First person report: A Tanner bank bluefin tango

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Another look at Kenji Nakagawa's 157-pound bluefin caught on a 60-pound set-up.
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BY KENJI NAKAGAWA

Bluefin action on the outer banks has slowed from its peak, but it’s still possible to experience the thrill of a lifetime. Kenji Nakagawa fished aboard the Aztec recently and got everything angling dreams are made of. He submitted this first person report:

Day 1 Sunday 11/15

The weather was still up from the front that moved in on Thursday. Ten to 20 knots and 7-12 feet out at the banks. Capt. Greg Gawitt made it clear this was a bluefin or bust trip, so we pointed it west and started the 8-hour ride out to Tanner. I had my gear dialed in by 10 a.m. After lunch I hit the rack and slept as much as could, knowing we would be Flat-Falling all night.

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We arrived on the grounds around 730 p.m. and started looking. Justin Ryan took the wheel around 930 p.m. and had us over fish all night. We made numerous stops from 930 p.m. to 3 a.m. dropping jigs on sonar marks. All for nothing. I caught some sleep from 3:30 to 5 a.m. and then switched to a 60-pound test sinker rig.

Day 2 Monday 11/16

While most are still fishing the jig, I decided to go to my confidence rig, a 60-pound sinker rig with a nose hooked sardine. Around 7:30 a.m. I’m fishing on the bow with Justin, who’s dropping a Colt Sniperish jig for fun. He says to me “Kenji, I think I’ve got your line.”

We both look at my line and it’s slowly running to the side of the boat, away from Justin. “Nope… it’s not me… you’re bit.” I ease it into gear and yell out the first of the trip “Biiiter!!”

The fish immediately dumped three-quarters of my spool, never looking back. After 10 minutes I get it turned back towards the boat and gain some line. For the next hour it was a non-stop fight to the death. I got spelled twice for water breaks and both deckhands also struggled to gain line, maybe putting 30 to 50 feet back on before handing back to me. After 90 minutes I had the fish up and down, but still 100 feet down. Justin had ended his shift and was sleeping by now, so Greg came out of the wheelhouse to lend a hand.

WHAT DREAMS ARE MADE OF – Kenji Nakagawa of Lodi fished aboard the Aztec out of San Diego recently, and after an intense battle on 60-pound line, landed this bluefin that scaled at 157 pounds.

We were positioned in the bow for the final stand-off. Over the next 10 minutes Greg pulled line back onto the reel, foot by foot with his bare hands, all without breaking the 60-pound flouro. Right when I thought I was gassed again, he says 45 more seconds and it’s dead. Sure enough 3 gaffs went in and it was over. She taped out at 159 pounds and scaled at 157 at the docks.

This was the most grueling battle I’ve ever had. The combination of the lighter gear and a bruiser bluefin tuna that didn’t wanna die was something I’ll never forget. That being said, toward the end of the fight we had the drag set fairly tight and Greg was really pulling hard on that fish the last 30 to 50 feet. I have no doubt the kit would handle a fish over 200 pounds. For the gear heads, the kit was my Phenix Hyrbid 7802XH rod, Makaira 15T, Phenix 80-pound hollow braid, Seaguar Premier 60-pound leader, and a 2/0 Charlie Brown hook. She is now nicknamed the BKOB, Black Kit of Death!

After pics and high fives, I went through the Mike Stroh glory routine. Hit the showers, fresh duds, cold beer and moped around the deck for a few hours. Cruise control the rest of the trip.

Besides my fish, two others were landed that stop, both 150 to 175 pounds. The bite was off the remainder of the day with only two other fish being caught on sinker rigs in the evening.

That night the routine continued. Justin driving and hunting fish all night. The entire boat (except for me, I like sleep) continued to drop and grind Flat-Falls into the dark. I woke up around 130 a.m. and found only two guys still grinding with Justin on deck. Three a.m. I hear one hit the deck… Someone yells into the bunk room, “They’re biting, I just got an 80 pounder!”

All hands on deck and jigs dropped, two more fish get hooked. One made it to gaff, a 150 pounder, and one was lost at gaff due to user error. The greenhorn angler had the fish boat side and called for the gaff. As Justin runs for the gaff, the angler pulls the fishes head out of the water and allows it to thrash on the surface, tossing the jig and losing the fish. After the smoke clears, it’s revealed Justin was the first to hook up the 80 pounder and handed off to the passenger. Not surprising…

Day 3 Tuesday 11/17

Rinse and repeat… Greg back on the wheel. Not nearly as much sign of fish today. We covered a ton of water from south of Cortes, up the west side of the banks, back down the east side of the banks, across the southwest corner of SCI and back east toward San Diego. No bites on the sinker rigs or kite today. Very slow.

The crew didn’t give up and they stopped multiple times on sonar schools, up ‘til midnight. Greg made the call to head into port and call the trip.

Final count for the trip: 8 bluefin. Two around 80 pounds, 6 cookie cutters from 155 to 175 pounds.

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