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Race to PEI – Giant Bluefin Tuna Action

Giant Bluefin Tuna Action | Race To PEI 2012 Contest

Capt. Tony MacDonald, who operates Tony’s Tuna Fishing, invited us up to Prince Edward Island (PEI) last year to check out the region’s legendary giant bluefin tuna program. The trip blew us away and all of the BD guys caught tuna weighing more than 800 pounds.

For some reason, Tony invited us back, so we jumped at the opportunity and created the Race to PEI contest. It started out as a simple idea and spawned into the largest contest that BD has launched to date. The idea — take a BD member with us to see this giant bluefin tuna fishery firsthand while we help promote Tony’s operation, the fishery and our sponsors.

We really didn’t know what to expect, but the response was overwhelming. D-Day arrived and it was time to pick a winner. Out of the thousands of entries, a lucky 25-year-old angler from Los Angeles won the trip.

Michael Medina responded to the good news just minutes before his trip was about to be forfeited and he agreed to join us. Michael had never fished in the Atlantic, nor had he caught anything larger than 40-pounds. We were stoked to have him along on the adventure and introduce him to the world of big-game fishing.

PEI isn’t the easiest place in the world to get to. From the West Coast, it’s a minimum of 14 hours travel and that’s if everything goes perfectly. For those of us who flew out of San Diego, that’s what happened. Unfortunately, our guests that flew out of Los Angeles and New Orleans did not enjoy the same good fortune. A few missed and canceled flights delayed their arrival significantly, but they eventually made it to the small town of South Lake, Prince Edward Island.

We all flew into Charlottetown, PEI, (the closest airport) and from there it’s about an hour’s drive to Tony’s brand-new cottages where we’d be staying. We made our mandatory stop at the liquor store to stock up for the week. Alcohol is expensive in Canada — $318 for a few six packs of beer and a couple handles of Crown. Ouch!

We arrived at the freshly built cottages and settled in, excited about what the next few days had in store. Later that evening, Tony and his brother, Bradley (aka “Buck”), stopped by to give us the low-down. They said the fishing had been slow, but they managed to release some giant tuna on the previous day and knew where the monster bluefin were located. They also said that 30-knot winds barreling out the east might keep us at the dock.

We shared some stories, had a few drinks and tried to sleep with the anticipation of the next day haunting our dreams. Tony checked in with us about 8 a.m. and told us to come down to the marina when we felt like it. He didn’t have high hopes of getting out, but said we’d give it a shot once we got a good look at the conditions.

We arrived around 9 and sure enough, the weather started to lay down. We had a window and took advantage of it. We fished with Bradley that day on the Princess Nova, a 45-foot commercial lobster boat tweaked for tuna fishing during the summer. They add a Pompanette fighting chair, rod rack, bait tank and picnic bench, as well as an extension off the pilothouse to help shed water and rain during inclement weather.

After catching a few mackerel, we steamed offshore. Now when you think of offshore, you probably envision a 3- to 4-hour run. Not here…. we cruised for about 10 minutes and Bradley announced that we were there.

We deployed the kite, set out a couple of flat lines and began our first drift. The tackle consisted of an Okuma Makaira 80W reel backed with 200-pound Spectra with a 100-foot top shot of 200-pound mono and a Spro swivel crimped between the top shot and an 8-foot, 220-pound Seaguar Fluoro leader. The rod itself was a custom-built United Composite blank, wrapped for us by SaltyDawg Custom Rods with all top-of-the-line AFTCO components. At the business end of the setup we used a 14/0 Mustad Demon Circle hook in 3X wire size.

Not 30 minutes into fishing, the flat line began to scream. And when I say scream, I mean take off like a torpedo! No matter how ready you are to catch one of these giants, as soon as you get bit, it turns into a fire drill.

The crew clears the remaining lines and kite and starts chasing the submarine at 8 knots to avoid getting spooled. Michael, our contest winner was the first one on the rod, and that initial run made all of the travel well worth it.

Michael settled into the fight after about 15 minutes. It was his first time in a stand-up harness and it took him a little getting used to, but he got into a rhythm and started gaining line back. One of the rules to fighting bluefin tuna in PEI is that the angler must release the fish within an hour of hooking it. The PEI authorities keep track of just about every hook up through their boats and observers placed on the charters. They also watch the action through binos from shore. They take protecting these giants very seriously to ensure a sustainable fishery.

After a serious tug-of-war, Michael started to win the battle around the 40-minute mark. When the fish starts to make big circles in the water, that signifies that the end of the battle is approaching. As the fish began to circle, BD’s Ali Hussainy put on the wiring gloves. The chance to wire a fish like this doesn’t come around too often, unless you live in PEI.

Ali leadered the giant tuna like a pro, probably from all the years of experience in Puerto Vallarta leadering the bluefin’s smaller cousin, the yellowfin tuna. We got the fish boat-side with the tail gaff and snapped a few quick pictures before getting a clean release. Watching the giant kick away no worse for the wear was a thrill Michael will never forget.

Before winning this trip, the largest fish he had ever caught was just 40-pounds. Now he can say his largest fish ever was over 700-pounds!

Shortly after the release, the weather came back up and turned us towards the dock. We released Michael’s fish just 1.5 miles from the giant bluefin tuna actionbreakwall in 80-feet of water. Like I said, this place is amazing and extremely accessible.

Tony and the boys don’t kick you off the boat when you get back to the dock. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. They cooked up a great lunch of bar clams and PEI mussels complete with drawn butter and even some moonshine. We talked for a while and headed back to the cottages, but before we took off, we were reminded to be at Tony’s house for a lobster boil at 7 p.m. These boys go the extra mile and show you amazing hospitality.

They fed us fresh lobster, oysters, clams and we drank into the evening to celebrate Michael’s big tuna. Day two rolled around and we were greeted with better weather and terrible hangovers. We stumbled down to the boats around 8:30 a.m. and started making bait. Tony had arranged for a second boat so we could split up and upgrade our chances of finding fish. Kurt, the captain of the Frayed Knot joined us in the pursuit and took Eric Newman and Jason Hayashi with him.

Eric works for the Louisiana Department of Fisheries and Wildlife. They have started a tagging project in Louisiana and wanted to come along to investigate the viability of tagging some of the PEI bluefin stock as they suspect the migration of these giants leads them to the Gulf of Mexico. Jason, BD’s co-founder, was returning to PEI for his second time.

Both boats got set up and the Princess Nova got a bite in short order. We went through the usual scramble of clearing lines and chasing down the fish. Mikey Torbisco was thrilled to be on the rod. Mikey’s been filming Spanish Fly for the last eight years with Jose Wejebe. He joined us to help document this amazing place.

After some exciting runs, Crazy Ivans and a battle of attrition, we released the fish after 50 minutes. Putting 40-plus pounds of drag on these giant tuna gets it done, but not without a fight. Once again, we watched the fish swim away extremely healthy. In fact, this fish stayed upright and green once we got him boat-side.

Right after releasing Mikey’s giant we heard that Eric was hooked up on Kurt’s boat. By now we knew the drill. The giant kicks your ass for almost an hour until you’re about to beg for mercy. Through pure will and the fear of being mocked by the rest of the crew, you persevere and get the fish to the boat.

Eric’s fight replayed that scenario and now all three rookies on the trip had giants under their belts. After lunch Ali was up on the Princess Nova and Jason was up on the Frayed Knot. Just as we finished setting up, bang goes the flat line.

Ali is on and the reel is screaming. When these tuna want line, they take it, no matter what drag setting you use.

After a seesaw battle of about 30 minutes, the fish pulled the hook only feet from the boat for an anticlimactic finish, but nevertheless an assurance that the fish would swim away healthy. We reset the drift and started metering fish once again. We had a good chum slick going of herring and mackerel, but the wind started to die, making it tough to keep the kite up. We decided to bring in the kite and drift another flat line.

As we made the transition, I begin to let the “kite rod” off the corner and set it up as a flat line. Tony yells that he is spotting fish just under the boat right as I get picked up. He looks at me and starts grinning as he sees me free-spooling the 80-wide Okuma reel. I tell the boys that I’m going to put it in gear and everyone starts clearing lines. I send the lever drag to strike and come tight.

To my surprise, the fish doesn’t pull or even take a run. I knew it was hooked, but the fish did not. Tony starts driving away from the fish, and as he does, the fish figures out something is wrong and the battle begins — big powerful runs followed by headshakes that could knock your teeth out. The strength of these fish doesn’t translate well into words or even video. Giant tuna from 800 to well over 1,000-pounds can take line when they want it, no matter how stout the tackle.

They can jerk you off your feet with just about every tail beat. It’s an incredible experience that cannot be lived vicariously through a narrator. The experience culminates when you see the monster tuna next to the boat. It is really something that needs to be experienced first-hand to truly grasp the power of these animals. Michael, our Race to PEI winner can attest to that.

“I’ve never seen such a massive fish in my entire life,” he said. “This experience has changed me forever. I never knew you could land such a giant tuna on rod and reel.”giant bluefin tuna action

One the final day we needed a fish for Jason to complete the trip and it didn’t take long. Jason hooked up on Frayed Knot and settled in for the long battle. Mikey and I jumped from the Lil’ Miss Maddy, Tony’s boat, so we could help with video and pictures. I also wanted the chance to leader one of these giant tuna. Jason hammered the drag and after a 45-minute standoff we got the fish to the leader.

Kurt’s deckhand, Flynn, and myself double-teamed the fish at the wire and got the tuna to the boat with the tail gaff.

We completed our mission. Everyone on the trip released a giant bluefin tuna!

We all agreed that this is a “bucket list” trip and it was impossible to wipe the ear-to-ear grins off of our faces. For Michael, the Race to PEI contest winner, who had to get his first passport to go on the trip, it was a maturing experience. For Eric and Mikey, two experienced watermen, it was an eye-opening adventure and unlike any fishing trip they’d ever been on. For Ali, Jason and myself, it was an opportunity to introduce more friends and the BD community to an incredible place.

To plan your own PEI adventure contact Tony at www.tonystunafishing.com.

Tell him the boys from BD sent you.

Tackle

• Okuma 80W Makaira

• 200-pound Tuf-Line Spectra connected to 100 feet of 200-pound mono, crimped to an 8-foot section of 220-pound Seaguar Fluorocarbon leader with a Spro swivel.

• Salty Dawg Custom-built rod complete with BD’s logo on a United Composite rod blank (USA Dual Helix GX 40 XOS).

• AFTCO wind-on roller guides and adjustable Storabutt handle and reel seat.

• 12/0 – 14/0 Mustad Demon Circle hook in 3x wire size.

• Costa Del Mar 580 mirrored sunglasses.

Okuma Fishing Products Seaguar Mustad Hooks
Aftco Products United Composite Rods Costa Sunglasses

giant bluefin tuna action

Giant Tuna Conservation

The Canadian fisheries take protecting the giant bluefin tuna population very seriously. They have created a set of guidelines designed to protect the species from overfishing and to ensure that all released fish have the highest successful rate of survival.

In a recent study, only three percent of the giant tuna tagged died after being released. Charter boats are required to follow strict guidelines that are enforced by the fisheries department.

The rules follow:

– One released fish per trip (two trips maximum per day)

– Three hooked fish per trip. If the fish is not brought to the boat and released you are allowed three attempts per trip to do so.

– One hour maximum fighting time.

– Only one fish per commercial license can be harvested each year.

– Observers are randomly placed on charter boats as well as stationed on shore with high-power binoculars to keep an eye on the fleet. They track all hook up times and fight times. Additionally, a fishery boat patrols the fleet to keep closer tabs on the individual boats.

Want to know what it feels like to lock into a 1,200-pound giant PEI bluefin tuna? Check out the Impact Zone Pictorial from BDoutdoor’s 2011 trip to Prince Edward Island with Captain Tony. CLICK

 

giant bluefin tuna action

Brant Crenshaw
Brant Crenshaw grew up fishing from pangas in Mexico's Sea of Cortez. Those early experiences instantly hooked him, spurring a lifelong passion for th...