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Ah, to be young, free, and able to fish at will

It has that wintry look about it. The light fades quickly during the afternoon, taking on that yellowish tinge that means that the summer is truly a distant memory and that there are gales and worse to come. It has that wintry feel about it despite the fact that the warm temperatures seem to be persisting rather longer than they should. Winter is all but here, whether we acknowledge it or not.

Not that we have to look too far into the future. This weekend's weather is not conducive to any offshore adventures and serves to highlight the fact that it is virtually impossible to make angling plans more than about 24 hours ahead of time. This works out alright for those who aren't tied to work or familial commitments and who can take off to go fishing as and when they please. Lucky devils!

Speaking of lucky devils, as is so often the case, things that happen offshore fall into the realm of the unbelievable. Some of these events are so unlikely that the crews who experience them decide that it is far better never to mention the occurrence to what will be a hugely unbelieving public, thereby incurring their demeaning scepticism. This type of happening should help to explain where the expression “fish tale” comes from. Over the years there have been no shortage of them, and certainly, no shortage of doubters.

But as does happen occasionally, truth is stranger than fiction and just recently a local boat out commercial fishing had such an encounter and while it has not been widely disseminated, it has, in fact, been substantiated.

The boat in question, which will remain nameless to protect the innocent, was working the eastern turn on the Bank when a tuna strike was had. The fish peeled off a pile of line as they do and was in the process of being reeled in when the hook-up suddenly turned wild and more line was stripped off the reel and it felt as if the tuna had put on some serious weight.

This was explained when the fish was brought alongside the boat and, instead of being the expected tuna; proved to be a blue marlin in the 650-pound range. This windfall of prime lobster bait was duly gaffed and boated, at which point the hooked 40odd pound tuna popped forth from its maw, thus rewarding the fishermen with what they had expected in the first place in addition to the big bonus. At no point had the hook ever been imbedded in the marlin. Best of all, the tuna was still in perfectly marketable condition. So, not only did this event have a happy outcome from the fisherman's point of view but the fact that here was hard evidence in the cockpit to support the story. Not to mention, that there must still be some trophy fish lurking the deep waters around this Island.

This is by no means the first story of a billfish being caught, having inhaled some hooked offering but it also provides some insight into just how tenaciously a predator will hang on to its prey. Marlin stories are probably exceptional but there are plenty of accounts of wahoo chomping down on a hook or leader and not letting go until after they are residing on the floor of the boat, never having had the hook actually snag them.

Another positive is that this is evidence that there are some fish out there. It's not as if there have been a whole lot of fishing opportunities but there are some wahoo and tuna on the offshore grounds and where there was one blue marlin there are probably others, be they few and far between.

Another species that has always been at least an occasional here is the bluefin tuna. A mighty fish that is the subject of all sorts of international management measures and economic controls, the bluefin tuna was recorded here many decades ago but since then only a few have been caught. Most of the lack of success stems from the sheer size and power of these fish that up until relatively recently never really had to cope with anything approaching adequate tackle.

A quick look at giant hot spots and world records shows one thing: these big fish are caught in relatively shallow water. The Gulf of the St. Lawrence, arguably the world's largest estuary and a fabled piece of bottom for giant bluefin angling has an average depth of about 60 fathoms. So, while that powerhouse can run and strip off hundreds of yards of line, the boat can follow it wherever it goes until finally the fish tires and then the end of the battle is imminent. In the deep water that surrounds this Island, a hooked bluefin can point its nose toward the bottom and peel off a load of line that has not be dragged back with little or no real assistance from the boat, no matter how manoeuvrable it is.

Although the conservationists and various fisheries managers are gravely concerned over the fishing pressure on the bluefin throughout its rather extensive range, the reports form sport fishermen and commercial operators in the Canadian Maritime provinces and United States northeast are reporting increasing numbers of large fish. While at first, this seems like good news, it also rings alarm bells for a couple of reasons.

Not least of these is that an abundance of large fish usually comes at the expense of small fish. In other words, a healthy population of fish should have lots of little ones (younger specimens), a fair number of middle sized and aged fish, with a relative handful of granddaddies making up the real giants. So when the giants are numerous, the question has to be asked: where are the younger fish? Like most populations, youth should dominate the numbers and the age groups gradually peter out as they get older. If all that is left are the old folks then that population is in big trouble with extinction maybe not all that far in the future. That is the scenario that the fisheries managers are trying to avoid. Most anglers and fishermen look at the here and now without too much concern for ten years' time and that is all too often where the problem lies.

The upshot of this situation, from our point of view, is that with the migration pattern of the bluefin tuna taking the large fish out of the mouth of the St. Lawrence and back across the Atlantic with a general trend toward more southern climes, the likelihood of at least some of them traversing our waters is extremely good.

This means that local anglers may well encounter one or more of these leviathans over the next few weeks. In the past, catches have been made during December and fish answering their description have been seen off the southern and eastern portions of Bermuda's Edge during January and early February when tunas have often put in an appearance at the East End of the Island. Local longlining operations have also met up with bluefin during the spring but those boats are operating a lot farther afield than any anglers would normally. Still a rarity for most locals, the one thing that you can be certain of is that if you do happen to hook into one, you will give a new meaning to the expression Tight lines!!!

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Published November 19, 2011 at 8:00 am (Updated November 19, 2011 at 8:17 am)

Ah, to be young, free, and able to fish at will

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