How many anglers does it take to catch one 70-pound yellowfin? On some days, it takes all of them.
If you walk into any seaside pub, you’ll probably see fishermen chatting amiably as cold pints slide across a scarred bar top, each nick in the heavily varnished wood representing a beer that launched a fish tale. Most of these stories involve a monster fish of prehistoric proportions that battled and beat anglers down to their leg-shaking core, only to be lost to fate. These are known as “the one that got away” stories. This isn’t one of those.
It was mid-September about two years ago, and in the deepwater canyons from Massachusetts to Maryland something special called the chunk tuna bite was offering serious nighttime baited-hook, tuna-fishing action. One particular night, my crew and I walked into one bite to end all bites. We battled 50-plus yellowfin tuna ranging up to 100 pounds nonstop from dusk to daylight. But it all started with the first and most interesting fish of the evening.
Crewmember Billy O’Sullivan (aka Billy O) had dropped the first baited hook of the night over an area known as The Flats representing a rise in the Hudson Canyon that sits about 90 miles southeast of our vessel’s home port of Freeport, New York. At the time, our vessel was anchored in about 60 fathoms of water. With good bait markings, O’Sullivan’s offering drifted into the depths. About 90 feet down, his bait was smashed with torpedo-like speed. Fish on! Knowing the first fish of the night can be the most important (as the bite can start and end in a flash), our angler played the fish aggressively yet skillfully. But just when we thought we had our first 70-pounder in the boat, the tuna darted under us, only to be caught in our running gear. This is an almost guaranteed recipe for a lost fish—or at least we thought.
Another crewmember, Dave “Numbers” Nockler, had decided to try to jig another fish with a silver-colored tuna jig. Call it luck, but as Nockler was jigging, he managed to catch O’Sullivan’s line on the fish side of the wrapped line. Nockler gingerly lifted the line out of the water so as not to spook the tuna, and we decided to splice it onto another reel.
Capt. Tom D’Angelo and I donned gloves and attempted to keep tension on the fish, essentially holding onto it via handline while providing enough slack for my brother Chip to splice the line onto another rod and reel. We grabbed the first rod we saw. Chip worked as fast as he could; his hands flying so quickly as he looped lines and tied knots, he seemed to have instantly grown eight hands—a regular human octopus. “Done,” he finally exclaimed in a victorious tone. O’Sullivan began to pump up the fish. Two cranks later he stopped. Oops. In our haste to get this completed we had attached the line to a fully packed reel. There was no space to retrieve the excess line in the water. Our first fish was once again on the verge of earning his freedom.
We put the gloves back on and repeated the drill; by now Chip was getting quite good at connecting lines on the fly. Three reels and several tension-filled minutes later, O’Sullivan got the fish boatside. Soon after, the ocean erupted in a nonstop tuna feeding frenzy, and over the course of the evening our crew battled fish after fish until finally limiting out.
As the years go by and our crew discusses our past pelagic battles (and the pints slide across our local pub’s bar top), the story we talk about most often is not the biggest fish we caught (or lost)—it’s the one that took a village to catch.
This article originally appeared in the December 2010 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.