Marlin fishermen like to think that blue, or black marlin, depending on which ocean you fish in, is the baddest, hardest-fighting fish in the sea. Well, it’s time to wake up, buttercup — they’re not. A marlin loses its fighting advantage by its instinct to come up and jump when trying to rid itself of whatever is causing its distress. Tuna, on the other hand, go down. That’s why everyone gets so pissy in the cockpit when a bit marlin starts heading for the bottom. You know it might be a long time before you see that fish again.
With a tuna, you know from the get-go what it’s going to do — it’s going to punish you. The deeper the water you hook a tuna in, the more line you’re going to need, because tuna fish head for the bottom and never give an inch on the way back up. Frankly, if you’re fighting any tuna over 100 pounds while standing up, then I hope it was an accidental hookup — either that or you must be some sort of masochist, but to each his own.
I know several tuna guys who live to get up at 1 a.m. to leave for a tuna trip that will take at least 24 hours, and hundreds of miles of travel time, just for the chance at some fresh sashimi — and to feel one of the most powerful fish that swims on the other end of their line. And they don’t use chairs very often, either.
Of course, bluefin tuna represent the true heavyweights and routinely break the 1,000-pound mark, but bigeye and yellowfin routinely top 300 pounds, presenting a challenge on any tackle. Here, then, are five great places to tangle with tuna that reach truly gigantic size — I know that there are plenty of fellows out there itching for the ultimate pull.
San Diego, California
If the catch of the all-tackle world-record yellowfin tuna, a 405-pounder, can’t make you jump on a long-range party boat out of San Diego, California, what about this little tidbit of information fresh from Capt. Frank LoPreste, skipper of the world-famous Royal Polaris since 1977: “We usually catch between five and 15 fish over 300 pounds each trip.” And that’s every boat in the fleet!
To be sure, you’ll be in for a bit of a different experience — bunking with up to 32 other passengers for a 10-day-plus trip into Mexican waters on a 100-foot-plus vessel. “We normally run trips that last anywhere from five to 22 days — but most of our big tunas are caught on 10-day trips, or longer,” LoPreste says.
The cost varies and depends on the length of the trip and the number of people on board. For example, a 10-day trip can cost between $2,800 (32 passengers) and $6,000 (18). To offset some of that cost, many of the trips are hosted or sponsored by tackle shops and manufacturers that bring tons of giveaways; some even offer cash prizes for fish eclipsing a certain weight — usually those topping 300 pounds.
“We had the 388-pound all-tackle yellowfin world record on Royal Polaris for 33 years before that 405-pounder [caught on Vagabond] broke it in December of 2010. We also caught a 398 that didn’t count as an IGFA record,” LoPreste says. “We mainly target the big yellowfin, but it’s best between Nov. 1 until the end of May. We catch hundreds of fish over 200 pounds every year.”
While the boats leave from San Diego, they target a series of far-off banks and islands lying off the coast of Mexico to the south. “We fish off the Luisitania Bank off Magdalena Bay, which is about 600 miles from San Diego; or in another area with even bigger success, Hurricane Bank, which is 980 miles south of San Diego. We also hit Clarion Island, which is about 850 miles away, ” LoPreste says.
It takes anywhere from 2½ to 3½ days to get to the fishing grounds, but LoPreste says the boys keep themselves busy prepping tackle and watching DVDs. As a bonus, they also catch 150 to 400 wahoo on a trip. Each passenger is allowed 15 tuna and 15 wahoo — which is more than plenty for anybody.
Predominantly a live-bait fishery — 95 percent of the fishing uses live sardines fished from the ships’ huge livewells — they also catch a decent amount of fish on the kite. “We use a rig called the double trouble, which consists of two sardines on two hooks. Live flying fish, live mackerel and live skipjack also work good on the kite for the big yellowfin,” LoPreste says.
If you don’t have the kind of specialized stand gear best suited to tackle 300-pound tuna from a dead boat, Royal Polaris will supply the gear. “We don’t charge extra for the gear or tackle, but we will charge for the line they use,” LoPreste says.