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Fish Tales


Tuna Tales


Join Bob Tregilus and Neal Peters for a tale of tuna fishing only the El Niño could produce ...

"I looked into his eyes which were far larger than mine but shallower, and yellowed, the irises backed and packed with tarnished tinfoil seen through the lenses of old scratched isinglass."

Elizabeth Bishop; The Fish, 1946.

"They say the sea is cold, but the sea contains the hottest blood of all."

D. H. Lawrence; Whales Weep Not.

"Many a man ought to have a bathtub larger than the boat which here rode upon the sea."

Stephen Crane; The Open Boat, 1897.

* * * *

My clothes were blood soaked as I walked up the ramp of Noyo Harbor in Fort Bragg, California. I noticed a small beat-up red pickup parked at the top of the loading ramp which contained an old man, who from the looks of him, had spent a considerable amount of time in the sun and salt. He watched me closely as I went to retrieve my truck so my partner Neal and I could pull our boat out of the water. It was not typical of the Bob & Neal Fishin' Show to be ending so early, as it was only 1 P.M. We usually don't even get going until the morning bite is over. Given the anticipation of the next day's fishing trip, and what we may or may not catch, we find it very difficult to get to sleep the night before. Often we fish the afternoon-evening bite and end up staying out late until well after dusk.

After the typical gymnastics of loading a boat and towing it to the top of the ramp the old man, with white hair and a salty dog look, approached me. I had a feeling that in some way he was connected with the California Department of Fish and Game. My guess was right; the Fish and Game folks had hired him on the side. While they were off partaking of donuts and coffee it was the old man's duty to count fish for them (your tax dollars hard at work). As the old man slowly approached our boat he asked, "You boys catch any salmon?" I said, "No." Going about my business he moved closer to our boat and then asked, "Oh, were you guys bottom fishing?" I replied, "Nope." He said, "It doesn't sound as though you boys did very well." "I wouldn't say that," I said. His curiosity was now building rapidly.

* * * *

September is always a busy month here in Reno, Nevada where I live. We have Hot Air Balloon races and shortly following air races with old World War II aircraft. Even with all that action here last week it paled in comparison to the sporting news brought to my attention when the phone rang one Wednesday afternoon. My partner Neal called and said, "Albacore 8 to 12 miles out of Noyo, seas flat."

Neal, an ex-motocross competitor now zealous fishing enthusiast, and I have talked about going after tuna for some 8 years now. Usually the albacore are too far off the coast for our small boat to reach them. So Sunday, September 14, 1997, I blasted off for the coast. After stopping in Lakeport, CA to gather up Neal and his 1959 16-ft modified V bottom runabout THE ROCKET, built in El Monte, CA, we drove on to Fort Bragg that evening. We spent an anxious night listening to the discouraging sounds of thunder and lighting and a serious down pour mixed with talk of fishing in the motel room at Fort Bragg. We got up early Monday morning and set off on what we thought would be an average 'Bob and Neal fishing expedition'. As morning dawned we thought that our little ROCKET would not be able to handle the seas because of the previous nights storm. We were wrong. The water near shore was cool but much warmer than normal - 60 degrees versus the normal 52. About 7 miles offshore the ocean suddenly warmed to 64 degrees, and we were greeted by quite a sight - life everywhere! We've been in the ocean many times and have seen a lot: Humpbacks, Grays, flying fish, otters, a variety of birds, Government employees (seals by another name - lazy bastards, who take from you your hard earned fish before you even get a chance to land it), but nothing like this scene has ever graced our eyes and senses. It was like one of those posters you see in the malls. You know the ones with neon blacklight colors, images of whales, dolphins, seals, and fish frolicking everywhere. Now I know where the artists got the idea. Neal and I were constantly saying, "Look!" - "What was that?" - "Wow, check it out!" Our heads were spinning and we were pointing all around. We saw thousands of birds. Dolphins were jumping everywhere; whales (too far off to tell what kind), sunfish, and seals. There were dolphins riding our bow wake, and all this in a sapphire blue ocean under a sky with white cumulus clouds. The sun was only an hour old in the sky and it was like a perfect morning during the Devonian period some 350 million years ago; the denizens of the sea enjoying an unfettered world.

Of course all this activity meant the fish were enjoying their breakfast. So we decided it was time to lower our fishing lines into the deep blue and try to tempt our targets with a morsel. All the action subsided in about an hour and the ocean returned to its quiet Norman Rockwell-like loneliness. After an hour of trolling our green cedar plugs and green feather lures in a southerly direction we heard a sudden loud thump in the rear of the boat. We turned to find our Penn reels rapidly losing line and our poles bent in half. "Double hook up!" Neal exclaimed. "Fish on!" I shouted. After a brief tussle my albacore was boated in about 15 minutes. My fish was a 25 pounder. Neal was still working on his fish. When he got it close I missed a chance at gaffing it but in the clear blue water we could easily see that it would go to about 35-lbs when it suddenly bit off. About 15 minutes later I got another hit. What a hit! My light pole loaded with 20-lb test was showing its inadequacies. It was bent to the point of breaking and the reel was screaming out as line flew from its spool. It took about 20 minutes of hard work before I was able to see the monster on the end of my line. After getting him to the side of the boat Neal sunk the gaff in quick and sure, but the big fish didn't budge so I dropped my pole to help. Blood hit me in the face as we heaved the big guy over THE ROCKET's low gunwale. I went to dispatch the fish and that's when Neal made the mistake of holding it by the tail. When I clubbed the fish it shook violently almost breaking Neal's fingers in the process. We pulled out the scale, "A 63-lb albacore!" Neal shouted. I guess it was so fat from its morning meal it was unable to sustain a vigorous fight for very long.

Our next hook up was another double. These two were real fighters. Mine was 43-lbs, and delivered the most intense 45 minute workout I've yet to experience. Circling around the boat several times with Neal's fish doing the same in the opposite direction; handing our poles over and under till the circles got smaller and smaller I finally got my fish to the boat. Neal set his pole in the pole holder, with his tuna still on, to help gaff my fish then he quickly returned to his dilemma. You see, Neal had a real fight on his hands. On 25-lb test and an old Penn Monofil #25 open face reel (that needed oil badly or better yet tossed in the trash) he would get three or four feet on the fish, then the fish would get four or five on him. This went on for almost an hour when he took a chance and tightened the drag a little. That seemed to help. The fish slowly came into view but suddenly it turned stubborn again and sounded. The little Penn was crying out as if it were a Banshee. "One more notch on the drag-do or die," Neal said, his arms now shaking from the strain. Finally the fat fish appeared at the side of the boat. I wasted no time with the gaff and we pulled him up and onto the deck. "To the scale with ya," I said. "55-lb tuna!" Neal said, between labored breaths too weak to weigh his own fish. Blood was everywhere, as we had boated 186-lbs of fish in 2 1/2 hours.

* * * *

As the old man reached the boat he peered over the gunwale of THE ROCKET to assess our bounty. I looked to his face expecting to see an expression of awe but instead I saw bewilderment. As he looked at the two biggest fish that lay in cockpit (these would not fit into the 120-qt Igloo cooler) he said, "Those aren't albacore." Perhaps he thought they were a couple of small dolphin. I pointed out the long fins; it was then that he realized these were the legendary 'Tombo' albacore.

Well, sorry to end the story, but I've got a chunk of Albacore (marinated in teriyaki) cookin' on the grill; it's about ready and I'm hungry - hungry for more fishin'!

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