An end-of-race trip to tackle tuna – Daily Local


By Tom Tatum

For fishermen off the coast of our mid-Atlantic coast, the fishing season is drawing to a close, but there is still good deep sea fishing at this end of the season. So when Kennett’s Herbie Guest invited me to join his deep sea fishing team for one last tuna foray into the deep blue, I couldn’t say no.

On October 15th, we left Lewes (Del) wharf a few ticks after 2am and started our 90 mile hike to the tuna rich fishing grounds of Washington Canyon. The sustained southern slog would take us about four and a half hours, but with calm seas, we would make the trip in comfort. The fact that we were aboard Guest’s 52ft Ocean Yacht fitted with a Seakeeper gyroscope also made for a relaxing time at sea.

The sun was about to break through the horizon when we arrived on time at the fishing grounds (around 6.30am). There we found at least 50 boats already plying the brine, many of which had stayed the night before, determined to enjoy the best tuna fishing of the season. We were also in the company of a large swarm of pilot whales, the largest members of the dolphin family. Primarily munching on shrimp, these whales leave behind plenty of scraps that attract hungry and opportunistic tuna.

During most of the offshore season, trolling is the most popular method of catching both billfish and meat fish, but this time of year, chopping and jigging are the best strategies for tuna. Chumming – similar to chumming for sharks – is the practice of throwing handfuls of chopped butterfish and shrimp into the water with a baited hook in the hope that the tuna, already looking for pilot whales, will bite. to the bait.

At the helm is Captain Jeff Hoepfl (yeah, that’s pronounced hopeful) of Lewes marking the fish on the depth finder and maneuvering the ship among groups of pilot whales. Chris Thurmond from Milton (Del.) Is our de facto second. The Ocean City (Md.) Tuna fleet is crowding around us. This includes the Marli, recognized as Ocean City’s best tuna boat, and Foolish Pleasure whose one-armed captain, Dale Lisi, was featured on the “Wicked Tuna” TV show. We are in good company and definitely fish in the right place.

Our first tuna hookup took place at 7:25 am in some 1,200 feet of water. It is followed almost immediately by a second. Number one quickly throws the hook as I grab the rod ready to fight number two. But my tuna brawl glory with this heavy yellowfin will prove fleeting and short-lived.

After a five-minute scuffle, the tuna got rid of a plentiful line as it made its way to the bow of Port-A-Bella. Fearing to lose that second fish, Thurmond suddenly requisitions the rod with my hands and tightropes around the cabin to the bow where he and Carter Dirado de Hockessin team up to wind and gaff a beautiful 55-pound class yellowfin. .

Meanwhile, the tuna hunting fleet is growing exponentially and will reach nearly 200 boats by the end of the day. So much sea traffic coupled with exceptionally mild seas is a failing formula that could totally deactivate the tuna bite, a formula that has imposed healthy daily limits on fishermen throughout the past week. And pilot whales are everywhere, maybe by the thousands. More information about them in a future column.

However, around 9 a.m., another yellowfin hit Dirado’s jig of pink sand lance. He wrestles the fish towards the port side of the boat where Guest gaffs him on his second attempt and hoists him over the rail. Another tuna strikes another bait but leaves the hook behind.

After that our action collapses precipitously even though at one point we notice that an adjacent boat has hooked up with three tunas at the same time.

“What are they doing that we are not doing? ” we ask ourselves. “Maybe we need to use lighter leaders,” Dirado speculates.

His theory assumes that early in the day, before the sun rises high in the sky, tuna are less likely to notice our 50-pound leaders, but later in the day, the bright sun highlights the heavier leaders. which could scare the fish and make them reluctant to bite the hook. In response, Thurmond begins to trade the leaders, switching to a lighter 30-pounder.

During this time, I take my turn to cut or work the sandeel jig at depths determined by the readings on the Hoepfl sounder. Jigging a heavy lure so deep at a breakneck pace is certainly training, but my efforts fail to persuade a tuna to bite. We spend the next few hours hunting groups of pilot whales, working on jigs and carving butterfish. The other ships in the fleet all do the same.

Things finally pick up at 12:40 when we get another hookup and board our third yellowfin of the day 15 minutes later. Maybe changing a leader pays off.

Shortly after 2 p.m., another tuna strikes the bait, but just as quickly throws the hook. With a 4.5 hour long walk to Lewes docks in front of us and some bad fishing action, it’s time to stop around 3:30 p.m., just as Hoepfl picks up a radio call informing him of a line. of weed holding schools of mahi-mahi. It’s not far on the way back, so we’ll give it a try.

We find the weed line at 4:20 and start cutting for the dolphin. A flurry of action ensued and within moments we added four mahi to the three yellowfin in the box. Just as quickly, the bite stops and we are done for the day. It is getting late and after 8pm we reach Roosevelt Inlet and arrive at Lewes docks. It’s been an extraordinarily long day, but we have plenty of tuna steaks and a handful of mahi fillets to show off for our efforts.

Everyone agreed that our trip to the tail tuna was a success. But the calm seas and heavy maritime traffic worked against us. The day before, many boats had reached their limits of three yellow fins per fisherman.

With a stormy weather forecast for the next day, most of the charter fleet stayed home. Reports said that while nearly 200 boats (including us) were fishing that day, barely a dozen ventured a trip to Washington Canyon on Saturday. But with rough seas and so few boats, fishing improved dramatically, with some captains reporting many yellowfin limits in just hours as everyone returned to port loaded with chests of tuna just in time to avoid the brunt of the storm.

For us, this dreaded fishing maxim had once again proved prophetic. As the fishing gods tell us so often, “You should have been here yesterday”, and in our case, tomorrow too.

**** BIG BLUEFIN COCK NEAR BIG APPLE. According to recent reports, monster bluefin tuna weighing up to 600 pounds have been regularly caught this season “within sight of the Manhattan skyline”. The unprecedented influx of this larger species of tuna has settled along Rockaway Reef, Jones Beach and other New York coastal haunts. Conservation efforts to restore the number of baitfish, a favorite food of these tunas, has been cited as one of the reasons for the bluefin tuna boom.

**** THE TURKEY SEASON OPENS SATURDAY. The next stop for Pennsylvania hunters is the fall turkey season which opens Saturday, October 30 and continues through November 4, 6 or 13, according to the Wildlife Management Unit. As in years past, the fall turkey hunt here in our woodland in WMU 5A, 5C and 5D, remains closed.

**** FRESH TROUT COMING TO WCFG & WA. Employees of the West Chester Fish, Game, and Wildlife Association are ready to take delivery of trout from the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission on October 28 at 11:30 a.m. Members and volunteers are invited to help transfer these new trout from the truck to the pens where they will live and grow until they are released into West Valley Creek next spring. The nursery is located on the Paradise Farm Camps property in Downingtown, PA, near the intersection of Ravine Road and Valley Creek Road. Hope to see you there. For more information contact Mike Coller at [email protected]

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