Fishraider

THE THRILL OF A JUMBO IN FULL FLIGHT

by ROSS HUNTER

AUTHOR'S NOTE...

As a professional charter boat Captain and a fisherman spanning 55 years, it has been most sad to see the demise of the blue-fin tuna, Orange Roughy , Gemfish and now Yellowfin Tuna stocks. All these species have been reduced to danger levels by badly managed commercial fishing The FEDERAL AND STATE GOVERNMENTS have much to answer for in neglect of our fisheries by extremely bad management. In my relatively short lifetime of fishing I have seen stocks depleted.

This article may serve to draw every one's attention to the seriousness of over fishing Mother Ocean.

The tuna must have been something else when back when you were young, someone asked?

I have thought about this often and whilst I am not quite prehistoric yet, I have fished for the tuna as a professional for a little longer than I prefer to remember... My answer to that question is...

"Yes! the fishing was fabulous in the 70s, but we were not very talented fishermen then, the tackle wasn't like it is today, boats had a compass and very little else, no temp gauges, no sounders and no one to ask advice from because they knew about as much as you did, so we were really mugs when compared to the modern day fisho..."

Despite all this.............................. we caught some remarkable tuna.

THE 70'S AND BEYOND

My fondest memories of my introduction to Yellowfin tuna were the Narooma trips in the 70s.This area turned on some pretty amazing tuna fishing back then. Commercial pressure on our yellowfin tuna stocks was nil. So much so, that I recall taking an 87kg tuna to a fisherman's co-op at Nowra with a mate, we had caught the fish at the Sir John Young Banks and decided to send it to the Sydney markets only to be told by the buyer quote... "If you blokes want a bill for the transport of that yellowfin you'll leave it here, cause that's all you'll get from us!"

No one wanted yellowfin tuna other than the family cat ....Enter the Japanese who all of a sudden realized that if they didn't eat half a kilo of raw tuna a day washed down with a cup of snake bile lashed with ground rhino horn they may possibly shrivel up and die. That was the start of a commercial tuna industry, the Bluefin had all but disappeared, the local commercial fishos knew that by sending the tuna to Japan by jumbo jet we could ensure our Pacific neighbors were able to maintain their much needed diet of sashimi. We are such a kind and caring race at times....

Of course there would be a small cost involved......the demise of our pacific ocean stocks of tuna but what the heck we'll all get rich in the meantime! This story I would like to relay, as it one of many great days we had on the yellowfin in that early era,...The sad part of it all is that many of the younger readers of this yarn may never experience the thrill of a big yellowfin tuna

"A JUMBO IN FULL FLIGHT......ARE THE GLORY DAYS GONE?"

It was one of those superb June days off Sydney in the eighties, the sort of day that will stick in your memory forever...........

We awoke to a light west wind, it was chilly, but not worth complaining about, the air had a dryness to it that stung your nostrils when you breathed. Each exhale, left a mist of vapour floating in the still morning air... a light fog hung over the river.At the wharf we loaded Broadbill with boxes of pilchards....The yellowfin had been excellent through the week, the big boys were in close and it was champagne fishing, so our hopes were high that the fish would still be there..

It's always inspirational when you've have had a good week, sort of takes the effort away from the loading chores....we were keen to get that first bait in.

With everything stowed I hit the start buttons and the two turbo Cummins broke the serenity of the morning as they throbbed into life.....

Easing the throttles down the tachos read 2200 rpm as I eased the back at 21 knots Broadbills 38 foot catamaran hull reveled in the superb conditions making the run across Botany Bay most pleasurable.

The time was spent rigging gear, leaders tied and the pillys cut into quarters, ready for cubing.

A hot coffee served to charge the human battery for the day ahead

The "Peak" is a seamount 5 nautical mile nor'. east of the heads, having arrived we ran the sounder over the area, it showed some good bait schools on the north, so the reef pick was dropped.

We anchored next to The "Mary Anne' a commercial tuna boat.

Craig Tooker was the skipper and a friend, he was one of a couple of professional tuna fishermen out of Sydney

They fished the yellowfin on rod and reel making a reasonable living from them at the "Peak"

Broadbill lurched a little as the reef pick grabbed, that was a good sign, it meant the current was still trickling to the south at around 1.5knots, this was perfect for good tuna fishing, glancing at the temp gauge, it confirmed 19 degrees C, the scene was set every thing was looking good, but would the Tuna agree! By 5pm that afternoon that mystery would be solved..

It was the early heady eighties and yellowfin tuna were the flavor, every Sport fisherman who could pull on a rod was wanting to catch them and there was plenty to go around...

A juvenile black browed albatross flew by looking very elegant in his grey neck plumage, he spotted a pilly cube and instinctively dropped one wing to bank around for another look.

How can these wonderful birds glide so close to the surface of the sea, yet never touch it I thought to myself as I cut up a swag of pilchards?

Then the big fella arrives, the giant of them all the Wanderer.

This is real good I thought to myself, albatross only 5 mile out from shore, means bait a plenty, not too far away..

The albys feed on squid, sauries, bellows fish and cuttle fish, and coincidentally............... so do yellowfin tuna.

The wanderer checked out the cube trail and in a picture of grace and beauty bid us farewell as he continued on his endless journey I watched him soar until he disappeared ....

I love to watch these masters of flight all day they are the signatures of Mother Ocean....

I had heard stories about the albys getting caught on longlines, this was a new form of fishing that was starting to become popular with some of the east coast commercial fishermen and whilst they were in the infancy of development, there were a lot of deep water trawlers undergoing refits, converting to the long line yellowfin tuna industry

These early longliners were setting 4miles of mono line and running a thousand hooks, because they were mostly new chums into the tuna industry, a lot of them ex trawler men, there were some pretty wet behind the ears tuna fishermen amongst them.

They would steam around the ocean looking at their temp gauges, the bird life around them and make a decision to shoot away and give it a go, sort of suck it and see method

For the half dozen longliners that worked the tuna regularly I couldn't see the yellowfin being knocked around too much............ ...................well so I thought then

As I looked into the blue current at the transom of Broadbill I noticed the sparklers in the water that was exciting.

I've never had a bad day when the ocean is full of this microscopic plankton that sparkles iridescently in the sunlight...

We worked two rods and constantly cubed feeding the baits down the slick for a hundred metres then retrieve and repeat with a fresh pilly.

We didn't have to wait long before the proverbial hit the fan.

The power of an 80 kg yellowfin tuna on his first burst of panic, having realized that the pilchard that he just eat which tasted so good had a hook in, it is always a great experience for any angler.

I am privileged because I have experienced this sound many times in those early days when tuna roamed the Tasman Sea with little commercial pressure.

We knew from the first run that this was a big tuna which had taken a pilchard 20metres from the transom.. leaving a boil in the ocean's surface like a depth charge

We quickly dropped the anchor buoy and reversed after the fish who by this stage had started to run deep and had a considerable amount of 24kg line off the big Shimano.

There was always an air of excitement surrounding these first 20minutes on a "Jumbo" after that it really became a gut busting see sawing game of win and loose...

After an hour or so we won as a fish of 78kg was boated.

We steamed back to the anchor buoy and continued to cube within 20minutes we were chasing another tuna which when boated weighed 84kg.

Back to the dan buoy again to repeat the process

The old Furuno FE 500 sounder ticked away showing a good school of kings under us, I grabbed the old faithful Polikanski out of the rack, I had bought this in the 70s and used it as a kingfish jigging reel, it was OK for that.

Dropping the jig almost to the bottom I cranked it back up 10metres or so when it was smacked by a kingfish with truck loads of aggression.

Kingys at the Peak were almost taken for granted and as I wrestled with this big bull headed bugger he reminded me of who was boss, never the less after 15minutes he joined the two tuna in the fish box The boys had a jig and they caught one each and they tagged and released them...

I quite enjoy the power of these big kings they were all around the 18kg to 20kg mark on the "old mate Poly" loaded with 15kg line they were great sport.

Things had gone a little quite on the tuna front, not that there were any complaints, so I popped a jig down for one more kingy...

Yellowfin will eat a jig, as I had just found out as my jig was devoured by one of 70kg, this would test the tackle in every way, not too mention the boofhead on the end of it...

I struggled with that old butterworth jig rod as it constantly rolled of its backbone with the big tunas power, however my old grandfather told me when I was a little fellow and got impatient if the fish weren't biting to well " Good things will come to those with patience"

After 2hours of waiting, grunting, cursing and swearing the tuna was boated.......

We steamed back to port that night enjoying a scarlet winter sunset, we caught have caught more ......then add "but the fatigue factor had us thinking of home and a beer" we all agreed as we sipped a coldy that it doesn't get too much better than that.

Three big yellowfin, a stack of kings, and a glorious days winter fishing off Sydney.

The point that I endevour to make in this story is the fact that I can look back to those glory days from the mid 70s to 1990...to today

Surely gives me a little credibility and whist I am no "Rhodes Scholar" I do spend over 200 days per year chasing the old piscatorial mates around the ocean.I have fished every popular port from Bermagui in the south to Pt Stephens to Cairns in in the north for tuna..

My job is that of a professional charter boat owner /skipper who has made a living from catching and releasing marlin in the summer and tuna in the winter...

There's a lot to understand about the ocean and its inhabitants and whilst I have been around a while I've served about half my apprenticeship, there's still so much more to learn....

The one thing that I do have over the so-called decision makers is hands on experience and that's where my observations come from..

These are some of the brutal facts why I feel If we don't do something about the current situation our up and coming enthusiasts will not ever have the pleasure of experiencing

a......"A Jumbo in full flight"

LOOKING AT THE PRESENT AND THE FUTURE OF THE YELLOWFIN SCENARIO

{A} On broadbill we have a rather tattered photo album It is noticeable that the anglers of the early days are posing with their tuna looking over the tail of the fish which is as big as them as they stand on tip toes their heads barely visible...

In the year 2005 the tails are around the angler's navel height.............Is this coincidence or are the big breeding fish being caught and are disappearing before our very eyes.

Or are the anglers getting taller?

{B} Before longlining........ most seasons we would catch several big tuna 70kg and upward, the biggest being 97kg ...Since the commencement and the escalation of the pressure of longlining on the tuna, we are lucky to get one big fish per season....................... Why?

{C} This is the one I just can't get my head around and can only assume the worst...

The story I have reminisced about of the " Peak' is just one of a hundred great days we have had there from the 70s to the late 80s ...Answer me this, why hasn't anyone caught a big yellowfin tuna at this spot since 1990 Yet prior to that the area for years was always so productive ................................ No tuna in almost some fifteen years ........yet so productive the previous 20.

"ALARM BELLS ARE RINGING................... AND RINGING LOUDLY"

Here are some fine fish taken back then

Ross Hunter with a 97kg Yellowfin Tuna

ross hunter yellowfin tuna

Tony Barber with a fine tuna

tony barber yellowfin tuna

A monster Bluefin taken off Maroubra

record bluefin tuna

A 75 kg Yellowfin taken in 79

yellowfin caught off sydney

Young Ross Hunter with a couple very nice Kings (a common capture back then)

ross hunter with king fish