"Fish on," shouted Captain Peace Marvel of Reel Peace Charters. "Looks like they are here today."
For the next four hours, none of the five anglers aboard the 26-foot Glacier Bay catamaran experienced any real peace. Swarming blackfin and frenzied yellowfin tuna gave us all an exhausting workout. It took longer to battle these brutes than to entice them into biting.
"Tuna are fast, powerful fish," Peace said. "Fishing like this will change the way you will look at a can of tuna."
If engineers designed the perfect hydrodynamic shape for speeding through water with little drag, they could improve little on a tuna. A tuna slices effortlessly through water, pushed by one of the most powerful tails in the ocean. Finned rockets of the deep blue yonder easily strip heavy line.
The tuna were congregated over the Midnight Lump, one of the tallest "mountains" in Louisiana. This ancient salt dome about 18 miles off the mouth of the Mississippi River rises from beneath 400 to 600 feet of water. It crests about 187 feet below the surface.
Gulf currents smash against that submerged mountain and push plankton toward the surface. Baitfish feast on plankton in the extremely fertile waters of the Mississippi River delta. Tuna and wahoo home in on the baitfish.
"Baitfish get disoriented in the currents," Marvel explained. "Of course, boats dumping a couple hundred pounds of chum in the water every day doesn't hurt anything either. Fish go where they can eat. Chumming brings fish to surface." Brett Falterman, Reel Peace Charters first mate, cut oily pogies, also called menhaden, and tossed these morsels behind the boat. Marvel rigged drift lines with whole pogies or chunks of bonito and tossed these succulent temptations about 30 feet off the transom. Baits rarely sunk more than a few feet before something inhaled them.
"We put pogies in the chum churn and shake it up," Marvel said. "It grinds them up and puts bits of fish, scales, oil and guts in the water. Fish start to smell that. Often, it brings in the bonito first, which swarm around the boat. After bonito show up, big yellowfins show up. Then, the problem is getting bait past the bonito to the tuna. We keep increasing the size of chunks until we get past the bonito to the tuna. Some days, we have to use a five-pound slab of bonito."
Tuna, bonito, sharks, king mackerel and other fish gobbled the free offerings. Occasionally, they swallowed a fist-sized chunk of bonito or pogie and discovered a 14/0 circle hook embedded inside. Then, the fight to the death erupted.
One large tuna sizzled line from a reel. I grabbed the rod and held steadfast. The lunker instantly reversed course and barreled for the bow. Line hissed as it slashed across the surface quicker than I could turn around to meet the challenge from another direction. The fish whipped me about as if I had hooked into a high-speed 18-wheeler rumbling down the interstate.
Eventually, we subdued that fish and others. I say "we" because nobody catches tuna alone. Fights often last 30 minutes or longer. Many tuna anglers can't stand the strain for so long and swap off rods when their muscles can endure no more punishment.
By noon, all of us had enough. None of the five anglers aboard wanted to touch another fishing rod. Our quaking muscles writhed in spasms until just lifting a drink can took an effort.
In four hours of marathon fighting, we landed eight yellowfins ranging from 70 to 155 pounds and 16 blackfins from 20 to 30 pounds. We also caught and released a 25-pound king mackerel.
Ken Daugherty and Ben Landers, both of Houston, double-teamed the 155-pounder. Just a few days before our trip, Marvel put a 197-pound yellowfin tuna on his boat. It could have made the Louisiana Top 10. He has hooked bigger fish.
"Most of the time, we catch a few yellowfins and blackfins," Marvel said. "I've hooked a bluefin, but I've never landed one. We were fishing in 5,000 feet of water and he went straight down. It spooled a reel with 32 pounds of drag and was gone."
To book a trip with Reel Peace Charters, call (504) 534-2278.
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