The first 2010 Oregon Sport Caught Tuna: A Quest…Remembered
Our story begins several weeks ago, maybe months, even a year (now, several years!)….it begins with a friendship formed, discussions comparing notes on how to consistently find tuna, tactics to catch them, especially as the seasons change, and how to do with style and aplomb….
In 2009 I spent the summer fishing with big Dan Mitchell on his 33 foot Striper “Sales Call.” We were moored in Big Tuna Marine in Garibaldi, Oregon. A new boat (to us) had joined our port and was parked at the Bay House. It was the “Secret Island,” a 50 foot Delta Sportfisher captained by Tron Bull. Dan had been gracious enough to put a trailer we termed the “Tailgater” in the parking lot above the marina. This wonderful gathering spot has a large projection TV screen at the back, 2 32″ flat screens in each door, an incredible sound system, and a kegerator. We kept our gear in the trailer, with walls lined with rod racks and a large rack system at the back where we stored our terminal tackle. Well, as you can imagine with a place like this to hang out, we were often the gathering spot after most fishing days. Heck, we were the gathering spot whenever anyone was in town!
Tron happened to keep a less ostentatious, yet just as serviceable gear trailer right next to the “Tailgater”. Of course we began hearing rumors of Tron shortly after we moved the boat over to her summer moorage in time for Halibut season, and soon we met him as he traversed the short walk between Secret Island and the Boat House while preparing his boat for the upcoming tuna season.
At first, we did nothing more than share a beer and the common knowledge that we all loved to fish, but as these things go, talk of fishing exploits past, and ones soon to come are always in the offing. As we began talking about our most cherished of pursuits, chasing tuna, we discovered we had a similarity. We were as interested in the how and why certain techniques worked, how the fish actually arrived at our lonely little spot on the planet, and what held them in place, or kept them in an endless flight in search of a meal. In short we learned we were “fish geeks,” but all misfits must keep together and this is how the friendship formed. Some of the most memorable and fun summer moments began as we spent hours discussing what we had experienced over the last couple days, what had worked and why and how the fish had arrived at each destination. In the course of these discussion I learned a tremendous amount from Tron whose experience in this Northwest fishery went WAY beyond my own. It gave me those giddy moments of epiphany and often a certain clarity of WHY certain techniques worked, why I caught fish in certain places, and sometimes more importantly why I sometimes didn’t. I like to kid myself that Tron learned some from me too, but I have to admit I am the junior partner!!
As the season progressed and he and his trusty partner and deck hand Chris Powers plied the waters of the North Pacific, we would often sojourn on the back of “Secret Island,” or behind the tailgater to share a cold beer and debrief. We planned to make a trip or two together at some point, if for no other reason than to enjoy a day on the water with other fish addicted “geeks,” but it never worked out. Between all of our schedules we just never found that opportunity to make it happen. It was a sad day at the end of the season when we hadn’t accomplished our goal of getting offshore together and Chris had to return to his home in Corpus Christi, Texas.
Tron and I kept in touch, and talked often, continuing scheming about tuna. We both made several trips to Mexico and other points south in pursuit of our favored game fish, again comparing notes of successes, defeats, and plane old reconnoitering.
I spent a couple winter nights at his house in Netarts where we talked tuna late into the nights, watched videos each of us had shot while tuna fishing and just plane had fun talking all things fin related. More than anything else we decided the next year we would “REALLY” make sure we got out on the water together.
As the season approached we hatched plans, and endlessly perused SST shots of the Ocean. The current tongue needed to bring tuna to the Northwest began forming a couple times, but northerly blows here in the Northwest would dissipate the “highway” just as it would begin to look promising. Around the 3rd week of June we had promising water of Garibaldi, but it didn’t really connect down into the zone. Could some fish made it through? Could they be in the warm blue water bubble we saw sitting out along the 125 00 line, teasing and tantalizing exploratory Hail Marry and us towards?
Enter the wonderful scientific community. I have to admit, enough time has past I’m not sure who it was anymore. Was it scientists from NOAA, or was it professors from a Northwest University. Honestly I’m not sure, but they came through in our hour of need. It seems they had a current buoy that had run out of batteries, and they couldn’t maneuver it any longer. It’s interesting that they could put a buoy in the water and through fins used to dive and a specific gravity that allowed it to dive or come to the surface, they could put in a GPS coordinate and the buoy would under wind and water currents would maneuver to the location. It allowed the scientist to study the way the currents work, and also extract all kinds of data about the water the buoy travelled through. Regardless, it had quit responding and they needed to someone to retrieve it. They called Tron and hired him and the “Secret Island” to help collect their wayward child, and Tron immediately called me and said get your buns down here and lets see if there might be fish in our bubble.
Obviously we couldn’t really fish, but we did take some troll gear figuring once we had the buoy safely on board, the scientists wouldn’t mind if we trolled a little on our way back in. What a plan; we could run out to the 125 line and actually check it out without having to burn our own fuel, and even better, we’d earn a payday while poking around. Sweet!!
We motored our way out to the coordinates the scientists had for the last location of the buoy. They had brought along all kinds of equipment to help us locate the buoy once we got close. I was up in the wheelhouse with Tron as we motored to the last location. As we neared it we saw a buoy on the surface. Tron asked me to let the scientists know we had reached their location. I went back and told them that we had arrived. They started to get their gear ready to track the lost buoy, and I said, “We actually already see the buoy. It’s off our port bow.” You should have seen the look on their faces. Incredulous is the only description I can give. I truly don’t think they expected they could give a couple fishermen the GPS coordinates to the lost article and that we could drive straight to it, but that’s exactly what had happened.
Well, we had arrived at our location, we had found the buoy and in short order retrieved it, but there was a portion of the day that wasn’t as happy. The water was only 58 degrees. Now I know a few of you old salts out there know that doesn’t really mean anything, and we knew it too. We knew albacore could easily be in water cooler than 60 degrees; the sinking feeling in our gut was the fact that this was the warmest bubble formed off our “tuna highway.” The positives where it proved that the SST’s we’d been looking at where almost exactly what we were reading through our instruments, and that there was a tremendous amount of life out here.
We asked the scientists if they minded if we deployed a couple of fishing lines and putted towards home on the first part of our journey back to the dock. They were so happy to have their “child” back they were immediately agreeable to our ploy. I even think one of them was intrigued at the chance of seeing a tuna come over the gunnel himself.
I’m sure you’re guessing our outcome. Yes, it was to no avail, yet we had accomplished a look at water that had some hope, and well “COULD” have held some fish, yet we didn’t find any in our brief interlude at the 125 line, but we had confirmed we could believe our SST’s, and in fact could take the information we got from the satellites to the bank!
We continued to watch the water daily, but this year just kept giving us those bothersome north winds that keep turning the water, creating upwellings and generally wrecking havoc with the formation of our tuna highway. You can always take one thing to heart, the fish will eventually show, and a week latter we again had a fractured highway, but by central Oregon it looked like it should connect all the way to the central pacific.
I guess now our pursuit had become an obsession, and maybe a bit of a challenge to see if we could really land the first sport caught tuna in Oregon for 2010. Again, as this tongue of water began forming, we started to hatch a plan. As Tron so demurely stated, “it’s an oppor-TUNA-ty!”
A plan is hatched! Tron told me to arrive at the docks in Garibaldi at 9:00 p.m. Friday to load bait and our gear, with a plan of heading straight offshore to the 125 00 line and then turning south and then pulling gear until we actually found the albacore party! So we started following our plan with preparations. We iced and fueled the boat, bought supplies, and Tron even allowed me to bring way to much fishing gear to the party (any of you who’ve fished with me know the what a gear crazy man I really am). Finally, we said goodbye to our wives, and told them we hoped to return by Sunday night at the latest, and off we went! We met at the dock at 9:00 p.m. along with Tron’s new deck hand Vince, and proceeded to ease our way out to the 125 00 line hopefully to arrive by daylight.
We motored on the slow boat to the southern crosshairs (Garibaldi style!) and arrived right at 5:00 a.m. (It’s amazing how comfortable the ride is heading out when you’re only going 8 knots, instead of the 20 we usually try and make!) Surprisingly we had crossed the most life in this area at gray dawn at the 45 02, 124 52 to 124 55 line, but we waited to put the jigs in till we arrived at our appointed waypoint. We saw less life at about 58 degrees. It was a tad cool, and seemed to get cooler as we motored south.
We had set a southern goal of the Oregon/California border. There was a beautiful warm section of water starting at the 42 53, 125 11 line, and it extended all the way to the 126 line and beyond. We knew this section of water would be holding fish, but we also thought there were several spots that looked like they had potential between the Southern Crosshairs and the 43 degree line north.
We spent Saturday morning motoring down the line with sections of intense life, amazing masses of birds flitting, wheeling and diving over schools of pacific white-sided dolphins and pods of whales, but nary a glimpse of our main quarry. Tron had a Sitex system on his boat that he truly trusted, and he kept telling me how he almost always saw the fish on the scope before hooking them. So as we motor through these sections of life we intensely watch the temp gauge and the scope for signs of tuna. It was a true bout of two guys stuck to the “fish TV,” the albies just never materialized.
Saturday evening around 5:00 pm we are beginning to get disheartened. We weren’t as far down the line as we had originally hoped to be, and with an eta of a Sunday evening return to the Tillamook Bay Boathouse, we weren’t sure we were going to make it to our warm water bubble. We sat down in the wheelhouse and talked through our strategy again. The water seemed to be “showing” slightly colder than we remembered and we weren’t positive anything connected from the warm water to get us close enough to find some of those early northern pushing albies (Note to self- Always print out a SST map with coordinates attached instead of trying to remember where exactly the lines of warm water laid!). After an intense discussion of the merits of less haul a** downhill, too, “let’s call the wives and tell em we broke down!” I remembered I’d saved one of the SST photos on my laptop. We pulled it out and went to work, hovering over it again, trying to determine if we were on the right path. And what do you know, we had been on the right path all along, and the best plan was just to continue on our course.
At 6:00 p.m. we started to see a bit of life, our water temp was a solid 59.1 and we were marking some fish that looked like they COULD BE tuna??? I was at the wheel, and I looked back and almost giddily yell, “Fish on!!” We had found them! Holy cow, our quest had worked, and we’d found the fish! We all ran to the back deck and landed a beautiful 15 pound silver bullet. High Fives all around, and maybe even another type of “silver bullet” to celebrate. It’s amazing the satisfaction that roles over your body when a plan, a scheme many had poo-pooed, comes together successfully. We had accomplished our goal, but not only the goal of catching the first tuna of 2010 for the sport fleet, but had fulfilled a year and a half’s plan of putting tuna on the deck together. It was a sweet moment!
We continued our course south and we caught another 9 tuna, and missed 5 or 6 others. It was far from epic fishing, but we also figured we were actually on the most northern push of tuna in Oregon. Who knows, but it sure sounded good! It felt like we might even have know what we were doing! As we continued the long troll to the south, the weather began to take a nasty turn. The wind gusts came up and soon we were rocking and rolling in a 6′ wind chop. This is the moment when the realization hit us that we had accomplished our goal, but we were now 152 miles from the jetties, and would be hard pressed in this messy ocean to get home by our allotted Sunday evening.
We grudgingly (sort of…. We were stoked to have accomplished our goal!! Even though we had motored a long way (over 20 hours), we found that one hour of fishing had turned out to be worth every penny!!!), we turned the boat to the North, and started the slow slog up the line for home.
You want to know the best part? We had decided earlier in the day if we hadn’t caught fish by 6:00 p.m. that evening, we were going to have to give in and throw the bananas and beer overboard! Hurray for us, we got to keep them too…