Catching a Yellowfin Tuna on a Sailboat

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“The monster,” a 210lb yellowfin tuna, aboard the boat, finally

“The monster,” a 210lb yellowfin tuna, aboard the boat, finally

Mine is a fishing family. Whether we are running lines off the stern, spearfishing or casting from the boat, we’re always fishing. So, of course, we were fishing while we sailed as part of the 2015 Pacific Puddle Jump. Among our mini-group of boats, a competition had been arranged; the boat to catch the biggest fish would be entitled to a beer from each other boat in the group. My family was excited about this competition: so excited we kept our lines in the water day and night, during good and bad weather. It was through this determination that we achieved our biggest and best fish tale yet.

It was just after midnight when I came off watch. I was tired and ready for sleep. Not that the watch had been difficult; the trade winds were comfortably pushing Lady Carolina along at 7 knots, and the moon was above the horizon, illuminating the seascape. Within seconds of my head hitting the pillow, my mom’s voice made its way to my half-asleep ears. “Kyle, there’s a funny noise up here,” she shouted from the deck. I remained in my bunk, hoping she would forget about it, but no luck, as she persisted in nagging me awake to investigate.

Dragging myself out of my bunk, I reached through the darkness to find the harness I had thrown onto the sole only moments earlier. I then slipped it on and clamored up the companionway. True enough, there was a noise that sounded exactly like fishing line peeling out of a fishing rod whose clicker had not yet been engaged. I groaned. Our eagerness to keep lines out at night had suddenly become a major annoyance. Nonetheless, I rallied, clipping onto the jacklines and emerging from the cockpit to grab hold of the rod. As I did so, it only took me a moment to discover that whatever was on the end was big.

Monster at Midnight. Measuring the fish was almost as exciting as catching it (inset)

Monster at Midnight. Measuring the fish was almost as exciting as catching it (inset)

I upped the tension with no result. Then I upped it some more. Nothing. I upped it as far as I could without snapping the line, and still, the line continued peeling off the reel. Clearly, I needed backup. I stomped my feet on the deck above the aft cabin, yelling my dad’s name. It took five minutes, but eventually, he made his way upstairs, got comfortable in the cockpit and was able to offer such encouraging advice to his exhausted, weak son, as: “Kyle, when you rest the fish rests!” And, “Is that all you got?” Or, “Get the tip in the air, son!” Thanks, Dad.

It wasn’t long before I was completely out of steam, and Dad begrudgingly clipped in beside me. “I’ll show you how it’s done, son,” he said as he confidently grabbed the rod and started to reel in. It only took a moment, though, before he realized that I was, in fact, not a weakling, but that the fish was just that big and pulling just that hard. By now the fish had taken so much line we could see the silver of the reel underneath. “Maybe you should lower some sail, Kyle,” Dad said.

I made quick work of reefing the mainsail and almost completely furled the poled-out jib. The boat still moving at 4 knots and the fish still taking line, I started the engine and pointed the bow into the wind. Finally, with our boatspeed down, the line stopped spinning from the reel.

Fast-forward one hour. My mom was now fast asleep, and Dad and I had finally devised a system of winning line from the fish. First, I would raise the rod tip into the air. Then when it dropped back down, my father would reel in as fast as he could. It worked well, and the fish was soon close enough to see. Grabbing a flashlight and shining it over the side I got just one glance, but immediately began cheering when I saw the telltale signs of a yellowfin tuna—right before it took off with the entire reel of fishing line. Fast-forward another hour.

Eventually, I was able to start preparing a line to slip around the fish’s tail so we could haul it aboard. This sounds easier than it is. And implementing this strategy was how I eventually found myself sitting on the sugar scoop, practically swimming in the Pacific Ocean, trying to wrap a string around the tail of a fish that weighed as much as I did. Finally, after securing the fish, I clipped a halyard to the tail and returned to the cockpit where I started cranking it in with a winch. This wasn’t a good idea. The fish was like a 200lb wrecking ball hanging from a 60ft pendulum. The boat rocked to one side, and the fish went flying, hitting the transom with a “Bang!” Finally, it cleared the lifelines, and I dropped it to the deck. The wrecking ball was secure.

After that came the job of filleting a 200lb yellowfin tuna on the aft deck of a rocking boat in the middle of the Pacific—at night. We bled the fish out and in the process covered the deck with a thick film of blood. Me? Well, I was soon standing in this blood trying to fillet the skin from the 30lb hunks my dad was handing me. Holding a knife. On a rocking boat. You get the picture. I still can’t believe we were lucky enough to catch this monster. There are bigger fish in the sea, but we caught this one on a boat that wasn’t really prepared to handle it. I’m still shocked we never lost it. We enjoyed every party where we were able to share our catch. Oh, and it was delicious.

Photos courtesy of Kyle Danielewicz

July 2017

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