A Fish Story
By Jerry Janofsky
One Saturday in September…
...I went Blue Fin Tuna fishing with a friend on his boat. This was my friend Mike’s second time fishing for tuna and my first. Blue fin are the giants of tuna. Most people fishing for them have commercial licenses as does Mike. The fishing season is late summer and early fall. The minimum size that can be sold is 300 lbs, they get up to 1500 lbs, 900 lbs is not that unusual. The going rate at that time was $5-$6 per pound (which is low). A typical catch, about 360 lbs, is worth about $2000. The rods used to catch them are very strong and very expensive. They have massive reels, like the kind used in the Jaws movie.
Ours was spooled up 800 yards of 150 pound line. The rods are mounted in special swivel rod holders. For bait we were going to use live fish. To keep the fish alive Mike had a special barrel mounted in the boat with fresh sea water pumping through it. Presently we had one live blue fish that we caught on the way out. If we, by some long shot, caught a large tuna and were able to get it near enough to the boat we would use a harpoon to secure it and lash it to a cleat. We would then tow it some 30 miles to green harbor in Marshfield where it would be weighed and sold.
We got a late start on Saturday. We arrived at the South West corner of Stellwagon bank (several miles north of Provincetown) not much before noon. There were approximately some 20 other boats anchored in the area all fishing for Tuna. We picked our spot and put out 300 feet of anchor line to hold us in 120 feet of water. The wind was strong at this time and the water a bit rough, but the sights around us were incredible. There were seagulls diving for fish, at least two species of whales surfacing, jumping and breaching all around us ( something I've never seen before) .
After setting anchor Mike rigged up the first line with the one bait fish we had. Tuna swim near the surface so to keep the bait up high a balloon was blown up and tied to the line to keep the fish from swimming too deep. My job was to try to catch some more bait fish. I rigged up some small hooks with a 6 oz sinker and sent it too the bottom. Whiting are about 8 inches long and hang out near the bottom. It didn't take me long. Within the first 5 minutes or so I had caught two and put them in the bait well. Mike grabbed one and put it on line number two.
It was now about 12:25 pm. Looking around, I didn't see any other boats hooking up, so I knew (at least I thought) it would be a long wait before we saw any action if at all. Our wait lasted a whole 5 minutes....
At about 12:30 line number two started to scream. At first we were stunned, then we went into action and a bit of chaos. Mike takes initial control of the reel. I start pulling in the other line and getting the other 6 or so regular fishing poles out of the way. The line is still tearing out wildly, the pole is swiveling first to the right then to the left then to the front of the boat near the anchor line. Mike tightens up on the drag and the massive pole starts bending down toward the water, the stern of the boat (22 ft and very heavy) begins to get pulled in the direction of the fish.
It became clear very shortly that we needed to release ourselves from the anchor and start chasing the fish so we could start retrieving line and also to keep the fishing line from getting tangled with the anchor. I take over the reel, Mike goes forward to release the anchor. Pulling in 300 feet of rope with a very heavy anchor on the end would take much too long. Instead Mike attaches a float to the line and throws the whole thing overboard, he marks the spot with the GPS.
First half hour: I’m at the rod. Mike has the boat in reverse so I can reel and try to bring in some line. The reel is so hot that it burns my fingers if I touch the metal. I grab a bucket of water and poor it over the reel to cool it off. I start retrieving line. Mike maneuvers the boat so the line stays off the stern.
Next hour: I’m at the helm, Mike does the reeling. The fish runs, we follow, we reel, the fish gets close to the boat he runs again.
Next 2 hours: I’m at the helm, Mike does the reeling. The fish runs, we follow, we reel, the fish gets close to the boat he runs again. My neck is stiff. My body has been positioned forward while looking backwards so long that my neck is getting sore and can’t straighten it out without pain. Mike amazingly enough still has energy to retrieve line.
We are constantly maneuvering the boat to keep the line out of the engine and to keep the fish from getting under the boat (which he managed to do at least twice) Every once in a while the fish would stop and so would we. Other times he would be dragging the boat in circles. At one point we had the fish so close to the boat that the leader (15 ft long) came out of the water.
5 PM: We are miles from where we left the anchor. The engine is off and the massive fish is pulling the boat in circles. We are alone on the water except for another boat coming our direction, they pull up. They are experienced tuna fishermen and try to help out. They tell us that we’ve been letting the fish rest too long, the pole should be bent more, we need to tighten the drag and keep the fish straight below us. Mike tightens up on the line. The massive fishing pole is bending way over and pointing almost directly to the water.
5:25 PM We are 6 miles from where we dropped off the anchor. The fish has slowed, it is straight down below the boat. I get the harpoon ready. Mike is slowly pulling it up. The hook breaks free…
The next 10 minutes: Silence…