Waterman's Journal

Feb 21, 2010

Venice Cold Water Surprise

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...

Tuesday, January 26th started out like any other morning. Wake up, shower, nutritious breakfast of a banana and an energy drink, walk down to the boat, crank it up, allow the engines to warm up, retie knots and leaders, fuel it up, ice it up, wait on customers while small chatting with the competition as to where the tuna might be today. We had a group that had booked us for the next three days, and they hailed from all over the eastern United States. We had high hopes for the next three days, as they assured us that they were very experienced anglers, so much so that they claimed any fish we would target, they could catch on jigs. Well, not one to turn away from a good wager, we gladly welcomed the group onto the boat and were pleasantly surprised when they came loaded with thousands of dollars of their own tackle, especially jigs. These guys were serious about jigging. There’s always got to be a “bad guy” in every bunch, and it was my duty to explain to the group that we would be targeting tuna with live baits and chunking, but assured them that they could jig up small blackfin and skipjacks to their hearts’ content to keep the chum line fresh.

 Off we made our way down the mighty Mississippi on a typical cold morning. We welcomed the clear skies that greeted us that morning; a nice change from the peasoup-like fog which is typical of springtime fishing out of Venice. Hopes were high that day, as it is always easier to put fish in the boat when everyone knows (or at least acts!) what they’re doing.

  We pulled up to our first rig about sixty miles south of South Pass, and I routinely tied two sabikis rigs up to our trout rods, just like we do every morning to try and catch bait. The bait eluded us that morning, and they would for the rest of the day. This time of year, most of the small hardtails, scads, and other assorted baitfish make their way in towards shallow water, with the big tuna not far behind. Either because of the bitter two-week long cold front which had just passed through, or perhaps the moon phase, the famous Lump just had not turned on yet, so we were still “running long” to find our tunas. Well, our customers wasted no time in jigging up some peanut sized blackfin, so we proceeded to start chunking. In the past couple of trips, some of our biggest tuna (150-180 pounders) had come off of bridling up a small blackfin or skipjack, and Captain Hunter suggested that we put a live bait out behind the boat. I jigged up a small blackfin and upon reaching the boat, we unhooked him and I held him while Captain Hunter skillfully bridled him up, and then we sent him back on his merry little way. Now, live baiting with small tunas is hands down one of my favorite ways to fish. Why? 99% of the time, the only thing that is going to hit a free-swimming juvenile tuna is going to be either a large tuna over 150 pounds, or a blue marlin. What?! January blue marlin, you say? Impossible! Nonsense my friends; the Gulf Stream which runs along the eastern seaboard wraps around the tip of Florida, and comes up into the Gulf of Mexico, sometimes quite far North depending on the currents and other maritime conditions. Although it was in the middle of January, the water temperature registered 70 degrees, and felt quite comfortable running over my bare feet. Sea conditions were two to three feet, gentle rollers; water was a cobalt blue. We returned to chunking, but our return to normalcy would be interrupted in short order. A few minutes later, our little tuna decided he needed to panic and went from zero to sixty in a blink of an eye. Hunter grabbed the rod and paid out a little more line and then picked up the line in his fingertips, not quite convinced that the bait had been inhaled. Silence overcame the boat, as all eyes were on Hunter as he held the line like a leash. The suspense was overwhelming. At once I noticed that the tethered tuna, although down probably a hundred feet deep, started swimming a bit more deliberately towards the bow, and at once Hunter started to reel like mad. The Mustad circle hook did its job and buried into the corner of the fish’s jaw. The line quickly started rising to the surface, and we told our customers to get their cameras ready. Because of the nature of the strike, we knew it was a marlin, as a tuna generally dives deep when inhaling a bait. About 40 yards behind the boat, the smooth surface of the Gulf erupted with 350 pounds of angry blue marlin, determined to greyhound all the way to Cuba whether we were coming with him or not. Fish on!  
 Angler Scott Butler from Atlanta, Georgia was the closest already prepared with a fighting belt, and the rod was handed off to him. I grabbed the wheel and throttles and proceeded to give chase while Hunter helped clear the deck and assist the other anglers to make their way to the bow and out of Scott’s way. My short tenure as captain would be short-lived, as Hunter told me to get my gloves on and assist Scott. Dangit!  
 The fish did not put much of a show on for the first forty-five minutes or so; as it stayed about ten feet down and just steadily pulling line, surfing down swell. Although giving us plenty of shots for pictures, the fish, for the most part, was not acting like it knew it was hooked. Over the next hour, Scott worked the fish to the wire around fifteen times, and right as I would bend over the gunwhale to grab the leader which was just inches beyond my grasp, the fish would suddenly turn towards the motors. Thanks to some expert boat handling by Captain Hunter, disaster was averted every time as he would spin the boat on the fish, keeping both angler and fish towards the middle of the boat. Although this was Scott’s first billfish, he handled his duties as angler like a seasoned pro; winding like hell when he should, pumping and winding when the fish sounded deep. After about an hour into the fight, the marlin decided he wanted some limelight and gave us a fantastic aerial show right by the boat, heaving his long body completely out of the water many times, allowing even the most unsuspecting, inexperienced photographer the chance to get some great shots. We had two video cameras rolling, and the entire crew erupted in cheers, oohs, and ahhs each time the fish cleared the surface and threw water in all directions.

 The next time the fish came to wire, as predicted, he made a turn for the motors, only this time, he went completely under the boat to the other side. My heart sank as I saw Scott get pinned to the gunwhale, while the line rubbed against the bottom of the boat. I told him to back off the drag and walk the line around the front of the boat. All stars must have been aligned that day, as the line was clearly frayed but did not part. As the fray was just mere feet beyond the rod tip, the boat fell silent as we prayed that he could reel that frayed part back onto the reel and pack it with additional mono for insurance. This fish was just meant to be for this crew, and a few minutes later the fish came back to wire. At this point, we were an hour and thirty minutes into the fight, and our angler was begging for mercy. “As soon as you can grab that leader, you get that fish to this boat and end this thing, do you understand?” asked Hunter. “Aye aye captain,” I thought to myself, slightly nervous about how green this fish still was. As soon as the leader came to the rod tip next time, I grabbed it and got one full wrap on him. The fish, which was on its side, decided he had one last hurrah in him, and “black-backed” me as he proceeded to swim under the boat again. I went on ahead and dumped the leader, and jokingly turned to our customers and said “Wiring 101! Never be afraid to dump the leader!” as I had no intentions of going swimming with the marlin that day. The fish only took around twenty feet of line that time, and the next time he came to wire, I had had enough, and as soon as was able to wrap on him, muscled him towards the surface. The fish cooperated, and we finally had him boatside. And the crowd went wild!! Elation set in amongst everyone on the boat, as we finally had a great fish boatside. Now, this was by far one of the most inconsiderate marlin I have ever encountered, as he decided to cut into our customers’ tuna fishing time by two hours! The fish was still very lit up and swimming on its own, so I popped the leader and the mighty fish swam off to fight another day. High fives were passed around the boat, and a few minutes later, we were back to work chunking for the tunas.  
 First bait in the water was inhaled and line proceeded to peel off the reel. Next up on the rod was Scott’s wife Margie, and she was showing this tuna who was boss. Halfway into the fight, about six large blacktip sharks showed up, and we started to get nervous that we were only going to pull up a head. A few minutes later, Hunter stuck the gaff into a fat yellowfin in the one hundred pound class. As we started the next drift, all of a sudden the few sharks that were swimming around bolted in separate directions. Wondering what could have possibly scared the once-thought-to-be apex predator, I peered over the side of the boat and noticed another large dark shadow making its way through our chunk line. “Blue marlin! Blue marlin!” I shouted to Hunter as I then started to bridle up another small tuna to feed our pointy-nosed friend. Right as I was dumping the tasty morsel over the side to the hungry billfish, our customers started begging “no more! No more!” as they just wanted red meat for the boat that day, and didn’t want to fight another billfish. I never thought I would see the day that a person didn’t want two shots at a marlin in one day!  
 We finished the trip with a whole mess of fish, and there’s something about pulling back into the marina in the middle of wintertime with a blue marlin release flag flying, that just makes you feel warm, despite the near freezing temperatures surrounding us.

A few days later, we decided to stay shallow, as our wintertime tuna tend to chase migrating schools of pogies into the shallow waters. Although the cold temperatures and typically rough seas make one yearn for summertime conditions, the average size of the yellowfins goes up substantially, and any day of the week is a perfect day for records to fall. We had another group in from Houston, and up until lunchtime, the bite was rather slow. All we had to show in the fish box was a few bonitas and kings, which we use for bait, and a whole mess of ice begging to be thawed out by a few fresh tuna carcasses. We were down probably 50+ hooks due to the nuisance kings and sharks which had decided to crash our party, uninvited. Well, in an attempt to catch a few more kings for bait, we rigged up a rather hastily tied wire leader with a circle hook. While tuna will avoid a wire leader like the plague, the less intelligent but equally as hungry kings will jump all over a chunk buried in a wire leader. We had just spotted a large blacktip shark in our slick when our rod with the wire leader went off. I rolled my eyes as I prepared to release another shark. The customers were excited to fight the giant fish, no matter what the species, so we sat back and relaxed while they got worked. The fish was acting super weird, sometimes sounding deep; other times running just under the surface like a wahoo or marlin would. Either way, time was passing and the seas were building. An hour and a half into the fight and I noticed the fish was taking big wide circles, similar to a fatigued tuna. I notified Captain Hunter and he began to peer over the side, hoping for a glimpse of what might not be a shark. A few moments later and Hunter shouted “Get the gaffs! It’s a huge tuna!” Sure enough, the fish rolled on its side and we saw the tell-tale long sickle fins characteristic of large tuna. The fish swam just inside “color” range for probably another fifteen minutes, as we tried to work him towards the surface. Shortly thereafter, Hunter and I sunk the gaffs into the largest yellowfin to ever hit his deck. We pointed the boat north and were greeted by rain and temperatures in the mid 30s, which made for a miserable ride back towards Venice Marina. Instead of immediately cleaning the fish, we all headed for warm showers and hot meals, and returned to the boat the following morning to weigh the fish. Captain Hunter took the fish to the commercial docks down the road where they had official scales, and I proceeded to clean the rest of the tuna we had managed yesterday. When Hunter pulled up about fifteen minutes later, he laid on the horn, and it was then that I knew the fish would go over 200. The fish would weigh in at a solid 215 pounds; not bad for a customer’s first yellowfin tuna, but a hard one to top on his next trip.

-Mate Woody Woods

For more information on fishing in Venice, Louisiana with Paradise Outfitters, visit www.paradise-outfitters.com or call Captain Hunter Caballero at 504-610-1686

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.