A Big Fish Tail
Atlantic Bluefin Tuna
Our trip started on the clear morning of September 21, 2005. We met Captain K
Gottschall at the boat launch at Ryders Cove in Chatham Massachusetts at five in the morning. The weather forecast
for the day was sunny, light breeze out of the northwest from 10 to 15 mph, and relatively quiet seas of 2 to 4
feet. I asaccompanied on this trip by two of my fishing friends, Fred and Fran. We loaded our gear into "Magic
Fingers", a 26 foot custom Cape Cod Marine deep V center console boat powered by a 350 hp inboard diesel and
started our way in the dark across Pleasant Bay.
Magic Fingers has all of the latest electronics and a high power bow light, so it was fairly easy to
navigate across the bay. From time to time, we would see other boats getting ready for fishing and a few
getting started across the bay. As we rounded the first turn, daylight appeared to the east on the horizon. Magic
Fingers worked its way across the bay until we arrived at the Chatham Cut. A commercial boat was
already making its way through and since the tide was low, we decided to take it slow and follow the ommercial out
into the Atlantic. Once we cleared the channel, Captain Kurt hit the throttle, bringing the big diesel to life and
set on a course of East North East. We were heading to the Ledge.
As we arrived on site, I'd guess somewhere around 9 miles out, Captain Kurt set up the outriggers, readied the
poles and started to set out the lures. Today we were after big-game; the Atlantic Bluefin tuna and on this trip,
our gear consisted of a Penn International 80 with 80 lb test mounted on a Penn Tuna Stick, and three Shimano
LRS-50's all spooled with 80 lb test and mounted to custom built stand-up tuna rods. The lures of the day consisted
of four medium artificial squid bar rigs, each consisting of 15 squids mounted to a spreader bar. Only the last
squid in the center contained a very large hook.
Captain Kurt set the port side outrigger first with the lures about 125 feet behind the boat. Next, he set the
starboard side outrigger with the lures just inside at about 110 feet behind the boat. While Captain Kurt set up
the equipment, Fran and I get into our fish fighting harnesses in order to be ready for a fish strike. Captain Kurt
had been Tuna fishing several times before our trip and to date had been catching school size Tuna all under 200
lbs. Our expectation was that we would continue this trend and hopefully come home with Tuna in this size
As we made our way east trolling in just under 200 feet of water, the Simrad fish finder was showing some arge
schools of bait fish near the bottom. Around 6:30 am, we noticed that a Tuna that shot up from the bottom to take a
look at our lures. We knew this because we could see the distinct line on the graph that a Tuna creates when it
comes up quickly from a few hundred feet to check things out. Nothing happened, so Captain Kurt went about setting
up the inside setups with additional squid spreader bar rigs about 50 to 80 feet behind the boat.
The sun rose a few minutes before 6:45 and we were all talking about what a beautiful sight it was when Fran and
I happened to turn and see a tremendous strike on the outside port setup. At that moment, we knew we had a tuna
strike and we scrambled to take the pole out of the holder to take up the fight. I was the first person designated
to fight a fish, so I took the rod out of the holder, and clipped my fighting harness straps onto the reel lugs.
Next, Fred clipped me into a safety line, which was cleated off to the boat, as a precaution should I somehow end
up over the side.
As I picked up the rod, the tuna raced to my left across the back of the boat. Captain Kurt was working
rantically trying to get the other lines and lures back into the boat in order to avoid any entanglements. As the
fish raced across the back, my line cut the line of the inside starboard rod and the rig sunk out of sight. We
thought we had lost the starboard rig and that it might jeopardize our ability to get the fish. Instead, to our
surprise, we found two spreader bar rigs on the outside starboard setup as he retrieved the inside starboard rig.
We considered that positive especially since these lure rigs could easily exceed $150 each.
With all of the other gear onboard the boat I began the fight. The Tuna made a turn and went directly away from
the boat peeling off line at a very rapid pace. The Shimano LRS-50 reel and Big Game Rod seemed to be up to the
task even though the fish took the spool well down below 50 percent of the 800 yards of line that was on the reel.
Captain Kurt instructed me to go take the fight to the bow of the boat where it would be easier to maneuver and
chase the fish to gain line if needed. Captain Kurt asked what I thought of the fish and I said I thought it was a
pretty big fish, definitely out of the "schoolie" category. I fought the fish for 15 to 20 minutes and realized
that this was a big fish and that I was not making any progress in bringing it to the boat. As I tired, I told Fran
that he should come over and get clipped in and take a turn fighting this fish.
I unclipped the reel, clipped Fran in. Then Fred unclipped the safety lines from me and hooked Fran up. As ran
took over, he concurred that this was indeed a big fish. Captain Kurt instructed Fran to pull up on the pole and
reel down in order to get back some of the line that the fish had reeled off. Fran did as told. He would gain back
a few turns and then the fish would take drag again. Fran did this stalemate for 15 to 20 minutes and then told
Fred that he should get ready and take a turn fighting the fish.
Fred put on a harness and clipped himself to the reel and relieved Fran. Fred was able to get back about half of
the line stripped out by the fish during his turn. Eventually, Fred tired and instructed me to get ready and take
over. I did so and started to fight the fish all over again. By now, the fish was closer to the boat. suddenly, the
fish took off and peeled out all of the line we had gotten back. So we were back to square one. This took us over
an hour and a half and we realized that this must be an enormous tuna.
As the day progressed, Fran, Fred and I took turns in 15 to 20 minute increments fighting the fish. After a few
hours, I asked Captain Kurt what was the longest Tuna Fish fight he ever had. He said about three and one-half
hours. I commented to him that we were approaching that amount of time and were not making any progress at gaining
line back on the spool. At that Captain Kurt decided to try another tactic. We would use the power of the boat to
try to cut down the distance between the fish and us. When the boat was under way, the person fighting the fish
would reel as quickly and regain whatever line possible. The only problem with this strategy according to Captain
Kurt is that this technique must be done quickly and the pressure on the fish must be maintained. If not, the tuna
will regain its oxygen supply to the muscle and not tire which prolongs the fight.
We were able to get the fish up to within a few hundred feet of the boat and Captain Kurt instructed me to bring
the fight to the back of the boat in hopes of getting the fish close enough to harpoon it. I did as instructed.
Once at the back of the boat, I noticed that the fish was at the surface about 100 feet behind the boat. It was a
very large dark spot just under the surface. All of a sudden, the dorsal and tailfin broke the water. They were a
few feet apart from each other. The tail fin was the biggest I had ever seen. I estimated it to be over three feet
from tip to tip. Captain Kurt exclaimed that we had hooked a Giant Atlantic Blue Fin Tuna. When I commented on the
distance between the fins, Captain Kurt said that most of the fish is ahead of the second [KG1]dorsal fin. We
estimated the fish to be 10 feet long at that time. From time to time throughout the fight, Captain Kurt would talk
to another Captain he knows, Captain Howdy, and the conversation would go something like this.
Captain Howdy: You still fighting that fish. Captain
Kurt: Yeah. Captain Howdy: Patience!
As I fought the fish, I think it saw the boat and it again peeled off half the reel of line and went for the
bottom. I tired and again turned the fight over to Fran. Once Fran took over, I talked with Captain Kurt about
having seen fraying in the line near mid-spool. Since the Big Game Rod only has roller guides on the top and bottom
eyelets, friction on the in between guides is possible. Captain Kurt instructed all of us to try to keep the frayed
line on the spool so as not to give the fish a chance to snap the line. At [KG2]one point the fish ran so hard
during Fran's turn that we had to run him and the rod up to the bow of the boat and chase the fish or we would risk
loosing most or all of the line.
Fran fought the fish for another 15 to 20 minutes and asked Fred to take over again. By now, we each had taken 6
or 7 times at fight the fish. This process continued on taking
turns fighting the fish. Around 2 pm, during my turn, Captain Kurt asked me to try to get the fish to the stern of
the boat again. I pumped as hard as I could on the rod and would reel as fast as I could on the down stroke. At one
point, I got a cramp in my right forearm and said I couldn't reel any further. Fred massaged my arm and I was able
regain my composure and reel again. We were successful at getting the fish back to surface and this time, it came
along the port side of the boat about 40 feet away. We
could clearly see the monster. This fish had to be over 10 [KG3] feet long. The fish appeared to be more than half
the length of the boat, which was 26 feet long. As the fish swam along side, half of its body was out of the water
and we could see that the fish was absolutely huge.
Captain Kurt said to put some pressure on the fish and see if I could turn it towards the boat. I did as
instructed but the fish had other plans. It dropped its head and headed
away from the boat going down deep. All of the time that I had the fish at the back of the boat the fish was
basically pulling the boat around behind it. We had tremendous
pressure on this fish and probably the maximum amount that a 50 class reel loaded with 80 lb test could withstand.
The lever drag was pushed all the way forward at this point. I asked Captain Kurt how far we had traveled from the
time of hookup and he went to the electronics, clicked a few things and said that the fish had towed us over 6
the Northwest, turned to the east after about three hours and was currently about 10 miles from where we started.
Well, the fish swam off ripping off line at a fanatic pace.
It didn't stop until it had again taken over half of the spool of line. With this new run, I was exhausted and
asked Fran to take over.
So, we went through the whole process again. Fran clipped in to the reel and we hooked up the safety lines. Fran
started to fight the fish when all of a sudden; he collapsed
with excruciating pain in his right arm. Fran too was having cramps in his muscles from fighting the fish. Fred
quickly put on a harness and took over for Fran. By now, it ws
after 3 pm. We had been fighting this fish for over 8 hurs. On my next turn in the rotation, I was in the position
again to get the fish to the surface thanks to Fred having
gained back most of the line we lost after the last run. And again, I got the fish to 30 to 40 feet from the boat.
We could see the whole fish. Captain Kurt commented that this was indeed a monster. This time, the fish made big
circles behind the boat and eventually settled about 50 feet directly below the back of the boat. Captain Kurt said
that we had to get the fish to the surface and hopefully give him a shot with the
Around 4 pm, I was on the rod fighting the fish at the back of the boat. My arms were really hurting and I told
the other guys that I didn't know how much longer we could
put up this fight. Fran said he wanted another crack at the fish and we agreed that we would put all we had into
one more rotation at trying to land the fish. Fran clipped on
to the reel and we attached the safety lines to Fran. Fran pulled up as hard as he could and was making progress
when all of a sudden, the line snapped.
With that, the fish was gone. It was now 4:10 pm. We had been fighting this fish for 9 hours 25 minutes. The
fish had towed Magic Fingers many miles backwards. When we lost the fish, we were a few miles east of the Boston
Shipping Channel in over 500 feet of water. Fran was heart broken and kept saying I'm sorry. We knew the line had
fraying for hours and Fred had even commented hours before that the advantage had swung to the fish. Both Fred and
I told Fran that it was all right. We put up a good fight on light tackle given the size of the fish and the fish
We all came back with memories of a monster fish that we fought in rotations for a full day and in the end came
up short. We called it a day and headed back to the dock.
Once at the dock, Captain Howdy came down with a few beers and talked with us about our adventure. When he looked
at the tackle that we had the fish on, he commented that we had to be kidding thinking we would catch a Giant of
that caliper on relatively light gear.
For the next few days, all three of us were physically hurting. We had used muscles way beyond our ability
during the fight. Thinking about the fishing trip, I can recall most of the day just as it happened. Given the
chance, I'd do it all over again and if the fish gets away again, then so be it. That's Fishing.
Footnote: For information about "Magic Fingers Charters" contact Captain Kurt Gottschall at Magicfingers@snet.net or call
Mr. Jersey fishes the waters off Cape Cod throughout the year. He is the author of a retirement information