How do you describe a fishing trip of a lifetime, the proverbial “bucket list” trip? Flying over Nova Scotia, sipping on a cocktail, I reflect on the last five days. My laptop is littered with images of giants. My ass and legs are sore, my arms scream to lift another drink. Did this really happen? Expectations can be the root of all evil. This one lived up to the hype.
Prince Edward Island is located on the east coast of Canada. It’s connected to the mainland by the Confederation Bridge. The Island is often referred to as PEI.
The crew: Ali Hussiany, Jason Hayashi, Brandon Cotton, Brant Crenshaw and myself. Prince Edward Island off Nova Scotia is not the easiest place to get to. Almost all of the team deployed from California and I left from central Florida. We all all met up in New Jersey at the Newark airport and traveled north from there to Halifax where we picked up our rental car.
After arriving at the Halifax airport around midnight it was time for a 4-hour car ride to PEI. They must have thought we were joking when the four of us ordered 30 tacos for the ride. Most of us needed them to soak up the 8 hours of alcohol that was consumed on our flights.
Brant and Capt. Tony coordinated some quaint cottages away from the locals for us. I think this was by design. They were very clean and fit our needs perfectly (www.bothwellbeachcottages.com). Just 15 minutes from the town of Souris on the eastern tip of PEI nestled among rolling farmland. Located 5 minutes to miles of the finest white sand beaches.
Prince Edward Island is famous for its lobster. Be sure to look for lobster on menus year-round across PEI. As a visitor you can do more than just witness the Island way of life… You can live it! Capt. Tony also offers lobster trips.
Prince Edward Island is the smallest and greenest province in Canada. The Island is truly a place of natural beauty with a small population of around 150,000 residents.
“No, really, how much is our bill again? $55 for a case of Coors?”
Holy Crap, you were serious.
Well, no wonder all the local grocery stores sell make-your-own alcohol kits. From wine, beer to moonshine, DIY was available. Tony and his brother Bradley also offered us ‘shine and juice each evening as we wrapped up our day’s events.
Provisioning the cottage for our stay. There are several small grocery stores within 15 minutes of the cottages. After stocking the refrigerator with supplies and food, it was time to relax and anticipate our fishing trip.
On our lay-day, a friendly game of poker ensued. Thanks to a lack of poker chips we got resourceful and fresh packs of Mustad hooks replaced our balance of money.
Tony and Brad came over with moonshine and bar clams. We were in rare form after sitting at the house all day playing poker. I’m not sure these guys knew what they were in for.
Damn…I need to be faster with the camera. This was supposed to be a magnificent picture of bar clams that Tony brought us as a greeting present. As you can see, I was too busy trying to get my fill.
After becoming acquainted with Tony, Bradley and their dad, Elmer, we nervously sat on the boat wondering what the day would hold. Would the tuna be here, would they eat, would the tackle hold? How would we hold up?
Captain Tony’s Tuna fishing is located on a stretch of water known as North Lake. The harbor is just a small little inlet and bay cut into the side of a beautiful beach. In the winter, it all freezes over.
Although we caught fish on Shimano, Penn, and Accurate reels, the Okuma 80s were very popular with the locals for battling over-sized tuna. Most of the guys said the Okuma reels have super smooth and stable drags, great cranking power and generally were just hard to kill. I’m sure Brandon was happy to hear this.
Capt. Tony MacDonald has been a fisherman for 20 years and is a founding member of the Prince Edward Island Tuna Charter Boat Association. Over Tony’s successful career he’s fished for lobster, tuna, herring and mackerel. He is also a volunteer firefighter.
Elmer stands ready as we make the short run out to the fishing grounds only a couple of miles offshore. Tony and Bradley grew up fishing with their their father Elmer, who has been on the water for more than 45 years. These fourth-generation fishermen have the experience and the bloodline to ensure that you get the experience of a lifetime!
The first thing you notice while surveying the tackle is that these guys mean business. Most of the equipment is rigged with 200-pound braided line, a 200-pound mono top shot, 400-pound leader and a 14/0 Mustad circle hook.
As we motored closer to the fleet of herring boats on the first morning, I don’t think any of us expected what we saw. Every boat in every direction around us was blasting giant bluefin tuna. As nets were hauled back, any stuck herring fell into a foaming frenzy of FAT TUNA.
As we analyzed the situation happening just 2 miles or so outside the inlet, an assembly line of hungry tuna ferociously lept, swam, blasted and sucked down one herring at a time.
During our stay, we fished with both of the brothers. It was always exciting watching them pull up next to you and bow up. They both worked flawlessly together in passing fish back and forth to each other.
We didn’t have to look the 20 yards towards the herring boats to gawk at the melee, it was happening right off the transom.
Tony and his father run their own herring nets so we had a full supply of fresh baits to bring the tank-sized tuna our way. Every bait that hit the water was engulfed with a vengeance.
First piece of chum in the water brings a welcomed site. Many hours of traveling, months of expectations and with one single toss of chum, all of our dreams become a bold slap of reality. We are really here and we are really about to do this.
Elmer, our mate for the day, keeps them going while we make the decision on who would be up first. I’m not sure any of us wanted to go first. Tony and Elmer both had evil smirks as we figured it out.
We pull straws, or in this case, modified pieces of 200-pound mono, to see who would be first to fight a giant. I’m not sure if any of us wanted to be first, surely not me…
The reason for the season… herring. The netters pull their nets full of chunky herring and the giants come running.
Check out the sleigh ride I get at about 1:20 into the video. Before then, my nervousness is almost unbearable to watch. Keep in mind we are hand feeding 600- to 1,200-pound giant tuna at the side of the boat.
Capt. Bradley “Buck” MacDonald has been fishing for more than 15 years. He fished lobster with his older brother Tony for seven years and has captained his own fishing enterprise since 2004. Buck is also a local firefighter. Pictured here, Buck is about to feed a tuna for me.
The moment of truth. As the bait makes a slow-motion decent into the mayhem, it’s time to get ready for the fight of my life.
Fighting a tuna that weighs three or four times more than you on stand-up is a daunting task. Physically, it was one of the most challenging catches of my fishing career.
A GoPro camera rigged on a gaff captured the action underwater. The camera was hit twice. Later, we found out that two other boats had GoPro’s eaten off there sticks.
Although Tony and Bradley didn’t let us get too much camera action on our fish at the boat, the quick glimpses we did get were out of this world. We were thankful for their conservation efforts to make sure these beasts were released as quickly as possible.
Wow! It’s done, I landed a giant. Get out the marker and scratch it off the list. What a sense of accomplishment. Expectations became reality. Where the hell am I going to fit a 100-plus-inch tuna mount in my house?
Working hookless poppers on spinning rods provided as much fun as landing a giant. On some bites, the fish jumped completely out of the water trying to inhale the plug.
Long casts, short casts, it didn’t matter… The hookless top-water bait got hit the same. Sometimes you had to fight the tuna for a few minutes trying to shake the plug back out of its mouth. The fish didn’t want to let go.
While throwing top-water plugs and poppers on a stout spinning rod we had tuna of biblical proportions going airborne. I don’t think there are many places in the world you can witness 500 or more pounds of tuna leap skyward within yards of a boat.
“L’il Miss Maddy” and “Princess Nova” are both modern and powerful vessels that offer all of the comforts of home, including hot water, microwave, a picnic table, bunks, washroom, furnace, 120-volt power and plenty of cooler space. They are as equally equipped on the technical side.
Brandon Cotton from Okuma grinds away on a big bluefin tuna.
This is the kind of hole an 800-plus-pound tuna makes when it blasts a top-water.
You know what you do when you watch your buddy get strapped into a battle with a giant? You eat and drink! This is what gluttony looks like. Every day brought a new batch of lobster rolls to be devoured. “Yes, please!”
A bluefin tuna comes tight against 55 pounds of drag.
Brandon with a big bluefin tuna just before the release. We made sure the bluefin were kicking strong with the boat in gear and then simply cut the leader as close to the hook as possible, and watched the monster swim away.
Wow! The food just keeps coming. I kept a plastic fork in my pocket so I was ready each time the captain or crew emerged from the cabin with a pot full of goodness.
Hooking a fish of this size within 2 feet of the gunwale and watching it melt 200-pound test across the surface is indescribable. No words give it justice. You have to experience it yourself to wrap your mind around it.
Ali hooked up to a “Sickel Back,” a huge bluefin tuna named for its extended dorsal fin. We fed this particular fish for more than an hour and eventually hooked him on a kite bait.
Ali getting an up-close look at his monster Sickle Back. The kite helped Ali play keep away from all the small fish (600- to 900-pounders). When this monster swam up, Ali simply gave the line some slack and let the bait fall into the giant’s mouth.
Ali releases an estimated 1,200-pound Prince Edward Island bluefin tuna caught on stand-up. “Fishing with the McDonald boys made the trip that much better. Both Tony and Bradley have a great, laid-back attitude, but they are all business when it’s game time,” Ali said.
Eating fresh, steamed muscles while one of our mates is in the torture chamber. Ok, sorry for their luck… More butter, please.
Jason cranks the handle on a Prince Edward Island Tuna. “Best trip ever! The grade of toona (just like Tony says it) is just amazing. I had more fun feeding the fish than reeling one in,” Jason said.
Jason’s fish stretching out across the surface as the 400-pound leader makes a massive pinging sound. This fish was still very angry and ready for a quick, green release. Jason breaks out his marker!
While Jason is hooked up, we have time and lobster to kill. The crew steamed fresh PEI lobster in saltwater from the local market for us while we wait for the fish to show color.
Take a quick pic and see ya! Jason breaks out the marker to scratch this one off his list.
Being splashed by charging bluefin tuna only feet from the side of the boat never grew old.
Literally hand feeding your bait into the mouth of a tuna. As Brant said, “I would have been fine just feeding them, even if i didn’t get to pull on one!” Fortunately, this one came tight and Brant was ON!
The melee begins as tuna fight for the bait.
Brant going head-to-head with a giant. He slowly creeps his drag up to as much as either the fish, angler or equipment can take.
Wow, the power of these fish is incredible when you wire one. It is not hard to figure out why every boat we saw retuning to the dock had at least one broken rod on the rack.
A giant bluefin tuna boat side with a 14/0 Mustad circle hook lodged perfectly in the corner of its mouth.
Hot seafood chowder while towing a tuna of epic proportions back to the dock. Man my bibs are starting to feel tight. I think Tony, Bradley and crew are trying to kill us. Ok, just one more bowl.
After slowly towing our catch back to the dock, we had a lot of speculation as to what the fish would weigh. Many of our guesses leaned towards the 700- to 800-pound mark. As we lifted it out of the water we learned we were way off. It came in at 119 inches and 1,000 pounds of sashimi. This would later give us a good gauge on future release estimates.
The boats are issued a minimal amount of kill tags each season. Unfortunately for this “grander,” his number was pulled. I had mixed emotions going into this trip and killing a giant bluefin tuna. After seeing how healthy the population appeared and how well it is managed, I felt better about our roll in landing one for the captain.
How do you prep a 1,000-pound tuna to be shipped to Japan? With an electric chainsaw, of course. We did get to belly up and eat some of the head meat and even gave the heart a try.
After stuffing our faces on the boat all day and sitting around talking about the day’s catch, we would go back to the cottage and clean up. Then, off to Sand Stone for a proper dinner. The tables were full of anglers talking about their day’s victories. What a killer experience for everyone.
Experience the thrill of fishing the elusive giant bluefin tuna on board the Lil Miss Maddy or Princess Nova out of North Lake, PEI… the Tuna Capital of the World! Bradley and Tony MacDonald have years of experience in the tuna fishery and will do their best to put a tuna on the line for you!