BY DAVE HURLEY
PRINCETON-BY-THE-SEA –– Nothing gets the blood stirring of northern California saltwater afficionados more than the thought of bluefin tuna, and hen the first sighting of bluefin tuna outside of the Half Moon Bay Weather Buoy occurred this past Wednesday, anglers went into immediate ‘bluefin mode,’ adding top shots to their reels and visiting area tackle shops in search of huge plugs. The internet lit up with the report by Captain Michael Cabanas of the Huli Cat who witnessed a 9-mile stretch of tuna jumping from the Weather Buoy to Pioneer Canyon while on a bird watching trip. The tuna were being followed by Sabine’s Gulls and Buller’s Shearwaters which are always around feeding whales, albacore, and tuna.
Captain Dennis Baxter of the New Captain Pete has been experiencing all symptoms of ‘bluefin fever’ after four unsuccessful attempts last season. He said, “This was a chance for redemption for last year as it’s not very often you get the opportunity to land a southern California species in our waters, and I immediately called a ‘family emergency’ by summoning my son, Braden, to come home from his studies at Humboldt State University to get on the boat on Friday morning. He made the 7-hour drive home while I iced up the boat and made all of the preparations. The boat will be sold within the coming months, but it has always been a ‘bucket-list’ experience to land a bluefin in northern California waters. There’s only a handful of people that I know that I would want to be out with on a crew trip, and my son is number one on this list. This made for an incredible experience. Perseverance was the key word as we went out on Friday for no hookups. There were around 20 boats out on Friday so there wasn’t a lot of pressure as the boats were spread out. Saturday was a different story as the parking lot was full, and there were three hookups reported with two fish landed. Fortunately, we were one of the two boats that came through with a bluefin.”
Braden added, “Dad coerced me to drop everything and come home on Thursday, and we trolled all day on Friday for nothing. However, Saturday, we hooked one at 9:30 a.m., and I was able to bring it to the gaffs in 20 minutes on a rod that I wrapped myself, a United Composite 76 Viper on a Penn 50 SW reel. Alan Tani, northern California tuna guru and reel repairman, rebuild the reel and provided advise on targeting the bluefin. I was glad that the fish bit the rod with 130-pound mainline as the others would have been more of a struggle. Most anglers are undergunned right now, and the chances of losing the fish-of-a-lifetime increase the longer the fish is on the line. Some of these fights are taking up to four hours. The bluefin was larger than the 120-pound tuna I landed out of San Diego a few weeks ago, and we estimated it between 135 and 140 pounds. The fish bite a Nomad-design DTW Minnow at a setback of 600 feet.”
Dennis Baxter continued, “The long setback was important as it was a matter of 50 feet on the downrigger and 500 to 600 feet behind the boat. We got three gaffs into this fish, and immediately began setting up a tail noose for the next fish if it came. We trolled around for another 1.5 hours before the words of Kenny Rogers proved true – ‘You got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, and know when to run,’ and we pulled the plug at 11:00 a.m. There was one other fish landed that day on a big swimbait when the boat stopped to throw iron, and the fish bit on the retrieve. Some anglers are trolling jacksmelt that are taken outside of the harbor, but there is no live bait available. These fish are jumping once before heading back down and not foaming, therefore, there hasn’t been enough time to even throw iron. These are big fish, and 85 pounds is a small one.”
How long the fever lasts is anyone’s guess, but for Captain Dennis and Braden Baxter, this day won’t be forgotten for a lifetime.