What to do after the hookup and once the fish is at the boat.
Nothing stops the heart of an offshore angler quicker than the pop of an outrigger or flat-line clip and the sound of a screaming drag. What next? Take the rod out of the holder immediately? Stop the boat? Clear the lines? Nope, not exactly. Tuna and most pelagic fish run in schools, so it isn’t uncommon to have more than one hookup, and there are most likely more fish in the spread. Knowing how to capitalize on a bite and get the fish in the boat can be the difference between sandwiches and sashimi for lunch.
When trolling for tuna, getting multiple hookups can definitely be chaotic. However, when the bite is slow, getting more fish from the pack to bite is a great way to increase the number of fish in the box.
So, the boat is trolling along at a pace of 4.5 to 7.0 knots when the unmistakable symphony of a drag starts playing. The crew knows their roles; angler, leader/gaff man, and boat driver. Instead of stopping the boat right away, keep it trolling at the same speed if there aren’t already multiple hookups. Start turning and zig-zagging through the water. These sudden changes and movements may be enough to entice another fish (or more) from the school to bite. Continue trolling for about 30 seconds or so after the bite. If there are no other hookups, this is also a good time to reel in the other lines since the moving boat will keep pressure on the hooked fish and give the angler time to put a fighting belt on.
Fighting the Fish
The angler is fighting the fish and slowly making progress. The best thing to do is keep the boat in gear, that way there is always pressure on the fish. The only time that the boat should ever be taken out of gear is when the reel is very low on line and backing down is necessary.
At this point, the persons responsible for leadering and gaffing the fish should get ready. This includes getting gloves on, getting the gaffs out (Don’t forget to take the tip protector off!) and determining which side the fish is going to be boated on. When that gets figured out, clear all rods and gear from that side of the boat in order to have a clear side that will give the angler and leader man room to move.
As the fish gets closer, have the angler get in that side/corner and position the boat to have the fish come up on the side that’s clear. If the desired side is the port side of the boat, slight turns to the port will help guide the fish in that direction. Once the angler yells “color” that means the fish is getting close, and things are now getting serious.
Sealing the Deal
As the fish gets closer to the boat, keeping the boat in gear will give the fish little chance to change direction. If the fish runs under the boat, the leader man should keep the line away from the boat with his hand acting as a guide and the driver should turn into the fish (If the fish runs under the port side, turn hard to port.) in order to push the stern and engines/props away from the line. Finally, the battle is almost over as the fish nears the surface. The leader man should grab the leader and take a couple wraps, being sure not to overlap the line on his hand so that if the fish runs, the line will slide off easily. As soon as there’s a clear opportunity, the leader/gaff man should stick the fish, coming from behind the leader (in case the fish takes off) and being sure to aim for the head to not damage the meat or worse, hit the line! Two people are preferred for this, one to gaff and one to leader, but with enough practice, an experienced person can do both easily. The gaff (or gaffs if necessary) is sunk, and the fish is getting pulled over the rail. The fish hits the deck and it’s game over. Next is to pull the hook out and bleed the fish with a slice behind the pec fin and at the base of the tail. Be sure to put the fish on ice right away and make sure there’s a lot of it! Get that fish nice and cool. Time to put the spread back out, clean the deck, and hope for another bite!