Skip to comments.Angler battles for hours to land 1,152-pound tuna (Big Fish Story)
Posted on 06/10/2003 6:59:23 PM PDT by Mister Magoo
June 7, 2003, 2:56PM
BIG FISH STORY
Angler battles for hours to land 1,152-pound tuna
By DOUG PIKE Copyright 2003 Houston Chronicle
The bigger the fish, the longer the story. That is why, nearly two weeks later, it still takes Ron Roland considerable time to recount his battle with a 1,152-pound bluefin tuna, the largest fish ever caught on rod-and-reel in the western Gulf of Mexico.
During the Memorial Day weekend, Roland and three more fishermen aboard the 50-foot Hatteras, Miss Cathy, were participants in the Baton Rouge Invitational out of Venice, La. They targeted blue marlin, wahoo, dorado and yellowfin tuna in near-perfect conditions but for many hours had missed their marks.
Most of their time was spent trolling around two deep-water production platforms, Ursa and Mars, both of which are traditional stops for Louisiana's sportfishing fleet. They dragged baits elsewhere, too, but caught nothing.
Around 10 a.m. Saturday morning, after spending the night offshore, they heard radio chatter about a rip line near another platform, Lena, 25 miles off the delta and on the way home. Boats already there had hooked a variety of fish, including a couple of blue marlin. With little to lose, they spooled up and sprinted north.
"There were chicken dolphin all over that rip," said Roland, who lives near Dallas and is a longtime friend of the boat's owners, brothers Paul and Michael Ippolito. Hours passed, and still no bites. The engines fell idle, and Roland figured that someone had called it quits.
Instead, Michael had spotted a violent surface commotion in the distance and was convinced it was caused by bluefin tuna, although Gulf fishermen rarely have encountered these giants since the 1980s.
Michael repositioned the boat, and his crew dropped six large lures into the wake.
"About 30 seconds later," Roland said, "the flat line screamed."
Roland wrestled the rod from its holder and settled into the fighting chair. Only two of the other five lines were recovered when he realized that almost a half mile of line was missing from the 80-pound class reel. Barely 200 yards remained on the spool, which continued to turn.
The other lines were cut, expensive rods and reels were tossed into the salon and out of the way, and Paul shouted to Michael to back the boat toward the runaway fish.
"Ron got pretty shook early," said Paul, a New Orleans stockbroker. "He thought that fish was going to take him right out of the boat."
Had Roland been ejected by the fish, he would not have been the first Texan over the transom. Houstonian Stuart Campbell, who fishes around the world, was yanked into the drink once when his line accidentally wrapped around the rod tip during a fight with a large blue marlin.
At the 90-minute mark, the double-line Bimini knot appeared, which meant (including double line and leader) the fish was barely 10 yards away. When the Ippolito brothers saw the knot, the fish saw the boat and dumped another quarter-mile of line.
"Once he realized he was in for a battle royal," Paul said of Ron, "he knew how he had to play it, and he did it."
One turn of the reel handle at a time, sometimes fractions of turns, that fragile connection was recovered.
"The last 100 yards took a couple of hours," Roland said. "It was getting dark. Around 8 o'clock (p.m.), it made another run. Only this time, it went straight down."
When fish that large go deep, in this case about 1,200 feet (in 3,000 feet of water), it can be nearly impossible to regain control without breaking the line. The decision was made to go for broke and plane the fish back to the top.
With this technique, the boat lifts the fish. Engines are throttled forward for several seconds, which moves the fish upward and forward, then idled briefly while the angler regains line. Eventually, at least in theory and sometimes after grueling hours, the fish is caught.
Exhausted but determined after five-plus hours, Roland rewound inches of line until the spool filled. Another man, Pat Fitzmorris, secured the fish with a flying gaff.
"We tried to pull it into the boat head-first," Roland said, "but we could only get its lips through the door."
A tail-first attempt worked no better. They tried using the anchor winch but quit when its motor began to smoke.
"When we'd done all that and couldn't get it in," said Paul, who teamed with Michael on a 685-pound blue marlin that won the New Orleans Invitational in 1989, "I knew it was a 1,000-pound fish."
A decision was made to drag the huge tuna 35 miles to Port Eads, 2 miles up South Pass and accessible only by boat. At 5 knots, the trip seemed to take an eternity. The weighmaster was awakened and did his job. Word spread instantly, and locals gathered to cart off 20-, 30- and 50-pound slabs of fresh tuna.
Physically spent but bolstered by adrenaline, Roland hitched a boat ride back to Venice, retrieved his car and drove through what remained of the day. The following morning, he was back at his desk -- and its constantly ringing phone.
With many anglers' stories, the catch swells with each telling and retelling. This fish can handle a lifetime of recollection without gaining an ounce.
Doug Pike covers the outdoors for the Chronicle. His column appears on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays, and he hosts Inside the Outdoors from 6-8 a.m. Saturdays on NewsRadio 740 KTRH.
Here's a picture of the record tuna.
Belly up to the bar! The sushi's on me!
That's one to tell the great-great-great-grandkids about.
Illegal to sell without a commercial license, which they may well not have had.
Also, the Japanese are very picky about what they buy. This fish was fought for a long time and that degrades the value of the meat.
You're correct that it takes great strength. But it also requires something else which a lot of strong people don't have. It takes incredible musculo-tendinous endurance. (Many if not most people would get a completely crippling tendinitis after a couple of hours. That's an inflammatory condition which can prove to be almost unbelievably painful. The pain can become so severe that you wouldn't even be able to fight a twenty-pound fish.)
Been there, done that (by a big sailfish off Port Aransas - at least we THINK it was a sailfish). The trick is remembering to let go of your rig after you've been pulled under about 15 feet. We'd seen three big blacktip sharks in the area a few minutes before I took my flying lesson/swim; you never saw anyone dogpaddle for the transom platform so fast in your life.
BTW: they need to add some dolphin in with the tuna, it really dosen't taste the same.
One thing is for sure: if I was on the boat I'd have the wasabi and soy sauce in the cockpit for just such an occasion.
If your friend ever needs a deck monkey, I'm available. This makes landing grouper and sailfish child's play.