Blue Ghosts Of Cape Cod Bay - The Fisherman

Blue Ghosts Of Cape Cod Bay

It all comes together when the rod finally goes down and the battle begins!

Tuna fishing has a way of controlling the lives of the anglers that hunt the almighty bluefin.

Here today, gone tomorrow. The commitment, preparation, dedication, and mental fortitude. It sounds like marriage, feels like marriage, although it is marrying a piece mother nature, which carries completely different vows. Early mornings and late nights. Self-doubt and self-confidence; it never seems to end. It’s a revolving door, which always seems to hit you on the way out.

Giant bluefin tuna, a fishery where lifelong memories are made, and dreams destroyed. It’s a sickness, it has been said countless times, but nonetheless, the fever is alive and well. From leaving the dock at 2 a.m. out of Chatham, or gentleman’s hours at 7 a.m. from the Cape Cod Bay side, it’s a grind.

But, to tuna fishermen up and down the coast, it’s a grind that is just part of daily life. Banker’s hours? Yeah, right. Any fisherman would laugh at that. When the season rolls around, it’s instinctual; we know very well, our day will most likely be a long one, rather than stroking that 500-pounder right after sunrise and back to offload before brunch time. For as many hot streaks as we go on, there are many more cold streaks we tumble into.

A happy crew with their amazing catch.

The Long Wait

Preparation is key, the best of the best will tell you that. But, they will also tell you that it’s better to be lucky than to be good. The guy, who set up 100 yards from you an hour ago, gets the bite, and one can’t help but wonder, “Why him and not me?” New top shot, new leaders, new crimps, and new hooks. Maybe there was in issue with the last batch? Maybe this will fix things? What about bait? Where is the bait? Are there some pogies left over from the previous trip? Do we have to go find some bluefish prior to getting lines in? It never ceases.

When everything does come together, lines go in, and balloons go out. The waiting the game begins. The mentally strong versus the mentally weak.

Hour one goes by. “Man, sure hope we get a bite.”

Hour two goes by. “It’s coming soon, don’t worry.”

Hour ten goes by. “It’s getting fishy, we got this.”

Hour twelve comes and goes. Lines come up, the bow is pointed towards port, and the engine hum engulfs the crew.

The following morning. Things seem different. “Different wind, different tide. I like this better.” Rinse and repeat; lines go in and the day gets underway. After watching balloons for hours, having your eyes play tricks on you, a feisty bluefish drops the rod tip, making you think it’s a bite, only to having it come back up, relinquishing that thought. However, this could be different. The stars could align… No, today definitely is different. That tip of the down rod goes “tap, tap”, you get up from your seat, run over and start cranking. It is different, because today, as you start cranking, that rod goes down, and drag starts screaming with the weight of a giant.

Hooked Up!

A good crew is quiet. A good crew is competent. There isn’t any yelling, no one is screaming. The captain knows to turn the engine on or drop the anchor ball. The angler is on the rod, hoping the fish gets settled as the rest of the rods are cleared and stowed. Now, the fun is just beginning. With everyone in their positions, let the fight begin.

That first long run is a burner. “Topshot is almost off the reel,” the angler says back towards the wheel man. Finally, the fish slows down, and it’s time to feel the burn. That burn you get when you crank a Shimano 130, 300 times in two minutes to get line back on that reel. The burn that starts in your arm, and works its way down into your gut, where it feels like you’re might throw up if you don’t get a breather.

Line is back on the reel, the fish falls into a pattern, and now it’s time to take advantage of the beautiful creature. But, has this fish been hooked before? Does it know secrets you don’t? You can’t help but notice the difference between a fish that has fought for its life before, and a virgin, naïve to its potential fate.

Fifty minutes have gone by, and that beautiful, beautiful pinwheel motion is happening 40 feet under the boat. This is the best part, when fishermen out finesse one of the strongest creatures in the ocean, and slowly, circle by circle, crank by crank, work the tuna closer and closer.

Tail wrap ready. Meat hook ready. Polyball out. Harpoon ready.

“Swivel,” shouts the angler.

Crank; crank; crank.

The swivel is in the guides, and the tuna is doing its final circle on the surface. In one swift, smooth motion, the harpoon leaves the mate’s hands, and enters right behind the pectoral fin. There’s only a handful of more rewarding things felt in life, than feeling the secure, ‘stuck’ feeling, of that harpoon entering a beautiful bluefin. The connection, gratification, satisfaction, and desperation dissipating, as you know that the game is almost over. “Gaff! Tail rope, please.” With the tail rope on, the meat hook placed in the fish’s mouth, the battle is finally over.

bluefin obsession
For those afflicted with a bluefin obsession, nothing compares with landing a giant.

A Magnificent Creature

Man versus beast. Man versus Mother Nature. Man has conquered this time, however there will be endless times where Mother Nature will simply take the prize. With the fish secured and swimming next to the boat, exhales of exhaustion and pats on the back go around from the crew; one can’t help but gaze into the fish’s eye. Just like a painting at the museum, the fish’s eye follows you around. The silvery, gold silhouette around the deep, dark eye stares back at you in sheer terror. The fish knows it’s time has come.

As for the angler, you can’t help but stare back in complete awe of one of the most beautiful creatures on Earth. With the fish still lit up, the deep, blackish blue back, slowly melts into the iridescent yellowish, gold strip running along the pectoral fin toward the tail. The mass of the fish is immense, as the silver belly, with hints of blue, pink, and orange are engulfed by the fading sunlight.

After taking the fish for a swim, for quite some time, tidying up the cockpit, and talking with your fellow fishermen, it’s time for the fish to go in peace. With a swift cut behind the pectoral fin, the meat hook dropped, fish flipped around, and a dazzling pool of the most vivid red liquid disperses. A quick rake of the gills, and a tow, it’s time to dress and stow.

Take your time, ensure everything is done properly; gill plate removed, gills cut out, organs tossed overboard, rice paper applied, and fish iced down. This fish commands the utmost respect when swimming in the ocean; and deserves the utmost respect upon its final demise.

There are many days of just watching and waiting, but so few people get to truly enjoy the beauty of the mighty Atlantic.

It’s Not For Everyone

This fishery isn’t for the faint of heart, uncommitted, or emotionally un-invested. It becomes obsessive, all encompassing. Relationships are lost, expenses accumulate, but that satisfaction in returning to port with one of these magnificent fish trumps what was left behind. During slow fishing, when the fish disappear, like ghosts; here yesterday, absolute desert today, it becomes more of a mental and emotional game. I swear, if it was that easy, the lust and allure would wear away.

Days of walking off the boat, answering, “How’s fishing?” from your fellow dock mates, responding with, “Not great. Very quiet today” being responded back with “Ha, well that’s tuna fishing!” certainly wear. In retrospect, they’re right, and that is how giant bluefin tuna fishing is. It’s a game of preparation, determination, and a touch of luck.

The money isn’t there like it used to be. There’s a handful still making an honest living doing it. Another handful doing it for the social media fame, but others are doing it for the passion of chasing this fish around, trying to understand its inner workings. I’ll know when it’s time to quit; when the adrenaline doesn’t rush throughout my body, seeing that rod go down, hearing the drag start to scream. My legs start to quiver a bit. If I lift my hand up horizontally, it’ll shake uncontrollably. My heart starts beating faster. In my mind, while either focusing on the rod or the wheel, I have to tell myself, “Deep breaths. Deep breaths.” I’m no adrenaline junky, I’m even scared of heights, but when that excitement, unknowingness, and anticipation ceases to exist I’ll know it’s time.

Until then, I’ll continue to scroll through all of my photos from previous seasons each winter. I will obsessively go through my gear, never needing anything more, but double checking everything I have, during idle moments. And we’ll be endlessly exchanging tuna stories with fellow fishermen over cold beers when we’re not on the boat. It is a sickness, but I don’t want to be cured.

The season is upon us; it’s time to get back out and do what we do best; tuna fish.



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