Tuna-less No More
The place of call was to be Pt. MacDonnell. The date: May 10th, 2002.
Given the fact that the Tuna's migration is seasonal along our coast line, as well as having caught Tuna around the area the previous year (read Albacore or Blue Fin), it was only fitting for us to try our hand again at some sports fishing, and endeavor some deep water drops off the Continental Shelf as well.
I too had a score to settle with a Blue Fin as well, considering that the last time we were down this way, everyone bagged a Tuna except two people - one of which was your truly.
As a result, I was aptly named as member of "Team Tuna-less", a tag I wasn't particular fond of, especially with Chinook's regular and timely if not jovial reminders to the fact. Hence I was even more determined to land a Tuna on this trip.
There were to be 5 of us on this particular trip, with the standard FSA Team of Coho, Chinook and Tripod, and along for the ride were Danny Beger (Coho's Lawyer - great guy, didn't hold his job against him !) and Oshim Somers, (who I have for many years affectionately called " the Little Black Buddha" !).
We used the services of Port MacDonnell Fishing Charters, where by Jason Fulham, owner of PMFC and skipper of Apollo, offers a unique knowledge of the waters in and around Pt. MacDonnell and the Shelf.
With our previous association with Jason the year before, it was only fitting we employ his services again. Our accommodation for the next two nights was to be the Breakfast Bungalow, managed by Andrew & Gretel Sneath.
Apollo measures 28 foot length by 3m beam , V8 turbo diesel mercruiser, 270 horsepower with a maximum speed of 33 knots, and cruising speed of 17-20 knots. It has your standard mod cons such as GPS & Sounders, VHF, HF radios, Phone, and toilet facilities on board.
Expectations of a successfull charter always run high, with the anticipation of targeting, chasing and catching your intended quarry, namely, the Blue Fin Tuna.
The weather was not on our side, with overcast and showery conditions forecast for the day. Infact, I found the first day out on the water to be an eye opener as to how rough the water and weather conditions can become out on the Continental Shelf.
It was raining, there were 10 - 15 metre swells, and lastly I felt sea sick most of the day. True to form though, I never puked, just felt miserable sitting in the cabin, feeling every heave or sway of the boat in large seas, as the boat systematically trolled its way along the Continental Shelf.
Archie, the Skipper's dog, definitely had his sea legs, as he was able to counter every single bone shattering crash of the boat against the waves, with ease. The trick was to use your legs as shock absorbers when coming down on a wave, and Archie was definitely an expert.
To cap it all off, my camera was damaged, and as a result, lost all the snaps taken so far that day. Luckily, Chinook had his camcorder, and with much work and dedication, has been able to produce surprisingly good quality stills from the recording.
After 10 hours on the water and nothing to show, the sight of land was a welcoming prospect, and with the anticipation of stable ground under my feet, the contemplation of food and drink was surprisingly a welcoming thought. After a much needed shower, meal and coffee, we all hit the sack with the relish of a 4.00am fishing start the next day, and hoping for fairer weather.
All good things come to those who wait, as the saying goes, and the next day produced one of the best days of fishing I have ever experienced. The weather was great, the swells were not as high as the previous day and were widely spaced, and conditions were just about right. All that was required were the fish.
All the fishermen and charter operators around Pt MacDonnell tend to stick together on the water and it wasn't uncommon to hear radio calls being made informing everyone that most of the tuna schools were further northwest along the coast, heading from Robe to Pt MacDonnell.
It wasn't till about 9.00am when we all had a major strike on our lures, of which, both Coho and I were able to land our fish.
One of the hardest things to accomplish while fighting Tuna with a group of guys, is to ensure you don't cross each other's lines, and to also follow the fish around the boat.
Tuna are not very accommodating when it comes to landing them quickly, with their antics in diving under the boat from one side to the other, and acrobatics for fishermen on a boat is a prerequisite to this type of game fishing.
All up, by 9.17am, on May 10th 2002, I had finally landed my first ever Tuna, and the grin says it all !!
The day presented itself with many opportunities of strikes and landings, and the trick to it all was firstly to locate your quarry. This was achieved by both the Skipper (Jason) and us continuously scanning the horizon for any form of bird activity.
This is not as easy as it sound, given the fact the swells were still about 6 - 7 metres, and you could only truly scan the waters as the boat reached the crest of each swell, allowing you only about a 5 second window of searching.
The presence of sea birds, or their behaviour can tell you a great deal about fish movement and the areas of bait fish. Birds often rely on the predatory fish to chase the bait fish to the surface. So there is a good reason for seabirds to gather over mobs of bait fish which are being hit from below by predators.
When there is no feeding frenzy, birds usually climb to a higher altitude, hover and scan the ocean. From this height they can watch the shimmering schools of bait fish or the darker patches of schooling predators in the water. The altitude of the sea bird above the water is a good indicator of the depth at which the fish are swimming. The closer the schools of fish are to the surface, the lower the birds hover, and vice versa.
Some types of birds are more reliable than others as indicators of the presence of fish. Seagulls and Albatrosses are at the bottom of the scale where as Terns and Petrels are at the top of the reliability scale.
Seagulls and Albatrosses will go for just about anything, including lures, as they are the ultimate scavenger of the sea. While Terns on the other hand prefer live food and hunt the same types of fish that attract predators.
Once bird activity was sighted and a bait ball identified, and jumping tuna spotted, the Skipper lined the boat up so as to go straight through the middle of the school.
With a teaser and our lures trolling behind the boat, hookups were inevitable. However, not all hookups occured simultaneously.
One trick the Skipper employed was, when a single hookup occured, he would still continue to troll with a hooked tuna, which in turn attracts other tuna to the surface for further potential hookups with the remaining lures.
It can take up to a minute for all rods to register a strike, and once all rods were loaded, Jason powered the engine down, and the real fighting began.
There were many occasions where all rods were loaded with a Tuna, yet not all were landed due to insecure hookups, or a slip in concentration gave slack line and the opportunity for the Tuna to escape.
On one occasion, I had a hookup with what seemed to be a 60kg fish (so the skipper said after he worked the rod !) and it turned out to be a 13kg Tuna that had been foul hooked through the gills. Ever tried to bring up a Tuna sideways ?
The level of anticipation that exists of landing your catch once you actually see some colour in the water is definitely a feeling to enjoy.
It also sparks some trepidation though, given that after all the hard work and fight in bringing the Tuna this far, the potential still exists in losing your catch.
A gaff and net is a must, and once used, tends to put a feeling of elation as well as welcomed finality to your fight.
Many a times, prior to this trip, I had envisaged fighting and landing a Blue Fin Tuna.
Having been given the opportunity of a successful hookup but then the subsequent loss of landing a Blue Fin last year, the recollection of that fateful day has never been far from my thoughts.
The harrowing yet enduring razing I received since then, from Coho and Chinook , by being tagged as a "Team Tuna-less" member definitely played its toll on me for nearly twelve months, with the emotional and psychological scarring and baggage I have had to bear since that ominous day.
However, the best form of medication and therapy for such a debilitating condition, was simply to have a successful stint of landing a Blue Fin Tuna. Suffice to say, as can be seen, I am now fully recovered.
The good weather also gave us the opportunity to experience some deep water bottom fishing. Try and visualise a bottom rig made of the following ..........
- a 3 metre heavy mono trace
- a 4 inch Star-lite (an attractor)
- 6 x 6/0 hooks evenly spaced
- Hooks baited with squid, pilchards and fillets
- At the end of the trace, a 2 kg steel sinker.
All this is then fastened to 750 metres of 24 kg braided line. It is then allowed to descend in about 265 fathoms of water (265 fathoms = 1590 ft = 485 metres).
Everyone except for Danny and Oshim decided to sit this one out, as we all new it would take a collective effort of reeling to bring the rig and any potential quarry up from under half a kilometer away.
The advantage of using braided line as opposed to monofilament is twofold. One, braided line has no elasticity so you are able to feel every bite and striking your rod has an instant effect, and two, braided line has a smaller Xsectional area than mono (from third to half), allowing you to spool more line onto your reel.
It took about 5 minutes for the whole rig to hit the bottom, where by the ensuing hookup, fight and landing of a double header took around 40 minutes and the efforts of everyone onboard working Oshim's rod.
Danny on the other hand, had all the luck in the world, by landing a nice sized Big Eyed Trevally. These fish are renowned for their exceptional taste.
Giving credit where credit is due, Danny fought this sucker from the bottom all on his own. Definitely a testament to his level of dedication and enthusiasm towards deep water drop offs.
At one stage, while working Oshim's rod, I could see colour in the water, and a huge grey silhouette buzzing the catch. This grey silhouette turned out to be a Mako shark.
As soon as the Skipper saw this, he prepared a special long shanked gaff, specifically made for sharks. When used, this type of gaff is like a normal one, except the handle is about 10 feet long, the hook as a thick rope attached to it of which the end was secured to a cleat, and once the shark is gaffed on the tail, the hook separates from the handle. The boat is then driven forwards with the shark in tow, facing backwards, allowing the water to flow in reverse through his gills which in turn drowns the shark.
Using the catch from the bottom as live bait, I tried to entice the shark to attack by reeling in and releasing some line. Suddenly, the line went ballistic, and believe it or not, my drag was set to just about maximum. All I could do is brace by back, hold the rod, and wait for the shark to become fatigued. Unfortunately, as the hook trace was mono, I lost the shark, but at least it offered some great excitement for all of us.
At the end of the day, the tally read as follows ..........
- 11 Blue Fin Tuna caught tagged 5, kept 6
- Weight of Blue Fin ranged from 13 kg to 18 kg
- Caught Blue Eyed Trevally from 485 metres down
- Caught several Perch from 485 metres down
- Missed landing a 26 kg Albacore - Oshim is still kicking himself !
- Had a huge run on a Mako Shark bit mono hook trace
- 5 guys only drank 6 Crownies in 2 days - something wrong here ?
Now to cap it all off, Chinook has spent many exhaustive hours in compiling a short 4 second clip of Tuna Jumping . Hopefully its enough for you to perceive the nuances of our trip to Pt MacDonnell.
Many thanks Chinook.
WMV Movie Clip
As they say, a perfect end to a perfect day's fishing. Tuna fishing definitely offers the exhilarance and excitement that most fishermen dream about and wish for.
Don't forget, the tuna that was caught here was smaller than the norm, ranging from 13 - 18 kg in weight. Fish such as Blue Eye Trevally, Hapuka and Mako Sharks are also prevalent in the area, and deep sea fishing is an alternative, if you are willing to retrieve 500m of line from the bottom, with a 2kg sinker at the end of it !!
On a final note, I must give thanks to Jason Fulham, owner/skipper of Pt. MacDonnell Fishing Charters, in providing us with a day's fishing we will not soon forget. Special thanks also goes to Andrew & Gretel Sneath in their provisions of accommodation in a well maintained, clean and spacious house. The combustion heater was a must to use, and great to sit by at nights, as it gets extremely cold down south.
Pt. MacDonnell Fishing Charters provides package deals for Fishing/Accommodation. The fishSA Review for this Charter Service is well worth the read, should you require more information on Pt. MacDonnell Fishing Charters & Accommodation.
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