300-Pound Tuna Adventure Aboard Qualifier 105
The Hurricane Bank is about 1125 miles south from San Diego, and with a northwest breeze and swell quartering off her 30-foot beam, Qualifier 105 took about three and a half days to make the journey. The 'Cane is 180 miles southwest of Clarion Island and over 400 miles southwest of Cabo San Lucas, making it the most offshore spot ordinarily fished by the San Diego long range fleet. On most maps it's called the Shimada Seamount, and the map on the back wall in Qualifier's galley makes the depth on the high spot to be 28 fathoms.
Discovered by commercial tuna fishermen half a century ago, Hurricane Bank has become a prime focus of winter and spring long range trips after the closure of fishing near the Revillagigedos Islands since San Benedicto, Socorro, Roca Partida and Clarion were made a preserve in 2002.
Sport fishing is still permitted there outside the 12-mile limit by boats with Mexican permits and anglers wearing daily permits in the form of paper bracelets issued by the Comision Nacional De Areas Naturales Protegidas, which cost four dollars a day. We stopped at Clarion Island and checked in with the Comandante of the naval base there, as required, when we left the bank.
Three days of fishing the bank with live sardines and jigs produced tuna of five to 190 pounds, and wahoo of up to 60 pounds. Small yellowfin were so numerous as to be pests at times, prompting skipper Brian Sims to move the boat to another position or to try trolling for wahoo.
We kept no tuna of less than 20 pounds and very few of less than 30 pounds. Rainbow runners and skipjack tuna also found the boat often, and were released. The weather varied during our trip from breezy, heavy overcast to bright sunny days, but all days were quite fishable, and most were downright pleasant, as expected during early May.
We shared the bank with Royal Polaris, captained by skipper Roy Rose, for two days. Roy took his anglers to Clarion ahead of us, and it was his report of fishing for 100 to 200-pound yellowfin there that prompted our move, especially after we caught no large tuna on our third day.
The wahoo fishing also slowed right after the full moon, with most of our 'hoos biting on sardines rather than jigs and bombs. Two of our anglers had the rare experience of catching three wahoo on 'dines and straight monofilament line on the same day! Most of us got our skinnies on 2/0 to 4/0 hooks with wire leaders of 40 to 65 pounds breaking strength. Single and multi-strand wire leaders both worked well.
Because many wahoo strikes are missed, wire leaders often return to the angler kinked or mangled by the razor-edged tiny triangles edging the jaws of the striped sprinters. I had great success straightening multi-strand leaders with a nifty tool made by John Pandeles of Walnut. Pandeles was a pioneer in fishing big tuna with small international reels and Spectra line, and he specializes in building nifty Corvettes. A couple of passes along the brutalized wire with the tool restored the wire to a usable condition.
Santa Ana engineer Gary Teraoka re-introduced me to the wire straightener. Gary is an Accurate pro staffer, and a tackle whiz who makes all his own leaders for tuna and wahoo, one of a growing number of left-coasters who catches his big tuna with the rod-on-the-rail technique. I used his leaders and some made by the Q-105 crew, with multi-strand wire and 3/0 Mustad 91450 hooks, common and inexpensive.
Fishing was hot at times, with tuna of six to 15 pound biting every bait that tried to swim away. That school was huge, and it moved around the bank, attracting a few seabirds every time it came near the surface. Skipjack tuna and black skipjack tuna up to 20 pounds hung around the boat when it anchored on the high spots, making anglers briefly think they had hooked a larger fish. At times a school of rainbow runners snapped on sardines. Black Mexican jacks stayed close to the pinnacles. These smaller fish, while released, left snarled wahoo leaders behind.
Our food was prepared by Jess Martinez and Mike Johns, and dinner (fresh fish, chicken, pork and beef) was served by crewmen. Two nights before we got to Cabo we had prime rib, and the next evening each table had a full-course turkey dinner with its own crewman to carve the bird. Snacks were offered at midmorning and midafternoon. As on all long range boats, coffee, soft drinks and beer were always available, as were fruit and cookies. Most of us departed Qualifier a couple of pounds heavier, with a well-fed feeling.
Chartermaster Jack Nilsen brought some $75,000 worth of rods and Accurate reels for anglers to borrow. Nilsen has been on the Q-105 many times, and has a following of talented anglers. Long-time long ranger and union carpet layer Allen Lemberg of San Diego had a wonderful trip, bagging two cows. He also pulled off an almost impossible task: using no wire, he bagged four wahoo on bait and straight monofilament line in one day.
“I love those J-hooks,” said Allen, “and that’s why I think I got ‘em; but I was really lucky. I just like those 6/0 Mustad 91450 hooks; they’re cheap, and they’re strong.”
Allen’s feat one-upped another unlikely feat. Earlier the same day, Jim Kirk of Los Alamitos (no relation to the former starship commander) took three ‘skins on bait and monofilament line. He had no idea of how he’d done the feat, but he was more than happy with the results.
Another good fisherman who’s been out with Accurate before was Peter Corselli of Whittier, who fished hard and well, bagging numerous wahoo and plenty of small fish for release at the Hurricane. At Clarion Island he mustered two yellowfin over 200 pounds. Beth Smith of San Diego was also aboard. She has several big tuna to her credit, including a bluefin of over 200 pounds.
Because the fish on the bank were mostly less than 100 pounds, I fished with a new seven-foot Super Seeker 6470 rod and a topshot of 50-pound Mustad Ultra line, backed with 65-pound, hollow Line One Spectra on a recently introduced Accurate 665 two-speed reel, with a high gear of 5-1 and a low gear ratio of 2-1. The rig allowed good casting distance, a feel for what a sardine was doing 50 or 100 yards away, and over 400 yards of line. It had enough muscle to handle tuna or wahoo of up to 100 pounds, I felt, and it did bring me an 82-pound yellowfin.
FishingVideos.com sponsors put up about $3,000 worth of prizes for Qualifier anglers. Patrick Kemp, a Scotia logger, won the Seeker 6465 XH rod offered by company president Joe Pfister. Each angler won a drawing prize of jigs or line or fishing pliers put up by Mustad, Salas, Tady, Catchy, Fish Trap and Sumo Tackle. Every angler also got a goodie bag packed with jigs (including Zucker’s trolling lures and a big Salas Super 6 iron), Mustad hooks, line and a six-pack of Flexx-Rap finger tape, among other items. Each angler got a new Accurate Boss 270-C reel from Qualifier owner John Klein.
The first day we fished the Hurricane, we learned that soaking a bait for many minutes at a long distance from the boat was an invitation to sharks, browns and hammerheads, especially with a large bait. That was the day of the full moon, and sharks had been a problem on the bank for several weeks. When sharks are really clustered, they bite jigs, the kite baits, live baits and hooked fish, sometimes to the point of total exasperation, with few or no tuna being decked.
One advantage to fishing under the kite is that you can sometimes lift the bait away from an approaching shark. On the long soak with a fly-lined bait, there's no warning, just a brief heavy pull, then nothing, no resistance as you wind in another shredded leader.
Over the next two days the sharks almost disappeared. Maybe their business there was finished, or maybe the long-liner we could see fishing in the distance was catching them; it was hard to tell. But the few large tuna around also seemed to vanish on the third day. From the bridge of the anchored sport boat, in the sunlight of our second afternoon, we could see a few packs of tuna of 100 to 200 pounds "surfing" downswell before the bow.
Near sunset, a large school of black porpoise moved across the bank. Maybe the big tuna left with those "ponies," because we saw none the third day. Both tuna and porpoise were gone. The skipper busted a move.
We left Hurricane Bank at dark, and arrived next morning at Clarion Island, where donned our special permit bracelets and checked in with the authorities. We were boarded. Our papers and passports inspected and approved. We anchored in the little bay called “The Camp,” just off the only beach on the rocky, steep volcanic island. Clarion is one of the very few places left in this world where sea turtles can dig nests and lay their eggs unmolested by man. When the skipper fired the engines to leave, we eyed the wahoo swimming around the rig. At least a dozen were loafing just under the surface in the clear warm shallows.
Sea birds also live their lives without human predation on Clarion, and they showed us where the tuna were surfacing to feed out past the 12-mile limit. Frigate birds, masked and common brown boobies teamed up with porpoise, shearwaters and terns to mark feeding schools of yellowfin. The fish weren't staying up for long periods, though, and that made for a run-and-gun style of fishing. Our eyes up in the crow's nest spotting bird schools were aided by expensive binoculars in the hands of Armando Palifox, long-time crewman known throughout the fleet for his abilities. 'Mando was a commercial tuna fisherman in his younger days.
Spotting bird schools marking fish by repeated diving, Palifox radioed position down to skipper Sims on the bridge, who pushed three throttles forward and sent the Q-105 at fast cruising speed toward the action. If we were there on time, we'd get a few tuna hooked before they went down and headed elsewhere. After boating whatever tuna came to gaff, we put out the trolling jigs again and looked for more of the same, loafing along at six knots or so. When the engines cranked up again so did our anticipation, as we waited for the skipper to announce, "Stand by the bait tank!"
When it worked right, we could slide up on the action and get our baits and jigs cast out before the tuna sounded, and hook two or three or more before they left. The yellowfin off Clarion were the right stuff, what we were after; fast, chubby and long-sickled. They ran from 60 to 300 pounds. Some schools were of mixed sizes; most seemed uniform. None were what you'd call large schools, but there were several times when half of our 17 anglers aboard got bit. Sometimes there was only a single fish, or just two or three that showed up on the boat's sonar.
It was obvious from the get-go that many of these models were cows, tuna of 200 pounds and more. Just before lunch on the second day, I hooked one on my 80-pound outfit, the lightest gear the captain had said he wanted to see in the water. I had about 600 yards of 80-pound Spectra and Mustad line on an Accurate 30, with a short leader of 80-pound Seaguar fluorocarbon and an 11/0 Mustad stainless steel circle hook when a whopper took my sardine. The rod, a Super Seeker 6455 XXH, is optimized for 80-pound line. It was about the heaviest rig I thought I could cast a sardine, and still feel what it was doing fifty or a hundred yards away.
When it began, I harnessed up with my trusty old kidney harness and a small fighting belt with a gimbal. After 20 minutes I switched to the heavy fighting gear: a “Ronbo” (named for maker Ron Dargo of San Diego) spider-type butt harness and a heavy aluminum plate suspended so its bottom was just above my knees. It offered vastly more pressure to put on the tuna, and I was grateful for our chartermaster Jack Nilsen of Accurate, who let me borrow it.
The yellowfin was easily the biggest one I'd ever had hooked. It felt good having second skipper Cal Link and deckhands Brook Landavazo advising and helping me through the tight spots. The cooks called for lunch to be served and most anglers went into the galley. I stayed out on the afterdeck, staggering under the pull and sweating. Deckhands Tim Walker and Travis Lavrice were also nearby, encouraging me.
I'm used to having a hooked tuna make one or two long runs, and then sounding into a straight up and down struggle. This fish made five long runs over 45 minutes, and never went down at more than a 45-degree angle. After an hour he (all tuna over 150 pounds are male, I'm told) settled down and sounded, and I went into labor, into low gear. Ten minutes later I could see deep color.
Skipper Sims walked over to me, peered into the water and asked, "What's the biggest tuna you've caught?"
"About 180 pounds," I admitted. "I've hooked a couple of bigger ones, but they never stayed on very long."
"I don't want to scare you," laughed Sims, "so I'm not gonna say how big this one is."
"I know he's over 200," I said, "because he's beating the hell out of me."
"Oh, he's over 200, all right," said Brian.
The fish came up to 20 feet and got nervous, taking me back and forth across the stern. He circled, he dashed, he reversed direction. He headed off, breaking the surface off the stern's port corner. He got back down to 30 feet. He had two-foot sickle fins and he was lit up, blue and silver and gold on his sides, when I could see them. The rest of the time he was right side up, showing a wide brown back.
He had a shakingly powerful, slow tail stroke that showed deep into the top half of my rod with mechanical regularity: nod, nod, nod. I'd get him on his side and gain some line; he'd right himself and take it back. When he was close in the corners he put so much torque on the rod it twisted, despite the gimbal.
I was in and out of the harness several times, and in and out of low gear. I pried the fish up to less than ten feet as he changed stern corners, but he got back down to 30 feet during these exchanges. The crew helped me in the corners by using the fork to keep my line from chafing on the boat when he circled underneath the stern. I tried lifting him with the rod. That worked, but it was exhausting. I put the rod down, using the rail to absorb some of the force of the fish. That worked sometimes, but it was awkward, and I had to watch the handle of the reel to keep it from hitting the rail. Even with my left hand on top of the reel I couldn’t control the torque forces.
There he was, ten feet down. On the outside of the dozens of circles he made he was up, close enough to the surface to gaff, but too far off. As he came around toward the boat, his power and momentum let him get his head down just enough to make gaffing impossible, and he’d slide back down to ten feet. After an hour and a half, I was done, out of gas.
"I've had it," I said to Brook. "Let's just get him on the boat. You take him, and finish him off."
I turned and took a bottle of water, and put it up to my mouth when I heard an expletive.
Later, when we talked about it, Brook remembered, "I took a half a turn on the reel, and he came off."
It was disappointing, but no surprise, after all that time. We looked at the end of the 80-pound line, and it was well-chewed, nicked up for three or four inches above the break by tuna teeth. The mono had rubbed across those choppers one too many times.
That evening, skipper Sims told us in a galley meeting, "No more light line. Use nothing less than 100-pound line; I'd prefer you fish with 130-pound line.
Later that same tropical sunny afternoon, Alvin Lim, owner of Angler’s Outfitter (a Singapore tackle shop at www.anglersoutfitter.com.sg ), who was leading a group of five anglers with master jig maker Tony Wu, hooked another monster tuna.
Alvin was comfortable with his heavy gear and used to playing tuna on the rail, but he was also treated to a tour of the walkways around the Qualifier. Alvin prevailed, however, and beat the fish, which was gaffed aboard to shouts of glee from his friends.
Skipper Sims taped it and conservatively estimated the weight of the long-sickled beauty at 270 pounds.
The next day was luckier for me and other anglers. We landed eight sizeable tuna, and four of those were over the 200-pound mark.
I got two of the smaller ones on the heavy gear, with 130-pound line and a borrowed Accurate 50 reel and Seeker Black Steel 6463 XXXH rod.
The first bit in the late morning and came up before a second, larger fish caught by Gary Teraoka.
We posed for still shots in the bright overhead sunlight with a brace of pretty yellowfin.
The second one bit as the sun was setting. It was the only tuna bite on a stop marked by many birds. This fish started out by swimming at the boat a couple of times, then diving and sulking along the port side of Qualifier 105. I fought the fish while everyone else went in to dinner. Forty-five minutes later I was in another stymie in the starboard stern corner, hungry and tired.
“Want me to finish this one for you?” asked Jack Nilsen. “I haven’t decked a good tuna yet.”
“That’s a great idea,” I told him.
“I’m so sore from yesterday I can’t get my right arm higher than my shoulder.”
Jack’s a true expert at handling tuna by using the rail. He kept the heavy rod bent, and took a few inches whenever the rod tip rose. In ten more minutes the fish was on the deck.
I told Jack to tag it; it was his fish in the end, but he thanked me and declined.
The next day was our last day to fish. We had a 36-hour run before us to get back to Cabo San Lucas, where eleven anglers were flying back to San Diego and LA. We fished hard for no tuna all morning, but afternoon brought a couple of good stops. We got four big tuna going on sardine baits, and while all of them fought hard, two were especially tough.
One of them bit for Ted Crane of Costa Mesa, and it roared off away from the boat and stripped Ted’s reel. Just before the last line came off the crew tied on a second outfit, with a float attached to the butt of the backup rig, just in case it was also stripped.
That was exactly the case, and the backup outfit, which has a light drag setting to prevent breakage, was tossed over with a second backup rig attached.
While this drama unfolded, Chak Chow of Singapore struggled with a huge tuna. It took him around the boat and went back and forth across the bow, straight down, with most of Chak’s heavy white Spectra pointing toward its location. It went back and forth across the anchor and winch, prompting deckhand Travis Lavrice to stand up on the bow rail to get the line over the obstructions.
While Chak dealt with his problems, the second backup rig on Ted’s tuna ran out of line, and went into the water with an attached float, following the first two. The fish kept heading into the distance. Everyone commented on how large it must be.
Second skipper Cal Link was with Ted back at the stern end of the port side, the windward side, and Chak was now on the forward end of the port side. He was in a seesaw situation with a very heavy fish, gaining a few inches and then giving them back, even though he had the drags set as tightly as the crew dared.
Ted’s second backup rig was spooled, and a third one attached, this time with a big float, to hold up all that gear. The tuna was still traveling away from the Qualifier, but the skipper couldn’t chase it while Chak’s fish was hanging. Ted now had four complete heavy tuna outfits in use, with three of them soaking in the depths.
Over an hour had passed since Ted hooked his tuna. Chak had hooked his first, and he now was clearly out of gas. He wanted to get the fish, though, so he gave the rod up to Travis. Muscular, young and fresh, Travis set about putting a hurt on the big yellowfin dogging it in the deep water, four hundred yards down.
Many minutes later, it was Travis who was sweating, and wondering what it would take to lift that sucker. He had a single-0minded perseverance, though, and his mates were all talking to him, so he hung in there and ground away on Chak’s big Accurate reel, and little by little, began to coax the fish up to where we could see it, silvery blue and over 60 feet down. Chak took another turn, then gave the rig back to Travis.
The tuna’s circles became smaller, and at last it was near the bow, disappearing under the hull on the inside third of each circle. No doubt Travis could feel its incredible power in his hands, wrists and shoulders. He was as determined as the tuna.
A dozen more slow circles under the bow, with the fish up on one side and down when it came past the gaffers, and it was close enough to gaff. One, two, three gaffs went in and the crew waltzed the yellowfin down the side to the passenger gate just behind the galley.
A fourth gaff had to be applied before the crew had the power needed to lift the whopper over the side, and everyone on the boat whooped with joy and relief as it slid through on its left side.
“Look out for that tail!” someone shouted.
Someone else yelled, “Wow! It must weigh 300 pounds!”
The measuring tape was put on the big fish. It was 79 inches long and 56 inches in girth.
Using the weight-finding formula of Length times Girth squared, then divided by 800, the tuna’s heft calculated to 309.68 pounds. It was the first tuna over 300 pounds caught by a San Diego long range boat since January.
With the trip’s best fish now aboard, skipper Sims was free to get after the one that relieved Ted Crane and the Qualifier of three outfits. Normally a skiff would be launched to chase such a renegade, saving the rigs, but the one skiff aboard had a leaky pontoon. It hung in the davits off the starboard side. All that line out in the Pacific had to be reeled back in, one outfit at a time.
One rig at a time, it all got wound back on four reels.
Even after all that time and all the effort of lugging all that gear, Ted’s tuna still had more than enough spunk to wear him down as it circled near the boat.
The end was near the gate and the bait tanks, and the fish came aboard, next to Ted, large, tanned and 77, it didn’t seem large enough to cause all that trouble.
Later we learned it was well over 200 pounds.
Ted posed with the fish and all four outfits, and then he posed with his deckhand; the reason he finally got his first cow, second skipper Cal Link.
“Look at my hands,” Ted said to me, “Look at ‘em shake.”
“That’s the most rigs I’ve ever seen in the water,” I told him.
“That alone would make anybody shake.”
That was the end of our fishing time, and Clarion offered us an impressive goodbye as we left at sunset, with glorious rays of sunshine breaking through a low cloud cover near the island, as the boobies headed for their roosts and the breeze settled into calm.
Qualifier 105 Homecoming
Qualifier 105 arrived at Point Loma Sportfishing after lunch May 14, having been delayed, “by eight-foot swells at five seconds,” said skipper Brian Sims, “beginning at The Ridge.”
Those who had ridden the boat joined those who’d come home by air three days earlier and unloaded all the gear anglers take on 16-day big tuna trips. The afternoon was breezy in a bright sun, much cooler than the breeze in the tropics some 76 hours past.
Sims was cheered by the results at the scales, however, as he weighed nine fish over 200 pounds.
Chak Chow’s giant yellowfin stretched the certified scales to 310.8 pounds. He got the first place award. The Singapore angler got his monster tuna with a sardine on an 8/0 Eagle Claw ringed circle hook, tied to 100-pound P-Line and 130-pound Izorline Spectra. He fished with an Accurate 50 W reel and a Calstar 760 M rod after a two-hour fight.
Alvin Lim, Singapore pro shop owner, took second place for a 282.4-pound yellowfin. He bagged it after an hour-long battle. It took a sardine on an 8/0 Eagle Claw hook, and he also used 100-pound P-Line, 130-pound Power Pro Spectra on an Accurate 50 W reel, with a 760 H rod he wrapped himself.
Hot stick Peter Corselli had two cows, at 202.6 and 243.4 pounds. He won third place for that one. Corselli pumps iron for exercise, and it showed on the time for his tuna: 30 minutes, and twice around the boat, thank you. Pete also won a couple of prizes, including an Accurate Boss 665 reel along the way, by catching the first or the largest of several species, in the “Daily Double” challenges posted by Accurate’s jack Nilsen.
Corselli fished sardines with a 4/0 ringed Super Mutu hook on 130-pound Big Game line and 130-pound Line One Spectra on a Tiagra 50 W reel and a Calstar 760 H rod.
Beth Smith of San Diego pulled in a 242.8-pound tuna with a sardine on an 8/0 Eagle Claw hook. She used Gary Teraoka’s outfit: 130-pound Izorline and 130-pound Izor Spectra on an Accurate 50 reel and a Calstar 6460 XH rod built by Yo’s.
Ted Crane of Costa Mesa weighed his first cow, a sleek 225.8-pounder; the fish that required four outfits to bring to bay.
“It was two hours and ten minutes,” Ted said of the time. “We had two miles of line out.”
Crane fished a sardine on a 9/0 Mustad circle hook, tied to 130-pound P-Line and 130-pound Izor Spectra on a Tiagra 30 W reel, with a Shimano Talus six-foot, six-inch rod.
Allen Lemberg of San Diego had two cows and a four-wahoo-on-mono day. His first cow went 204.4 pounds and ate a sardine on an 8/0 Gorilla hook, tied to 100-pound Big Game line and 130-pound Line One Spectra backing. He used a Beastmaster reel and a Seeker 6465 XXH rod, and got that one in an hour.
Lemberg’s second cow came on the kite with a flying fish bait, with the boat’s kite rig: an Eagle Claw 10/0 hook, 100-pound Big Game line and 130-pound Trilene line, an Accurate 50 W reel and a Calstar 6460 XXH rod.
Virtually every angler had several shots at hooking a big tuna on the trip. Only one angler didn’t get one over 100 pounds, and he refused any hand-offs. Most of us, including myself, got to experience what it feels like to hook a cow yellowfin, and how it feels to hang on as it departs, muy rapido, for pastures elsewhere. None of us will forget that.