something.
The boat came to a stop and I counted to 150 as the jig was dropping and when I thought I had it where it should be I flip the bail and started the erratic jig retrieve pump and reel action used for bringing up the jig. It only took about three pumps of the rod and I was hooked up and the skipper laughed and commented that he figured I knew what I was doing. Mike put a fighting belt on me and after a brief battle I landed a nice 20 pound amberjack that went in the box. I showed them the technique again and explained the action used with the jig.
By 3:00pm we had a nice box full of black fin and yellow fin tuna to go with the amberjack. We pulled the gear and headed for the harbor. No blue fin tuna today but still a great day on the water.
Once back in the slip I stayed and visited with Captain Dan and Mike covering more details of the techniques and gear used over the last couple days.
It was a fabulous trip and turned out to be way more than I had expected. We had hit the Blue Fin Tuna at an opportune time the first couple days and these guys really put on a show. I came out to learn more about this fishery and they were very willing to share some of their successful techniques and now I had many pages of notes and couldn’t wait to get back to Oregon to give them a try once the summer water temps warmed and the tuna were within reach.
I told them I’d be back and look forward to getting out there again sometime this winter or next spring, whenever the blue fin tuna show up again.