It was July of last year. There had been some bigger bluefin taken at that point, but most of them had come on bait (large mackerel for the most part), with the notable exceptions of Jonathan Tamayo’s 120 lb. popper fish on the Producer (pictured above), and those big ones speared by Brian Castleton and Eric Weldele.
As opposed to this year’s mega-popper / big bluefin bite. Smaller poppers, like the Yo Zuri Sashimi popper were the weapon of choice wreaking havoc on smaller grade yellowfin tuna.
The Commander had just moved down from Long Beach to San Diego for the summer. I was onboard for an overnight offshore trip. Capt. Steve Kugler‘s plan was to head out toward the 43 Fathom spot on some dope it was holding larger bluefin.
We had done a few drifts. It was slow. A couple guys got bit on the long soak, but the fish didn’t stick. I had only just gotten my popper setup dialed in for throwing the Sashimi. I was bored and I figured I could use the practice time on my new combo. I switched rods and setup on the opposite rail from the drift. My buddy, Tony Caira, was watching me from the outdoor patio area…a raised platform from the deck.
First cast. Easy cast. Oooh, I can really fling that sucker out there. I put a little extra oomph on the second cast. Wow! I didn’t even see it land. I dumped at least 2/3 of the spool. Pop. Pop. “Joe! WIND WIND WIND! You’re bit!” Tony yelled at me. The fish was coming hard down and in. By the time I caught up with it, it was almost under the boat. Crew member Anthony “Billy” Cannuli was next to me. “Get around. Get around Joe! He’s coming underneath us.” Hot rail! I needed to get around the stern…through everyone fishing bait on the drift side. I reeled and held on as best I could, keeping the line tight, as it whizzed off the spool at a scary pace.
By the time I made my way past everyone, I was on the opposite rail, alongside the house. Somehow, I had managed to withstand the initial run. Billy, “Want to splice the line onto another reel?”
I paused. it was a mistake.
It was as if the fish just needed a little breather to gather itself. When he got his second wind…zzzzzzzz POP! Ugh. I need a beer. Tony told me how he saw the whole thing. The blowup. The dive. It was epic! It didn’t feel so epic.
I’ve since spent a lot of time thinking about that day…preparing for the opportunity at a second chance. More line capacity, stouter rod, I think I’m ready. Headed out Thursday night for a 2.5 day trip aboard the Eclipse, looking for redemption. Wish me luck. I’ll let you know how it goes next week. Good luck if you get out there.