Waterman's Journal

Dec 28, 2009

Louisiana's Winter Tuna Bite

The Waterman's Journal would like to thank our good friend Woody from Paradise Outfitters for doing a fantastic write-up on a killer report they had recently off the rich Tuna waters of Louisiana. Here is the journey in his own words...

Two am came very early on Tuesday, November 24. I dumped myself out of bed and zombie walked my way to the shower. I had nowhere to be for another hour and a half but I had never been late to a fishing job and I wasn’t about to tarnish my pristine record. Fueled only by about three hours of sleep, a couple energy drinks, and visions of yesterday’s success, I made my way from the houseboat down to the boat and proceeded to bring it around to the fuel dock, where I commenced to load it with ice and my boss’ normal preferred breakfast of champions-a case of doctor pepper and a package of beef jerky. Next on the agenda was to reset drags, and then taking care to retie all leaders and hooks. My captain, Hunter Caballero, would arrive soon after 5 to wait on our customers for the day. We had large shoes to fill, as the day before we had absolutely crushed the yellowfin, with five fish over a hundred pounds; three of them over 120, not to mention the estimated 450-500 pound mako we had putting on a spectacular air show for over 10 minutes. Even worse was today’s charter had been waiting at the docks for us yesterday, so they had seen the hurting we had put on the fish the day before, and ultimately had their expectations very high for the day.

The plan today was to head to the exact same spot we had fished the day before, but today we would leave a couple of hours early in hopes that we could catch the dawn bite, which is usually on fire. We slowly motored out of Venice Marina and made an attempt at cast netting some mullet once in the mighty Mississippi, but with the mullet also heading down-river to spawn, they proved elusive; so we decided to abort that plan and hope for some live bait once in the Gulf. The temperature hovered somewhere in the high forties, and the run down the river was a cold one. Nevertheless, we had no complaints as it was a very clear morning, a nice change from the “pea-soup” like fog we are used to encountering in the wintertime.

Upon arrival at our first stop, Hunter and I dropped the sabikis overboard to try to fill our livewell with some small hardtails. Bait proved few and far in between though, as Hurricane Ida had recently churned the gulf up and spread the baits out from their previous concentrations. We put about eight in the boat though and then motored away from the rig about a quarter mile. First two baits in the water and the sun was just beginning to peak over the horizon. Our sleepy customers were soon to be rudely awakened from their slumber by that sweet, sweet sound that only occurs when a big tuna and a Shimano Tiagra don’t see eye-to-eye. Hunter and I rushed to our respective rods and quickly wound in the slack, effectively allowing the circle hooks to do their job and find home in the corner of the fish’s jaw. “Double header guys! Two of yall come grab these fish!” exclaimed Hunter. A short while later and one fish had come unbuttoned, and the other, a nice schoolie in the eighty pound class, was taking a little siesta in our fishbox. Our marker was showing lots of small tunas (blackfin and skipjacks) beneath us, so we allowed one of the younger kids to try his hand at jigging up a few of these smaller tunas to be used to chunking; as the big tunas weren’t responding as well to the live baits as they had the day before. Wasn’t long before we had hooked one of the small tunas on the jig, so while one of our young anglers fought that fish, I readied myself at the cutting board for the our next attack on the tunas via chunking. I looked overboard to see if our angler was making progress and noticed a very lit up blue swatting at our poor helpless tuna, a small blackfin around ten pounds. I hollered at Hunter and we both went into action; he readied a live bait bridle as I rigged up one of our fifty wides and snagged a fresh hardtail out of the livewell.

Over the next ten minutes, we attempted to cajole the curious blue into eating our taste morsel, but he wouldn’t eat or even sniff at it. Nor would he leave the boat! He was circling as if we had to pass through him before we were to leave to fish anywhere else, which is what we were considering at that point due to the lull in action. Out of nowhere one of the kids shouted “look at that tuna!” Low and behold, our little tuna which had been swatted off of the jig, had been hugging the underside of our boat the entire time, thus explaining why the marlin kept swimming circles around our boat. Hunter quickly grabbed a gaff and expertly free-gaffed the small tuna. We switched roles for a bit as I ran to the throttles and he bridled the lively tuna up and tossed it behind the boat. The tuna lasted maybe a second and a half as the hungry billfish pounced on it with reckless abandon. As Hunter fed the feisty blue, the fish erupted from the water and about landed in a neighboring charter boat! The next few minutes were a blur with Hunter setting the hook and passing it off to one of our customers, with the rest of the crew scrambling around the boat trying to get optimum photo position. The only thing you could make out above the screaming Tiagra was everyone shouting as the marlin greyhounded along the surface, mere rock throwing distance from the boat. A short while later and the marlin decided that the tuna looked much more at home in the water than in his stomach, and threw the hooks on one last leap. Oh well, back to the drawing board. At this point our customers already decided that they had already been treated to more excitement than they had expected before eight in the morning, and had no problem heading back in. We assured them that we were nowhere close to being done, and decided to make a move to another rig.

Upon arrival, we dropped the sabikis and made short work of a few dozen small hardtails. The ease with which we made bait should have been an omen to us. We readied young Alex with a belt and harness fit just to his sixty something pound frame, and he was ready for battle. He was placing a small wager with his dad on which rod would get bit first, mine or Hunter’s when sure enough, my bait got annihilated. As I let the fish eat for a solid five count, I started shrieking like a little girl and asked Alex “what do I do? What do I do?” as if this were my first time. He started screaming back “I don’t know! I don’t know!” when I finally gave up the act and slid the drag up and came tight on his fish. He proceeded to fight the fish unassisted for the next hour and a half before we finally saw color on what was promising to be the biggest tuna of the day. Shortly thereafter we sank the gaffs into our first big eye to ever hit the deck of Hunter’s boat, a very respectable fish which would tilt the scales at 163 pounds. For those unfamiliar with big eye tuna, they are extremely rare for our part of the gulf, as they are more prevalent off the northeast coast. Alex was on cloud nine, confident that his fish would not be beat that day. We proceeded to impale another couple innocent hardtails on circle hooks and sent them for a swim.

Pandemonium would smack us right in the face a few minutes later, as both of our helpless baits got crushed. Another double header and another crazy dance around the boat, as both fish attempted every trick in the book to get themselves tangled and ultimately free. After some expert boat maneuvers by Captain Hunter, and several laps around the boat, two more fat big eyes hit the deck, much larger than the original one. Now, we had never had big eyes of this size on the deck, and were a bit at a loss for words when asked for the estimated weight. These tunas were much shorter and fatter than a yellowfin of similar size, so we conservatively guessed the two larger fish at 150 pounds apiece and the smaller fish at 130.

As we started to put out two more live baits, our customers told us they were throwing in the towel, as they were elated at the sight of the fishbox and wanted no more part of an hour and a half battle with a determined fish. We packed all the gear up, cleaned up the decks which looked like a slaughter had just taken place, and pointed the bow north.

Back at the dock there was a pretty good crowd waiting to see the big tunas, and we were excited to finally get a weight on them. The three fish would come in at 197, 194, and 163, respectively. Just another day at the office…

-Mate Woody Woods

Thanks to Woody and Paradise Outfitters for contributing another great adventure to the Waterman's Journal. Check back in for more killer Offshore and Tuna Reports.