Reader Report: Giant Tuna at Stellwagen Bank

In the blackness of the morning of July 17th, the Hot Pursuit set the chartplotter for the Southwest corner of Stellwagen Bank in search of giant Bluefin tuna. After a damp 90-minute ride, we found ourselves cruising the SW Corner looking for bait and birds while closely monitoring the sonar for signs of tuna below. With the sun getting ready to peek over the horizon and shine some warmth on us, we continue our search for life due East on the SE corner. We slowly cruised north along the east side of the bank as the sun rose, and saw some areas of condensed birds working the water. We decide to give this area a shot and quickly get a sabiki down in an attempt to get some live mackerel. Immediately, we picked up 10 lively macks in the livewell, and set up the rods for the tuna, with 1 live-lined pogy (farthest out) and 1 live-lined mack (closest to boat).

As we waited for an hour into slack tide and continued to pull up macks and the occasional cod and dogfish, it happened. The large tuna broke the water chasing the pogy, swallowed it, and immediately started taking line. Now, let me stop and explain that we were fishing with — a Penn 16VSX, and Penn 50VSX reels. Of course the fish hit the 16VSX which is the smaller of the 2 rods. This class of rod and reel are typically used for 50-150lb class fish. So we quickly cleared the lines and prepared the boat for what we all hoped was a long battle. Our angler got the harness on and quickly locked into the reel ready for a long fight. Straight away, the fish began to run hard, and it was a challenge to not get spooled. Our captain chased the fish down and we closely monitored the line in case we were getting down to the last 50-100 yards. 30 minutes passed, and we were exchanging blows with this fish, 2 steps forward and 1 step back. 1 hour passed, and we were still in the heat of battle.

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At this point, were we all guessing the size of the fish, with hopes that we would get to see the beast we were battling. After 2 hours passed, we were slowly but surely making progress of wearing this fish down and we finally saw some topshot on the reel. But not for long. The fish finned, saw the boat for the first time and was gone yet again. This was our first look at it, and our estimates of size jumped from the 60-70 inch range to the 75-90 inch range. We continued the cat and mouse game for 30 more minutes and with harpoon at the ready, we would get our shot. Now ten yards from the boat, the fish turned and came along side, the harpoon was thrown, and just as we sank the dart into the fish, the line broke on the rod. The fish not happy with the harpoon in his back made a quick exit. The dart was attached to 200’ of line, with a small A-1 Polyform ball at the end. All the line and ball were quickly in the water and immediately the ball went under. After a long 20 seconds the ball reappeared and was marching north at about 3-5 knots. We were concerned that the pressure would pull the dart out, or that the blood would attract some large sharks and we would not get our fish.

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After 30 minutes of following the ball, and not seeing the fish slow down in anyway, we made a strategic call to a friend who is a commercial tuna fisherman. His advice was to follow the ball for 20 more minutes and then, if he doesn’t slow down, get the ball and tie it to the front cleat and let him pull the boat. He said, that would surely tire the fish out.

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After 20 minutes of this tuna dragging us around in our boat on Stellwagen Bank at 3.2 knots, it slowed and we began the delicate process of pulling up the fish without pulling the dart out and losing all contact with it. From the depths we slowly got the fish raised and boat side. We quickly got a tail rope on it and celebrated our 4 hour battle with this monster.

We now had to figure out how to get the fish onto the boat. The boat had a door, but we wondered if it was wide enough.

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We quickly measured our trophy fish and realized that it was the largest tuna any of us had ever caught. 88’ long with a girth of 57’. Although we did not get to officially weigh the fish, the on-line calculators estimated it to be 350-380lbs.

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We immediately bled and dressed the fish and got it in the bag with lots of ice. As you can see it did not fit in the back of the boat, and the tail needed to curve up in order to fit.

We brought the fish back to our commercial tuna friend, where he graciously offered to butcher and take care of the fish for us. We all enjoyed (and many friends and family) more tuna steaks and sashimi than we could ever imagine.

A wise man once told me there is no “I” in tuna, and catching this fish was no exception.

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