By Bear Holmes
Hatchery Trout… innocent fun or gateway fish?
Del Stephens’ blog on Tuna Addition, combined with fishing the OTC with the Tobecks last weekend, got me thinking about how I became a Tuna Addict.
It started out innocently enough… fishing for hatchery trout with Dad and Grandpa off the bank at Lake of the Woods. Pretty soon it was boat fishing for bass and catfish, then a bigger boat for rockfish and lingcod, then still a bigger boat for salmon and halibut and before you know it bam! Hooked on tuna.
It’s the same old story, you do it because your friends do it or try it once just to see what it’s like but pretty soon it’s more, bigger, better and then you can’t wait for the next “trip”. You start hanging around with the wrong crowd; guys with names like “Tuna Dog”, “Tower Todd”, “Cornfed”, “Marlin Mike”. Before too long you are buying all kinds of tuna paraphernalia and spending 25 bucks for a scoop of “chovies” just to support your habit.
Hi, my name is Bear and I’m a tunaholic.
In 2006, peer pressure lead me down the garden path to Westport. In spite of the fact that I knew several of my friends had become addicted I thought “What the heck, I’ll just take one trip to see what it’s like.” At the time, I honestly told my wife “Don’t worry, it’s just one trip and I can handle it.” Well, like many others before me, after experiencing a wide-open full-on bait stop I was hooked and I’ve been looking for the next trip ever since. One year I postponed rotator cuff surgery in order to take a tuna trip; you can have surgery anytime, but tuna are only around July-October.
And so it goes… you forsake your health and your family and pretty soon you’re taking days off work, calling in sick, buying “tuna clones” and arguing about which will give you a bigger rush, 50 pounds of Alaskan Chinook or 30 pounds of Westport Albacore.
Last year I was fortunate enough to get an invitation to fish with Rob Tobeck and his sons Mason and Madden aboard the Salmonhawk. I really enjoy fishing with the Tobecks. First, they are fun to be around; the boys have inherited their dad’s sense of humor and they truly enjoy each other’s company and I enjoy their company too. Second, they are all excellent fishermen; the boys would easily out fish most of my adult friends. And Rob is an experienced skipper with great equipment; the Salmonhawk is a well maintained 30’X10’6” Seaswirl and is the right tool for the job and the twin 250 Yamahas get you there (and back) in a hurry and all of his gear is first rate. Short story… we went 21 for 24 and had a great time… the addition grows…
That brings us to this year…
I was blown away when the Tobecks invited me to fish with them as a member of Team Outdoor Line in the 2010 Oregon Tuna Classic last weekend. I knew Del Stephens and his lovely wife Weddy and a team of volunteers put on a first class event and I could hardly wait. Rob had been waiting for a tuna fix since his last trip of last season and he’s been talking tuna nonstop all winter and spring (just ask Nelly). And I’m just as bad; every time I get an email from Rob with “tuna” in the subject line my heart rate goes up 20 beats a minute.
Here’s the Salmonhawk on the road to ruin.
The OTC started out at the Port of Ilwaco with a meeting and social hour Friday night and we saw all the usual suspects including Captain John and the Salt Patrol and ran into Matt Olson from CCA.
A lot was said at the meeting, but we only heard two things: 1. Del Stephens: “There are tuna out there and they are hungry” and 2. Coast Guard spokesmen: “It looks like it’s going to lay down for you folks tomorrow”.
Off to bed with dreams of tuna dancing in our heads… very little sleep anticipating the next day’s event made morning come early. Down to the boat at 4:30 to set out the rods and prepare the boat for the 6:00 shotgun start. We just got started setting out gear when the cabin lights started flickering… hmmm… electrical problems on a boat are never a good thing; a quick look at the situation discovered a wiring issue which caused us to postpone our start. We quickly analyzed the problem as minor and limited to the low voltage side of the shore power battery charger that luckily had zero affect on the boat operation, so off to the bait dock for a couple of scoops of anchovies.
We missed the 6:00 shotgun start but we caught up and passed a couple of the slower boats and hit the first stop just before 8:00. Having fished as a team the year before, we have a system… I drive the boat on troll, Rob and 14 year old Mason put out the troll rods and 10 year old Madden waits for the first rod to go off… he gets the first fish. Just got the gear out and wham! Fish on! Everyone springs into action, Madden on the troll rod, Rob starts clearing troll lines barking orders (sounds a little like Holmgren) “Mason, get out the chum and get on a jig rod” and “Bear! get out the swim baits” and “Madden, when you rest the fish rests… keep after it son!” Rob quickly joins the show but no action. Madden does a great job of getting a nice albie to the gaff and we have our first fish in the box at 8:04… things are looking up. Coach Rob thinks about the electrical problem and reminds us it’s not how you start but how you finish.
Time passes and we pick up another single around 9:00 and lose a couple on swim baits and jigs. Pick up one more single and lose a few more fish… dang! It is very unusual for this crew to lose fish and we really don’t know why but later find out other proficient fishermen had the same problem.
The day winds down but it was desolate out there; nothing… no birds, no jumpers, nothing on the troll rods… zero, zip, nada. Things are looking pretty dismal by 1:30 with only 3 fish in the box for 5 fish total weight contest. Rob announces “It’s the fourth quarter boys, we gotta get going.” At 2:00 he says “We need a Hail Mary”. I look out and it is flat calm I see a slight temperature increase from 57.7 to 57.8 then 57.9 and then 58 degrees and I have a good feeling. Then it happens, one of the troll rods goes off and again we jump into action. I grab the troll rod and Mason starts jigging and Madden flings swim baits, then Rob jumps in and it’s what tuna junkies live for… per pandemonium. I land the troll fish and grab a swim bait rod and I’m hooked up again, Mason is putting on a jig rod seminar and Madden is hooked up on a swim bait Rob’s got a jig rod hook up and in short order go we 6 for 8… nine fish in the box at 2:30 and we are an hour and a half from the finish line with a 4:00 deadline. Stow the rods, pack the fish on ice and it’s Hammer Down!
Running along at WOT one of the 250hp Yamahas started to surge… dang! We throttle back and decide we need to change the fuel filter… Rob says he changed them last week and decides we don’t have time to do it again and off we go. It turns out to be the right decision as the motor smoothes right out and never misses a beat for the rest of the weekend. Luckily a fairly smooth bar crossing, followed by a questionable ride through the “No Wake Zone” at the Coast Guard Station but we get through unscathed and check in at the finish line at 3:54. High fives all around… what a rush.
There were 80 entries total, 67 answered the 6:00 roll call and 49 checked in fish. We ended up 19th with a total weight of 110.6 pounds for our five largest fish. We were less than three pounds out of the top 10 and less than 16 pounds out of the lead. Like many others, just a couple of good fish away from glory, but that’s the way it goes.
We went out Sunday and again started slow but Captain Rob made a good call to move to another location and it was on; all of our fish were bigger than the ones we weighed in the day before. We actually had to leave a wide open bite due to the hour and a half run in plus a four hour road trip home.
I had a great time and had a few firsts, first time I fished in a tuna tournament, first time fishing an IGFA event, first tuna on a swim bait, first tuna on a spinning rod. If you’ve never caught a tuna on a spinning rod, it’s a blast. I actually caught several over the two days on spinning gear and I really enjoyed the CCA branded FethaStyx Big Game casting rod. I found it to be an excellent rod with a super strong back bone and a light enough tip to get some good distance and action when flinging swim baits but you do pay for the lighter tip on the larger albies.
Mason (AKA ‘Donut Boy’) is the jig master and had more hookups than anyone. Here he is contemplating another donut.
Young Madden put on a swim bait clinic on Sunday. Slightly short of his smack talking predication of 20 swim bait fish for the weekend, he hooked an impressive 5 fish at the last stop alone.
If you ever get the chance to tuna fish with the Tobecks… do it. One word of caution… other than the addiction… be prepared to do some reeling; first, Captain Rob will put you on fish and second, the boys will only grab a troll rod if they are ordered to; they much prefer to let the guest reel in 350 yards on the spooled reel while they grab the jig and swim bait fish. Like I said, they are good fishermen… and smart too.
So… all you dads, uncles, brothers, grandpas and friends out there ask yourself this question… “Do friends let friends tuna fish?” Think about it… In the meantime I have to go check Terrifin SST…