"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
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
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
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'!