The One That Got Away (Thank Goodness!)

We’ve been towing fishing lines behind us for thousands of miles since we took off cruising. We’ve hauled in some nice Mahi Mahi, Spanish Mackerel, and a few other things we weren’t as sure about. With the exception of one little tunny we tried, it’s worked out well. Enthusiasm on board for Mahi Mahi is now very high, and efforts to fish meet less resistance. But no one wanted a tuna.

Recently in Noumea I finally got everyone on the boat with the fresh tuna program. We were buying it at the fish market, fresh and locally caught, and it was to die for. The kids even ordered it in restaurants and asked for it for dinner.

So finally, with a receptive and excited audience I’ve upped my fishing efforts. Prior to this we used a stand up rig; a stout boat rod with a big Penn reel on it. The reel is a pretty high end ocean fishing reel, suitable for taking big game. I loaded it with several hundred yards of Spectra line, then a couple of hundred more of 80# test mono filament on top of that. The reason for this is the Spectra braid line, while expensive, also is much more compact than the mono filament, and stronger. So you can pack a lot more line on the reel with the braid, but it is very visible. So you fish with the clear mono end of the line.

I grew up in the midwest, fishing in lakes farm ponds for bass and sunfish, or streams and rivers. In fresh water, you get pretty excited for a five pound fish. From there, I moved to the East Coast and did a lot more surf casting for Bluefish and Striped Bass. Much bigger than the freshwater fish, to be sure. Five pounds is a small fish, not a keeper. Much larger fish are the norm.

What I am not used to is the freaking monstrous fish that you can run into off shore. A medium size yellowfin tuna, if we could get it in the boat, would provide more tuna than we could eat in a month. That also means I’ve got very little experience “playing” a really large fish. Except for a couple of charter fishing expeditions I have every little experience hauling in fish that weigh in excess of twenty pounds. A big yellowfin can weigh up to a couple of hundred pounds.

There is NO WAY I want a fish that big.

To date, the largest fish we’ve brought to the boat was a six foot sailfish that hit on the way from Aruba to Panama. We brought that to the boat after a few spectacular leaps, and worked the hook loose and let it go. They aren’t supposed to be great eating, and that’s a lot of pointy fish parts to wrassle on boat.

But a key point here – that six foot sailfish, which is not a small fish, did not peel enough line off the reel to get to the spectra braid.

In fact, nothing we’ve hooked into has pulled out enough line to reach the braid. They’ve all tired and been brought to the boat before running that far off. I literally have not seen the spectra braid on this reel since I had it loaded on there. Until today.

An hour or so ago, something hit the braid. It hit a red and white cedar plug about 275 miles of the coast of Australia, where the water is a mile or two deep. We were sailing along at a little over seven knots , and it started peeling line of the reel. I increased the drag to slow it. It didn’t slow. We slowed the boat to two knots, and the line kept peeling off. Then the spectra came out. I increased the drag. More line stripped.

At this point I was starting to get a little nervous. This thing had stripped about 75% or more of my line off in minutes; it seemed like seconds. I’d maxed out the drag, and it just kept going like nothing was wrong. Finally, as the core of line on my rod was dwindling to a small and scary amount, it stopped pulling out line.

Then the work began. Prior to that, I hadn’t taken the rod out of the holder, because I was afraid the fish would yank it right out of my hands while I tried to move it to my fighting belt. I have to reach out and around the wind generator to do this, and I don’t have great leverage. When the screaming of the reel stopped, I carefully too the rod out of the holder and placed it in my belt and tried to move the fish.


I pulled up, it pulled back hard. Eventually I was able to start cranking some line in, slowly. Painfully, a couple of feet at a time I started moving this monstrous thing closer to the boat.

We had no idea what it was. A Mahi Mahi would have to be gigantic to pull that much line, and was unlikely. Marlin, Sailfish, and other bill fish tended to jump, and probably would have shown themselves by now. A Wahoo or a shark would have cut right through the nylon leader. So we figure it was a tuna, and a good sized on.

I made made mistake “playing” it. There was no play involved, my arms and back were burning and I was breathing hard, fighting for every inch of line. At this point I knew it was too big to keep, too big for us even to get up in the boat, most likely. But I didn’t want to lose my line or if possible, my favorite cedar plug. And I wanted to see it and get a picture. So I fought it.

I’m not good at handling drag, not with big fish. And I must have left the drag on too hard as the fish slowed down. Because when it rallied and ran, the shock snapped the mono line out near the fish, a few feet above the nylon leader.

Probably for the best. The temptation to boat it would have been huge, and if I was to let it go I didn’t want to hurt it. It cost me a cedar plug lure, a few bits of fishing hardware and some line. And some pretty sore arms.

I wish we’d gotten a look at it, though.

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