BY LARRY BROWN
Very strange things are always happening on fishing boats and the high seas. I’ve had wahoo crashing into the side of our boat, marlin and makos jumping aerial acrobatics 20 feet off the rail, thousands of whales — greater than any Nat Geo documentary for miles and miles — barn owls landing on the boat hundreds of miles offshore… Or two anglers hooking and landing the same cow tuna, two wahoo hooked on one kite rig, recovering a buoy with a rod and reel still connected to a cow tuna, a storm of thousands of giant flying fish jumping on the boat driving anglers for cover and safety. Anyone of these is possible because I’ve seen it with my own eyes, but rare enough to be noteworthy.
I was on our 7-day fall Royal Star adventure and experienced three very weird events, all on the same trip. I wouldn’t believe it if I didn’t see it with my own eyes. My buddy Larry Diamant hooked and landed a 165-pound bluefin tuna that still had a large Flat-Fall-style jig in its jaw. The jig looked very old and the wound in the tuna’s jaw and side were deep and raw, but the beast was still eating, schooling with his buddies and fought a valiant battle and showing no weakness because of this bejeweled handicap. The jig bore a deep groove in it from the wear and tear against the gill plate of the tuna. It also had a very large organic, animal growth which had attached itself to the jig and had grown to about two inches in size. All of this suggested the fish had been carrying the jig around for a very long time.
The jig also had Japanese lettering on it, but none of the anglers or crew members recognized the brand. This jig was not available from California retailers. Captain Tim sent photos of the jig and deformed tuna to his buddies in the tuna science and conservation circle and an immediate buzz was generated. How old was the fish? Where was it first hooked?
Was it hooked in Japanese waters before its long migration to the Eastern Pacific? Japanese scientists and fishing enthusiasts joined the buzz
The mystery remains unsolved but NOAA scientist and Pacific bluefin tuna expert, Owyn Snodgrass, provided his best guess. From the size and calculated age of the tuna, the wear and tear on both the jig and the tuna’s flesh and the size of the animal growing on the jig, Snodgrass guessed it was originally hooked in the Eastern Pacific by an angler who may have purchased the jig in Japan, and that the tuna had been wearing the jig for at least one or two years. The size of the tuna suggested it had migrated from Japanese waters about three or four years earlier at the age of one or two.
On that same
trip, we saw a bunch of loose line in the water all around the side of the boat. We were yelling out, “Loose Spectra, loose Spectra!” but typically everybody was in denial that it could possibly be theirs. I snagged it just to be helpful and brought it over the rail. Nobody claimed it so I tossed it back thinking the angler will eventually realize his line is all over the place. Deck boss Captain Blake came over and again yelled, “Whose loose Spectra is that?” Ever helpful, I snagged it again and Blake grabbed it and started to pull it in by hand. We saw the end of the line in the water, like someone had just cut it off and dumped it, and nobody was claiming it. Then it became tight but it was all wrapped up in his hands. Danger! There was a fish on the terminal end.
Blake is as strong as an ox and he was able to start wrapping the line around his elbows. His eyes got really big and he whispered, “This is a big #%&@ing fish!” Blake starts barking orders to his crew. “Get a backup rod, get a kite rod, it can’t be filled up.”
Deckhands start running around following Blake’s instructions to cut and splice the line in the water to the line on the backup rod. Angler Courtney Wenzel was standing right there so Blake hands him the rod and screams, “WIND!” By now Courtney has a gallery of cheerleaders, both crew and fellow anglers. A half-hour battle ensues before the beast is brought to gaff — four gaffs actually — and hauled over the rail. We can’t believe it. We are staring at a 180-pound tuna, which had been lost probably by another angler on another boat and Courtney now had it on deck. It had been dragging around 100 yards of Spectra and was still eating. We’re all laughing and high fiving. Good job to the Royal Star crew and congrats to Courtney. Strange stuff happens all the time.
So sure, strange things happen on boats, but not normally three strange things like this all on the same trip. We had been catching bluefin tuna earlier in the day but were on a very frenzied bite of school-size yellowfin tuna. We all appreciate variety. Guys were yelling for gaff, the crew was busy gaffing, helping with tangles and tagging and bleeding fish.
Nobody noticed the lone, long-finned albacore amongst the yellowfin tuna. In fact, it wasn’t noticed until Captain Tim Ekstrom saw it and immediately identified it as an al
bacore when they were unloading the fish for processing. He was so tickled he sent me the photo included herein. What was a lone albacore doing swimming with a large school of yellowfin tuna? Albies like cooler water and yellowfin like warmer water. Fish of different species do not normally school together. No other albacore had been caught all year either.
None of the deckhands or anglers, including my buddy Alex Bravo, the lucky angler whose tag was on the fish noticed it was an albacore. Maybe it was because we hadn’t seen albacore for 10 years and it was so out of context. Maybe, in the frenzy of the bite nobody noticed the obvious differences in color, body and fin length and shape.
All cool stories of strange things that happen all the time on sportfishing boats.