04 Sep Saltwater Edge Offshore – Kickin’ It Up A Notch!
“So you wanna catch a bluefin tuna”, those were the words ringing in my head when my good friend Steve told me of one of the items on his bucket list for this season. We discussed a number of options and services and then he spent some time researching and making calls. When he informed me that he’d booked Capt. Dom Petrarca of Coastal Anglers Sportfishing for late August I knew then, that he was looking for the ultimate challenge. There are various names for what Dom does, “run and gun”, “jig and pop”, but big fish on light tackle most accurately describes this style of fishing. The casting and retrieval of top water lures and the dropping of jigs will be familiar to most inshore anglers but when the line comes tight on a fish of this magnitude, it’s an entirely different game and Dom is one of the best at preparing you for and coaching you through what is required to get that fish to the boat.
The morning began with a 2:30 am departure for a boat ramp on Cape Cod, we met Dom with his trailered boat feeling a crisp chill in the pre-dawn air that had me upbeat about our prospects anticipating the best possible weather on the horizon. The gorgeous DUSKY was in the water and we were underway in the blink of an eye and we began to make our way out of the narrow snaking channel. Bobby Rice, carrying a full charter on the REEL DEAL came around us and took the lead being more familiar with the complexities of the passage. He promptly dropped the throttle and the next several minutes would provide a hair raising adrenaline boost. We would be working in tandem with Bobby on this trip enjoying a remarkable day on the water as countless boats trolled the surface around us with little or nothing to show for their efforts.
Capt. Dom sets the tone for the trip from the first moment that he sets his eyes upon you and presumably from the first conversation that Steve had with him about this adventure. His commercial fishing pedigree and confident attitude belie his age and you quickly become very confident being on the water with him but also learn to tread lightly and listen closely or suffer his sharp wit. What becomes apparent as time wears on is that so much of what Dom does, for him routine, is often for his charters, completely new. Understanding this and needing to keep everyone on board safe, to locate, fight and land these beasts on light tackle and to return everyone happy and healthy in this environment, things need to happen a certain way, Dom’s way.
We arrived at the area where he’d been having some success during the past week and the first squawk on the radio was Bobby telling us “they’re on the surface”, in fact, the birds were working everywhere with the rising sun along with pods of whales. As I grabbed the popping rod with the familiar Van Staal reel Dom directed us to the bow my heart was racing and my legs were wobbly. This is when you come to the realization that you are actually there, rod in hand, about to tangle with something of proportions that you have only ever imagined. We moved about the bustle of birds and whales, watched a big basking shark on the surface gradually drift below us as we made several casts which gave us the opportunity to shake out some of the nerves and cobwebs and get somewhat focused on our new environment. Dom was on his game assessing every nuance that the sea, air and their creatures were willing to provide. This was a chase and a hunt and the early signs were very encouraging.
Surveying miles of sea and hundreds of feet of water column is a daunting task and with the exception of another shark that displayed no interest in a top water offering, we not seeing what we’d anticipated. What we did begin to see were greater and greater numbers on Minke whales, they were everywhere and the Capt. instinctively brought the boat around to set a drift and ordered the jigs into the water. I occupied the back of the boat and dropped my POINT JUDE 11 ounce DEEP FORCE JIG two hundred plus feet to the bottom and began a haphazard jigging routine when I heard a voice over my shoulder say “you’re tight!”. Sure enough, I was tight to a fish and it was headed back and under the boat. I was expecting a smash, screaming drag, all sorts of mayhem. This was not at all what I’d anticipated and unable to process Dom’s directions to reach the rod around to clear the engines, I broke it off in what I’d been forewarned was “the ONLY place on the boat where you can get broken off”. OUCH!, at this point, dropping the first and what might inevitably be the only tuna of the day was disheartening. Lesson- DON’T THINK, LISTEN TO WHAT THE CAPT. IS SAYING AND REACT The time that followed had the air of a funeral wake and Dom was having his own brand of fun with me but we knew that it was still very early and that the first fish was solid sign, no one could have anticipated what was about to occur however.
The Minkes, the Minkes, the captain had an obvious affection for these great creatures and as we began to see them more frequent and active we began to notice activity below. Jigs in the water again but this time Steve chose a spinning set up with a Ronz. Dom quickly noticed Steve’s line running opposite the direction of our drift and barked out,”you’re tight”. Sure enough, Steve was tight to a big bluefin tuna. This was what we came for and Steve was feeling the power and speed of a great fish he also felt the punishment that they can deliver to an angler.
The spinning rod may seem like a sexy choice, I was determine to take one of these fish on spinning gear, but it is absolutely back breaking. Steve was soon in awe of these bruising creatures and this, his bucket list fish, would end up in the boat on this day.
The fact that it was taken on a RonZ was important Capt. Dom as well as Capt. Bobby Rice as it was a reminder of the recent passing of their dear friend Ron Poirier and it was the first tuna they’d taken on one of his amazing lures this season.
With just two of us on this charter it was easy for the Capt. to jump in and drop a jig and it was a treat to be able to fish along side him. Dom enjoys being behind the reel just as much as he enjoys being behind the wheel and he began to explain and demonstrate exactly the “how’s and why’s” by putting on a clinic for the ages. These fish were on the bottom, grubbing big sand eels. Steve’s fish hit fairly high in the water column and we would occasionally mark a fish up in the water but most were right down in the sand. The POINT JUDE DEEP FORCE jigs allowed us to get there quickly and attempt to imitate the action of a fleeing sand eel. To date they had out-performed all other jigs and would widen that gap by a considerable margin by the end this trip.
It all began to happen rather fast, the squawk from the REEL DEAL on the radio, “WE’RE TIGHT” was a refrain that we would hear and yell back numerous times during the next several hours. Bobby’s larger crew would bring 7 fish to the boat on 11 tight, we would add 6 fish brought to the boat on 10 hookups and too many hits, misses and outright drops by yours truly to count. We stopped fishing regretfully out of sheer exhaustion knowing that the fish were getting progressively larger as the day wore on but our bodies were getting correspondingly weaker. Our largest fish topped out at about 75 inches and two others around 70 inches were tagged and released.
The highlight of the day had to be the few moments that transpired when a giant slammed Dom’s jig and proceeded to “vaporize” as the Capt. described it, the volume of 100lb braid on his reel, I’ve never witnessed anything quite like that and I was rather glad that the fish struck his jig and not mine and that I had my camera handy. The three of us just stood and looked at each other with for several minutes with dazed eyes and knowing grins trying to catch up mentally to what had just happened and it only heightened our adrenaline level at that point.
IF YOU WANT TO GO: Book your trip now, available trip dates through the rest of the season will disappear quickly as the bite improves for these fish, this was just the leading edge of what should be a stellar season. Capt. Dom has recently announced a few precious open dates and I’m sure that Capt. Bobby has a similar schedule. If you’ve not fished this way before, prepare your mind by simply leaving your preconceptions and fishing ego at the dock. If the Capt. doesn’t humble you, the fish certainly will. Be ready and willing to watch, listen, react and fully test your angling skills and you will enjoy the time of your life!