I’ve fished enough to be happy with an experience as much as a catch, so it’s not often that I find it hard to pack up and call it a day. My most recent fishing ventures were a bit different though and reminded me what it was like when I was a mad-keen kid. That’s something that middling sportfish and ‘bread-and-butter’ species can never do; and that’s why I spend so much time searching for big fish. The whole belief is just one chance. Or one more!
Longtail tuna: I didn’t particularly know what they looked like or what they did, but I heard they were around and decided to give them a go. I don’t go much on rock fishing to be honest. It’s too salty, wet, snaggy and just plain dangerous most of the time. But dad had been hassling me about hitting the rocks for years, and this gave us an opportunity to try something different.
Our first outing gave us that one chance: all that was needed. We’d been sitting on a rock for about four hours and hadn’t seen a thing; I was thinking about eating and dad was almost asleep. A splash in the bay next to us caught my attention and I looked over just in time to see something massive drive into the shallow water, spilling sea gar skywards as they erupted in their panic to escape.
We watched for a few moments as two longtail wrought havoc on the trapped baitfish; the predators themselves jumping clear of the water like no fish I’d ever seen – no tail kicks or fishy wriggle – just straight lined torpedoes. Then I was scrambling, slipping and leaping over rocks to get to the bay while shouting that they were coming our way. Dad got a cast in and careened the spinner back in; eliciting one of the fish to dart around on itself, gun after the jittering lure and swipe in a shower of saltwater at his feet. The rod bucked down… then nothing. No hook up!
The two fish continued their shallow water explorations sporadically over the next 20 minutes or so, giving us a few more opportunities to cast to them, but they showed no more interest on the metals we were presenting. The next day, despite plentiful gar, slimey and frigate mackerel; the tuna didn’t show up.
That seemed to be the usual response to metals – it was hard to get a fish to look twice. One day I stood on a rock and cast relentlessly, with about 20 passes throughout my time on the rocks and 20 non-reacting fish. An accidentally jagged garfish was rigged for casting, causing the tuna to look a little longer but, not having a lot to work with on the rocks, the rig was rough and couldn’t be retrieved fast enough to excite them. Garfish did seem to be the obvious choice to the problem though.
That first encounter had been enough for me to play with the setup I had. The braid topshot over mono became too risky – I’d had a line tangle and didn’t want the worst to happen during a fleeting moment. I also didn’t fancy the idea of running straight braid – it costs enough when you don’t have to think about being spooled or losing half a spool on the first run of a fish. So I found the finest diameter mono line I could get 300 metres of on my reel – that being 20lb breaking strain.
With that I felt somewhat confident. Soon enough I had to concede that I’d underestimated the size of the fish I was chasing. A 20 – 30 kilo longtail is not so easily roped. The second day on the water with my fresh spool, I’d hardly put out my first live garfish when a tuna turned up at my feet. When I realised the gar it was throwing in the air, in its effort to eat it, had a hook in it; things got very serious very fast. The tuna leaped clear of the water heading directly away from me, catching the gar as it arced back down. I released the bail arm on the reel and let the fish take a bit. Then I engaged the reel, waited for the rod to load, and set the hook. Cheers and excitement quickly faded as I watched about 290 metres of line disappear off my reel in a single screaming run. The fish stopped out there then, but wouldn’t turn its head. I used my hand to stop any further line removal, staring at the tag of the knot on the spool. Then we just pulled on each other until the hook tore from the fish’s mouth.
The next bait had only been out for about 10 minutes when two more tuna cruised past. They headed off in the general direction of my little foam float as I snapped up the rod and waited. Everything was quiet and still for a little bit, then what appeared to be a bomb went off under the float. On again! This fish ran sideways back across my front until it felt the hook, and then careened off in the same path as the first. Out about 150 metres it jumped, slashed and rolled, then hit high gear again. In a matter of seconds I was in the same situation. The fish stopped at around 290 metres again, after slowing and surging. Now half of the spool was bare. I locked up again and we wrestled. You can put a lot of strain on 300 metres of mono – everything is very forgiving with that much stretch. But eventually, the leader knot snapped. And that was all for that day.
That evening I bought another 115 metres of 20lb braid. This was going to be my insurance policy – and went underneath the 300 metres of mono. It was a close fit, but everything went onto the reel and remained workable. Now, surely, things might play out well.
It was a slow start the next morning but I had a bait out in front when a tuna started working along the platform on my left. As soon as it got within 10 metres of my unfortunate garfish it spotted it, charged and swallowed. I left the reel in free spool as the foam float sped away and slowly went under, like those barrels in Jaws. Then two pieces floated up – the line had cut through it. I flipped the bail and set the hook.
I’d really worked with the drag that morning, getting it as hard as I’d dare on the 20lb. This fact didn’t go unnoticed by the fish. It felt the pull and took off like a rocket. Line sheared through the surface film sending a shower of droplets into the morning air. The fish, like I imagine Moby Dick, powered just under the surface, bulging water at its head and spraying a plume of churned up froth from its tail. It was something to behold. And, a true dogfighter, it flew directly into the sun – making for the gap between an island and the mainland. I canted the rod to horizontal as an ineffectual steering pressure; but it didn’t come to that. The power exerted by the fish jammed the line into itself, locking it on the reel. A whip crack near the rod tip broke my nerve as well as the line. We bought a bigger reel and heavier line. Just one more chance!
Of course, when a rash move like that is made and I turn up to a fishing spot properly prepared; things turn out less than ideal. Howling wind one day shut the fishing down at our newfound favourite spot and we moved to another, with no luck. The day after was much better but garfish non-existent. Finally, a few lost souls turned up late in the morning. One thing I soon learned about garfish is that they aren’t stupid. As soon as the sun gets up and visibility is good, they can tell the difference between a bit of bread and a bit of bread with a hook in it.
Dad and I were both focussing on trying to make one bite when a huge tuna tore into the throng. Having thought ahead, I had the big rod nearby with a Berkley rippleshad ready to go. This was cast in front of the fish and brought back flat stick. The tuna saw it, gave chase, opened its mouth… and missed. Then it turned seawards and wasn’t seen again.
There’s always next year.