Game Fishing > Saltwater Fish > Leaping Tuna fish

Leaping Tuna fish

Leaping Tuna fishIf I were asked to mention the salt-water angler's paradise, the reply would be, without hesitation, the beautiful waters of Avalon Bay and the Islands of San Clemente, Santa Catalina, and Santa Barbara, on the California coast. It is there, if anywhere on earth, the true angler may see "high ideals in big-fish angling, and fair play to the game." He may see "fishing for tuna, tarpon, and the great black sea-bass, the trio which are the tiger and elephant trinity of the angling world." Yet such monsters are taken on seven-foot rods, made in two pieces, and not weighing more than twenty-five ounces. On such rods, fish weighing 400 pounds have been played and gaffed, after tremendous battles where both sides have equal chances to win.

There the novice learns his task at a cost in new tackle that comes high. Even the veteran, now and then, to save his life, lets go a rod he fain would keep. Angling by such methods is but of recent date, according to the authority of C. F. Holder, whose influence in holding up a high standard of sport is highly commendable.

Tuna angling is a modern sport confined so far as known, to Santa Catalina, California. The locality is limited to about four miles of coast in the lee of the Island Mountains Limited which afford several open bays, generally Locality smooth, the wind only blowing part of the day, thus giving the angler perfect conditions, without which tuna fishing would be impossible and extremely dangerous.

The tuna is an ocean wanderer, found in many harts of the world, known as the horse mackerel, tunny, and great albacore. Everywhere it is a terror to the smaller denizens of the deep, feeding on blue-fish, menhaden, herring, in the Atlantic, gorging itself with the great flying fish in the Pacific. For centuries it has been caught in great nets in the Mediterranean Sea. From the St. Lawrence, along the coast of Nova Scotia, down to Cape Cod in New England, it is common, and at times is harpooned by the fisherman.

Some specimens attain a weight of 1,200 to 1,500 pounds. The "leaping" tuna has been rightly named by its champion, Charles F. Holder, author of "Big Game Fishes," to which I am indebted for much information in these notes, as I have not, as yet, personally had an encounter with this fish.

The tuna, like the tarpon, is a lofty tumbler, leaping gracefully into the air after its prey, the flying fish. Its large size and graceful build, with its broad-forked tail, show a model of speed; it is a beautiful fish, and when in the water appears to be green, but on being landed, the upper portion is a bright iridescent blue, the under part being grayish silver. No more inspiring sight can be imagined than a large school of these fish. They arrive in immense numbers at Santa Catalina between the 15th of May and the 15th of June, and at once divide into small companies of fifty to one hundred, playing on the surface, moving about in triangular form, with their spike dorsal fins out of the water. Suddenly, in different sections, may be seen a great splash of white spray; dozens of flying fish, scattered like gigantic dragon-flies, skim along in frightened confusion. This is the first signal to a host of impatient anglers who have been watching for days for the arrival of the bird fish upon which this giant comes from the deep ocean for slaughter.

Such a game fish must needs have special tackle, if taken in true sportsman's style, and such tackle, unless of the very best and most expensive make, has no chance whatever. Even the boats are "designed specially for tuna fishing, being broadĀ­beamed launches, built for three persons; two anglers who sit side by side in chairs facing the stern and the boatman acting as helmsman, gaffer, and engineer of the three, or more, horse-power gasoline engine. Overhead is an awning which is raised by the gaffer when the strike comes; each boat has a flag bearing the figure of a tuna which is thrown to the breeze the moment the fish is hooked."

The fish are rarely seen near the mainland, the islands, where they feed, being twenty miles from shore. Naturally, so active and bold a fish taken so far from shore requires good, patient, as well as strenuous handling, and the novice would do well to make a preliminary trip to watch the veterans in their struggle. Anglers are now enabled to purchase rods, reels, and lines of special make for this fish, similar, and of the same character as those used in tarpon fishing, though of the two, the tuna being more active requires a little stronger tackle.

The rod may be either of split bamboo, greenĀ­hart, or noibwood; perhaps one of each would be wise and come in useful. They all should be from seven to eight feet long, made in two parts, a butt and tip, the latter of medium pliability, not so stiff that it will not bend, nor yet so pliable that a heavy fish cannot be lifted. They should have double-bell guides, silver mountings, and weigh about twenty-five ounces, each rod being provided with an extra tip.

A number of reliable makers are now supplying special tuna reels, some having excellent ideas that others lack. It is a question of taste. A good reel costs from $30, up, these, of course, being perfect machines, adjusted so well that a whirl will cause the handle to run for some time, and they are not likely to fall apart during a hard fight. It should have a capacity of 300 yards of Cuttyhunk line, when wet, with a drag to prevent overrunning; and attached to the lower crossbar there should be a leather pad lined with moose hide.

The brake should never be used unless the line is wet, as the friction will burn the line. The reel should be perfectly fast to the rod. No device where it slips into a socket will do; a loose reel and the game is over; so have it lashed to the rod perfectly immovable. Concerning the necessary lines, choose one overstrong, because confidence in the capture of the fish is greatly to be desired. All anglers know that "doubtful feeling," when a fish is going at a ripping speed, and then all of a sudden makes a bound into the air. The "confidence" in the line's strength makes the playing more free, and the mind is at rest. For that reason choose No. 21 or 24 Cuttyhunk, tested to pull forty-two pounds to forty-eight pounds dead-weight. By such a line the tuna has been known to pull a heavy boat ten miles. The leader can be six or seven feet in length, of wire, and the next ten feet of line should be doubled, as it is liable to chafe on the back of the fish in a long struggle.

Every angler has his choice knot in which to tie the line to leader, but a strong, sure and safe one is absolutely necessary; the same choice is Rig maintained regarding hooks, though the favorites are a Van Vleck or an O'Shaughnessy, the latter a No. 10/0. Between hook and line there should be three strong brass swivels. The best, indeed the only, bait used is a large flying fish hooked in various ways according to the angler's fancy. The tuna always strikes at the eye of the bait, so that most anglers hook the bait through the lips with the barb pointing upward; then sew up the mouth to make the fish run smoothly.

Everything being made ready, the fisherman starts for the ground before daylight; others follow the schools at all times. Many consider a rising tide best, but like all game fish, the tuna has its off and on times for taking the lure cast before it on its onward rushes for the flying prey. Sometimes the water swarms with them on the feed, but they will not strike. The advantage of being among them when the flying fish leaps from the water, with the tuna after it, is great, just as when a trout leaps for the natural fly and an artificial fly is cast in its place.

But when the bait is snapped up, the game has begun, though hooked is not landed; like the tarpon, many are hooked and not boated; while the reel is heard to sing such a tune as no other fish can make; and so the battle rages on equal terms, sometimes for hours, and miles are cut through the water at a spanking rate before the gamy fish is brought alongside. By no means subdued or conquered, it lashes the water with its broad tail, even at the time it slides into the boat, fighting continuously from the beginning to the time the gaff goes home. Many a fish is lost at that critical moment, and a cool, business-like gaffer is a decided advantage in tuna fishing; for a more well equipped adversary the angler cannot imagine, nor does he wish for such, unless dowed with more than average strength, nerve, and endurance.