July 20, 2012
Yeah I was excited. Excited for the simple opportunity to get out on the ocean again with Jack and John. My wife is afraid that I am going to want to buy a Dory myself, because she sees how much fun I have whenever I get out on the ocean at PC. I assure her that I will never, ever buy a Dory myself. It’s not just the Dory, I say. You have to buy the Dory, and the dedicated Beach Truck. And you really have to know how to repair and maintain your outboards and inboards and your truck and your trailer, and these Dory guys are a pretty self-sufficient bunch of people. I deny the possibility of ever buying a dory myself. She just stares at me and raises one eyebrow and doesn’t say anything at all.
We met at 5:30, in the dark, this day. Tuna grounds are usually at least twenty miles offshore and an early run is more than a nicety, it is key to getting out before the seas make the run difficult or impossible. Deep V Hulls make the run faster and can traverse the ocean in rougher conditions than a flat bottom Harvey, but Jack and John know their Dory, and always keep the trip well within the operational safety comfort zone.
The seas were ideal and the sun came up to clear skies and only the lightest breeze. We were making a solid 17 knots going about due West, and the sea surface temperatures were liking good. At 18 miles we started seeng a lot of baitfish on the surface. We saw rolling porpoise, cruising sharks, several giant Mola Mola, two whales, and, eventually, Tuna chasing baitfish. The sunfish pictured above could be an easy 600 pounds or more.
I really can’t adequately explain how exciting it is to see 20 -30 pound Albacore leaping clean out of the water chasing bait. I learned that I make incessantly repetitive use of a limited number of phrases – Oh my lord, Oh my goodness, Oh my gosh, and the like.
We would spot leaping tuna, head over towards the commotion, and keep our lures and flies wet. John kept some official Tuna Jigs in the water, while I insisted on fishing my freshly tied Tuna Tube Flies. I had dreamed of Albacore on a fly rod. I was equipped with an Echo 3 Saltwater 12 wt. rod, a zillion yards of backing, and an Airflo Big Game Depthfinder line. My intention of putting tackle and tuna to the test was made clear by using #25 Maxima Ultragreen Leader.
We fished through four or five schools before our first Albacore took a lure. John pushed the fish hard on a genuine tuna rod and I wondered if my comparatively light fly rod would stand a chance, all the while hoping I would have an opportunity to find out.
I mentally prepared and anticipated, and tried to visualize not making crucial mistakes. First, I told myself, hang on to the rod. Do not let the rod be taken from your grip by a speeding freight-train Albacore. Second, set the drag to handle the take and the first run without any adjustment or fiddling around. Too loose and the reel could over-run and backlash. Too loose and the hook might not set. Too tight and the leader could part on the take. Too tight and the reel or line or rod might blow up on the first run.
I had never experienced that first run of an Albacore. Heard a lot of stories. Have friends who fish commercially for Tuna. Friends who have fly fished Tuna. All of them told hair-raising stories about the first runs and the hard pulling powers of the long finned beauties.
Turns out, our second fish of the day ate my tube fly. Ate it good, as I was jigging it in our wake. Oh my Lord, I said, genuinely excited, amazed, happy, scared, surprised, grateful, adrenaline stoked and did I mention full of joyjuice?
My mental coaching held the day. I did not grab the line or the reel handle. My drag was set about right. My fish smoked out the full fly line plus close to 300 yards of backing before Jack could turn the boat and begin a long slow circle.
Here it is. I have never had a fish take that much line, with such power, at such a pace – ever. So what it this only proves my lack of worldliness and global fly fishing experience. This was fun, fun, fun. I pulled, pumped, reeled, gave ground again and again, pumped, pulled, and held my ground, only to give it away more often than I cared to count.
The Ocean was clear and eventually, far down, a shiny purple-blue-turquoise-chrome-silver shape came into view. This was my time to pull like I have never pulled. I amazed myself at the arc of my 12 wt. and my inability to move the fish to the surface, time and again. Jack and John coached me as friends would, gently but firmly: take it easy, Jay; take your time; don’t break it off now: we have all day; enjoy this fish; and wow, you really did it!
My first Albacore came to the gaff eventually. So did more tuna that same day. I was ecstatic, more than happy. Every aspect of these fish – the take, the run, the fight, the dogged pulling match, and the fish themselves – exceeded my hopes.
Blood in the boat. I am pretty much a catch and release sort of guy. Tuna fishing is not a catch and release type of fly fishing. These are hard fighting fish, hot blooded fish, and a release after a fight like this is not as likely an option as it may be for salmon. I have been told that indeed Albacore may be released at the boat. That said, Tuna represent food to people in these parts of the world, more than recreation. Tuna fishing for food is often a bloody sport, and can really be a bloody job if you fish commercially. I had wondered about photos of Albacore I had seen in the past were usually of bloody fish. Now I know. The bilges of our Dory were shortly awash in blood. Each newly gaffed fish on the bottom of the boat splattered us with a rainforest-like shower of blood. The blood washed from one side of the deck to the other. We waded in blood. The fish box got fuller and fuller, and tails poked out the edges, and the blood got deeper and deeper. Got to get a bilge pump, John said at one point, wiping blood from his face. One of these days, when we have a few more jars of canned tuna in the cupboard, I would like to check out the C & R Albacore game. Anyone with experience out there like to chime in on this topic?
These are absolutely gorgeous fish. I managed to get a few photos with less blood but really, they were the exception. Jon caught fish, Jack caught fish. We hooked singles, a double, a triple and a quad, several of these multiple fish scenes with two fly-rod fish on at the same time. The fly rods matched the big tuna jigs fish-for-fish, it just took us a looooong time to land an Albacore on a fly rod.
Surprises. At one point, I was pumping a 27-pound Albacore up from the deep, and heard the clear poof – the sound of a whale exhaling just on the other side of the Dory; Jack said it had surfaced within ten yards of the boat.
This has gone on far too long for a fishing story. Great day, friends, weather, ocean, fishing, Albacore and Oh my gosh I can’t wait to get out there again.
Guided Tuna trips with Fly Savvy, quality folks are probably out there, but are rare, as far as I can tell. One such opportunity is available with a friend, Jad Donaldson, who normally ports out of places like Astoria and nearby locales.
If you are interested, you may contact Jad as follows:
Captain Jad Donaldson
Oregon State Marine Board Licensed Fishing Guide and Ocean Charter
Simms Guide Ambassador
USCG Licensed 50t Master