The First Time We Doubled Up Fishing for Bluefin Tuna

By: Jeffrey Van Dalsum

Imagine yourself waking up at 3 a.m on a gorgeous early summer morning. You've got your rods, reels, and equipment loaded up in your truck. You've got your cooler packed with a few afternoon snacks and some drinks. You're heart is pounding with the thoughts of being out on the ocean, free from the everyday stress of work and reality, and the hopes that this could be the day you hook the trophy fish, your giant. You drive down to the dock, load up all the equipment into the boat, and prepare for the long journey out into the open ocean. With a full tank of gas and your adrenaline pumping you fix your sights on the horizon and open up the throttle. Just as the sun is coming up over the horizon, you remember that following the sun leads to the land where giants roam the sea just below your feet. After an hour of steaming out into the open ocean your heart is pounding out of your chest with the first sighting of whales. You remember hearing that whales are the number one sign that bluefin tuna must be nearby. You see the fleet of boats, already with their spread set and working the waters around the whales in hopes of hooking the big one. You now know that this is the spot. This is where you are going make your stand, set your spread, and wait for that sweet sound. The sound that keeps you going back, day-after-day, the sound of the drag screeching at a thousand miles per hour, it's the sound of all of your patience and persistence culminating in a moment that is yours. It's you versus the fish.

Now that I've painted a picture in your head of what you can expect when you go bluefin tuna fishing, I'm now going to tell you a story of one of my own personal early bluefin fishing experiences. It was early July and the setting was exactly as I described it. It was one of those days, weather wise, that you dream about. The sun was out, the water was calm, and the fleet was out in our regular fishing spot.

My brother and I had set our spread behind the boat. We had been working a small pod of whales for almost two hours without even a bite or a sighting of tuna. Starting to get a little frustrated, we decided to move away from the fleet to a rather large circle of birds that were sitting on top of the water about a quarter mile away from the whales and the rest of the fleet. I was driving the boat and my brother was watching the spread as we approached the birds. All of a sudden I had a strange feeling that we were going to hook up as we went through the birds. I turned to my brother and excitedly said, "Get ready, we're about to get some action!"

Skeptical of my gut feeling, he reluctantly stood up and got ready for the bite. Just as he was standing up, the left rod started screaming. A fish! My feeling was right, we had hooked into a nice fish. Little did I know what was to come next. Just as I had set my brother up in the fighting belt and he had started reeling the fish in, the right rod started buzzing. We must have raised a good amount of fish because the third and final spreader bar was nearly taken down too! Knowing that two fish was more than enough, I quickly reeled in the center bar to avoid hooking a third fish and being in way over our head.

At this time we were very novice bluefin tuna fisherman and we figured that my brother could reel in the one fish, we could land it, and then he could put on the fighting belt and bring in the other fish. Big mistake! Not only is this a bad idea because we had a limited crew but also because of how tiring reeling in back-to-back fish can be. Also, leaving the fish hooked and dragging it for several miles can be very detrimental to the fish's health. We hadn't realized just how big the fish that my brother was fighting was so we just kept the boat on idle speed and let the second fish stay hooked, hundreds of feet below the surface. After about fifteen minutes, we finally caught our first glimpse of the fish that my brother had been struggling to bring in. As soon as the fish saw the boat, he took off back down to the bottom of the ocean and the battle started all over again. After nearly forty-five grueling minutes, both fish and fisherman were completely exhausted and I brought out the gaff for the final step in landing the fish. I gaffed the fish in the back shoulder, and we pulled the fish over the edge of the boat. Seeing that this was clearly the biggest fish we had ever caught, we pulled out the tape measure to see just how big our fish was. Fifty-six inches! A true monster in the eyes of a couple of novice fisherman.

In pretty much a state of shock and pure euphoria we had almost forgot that we had been towing another fish for the better part of six miles. Pure luck, no doubt, is the only explanation for the second fish staying on the line. Seeing that my brother was completely exhausted from reeling in his fish, I put on the fighting belt and started reeling in the second fish. As I was reeling in the fish, my brother began packing the first fish in ice and placed it in our pelagic fish body bag. After about fifteen minutes we brought the second fish up, gaffed it, and got it in the boat. The reason that the second fish came up so fast was because it had already been tired out from being dragged for so long! With two fish in the boat and an exhausted "crew" we decided that we had had enough fishing for one day. With a full fish locker and a very satisfied feeling, we steamed back to the dock and closed the book on the day we doubled up for the first time.

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