Are Giant Bluefin Tuna On Your Bucket List?

Catching a giant bluefin with rod and reel has been on my bucket list for a long time. I grew up on the water and spent several summers as part of a crew that fished with handline or harpoon. It must have been close to midnight when I finally gave up my futile attempt to rest and made my way back out on deck. I took some solace in the thought that if I got tired enough I might actually sleep; and the hardest -earned prizes are sometimes the most rewarding. I knew catching a giant tuna was a long shot, a lot like deer hunting. Then came the words I’d longed to hear: “Got him!” With the seas calming, I figured to catch some sleep before another midnight watch. Don and I cleared the other lines while Bob dropped the anchor line and then set to fighting the fish. Each time Bob gained a little line the fish would turn and take some back. It wouldn’t be long now. Don ordered me to the helm as I handed him the harpoon, then he shouted directions.

A veteran commercial fisherman’s invite to fish for giants came along and I wasted no time in accepting.

Catching a giant bluefin with rod and reel has been on my bucket list for a long time. I grew up on the water and spent several summers as part of a crew that fished with handline or harpoon. My life’s path led me away from the ocean, and for years I’d wanted to go back and do it again with more sporting tackle. Decades passed without an opportunity and my desire was relegated to the back burner until a recent series of events rekindled the flame.

The Blue Bandit.
The Blue Bandit.

Several more years passed as I tried unsuccessfully to mooch my way onto a boat until I eventually connected with fellow Mainer, Don Fletcher. A veteran commercial fisherman, Don switched over to tuna fishing after he acquired an Ocean Yachts 55 SS he named the Blue Bandit. When the invitation came to join him, I wasted no time in accepting. Unfortunately, weather foiled our first attempt and we never left the dock in Portland Harbor. After that, work and hunting season filled up my fall schedule, and it looked like my quest would be put off yet another year. Renewed hope came when a window presented itself and plans were hastily made to meet Don and his mate, Bob, on the dock in South Portland.

Pea Soup

My mood was severely dampened when I topped the hill on High Street only to see Portland Harbor shrouded in fog. The fates seemed to be stacked against me, but my trepidations were eased when Don advised me that his radar was in good working order. We made our way out, stopping along the way to catch bait. My first few drops came up with pollock, which went back in the drink, but subsequent attempts yielded an occasional mackerel—some of the biggest I’d ever seen—and a few herring. Once we had enough to get the lines out, we headed offshore, anchored up and set to fishing. The fog rolled in and out as the seas grew steadily throughout the afternoon. The forecast called for small craft advisories with seas building to 6 feet overnight, suggesting it was going to be a long and tiresome night.

First Bite

It was several hours into the vigil when one of the rod tips started to bounce but no line paid out; not a good sign. As expected, our first catch was a porbeagle that we managed to release without any damage to the fluorocarbon leader. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be the last shark, but at least we’d gotten the skunk off the boat.

Second Shift

After dinner, assignments for the night watch were handed out. I would be on the second shift, starting at midnight, so I thought I’d catch a few winks beforehand. I typically don’t sleep very well on a boat, but the conditions made that task nigh impossible. The tide and the wind fought each other relentlessly, neither gaining the upper hand, which left us quartering to the still-building seas. As the boat pitched and rolled, anything that wasn’t fastened down would rattle, clang or bang. Sleep was out of the question. The best I could hope for was a little restless downtime.

It must have been close to midnight when I finally gave up my futile attempt to rest and made my way back out on deck. I figured a Devil Dog and a Mountain Dew would provide a quick jolt of energy to keep me awake during my vigil. Instead, it just gave me a headache and an upset stomach. That combined with the aroma of diesel fumes from the generator and cigarette smoke made for a bad combination on a rolling boat. I wasn’t about to show any signs of weakness in front of my hosts, so I went out on deck where I could at least take in some fresh air.

All this gave me cause to question my decision. The trip wasn’t quite the romantic, exciting adventure I’d anticipated. It was more like endurance. I took some solace in the thought that if I got tired enough I might actually sleep; and the hardest -earned prizes are sometimes the most rewarding.

I passed the rest of my watch catching herring and mackerel that had risen…

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