For Capt. Justin Fleck, who’s been working in the long-range fleet since the 1990s, a 400-pound yellowfin tuna was akin to something like Sasquatch. For years people heard about them and claimed to have seen them, but there was never any proof that they existed. That all changed in 2010 when a 405-pound yellowfin became the world record.
Since that 405-pounder two years ago, there’s been four yellowfin caught weighing more than 400 pounds, but none of them can hold a candle to the 445-pound yellowfin caught aboard the Excel during a 16-day long-range trip in late November.
“We didn’t know how big the fish was until we brought it on deck,” said Justin, who’s been the Excel captain since 2003. “This tuna was bigger than any fish any of us had ever seen. I’ve been to Hurricane Bank 30 to 40 times and never seen anything close to that fish.”
The 124-foot Excel was 960 miles southwest of San Diego when the big yellowfin tuna bit. Hurricane Bank has always been a gem for long-range boats, but it’s one of those spots that you can’t always get to.
“Hurricane Bank is one of the traditional bumps,” Justin said. “It’s one of the few places that holds big yellowfin year round, but you can’t get down there during hurricane season from June through September. The first few boats fish there toward the end of October.”
Those boats that make the long trek to this bank are typically rewarded with big fish and lots of them. “It’s a pretty steady producer, especially the last few seasons,” the captain said.
This trip, which left on November 23rd, started out good, and just got better.
“On the first day we got there, we had very good fishing on 140- to 250-pound tuna,” said Justin. “We had just fished a few hours and had already accumulated 40 nice tuna. The next day the fishing was just as good if not better.”
The fishing never let up and Capt. Justin Fleck said they had up to six yellowfin tuna over 200 pounds hooked up at one time.
The big fish hit on the seventh day of fishing, just after the sun came up. The angler, John Petruescu from La Mesa, California, caught a live skipjack tuna on his light outfit. He quickly brought the bait in and switched it over to his heavy outfit, a Seeker 6460 XH rod with a Shimano Tiagra 50-wide spooled up with 130-pound Jerry Brown Spectra and a 12/0 Mustad hook.
It only took three minutes for the big yellowfin to take John’s bait. The fish bit close to the boat.
“The fish didn’t put up a weird fight or anything. It was your standard big fish up-and-down battle,” said Justin. “There was nothing erradic about the fish, but it did get into trouble at the stern and came up and breached for some reason. The fish actually jumped almost out of water.”
The angler fought the fish for just over an hour, making his way around the boat a couple of times to stay on top of the fish. The tuna went around the anchor line and a crewman had to get up there and pass the rod around the anchor and back to the angler. Unfortunately, that move negated any hopes of claiming the IGFA world record for yellowfin tuna. To achieve an IGFA world record, only the angler can touch the rod, reel and line during the fight. It’s standard policy to have a crewman help out around the anchor because of the dangers involved and the crew didn’t know the fish was so big at the time.
“If we had known the fish was that big, we may have made an exception,” Justin said. “But that doesn’t take anything away from this catch. The angler did 99.9 percent of the work. You can’t hold the fact that he didn’t claim a world record against him. The world record is just a title.”
When the crew finally got a good look at the fish, they knew it was potentially the largest yellowfin tuna ever caught on rod and reel.
“It took four of us to drag the fish through gate, which is just one foot above the waterline,” Fleck said.
Once on the deck, they measured it out: 84 inches from the tip of the jaw to fork of the tail with a 67-inch girth.
Using a formula to figure the weight, Justin called the fish 450-plus pounds. The crew was able to post a photo of the fish online from the boat, and that caused quite a stir in the fishing world.
When the Excel got back to port on Sunday morning, December 9, there was a crowd of onlookers waiting to see the giant yellowfin tuna. As the big tuna was hoisted up, the scale settled at 445 pounds, leapfrogging the 427.5-pound yellowfin currently under consideration for an all-tackle world record.
Not bad for an angler who had only ever made two long-range trips.
“He picked it up real quick, and caught four fish over 200 pounds. It’s pretty amazing for someone to do that,” said Capt. Justin Fleck.