Pack a Lunch When Tangling with Tuna
When in pursuit of criminals such as the infamous Professor Moriarty, the inestimable Sherlock Holmes would announce, with controlled passion of course, the game is afoot. Offshore fishermen are more boisterously enthused when they have their quarry in their sights, offering up the excited yet simple refrain, Fish on!
Last week, fishing with Karl Roscher and his wife Robin aboard their 32-foot sportfisher Hurricane, we didnt have a lot of opportunities to sing out the fishermans mantra. But when we did, it was well worth it.
We traveled roughly 45 miles to the Hot Dog, a two-and-a-half hour run in the four-foot chop, which out there amounted to relatively calm seas. The White Marlin Open had also brought the big-money boys and girls to the fishing grounds. The most productive fishing grounds for big-game species are where the Gulf Stream currents warm the water, so here they were competing for the huge pot of gold awarded to the best anglers in the Open.
We were hoping to get in on the yellowfin and bluefin tuna bite, which had been going on for several weeks. If dolphin, also called mahi, showed up along a weed line, I would have taken a crack at them as well.
The name of the game for many anglers chasing tuna in the dog days of August is chunking, which is simply cutting up pieces of butterfish or even menhaden and periodically tossing it overboard to attract the tuna. Looking for a challenge, I brought my nine-weight fly rod to go after dolphin.
As we found out later, the hot action was very early in the morning, not lasting much past nine oclock. Sure enough, at about 8am the lightest rod on the boat, a 30-pound test outfit, went down hard as line peeled off the reel faster than Madonna peels off clothes.
After losing about 500 yards in the first 10 minutes, I finally was able to apply more drag to take back line. More than an hour passed before the fish made its first run under the boat, bolting toward the gear, prop and rudder in a slick move to break free. The fish did this about half a dozen more times over the next 45 minutes. Each time I reeled in line, it took it back. It finally came up to the surface, looked me in the eye and sent a telepathic message that read not yet.
At last, Karl got the fish into gaff range, but at the last second, perhaps recognizing its imminent peril, the monster broke off. Stunned, all I could say was No mas, like Roberto Duran after Sugar Ray took the fight out of him. Karl later estimated it at more than 100 pounds.
If you have ever tangled with a large tuna, particularly a yellowfin or bluefin, you know its a bar-room brawl. I wrestled a bit in grade and high school, but I never took a whupping like the one that tuna put on me. I was sore for three days in places I forgot I had muscles.
We boated a couple tuna, including a powerful 73-pound yellowfin, and somehow I ended up on the rod, which eased the pain of losing that brute. At least a little.
Fish Are Biting
Where in the world are the rockfish? Anglers from Pooles Island past Bloody Point are working hard to catch their limit of legal stripers. Several fly-fishing and light-tackle guides who generally work the upper Bay told me that they shifted operations farther south toward the Patuxent and Choptank rivers to chase scattered and unpredictable schools of decent-sized stripers and small blues.
Down the Bay, things seem to be more reliable, with chummers scoring limits on some days rather quickly but on other days waiting for the fish to get hungry. Trout, flounder and some Spanish mackerel round out the fish in the Bay.
Offshore, off Ocean City and Wachapreague, the tuna bite is still on, and billfishing has stepped up as well.