If you are a serious angler at some point you think about
big game fishing, going after the really big ones - marlin,
swordfish and tuna. After all, if you are going to climb
a mountain why not climb a high one? I've fished for tuna
and marlin many times, but the reality is that I only thought
I understood what the big leagues of big game fishing are
all about. What brought me up to a new level of appreciation
of big fish was a long range trip to Clarion Island for
big tuna on board the Qualifier 105.
I had read a lot about the long range trips out of San
Diego to the remote Revillagigedo Islands off the Mexican
coast (about 400 miles off the tip of Baja to Clarion Island,
the second furthest island in the group), but these trips
take 16 to 22 days and 8 or 10 of those are running days
with no fishing, and I didn't see how I could ever get away
for that amount of time, nor did I see how my impatient
nature could stand up to all of those days of inactivity.
On the other hand, these trips were bringing back 100, 200
and even 300-lb. tuna, and not just a couple but dozens
of them on every trip! Man, that's fishing! So my excitement
peaked when I got a call from my fishing partner Bobby Franko
and he has a solution: take the Qualifier 105 out of Cabo
San Lucas and avoid the big running time - 8 days of fishing
and only a 400 mile run to the biggest yellowfin tuna on
the face of the earth! He tells me the Qualifier has permission
from the Mexican government to run four trips out of Cabo
this year to the Revillagigedos and would I be interested?
Would I! I beat feet as fast as I could into the kitchen
to ask dear sweet wonderful wife if I could go. Yes. She
We flew into Cabo with a array of tackle that really depleted
my bank book and caused excess charges from the airlines,
but this was my first trip and I wasn't going to have the
wrong equipment and I took everything. So I thought. I had
the Qualifier recommended list, of course, and my own modifications
and additions as well (hey, I'm a fisherman, I got good
ideas on what will work, and I'm sure they're probably better
than the Qualifier guys who only have 20 years of experience,
each, in those islands.) But there are other considerations
than a recommended list. After all, I'm not as macho as
I used to be and don't have as much stamina as I used too,
either, and physical shape also determines tackle needs
- but more about physical shape later. (Holy mackerel, did
I not understand just how tough these fish are!).
Upon arriving in Cabo we immediately taxied to the boat,
joined our 24 fellow passengers, and left the anchorage
at 2:00AM that morning. No bait in Cabo so we had a 16-hour
run up the coast to Magdalena Bay to pick up bait. The whole
boat turned to and we caught about 3,000 big baits, green
mackerel of about 8 to 12 inches, in less than three hours.
Then came the long 400 mile drive to Clarion and the big
tuna, about 39 hours more running time.
We arrive in the early afternoon. Clarion is a small (seven
miles or so long) island without a single tree. We anchor
up, throw out a live bait and whammo! A rainbow runner hits,
I look around and about every other rod has a fish on. (RR's
are a sleek fish of about 7 to 15 lbs). These get filleted
and chunked in short order and the crew starts a chunk line.
A chunk line is a method of chumming for tuna where a small
(2"X 2") chunk is dropped into the water every 20 seconds
or so, forming a trail of chunks slowly floating downward
and behind the boat in the current. All of us are fishing
with live bait but no tuna hit, just trevally and rainbow
runner, when all of a sudden we hear, "Fish on! A big one!"
Someone had put a hook into one of the chunks and let it
drift down naturally in the chunk line and a big tuna had
eaten it. Thirty minutes later we see the gaff hook come
out. I was waiting to see the fish come over the side but
nothing happened, as the gaffer just sat there holding onto
the gaff. A second gaffer came over and stuck in a gaff
- nothing. Here came a third deckhand with a third gaff.
Finally one of the deckhands said, "All together now. Ready!"
and this godawful big tuna came thudding onto the deck.
What a monster it was - 162-lbs. of power. This was a very
auspicious beginning to a fishing trip. No, not a fishing
trip - an adventure!
We kept the chunk line going all afternoon and caught several
other larger tuna and also several smaller (yeah smaller,
they "only" weighed in at 40 to 80 lbs.) ones on live bait
and "iron" from those doing some lure casting. Just at dusk
the sharks moved in. If you wanted to catch big sharks (100+
lbs. to maybe 450 lbs.) You could get one on practically
every drift or cast with bait, and did we hungry anglers
catch 'em. We must have played a hundred sharks on the trip,
no... more like 150, and got bitten off by two-thirds of
them. We went through a lot of gear, but had a lot of fun
with those sharks - Galapagos brown sharks, white tips,
hammerheads, maybe a tiger or two, and probably some others
we didn't identify. Some guys were still catching them at
The next day was MY DAY. I got up late and it was just
first light as I stumbled to the back of the boat. I put
on a chunk, put it into the water where the other chunks
were going in, and started to feed out line, keeping a little
slack so that the chunk would float down at the same speed
and angle as the other feed chunks. I'd strip out a foot
or two, wait a second, then strip out some more, walking
to the back of the boat with the current. Nothing happened
by the time I'd fed out 100 strips of line. Back and try
it again. And again.
One hour later I'm feeling bored, chunking, still stripping
out my line, counting the strips as I work my way to the
rear. 74, 75, 76, 77...slack slips out of the line, what's
that? (Tug). I set the drag to strike and reel in smartly,
meeting resistance as the line starts to go off the reel,
fast. I pull back hard on the rod. Wham, my rod hits the
rail with a loud slam, the line screaming off the reel,
and that reel has 24-lbs. Of drag set. I'm onto something
new here, and it's pure power. There is more torque being
generated by whatever is out there than I would have believed
possible. This isn't some hot fuel roadster - this is a
diesel truck, and a fast one at that.
I look up and I've got John, the captain on one side of
me and Jeff, a mate, on the other. Uh, oh, now I know this
has to be for real. If you've got a shark on you hardly
get a notice from a deckhand, get a little tuna and maybe
you'll get one cruising by for a check, but I've got the
captain on one side of me and a mate on the other? I KNOW
this has to be a big tuna - these guys have been out here
so much they just know what you've got on, and they're gonna
make sure I don't farm this fish.
I've got an 80-lb. outfit with a single-speed Penn International
50TW on a pretty stiff stick, so I figure I'm pretty well
geared up for action. I've got a heavy duty Braid belt and
harness and I'm (I think) in pretty good condition. Anyway
the fish starts hauling around the boat and I gotta keep
up. It works its way to the bow then back down the side,
never for one minute giving ground. I manage to pick up
a turn here or there as the fish comes toward me, and mostly
avoid giving it back. I lift and get another turn here or
there as I sense opportunity. But this is grueling, and
that fish just never stops pulling. Finally, the fish runs
under the boat and I gotta get over there. Mad dash to the
bow, pole pointed downward, almost into the water. Then
Captain John helps me get the rod under the anchor rope
and it's back to slogging it out with one tough customer.
I don't get a turn on the reel handle that I don't work
for, every turn is a hard fought lift and crank. Then that
darn fish runs again and I gotta start all over getting
in that same line that I just fought so hard to get.
Finally I sense that the fish is coming. I've got new rooters
around me, my fellow anglers encouraging me, telling me
that I've got the fish licked now, just a little more effort.
I must really look tired because they are really encouraging
me now, cheering and hummmm babying me along. Color! I can
see the fish down there, and there is a LOT of color - this
is a big one. "Just a little more effort, Darrell." "You've
got him on the ropes, Darrell." "We're near the end now,
Darrell, you've got him coming." But that fish is pulling
hard! They can talk all they want about having this fish,
but man, he is pulling that rod down so hard the rod belt
is biting into my thighs, and I'm getting tired, I tell
The fish is circling in big counter clockwise circles,
maybe about a 10-foot radius. As he swims toward me I try
to gain a turn, as he swims on the outer arc I try to hold
him. I'm feeling more tired by the moment.
"Okay, Darrell, we need to break this cycle. We need a
big effort from you. As he comes into you really lift and
gain some line. We'll pick up a few more turns and then
a big lift and we got him. Now is the time to go for it."
I brace myself for the big effort. I lift as he comes in,
and I get three turns. It's working, go for it, I tell myself.
The next circle I brace myself and give a big lift, I get
the rod up only about halfway, but I get a turn. Next time.
Here he comes round again, I lift and get the rod up a ways,
I go to turn the crank... and my hand won't move. My arm
is frozen, my hand is jelly. Here comes the next turn. "Lift,
Darrell, we're almost there! Lift!" I lift for all I'm worth
and the rod doesn't leave the railing. I can barely keep
my hand on the crank. The fish is winning, in fact, maybe
has already won.
"Okay, Darrell, I'll lift, you get us a couple of turns."
Jeff has both hands around my rod grip and he lifts the
rod tip high. Somehow I summon my last ounce of strength
and manage three more turns on the crank. Jeff somehow lifts
some more and a gaff sinks home. Two more gaffs sink in
and I know I've got this fish (well, with a little help
from my friends!). It weighs 157 lbs. on the scales and
it takes me two hours to get enough strength to turn a reel
handle again. My gawd are tuna tough!
I'm a light line guy, and never fish with 80 lb. I made
a lot of mistakes playing that fish that I wouldn't make
again, and I've got much more of a sense of pace for that
type of fishing than I had beforehand. My first big tuna,
and I learned a lot about technique. But on this trip I
also learned that the difference between a single speed
reel and a two speed reel on heavy lines is unbelievable,
and at my age I don't ever want to use a single speed reel
for 80-LB line again. During the fight I used a solid gimbal
belt that was braced against both of my upper thighs, and
I had a lot of pain during the fight. It was several hours
later I realized that I had a pair of pliers in my front
pocket and the belt had made a perfect black and blue outline
of those pliers into my flesh! Pretty smart guy, huh?
Hey, the rest of the trip was all relaxing fun now that
I had a big one under my belt. I did have on another big
one, on a two speed, and played it for quite a while before
the hook pulled. I thought my technique was pretty good,
especially after the first one. That first tuna beat me
up pretty much, but at least I had learned something about
pacing and toughness, and understanding the rhythm that
an angler needs to get into, so the second one was a much
more enjoyable experience even though it came off. I caught
several wahoo, and some sharks. I'll bet I had on 30 sharks--and
got bitten off 26 times. I also caught a huge 24-lb. rainbow
runner and miscellaneous other varieties.
The normal drill would be to fish from anchor during the
late afternoon, evening and early morning hours, fishing
primarily for big tuna by chunking and live baiting. During
the mid day hours we would troll for wahoo (in teams of
anglers - 5 anglers per team, and a team is on until a fish
is caught). Some tuna were also caught on the troll but
wahoo was the target and wire leaders were the order of
the day. Once we hooked up on the troll all of the other
anglers would let fly, casting with various types of lures
(iron and other stuff) or bait. Wahoo make a blistering
fast first run and average about 30-lbs. Most people I know
that have eaten wahoo say that it is their very very favorite
eating fish. On this trip we caught over 70 wahoo.
The Qualifier 105 runs a few trips out of Mexico every
year, and I think they are the only ones that do. It makes
big league fishing like this accessible since you can hit
the Revillagigedo Islands in a one week trip instead of
the normal three week trip out of San Diego. It eliminates
much of the running time to leave out of Cabo, and even
encourages a side excursion into Cabo San Lucas for a day
or two on one side or the other of the fishing trip.
The boat is nicely laid out for anglers with really great
food (the cook got a huge round of applause on the last
day, as everybody thought the food was especially good -
not your normal fish camp fare), a wide and clear back deck
for fishing and VCR's in every room. The rooms are pretty
small (if you see their brochure and compare the picture
of a stateroom in there to the room on the boat you'll wonder
what kind of lens could have been used for the shot-those
rooms are darn small, but fairly comfortable). There are
enough rod holders for everyone, in fact, enough rod holders
so that everyone could bring 8 rods apiece. That means that
you can use separate rods for the different types of fishing
each day, and leave them rigged up and ready for use.
There was a complete tackle shop on the boat, which helped
a lot since you can't possibly anticipate everything you'll
need. Best of all, the crew was a really good group from
Captain John Klein to all of the others, helpful, fun and
they worked darn hard for all of us to catch fish. My friend
Bob Franko said it all for me when he said: "Not only is
this the big leagues of fishing - and we're here! - but
it is a really enjoyable adventure. The fishing is only
part of why this trip is so special. The camaraderie, just
being at a legendary spot that I've been reading about for
30 years, being in a good boat, all combine to make me want
to come back again soon."
For more info on the Qualifier 105, contact Pt. Loma Fishing,
San Diego, CA 92166 Phone: (619) 223-2786.
Originally published in The Reel News (206) 277-2331