One Cow Tuna Short of a Record – Royal Polaris Tuna Trip

Capt. Billy “Sunny” Santiago, Jr., a former Morse High School tackle, towered over 82-year-old Jerry Brown, charter-master of the Line One Spectra trip, both smiling with satisfaction at the 15 yellowfin tuna displayed across the stern of Royal Polaris as the crew wrapped the lines around the dock cleats, signaling the completion of one of the most successful 18-day trips in recent memory.

Simply unloading the catch took nearly an hour and a half to accomplish as huge dock carts were used to ferry the monster fish up the dock. When finally tallied, the catch included nine yellowfin tuna over 300 pounds, 27 over 200 pounds and limits of wahoo. The final haul was only one tuna short of the record catch of 300-pounders set by Capt. Steve Loomis when he returned with 10 in 1978. Record or not, it’s a remarkable trip for Jerry Brown’s “Gentlemen’s Club,” which averages 68 years old.

Rocky Opliger, age 56, of Cherry Valley near Redlands, was the youngest of all the passengers. The Temecula-based firefighter caught the largest tuna, a 333-pounder that took two hours and 12 minutes to land, winning him first place in the jackpot. Opliger is posed at the left end of the photo showing the lineup of tuna. “It bit a mackerel under the kite,” he said, “on a 20/0 Mustad circle hook tied to 130-pound Line One Spectra.” He used a Penn 80 reel modified by Cal Sheets and a Calstar 6460 XXH rod that he wrapped himself. His personal best, the two-hour, 12-minute fish was finally subdued when he tightened the drag to 60 pounds.

Royal Polaris Tuna Trip

Ron Lewis of San Francisco took second place in the jackpot with a 318-pound yellowfin. (Lewis is standing next to Opliger in the lineup shot with his 318-pounder.) He hooked his tuna with a flying fish under the kite on a 20/0 Mustad circle hook and 130-pound Line One Spectra. He fished with a Penn 80 reel modified by Baker and Sheets, and a 6465 XXH rod. He had the fish to the boat in an hour.

Jerry Brown, former manager for Georgia Pacific, lives in Gold Hill, Oregon, and distributes Line One Spectra the most commonly used Spectra for long rangers. With orders coming in from Europe, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore and South Africa, Brown is having difficulty manufacturing enough to keep up, and expects the business to double this year. “Line One was a selfish idea,” he says. “I had some hollow Spectra manufactured for myself and then taught people how to use it.”

For Brown, this successful trip is his way of going out on a high note. “This is my last trip,” he said. “I’ve been long-range fishing since the Red Rooster III made her first trip with me and my wife aboard and I’ve been making this trip on the Royal Polaris for about 10 years. Now, I have so many irons in the fire, it’s time to stop fishing these trips. Why not quit while I’m on top like this?”

According to Royal Polaris skipper, Billy “Sunny” Santiago, Jr., the cows were caught near Clarion Island. “Six of the nine came on the kite with salami mackerel baits. We only had a few frozen flying-fish baits, and they really went after those. They bit every one that went out.”

Billy praised his crew, Bill Cavanaugh, Dharyl Shelbourne, Eddie Felarca, Aaron Barnhill, Chris Garcia and his chefs, James Wagar and Anthony Sardina for their effort and hard work that resulted in such a fantastic trip.

Sunny’s last post on the RP blog showed his excitement: “Wow, what an exceptional catch! A fantastic trip! I hope you all can come fishing some day to experience a taste of long-range sport fishing ROYAL POLARIS STYLE!”

The boat’s published list of cow-catchers:
  • Don Burnside, 223 and 225 pounds
  • Bob Garber, 240 and 250 pounds
  • Frank Harbin, 209 pounds
  • Tom Blohm, 258 and 325 pounds
  • Ron Lewis, 205, 223, 240 and 318 pounds
  • Kirk McCoy, 234, 252 and 314 pounds
  • Ken Sodoma, 252 pounds
  • Clarence Becker, 202 and 304 pounds
  • Ted Patrick, 267 pounds
  • Sam Lewis, 200, 249, 278 and 294 pounds
  • Steve Chambless, 250, 262 and 310 pounds
  • Joe Cruz, 287 pounds
  • Ken Shaleen, 204 and 307 pounds
  • Chris Petersen, 303 pounds
  • Rocky Opliger, 333 pounds
  • Steve Emmert, 222, 248 and 303 pounds


That Baja Guy-Gary Graham, the BD Outdoors Baja Editor, has more than five decades fishing experience off of Southern California and the Baja Peninsula. From light tackle and fly up to offshore marlin fishing, Gary has experienced all facets of this fishery. He's set several fly-fishing world record...