A fellow journalist watches his first mate Robert Coakley gaff his blackfin tuna catch.
Part 2: The Fight
The north end of Long Island is exceptional for offshore fishing. It’s the nadir of warm-shelf water, the ebb from the Exuma Sound, and the flood of cold Atlantic currents. The dramatic drop-off—upwards of 100 feet—means that we will have to run only four or five miles from the Stella Maris Resort, where we’re staying, to the fishing grounds.
Capt. Dan Knowles mans the helm of the resort’s 39-foot boat Golden Bear while first mate Robert Coakley, who doubles as a dive instructor on Long Island, preps the ballyhoo with Mustad 9/0 hooks, appending a red-and-black Boone’s skirt above the bait and tying it on with monel wire. We rig out six lines, and within minutes have a 23-pound mahi-mahi thumping on the deck. Within the hour, a pair of blackfin tuna are in the fishbox, too, and big grins are on all our faces. But there’s more to come.
A quarter mile off our starboard bow, a flock of sooty terns dives into the sea. We’re there in minutes, watching the sea bubble over with flyingfish.
One of the reels on the aft rail starts spinning. Aiming to add to her bonefish catch, Cocking takes the fighting chair, lets the fish run and run, and then with eyebrows raised, suddenly exclaims, “Half the reel’s gone! Back down! Back down!” Knowles slams the levers into reverse, and water deluges the cockpit as we back down on a fast-moving fish.
Unlike our other catches that day, this one is a real struggle. The line’s only 30-pound test, so Cocking can’t apply too much pressure lest it snap. For over an hour, she struggles with whatever is on the other end of the thin strand of monofilament. I conjecture with Knowles: Shark? Coakley, who’s working the chair—keeping Cocking’s toes pointed toward the end of the line—hollers back, “Come now, it’s a big tuna!”
Soon after, the familiar silver flash confirms his judgement, as the fish surfaces near the boat. But it’s not ready to surrender. Instead it charges the boat, forcing Knowles to slam the throttles forward to avoid either catching the line in the props or rubbing it against the bulwarks. Finally, Coakley leans over the side and gaffs the 60-pounder, bringing it aboard with one swift yank. Cocking’s still sweating, and pumped with adrenaline as she recounts the battle, repeating the best tidbits over and over again. “I thought we were gonna lose it!”
There’s an obvious difference in style between angling for bones on Grand Bahama and trolling for tuna off Long Island. The former is an exercise in precision and timing; the other is a short-and-sweet blast of excitement and power. What you prefer depends on your own style and passions, but I wouldn’t give up the chance to do either. Because whichever you choose, you’ll at least return with an entertaining fishing tale to tell.
This article originally appeared in the March 2009 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.