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Saturday 5-18-13- Captain John Coniff from the Islander
Sunday 5-19-13- Live from Rancho Leonero with John Ireland
Long Range Lessons
By Pete Gray
It had been 7 years since I was on a trip to the southern banks to target giant yellowfin tuna and wahoo, so when the opportunity to sponsor a Let’s Talk Hook-up 11 day fly down-fly back trip aboard the Royal Star came up, I was ready. This trip allows anglers to load the boat with their gear at Fishermans Landing in San Diego and three days later fly down to Cabo San Lucas, meet the boat there, fish for 11 days, then be dropped off in Cabo- fly home and unload your gear and fish in San Diego 3 days later. It is the same as a 17 day trip, but designed for those that can’t get away from work for that long. It gives us the chance to fish the best spots in the world to catch giant yellowfin tuna and wahoo on a shorter trip. In addition, your fishing time is maximized. We departed Cabo San Lucas at 4 PM on Wednesday April 17th, and we were fishing the next afternoon. We fished every day but one, part of some of those days were spent traveling, but even on those days we spent several hours fishing.
When you ride a top of the line boat like the Royal Star, some of the guys you are fishing with are veteran long range anglers. These are guys that have “been there-done that” when it comes to long range fishing. They know that fishing with Captain Tim Ekstrom and the top of the line crew is the best in long range fishing. I learned so much from not only the crew, but these veteran anglers. One of the big lessons I learned was being prepared every time you put a bait in the water. On this trip, you did not know if your bait was going to be picked up by a 25 pound tuna, or a 200 pound tuna. Captain Tim urged us to never go to the rail with less than 100 pound test, as the chances of landing those big fish were slim with anything less. With modern tackle and short top shots, it is not necessary to fish lighter any longer. Another valuable lesson was going to the rail with your belt and harness ready to go. With the latest “rail rod” craze, I found myself going to the rail thinking I was going to land a big one by just using the rail, I quickly discovered this gave the fish a distinct advantage. One classic example was on our last day at Hurricane Bank, Veteran angler Stuart had one of those “mean” Hurricane Bank giant yellowfin tuna on for an extended period of time. It was his first bait in the water in the early morning when everyone else was hooking 50 pound tuna. Stuart was on a “cow” that did not want to give up. It was in huge “death circles” for at least ½ an hour, and the epic battle became a spectator sport for the rest of us. Stuart was spent after landing 3 over 100 pounds the previous night, and did not have enough power left to make those final lifts. Just a foot from the gaff, the fish took a dive under the boat and was gone. Stuart admitted that had he been in his harness from the beginning of the fight, using the combination of the rail and the harness would have allowed him to have that reserve he needed to get that giant on the boat. After the battle I was standing at the rail with veteran long range angler Bruce and discussed the rail verses harness method. Bruce said he never fishing without his Aftco MaxForce harness and Soccoro belt on. He likes the light weight, simplicity and performance of this Aftco belt and harness set up . It is critical to have the power at the end of the battle to land a big fish, otherwise your chances of getting them are greatly reduced. Bruce is an amazing angler, and releases all the fish he catches, including one on this trip that was in the 175 to 200 pound range. In my opinion, unless you are physically very strong and fit, have your belt and harness on. I know I will next time.
Another valuable long range lesson I learned was one that Captain Tim preached time and again. With the modern tackle and short top shots, you did not necessarily get bit any better with anything lighter than 100 pound plus tackle. Every time an angler would step up to the rail with 60 or 80 pound, I remember crewmember Blake Wasano telling him “your playing with fire”. I found I was bit just as well fishing my Talica 50 with a Cal Star 770 XXH as I was fishing my Talica 25 with 100 pound on my Terez rail rod, but the difference in power between those two reels is amazing. Both are super powerful, but the 50 is like having a tractor pull your fish in. I have never experienced a more powerful reel than the Talica 50. Combine that with the light weight and cast-ability it is a must have in every big fish anglers arsenal.
One of my favorite parts of a trip to the lower banks is the fabulous wahoo fishing. We caught wahoo every day, and while most of the good tuna fishing was from 9pm to 1am, much of daytime entertainment was wahoo fishing. We caught over 200 wahoo for the trip, on the troll, bait and jigs.
I finally was able to land my first cow tuna, 203.5 pounds. It happened within an hour of our arrival to Hurricane Bank. We were fishing the ‘double trouble” rig on the kite- two hooks and two sardines. We put it out and within a few minutes a big tuna boiled on it. It missed the hook but got one of the baits. I put the second bait back down and immediately a larger tuna grabbed it and the fight was on. These open water tuna have the reputation for being tough, and this one certainly lived up to the billing. It took me around the boat a couple of times, wrapped in the anchor, and with the assist of deckhand Blake Wasano I had the fish starting to make the large death circles. Then suddenly the fish dove under the boat and headed for he props. Blake grabbed the rod but it was too late, the line was already wrapped in the props. Then something amazing happened- Captain Tim grabbed a dive mask from the wheelhouse and dove in the water, a couple of minutes later he had the line unwrapped and the fight was on again, but it was like starting over on this tough fish as we had to keep the line in free spool the whole time it was wrapped in the props. Finally the fish came to color and the expert Royal Star crew stuck gaffs in her and I had my cow on the deck!
Another amazing crew story happened when we were fishing at night. During one of the wild night bites, several lines became hopelessly tangled. There were 3 hooked fish in the tangle. Blaine had what seemed like a big fish hooked, so did Turbo Bob, and Jack had a smaller fish. The crew ended up cutting the lines and splicing Jack and Bobs fish on to another rod. Blaine was now free to land his nice 150 pound tuna, Bob landed about a 40 pound fish, but wait- his fish was much larger! So it turned out that Jack was fighting Bob’s fish and Bob was on Jack’s fish. All three were landed and Bob’s real fish was another 150 pounder. Captain Tim said it was the worst tangle he has ever seen, and they still landed all the fish!
The Royal Star invented the modern fish handling techniques now used by all long range boats. Being the pioneer, they have it down. Every tuna, no matter if it is 25 pounds or 300 pounds is immediately spiked and then a wire is run up the spine to totally subdue the fish. Then the crew gills, guts and washes out the cavity and all the blood. Then the fish is put into refrigerated salt water where it stays until your trip returns to San Diego. If you choose to have your fish processed by Fishermans Processing , the crew puts your fish into an iced tote and brings them their Point Loma facility. If you choose same day service, your fish is cleaned, vacuum packed and ready while you wait. You can also choose to have your fish smoked or made into their fabulous jerky. They now even offer a premium canning service that you can exchange your fish for. Fishermans Processing is the best service, and in my opinion you are not going to get the best quality from your catch unless you let them do the processing.
If you have been on a long range trip and always wanted to step up to fish the best giant yellowfin tuna and wahoo spot in the world, this could be the trip for you. You get many days of fishing time, and very few full travel days. If you are like me, those travel days can be long, so I want a bait in the water as much as possible. Our Let’s Talk Hook-up Royal Star fly down and back trip is set for April 17 through 27, 2014…from Cabo. If you want to go, don’t wait, the trip may already be full! Call Tracy at the Royal Star office 619-224-4764 or check www.royalstarsportfishing .com