Tale End: Giants In The Snow - The Fisherman

Tale End: Giants In The Snow

HAGOPIAN
The author and his hard-won, 800-pound blizzard bluefin.

This wasn’t your average winter day in New England. I remember sitting in my bed and getting the email about NOAA adding a few extra metric tons to the December quota with only about a week left until the New Year. Everyone else was done for the year so I knew it was a risky move heading out in my boat alone. Even as a tuna fanatic, with wind chills dipping close to zero and a snowstorm underway, instead of shoveling snow I’m plowing my own path through the icy roads heading for the boat ramp.  It was the end of December, the roads were empty, no tourists, the trees were bare and “closed for the season” signs hanging in dark windows everywhere.

Pulling up to the ramp was a whole different world. As I rigged up my rods and stretched my leaders, the clicking of my PENN 130 drag was the only sound for miles. It was painfully cold, however I couldn’t ignore my gut, which was telling me a successful trip was waiting for me offshore. Unlike the warmer months, the winter is always a dead zone. No baitfish, no chirping crickets while you’re launching the boat, very few birds , no pesky mosquitos, no schoolies splashing in the harbor, only the brisk winter air piercing your skin. When it was time to shove off, I had to break a thin sheet of ice as I puttered toward the channel, so my rubber bow protector was put to good use. I approached the mouth of the harbor, said a prayer, zippered up my isinglass windows, and was finally underway!

It was a cold one for sure so it was such a relief watching the track to my destination get shorter and shorter. I slowed down, quickly jigged up a few herring and started putting around slowly looking for any signs of life. As I sat there shivering in my little center console, I started to wonder if they even existed.  Did they move? Did they migrate south already? Am I the star in an episode of Ghostbusters? Then all of a sudden, some life! One or two gannets and a few whales were enough to uncover a pack of hungry gorging giant bluefin. I set my rods out in the middle of the feed and from zero to 100, the rod goes off and it’s game time!

With the short winter days, the sun was getting low, visibility started to fade and the pressure was on. As I skated back and forth from my steering wheel to the bow where I was fighting the fish, I knew I was in for it. There was already a layer of snow on the deck, never mind the fresh layer accumulating on top of the slush. Every gust of wind pelted my face with snow. I knew the end game would be ‘fun’ so I was doing my best to get it over with, clicking the drag up to full as the prayers started flowing. There were only two possibilities, either leave happy or brace myself for a horrible ride back, adding yet another fish story to my life.

An hour and a half into the fight, through a nonstop blanket of snow drifting in the wind, I finally saw the fish. She was a monster and way bigger than I originally thought. We made eye contact and boy she did not like me one bit! She went on one more monster run and I was finally able to keep her raised. This was my chance. I gripped the harpoon, held my breath, steadied my nerves and threw a Hail Mary – BULLSEYE, stuck right on top of the pectoral!

Now I had 300 feet of line flying out of a basket, ice everywhere with frigid temps and an angry tuna taking off like a bat out of hell. It was now fully dark, I knew I’d never find the poly ball attached to the harpoon, so I tied it off to the frozen cleat and continued cranking on the fish. Finally, I saw swivel again and the fish came right in, tired out from her last frantic run. It was smooth sailing now! I got a tail rope around her, put my swim hook through the gills and that butterball was officially mine.  The high seas and steady gusts made for a rough ride in, so the sigh of relief was intense as I rounded the last can into the harbor channel. My fish ended up being a lot bigger than I originally anticipated, weighing over 800 pounds!

As the years go on and more people find out they stay this late, it’s only lasting about a week into December now and it’s an absolute zoo. Sadly, there might never be a time we can fish that late ever again. I feel so blessed and lucky to call myself one of the few to experience this bite before the disorganized madness. However it just goes to show, just because other people don’t have confidence and aren’t going doesn’t mean they aren’t around; it’s a huge ocean. If you have a gut feeling, don’t be afraid to send it and test out the waters; it very well might pay off!

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