That’s the best way I know of to describe the mood that sets in here in Pacific City when ocean conditions seem on the cusp of opening a window to the tuna grounds offshore.
The ice machines all over town and at the Pizza Parlor are suddenly empty. There are dorys backed up to get fuel at the Shell station in PC – and the gas station at Sand Lake is backed up filling 5 gallon tanks of non-ethanol fuel for spares that will be hauled offshore on dory boats.
The town is a-buz with talk of tuna. What are the coordinates of the temperature break? Where are the chlorophyll breaks? How did the charters out of Depoe Bay do yesterday? Does anyone know how far offshore the commercial boats are fishing. Will the birds be working bait to advertise the presence of albacore underneath? Will there be jumpers? Will it be clones or jigs?
Who’s going out tomorrow? Who will be partnering and what VHF channel will buddy boats use? Will we need to run 20 miles or 30, 4-0, or 50? Has anyone found bigger tuna in green water, short of the blue water.
Heads spinning, men (mostly) are loading boats with ice, kill bags, bait, rods, and freshly tuned tackle.
Times of morning rendezvous are established.
Most of the tuna fishers are awake early, and some hardly sleep at all. Tension runs high when the possibility of tuna is ripe.
Some dory boats wait in the parking lot at the Pelican to wait for partner boats. Many run straight down the ramp and position to launch in the dark. Depending on the forecast, there may be trailers parked clear up to the south end of the ramp, but if it looks like it will be an especially rough day, there may be two dozen boats willing to brave the seas offshore in 20-22 ft boats – many of which may be nearly fifty years old and constructed of plywood powered by outboards in the 75-90 hp range.
The launch executed, dorys inch forward, usually to rendezvous with partners north of the Rock or the Buoy. With radio checks executed and partners accounted for, each small fleet revs up and heads east, or south east, or north east – on track to their pre-determined coordinates, hoping to find eager tuna on the bite.
I have asked several of my dory friends – what percentage of all dory owners fish albacore? The answers I get are usually around 10%. This confirms my opinion that few people have the – whatever it takes – to commit to the tuna game. It takes more of everything to pursue this fishery. More expense. More ice. More gas. Different tackle. Longer runs to the fishing grounds. More danger from adverse seas, and more rusk of collisions with giant sunfish, whales, and who knows what when running in the dark. More risk that the motor or boat will break down. More exhaustion at the end of a twelve-hour day on the water. More work to clean up and process fish after a successful day.
Everyone recognizes that this is a demanding fishery, and the rewards are spectacular on the good days. But interspersed between no fish days, three fish days, and one fish days, there can be fifteen fish days, twenty two fish days, or even higher numbers.
Good weather and eager tuna aside, there are risks back at the beach too. High tide with a steep beach poses its own risk, and boats have been sunk by a swell that fills the boat after pushing it sideways on the beach. Beach tourists wander in front and behind beach rigs towing dories, headed for the ramp, ignoring horn honking, hand waving, and shouted warnings. Parents neglect to keep children out of harms way. Sometimes, it seems like children run toward the path of the dory-towing trucks lumbering toward the ramp.
The danger is never past until the dory is parked at its destination and the tuna, packed in ice, are unloaded.
I don’t own a dory. Never will. I’m past the point of my life when I could handle the challenges myself, but I am blessed and grateful for friends who allow me to fish with them. These are the men who shoulder the risk, the worry, and the investment of time and expense of participation in the albacore fishery.
I’ll close with one story from my last tuna fishing trip with my friend Kevin. The bite had eased in early afternoon, and we were trolling west toward PC. We had 4 fly rods out and the tuna were not responding. I fished changed one of my flies from a Mexican Flag Tube to a 3” green/blue over white tied on a shank with a #1 Gammie octopus stinger. Kevin was driving and I was sitting to his left. I looked over at my forward rod for a moment, and saw it give a jerk. “Hey Kevin, a tuna just grabbed my fly.”
We were both watching with anticipation, and I was moving to reach for my rod. But before I could get my hand on the rod, a tuna took my fly violently. The rod bent flat, the rod holder jerked aft from straight out to essentially straight asters, with the reel’s screech audible above the outboards hum. I wrestled to free the rod with backing melting off the reel, one of Kevin’s rods hooked up, and we were both working tuna.
A wonderful end to our day.