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Blue Water Tuna
If you know me you know that I’m a steelhead fanatic, and with the Deschutes and John Day being closed I’ve been looking for alternative fishing options. Salmon fishing, Dory fishing out of Pacific City, more trout fishing, and this week was no different. I had originally had a three-day guide trip scheduled for this weekend, and for obvious reasons, we had a change of plans. So I had an open day on Tuesday and made plans with my good friend Rob of Connect Outfitters to go out Tuna fishing. This is one thing I haven’t done yet but have really been wanting to do.
The weather Monday was a little stormy and was supposed to be getting better for Tuesday. The Dorymen usually run out in small groups or with buddy boats for safety reasons. So Rick Harrington, Rob, and myself met up with our “buddy boat” at 6:00 am. We left the Kape around 6:30 while the sun was coming up. It was definitely one of the best experiences I have had in recent times. The cool weather, the salt air, the sunrise, and all the other new experiences.
The plan was to run out about 30 miles till we hit the bluewater where the water temps would hit 60-61 degrees. Apparently, that is the magic line where the tuna would be. Again I have never done this and no absolutely nothing about it but what I’ve been told. And if it’s something I don’t know about, I ask a lot of questions! Probably an annoying amount of them too….
About 15 miles out we saw a couple of fish breaching and came to realize they were porpoises playing in the waves. We went another mike or two and could see more porpoises breaching and jumping. As we looked around we could see there were hundreds of them. Across the horizon from north to south as far as you could see there were porpoises playing. Jumping, flipping, and surfing the waves. As we motored through them they started surfing with us, swimming next to the boat, jumping and being social. We all agreed that even if we didn’t catch any fish that would have made the trip.
It took about two hours to go the 30 miles offshore to the Tuna Grounds. As we were getting out there our Buddy Boats fanned out so we could cover more water. The boats work together keeping in contact, letting each other know if they are finding fish. The Dory Fleet has been doing this for a long time and is great about making sure everyone is successful and safe.
We started trolling and looking for any signs of fish, birds circling on bait, or seeing fish showing themselves. We trolled for about an hour and finally hooked a fish. Rick grabbed the rod out of the rod holder and as soon as he touched it the fish popped off. We pulled it in to check it and the leader had broken. We were disappointed and excited at the same time. We re-rigged the rod and got back to fishing.
A short time later we heard across the radio that guys were finding fish about 6 miles in around 28 miles. We reeled up and Relocated closer in. Almost immediately it was obvious there was life. There were more birds, we saw Whales breaching, the tuna showing themselves, and all the tuna boats were fishing in this area.
We quickly put the lines back out with a renewed sense of hope. We knew we were in the right place and we were full of excitement. We were trolling around and seeing fish showing themselves. Shortly after we put the lines out one of the rods went off. The rod starts bucking and the reel starts screaming, as the fish is violently attacking the fly. They usually hook themselves and almost immediately the fish is I to the backing. Rick is back on the rod and this time everything is going great.
Albacore and all tuna are hard-bodied pelagic predators. These strong fighting, are hard-bodied fish, that are built for speed. Tuna are known for making long runs and sounding deep. And are notorious among anglers for being some of the best fighters, pound for pound. And a big one on a fly rod could take an hour to get in. We were using 12wt rods with fast sinking blue water lines like the Rio Leviathan or the Airflo Depth finder. Flies are medium-sized baitfish patterns 2”-3” long fish on shortish leaders of 30 lb fluoro.
About 10 minutes into the fight you could see the fish and Rick were equally matched. Lift up and reel down, clamp down, and don’t let’em run. Shortly after Rick gets our first fish in the boat. High fives and back slaps all around. Rick looks like he was just literally in a fight and needs to catch his breath. We stopped and ate some lunch and drank some water before we got back to fishing.
We dropped the lines back in the water and went back to trolling. Looking for signs of fish and ready for the next bite. We got back to trolling, putting our flies through schools of fish, zig-zagging over jumping fish, tossing bait over the side in hopes of getting them interested. In the end, it was just luck. We basically ran the boat over a fish that showed itself and it ate the fly. The rod goes off and the line is screaming off the reel.
This time it’s my turn. I pull the rod out of the rod holder and start cranking. The drag on the reel is cranked down tight and I’m wondering if I should turn it up even more. The fish is deep into my backing and I’m cranking as hard as I can. I can't remember the last time I fought a fish like this. I need leverage, bend the rod, crank, don’t let it take out, clamp down and try to stop it. Lift up, reel down, repeat. Lift up, reel down, repeat. Lift up, reel down, repeat. I can finally see the transition from backing to fly line. It’s now within 100’. I’ve got the rod straight down in the water reeling as hard as possible. I feel like I’m making progress but I know it will be short-lived. This fish is nowhere near being tired and has more gas in the tank. I can see the beginning of the sink tip, and I’m feeling excited and stressed. I know what’s coming next. A knuckle-busting, explosive run, as deep as the fish can go. I have both hands clamped down on the rod and fly line, lifting with all my might. I’m looking at the rod thinking to myself “the rod is on the verge of breaking”. All of a sudden I can feel it, the swish of the tail, and the reel starts to scream. I loosen my grip and immediately I’m back into my backing. The fish finally stops it’s deep dive and I’m back to the grind. Lift up, reel down, repeat. All of a sudden I see something swim under the boat. I know exactly what it is; Shark! Now it’s even more imperative for me to get this fight over with. I tell Rob about the shark and he tries to scare it away. I’m reeling with all my might, trying to get this fish in the boat before it ends up a meal for this shark. Lift up, reel down, lift up, reel down, don’t stop, don’t give up. I can finally see the fish. It’s all lit up, shiny silver, with bright blues and green stripes. I put the rod straight down into the water and reel till I feel the leader knot come inside the guides. It’s time to make a move. Rob’s at the stern of the boat ready with the net. I lift as hard as I can and swim the fish towards the net. Rob makes a swipe and the fish is too big for the net, it won’t fit in the hoop. It lays against it for an instant and then dives deep again. Rob and I look at each other, in shock and awe, and disbelief. We both know we have to swim the head of the fish directly into the net. I lift and reel again knowing that we are running out of time. I lift hard and reel. Put the rod straight down into the water and reel the leader into the rod. It’s time to put the fish in the net. I lift and swim the fish towards the net. Rob makes a swipe at the net and the fly breaks off and the fish swims away. My shoulders slump. I’m sad, excited, exhausted, angry, and full of so many emotions. Oh well, I need to get my head back in the game, time to re-rig the rod and get back to fishing.
We troll for about another hour and no more fish. It’s time to head back to the beach. The ocean is flat and the sun is shining. We bring in the rods to make a run for home. We are all excited and in awe of such a great day. We hit the beach and all realize how tired we are. If you have a chance to get out and go do this I can’t recommend it highly enough. This was one of the best times I’ve had recently. I’m still riding the high of the battle with that fish. I hope I have the chance to do it again soon.