Salmon fishing remains pretty slow in our parts, although we had a great fin-clipped coho season for a few weeks. Rockfishing remains solid and steady while lingcod have been wily and elusive.
Surf perch fishing seems to be a hit or miss endeavor. Crabbing is still pretty slow with a few partial limits here and there. Keep in mind that some folks are indeed getting limits of dungeness but that is the exception.
August is here and with it the tuna have come on with full force. While we did not break our all-time record for sport boat tonnage brought into our marina, it sounds like the sheer number of albacore may be the highest we have ever seen for one day.
Every year many people ask us “when is the best time to go tuna fishing off of the Oregon coast?” and one could postulate that late June is the best time for that first bite, or maybe in August when the tempo and tenor has reached its peak.
Most albacore fishermen know to look for sharp water temperature breaks with the right chlorophyll levels. Heck, there’s a hundred answers to the question of when to fish for these things but I’ve come up with a simple stock answer: you fish for tuna when they are here.
It’s tough to set your watch or your calendar to the right time for tuna to arrive. It’s even more difficult when you have to book vacation days or months in advance and hope to time everything just right.
This year has certainly been one of those years and for a time it looked like these tasty pelagic torpedoes made of meat may have bypassed us entirely. Last week everything changed. In my mind last week was the week by which all others shall be judged for years to come.
My memory starts off with our good friend Heath, who owns the fishing vessel “Addiction,” asking if I wanted to tag along for a day of tuna chasing and catching the following week with he and his friend Dean. I rarely get to fish when everything is perfect and conditions are prime but this was a rare instance where I could, and did.
I dutifully took my Bonine pill the night before departure, then one in the morning at 4 a.m. when my alarm mustered me from my slumber. I ate some ham sausage, a chunk of smoked cheddar cheese, and donned some goofy new-age “acupressure” wristbands that I have zero belief or faith in.
You see, I get sea-sick — like barf up my liver and spleen sea-sick — but for some reason if I take every single step I just outlined, I can keep in most of my liver and spleen. I still get sick but it’s not near as bad and, yes, I have tried the patch, ginger, band-aids on my earlobes and yodeling while juggling kittens but my routine is the only one that works for me.
I boarded the Addiction (Tuna Addiction for the record) with my gear and gloves and we were under way by 5:30 a.m. It was a beautiful morning and the ocean was as perfect as it gets. As we made our way west I could see the lights of countless other fishing boats off in the distance, it looked as if we were heading to some small town out on the sea.
The sun rose at our backs and the early crimson light reflected and danced all around us. Seabirds took to the salt air, the curled tops of little waves reflected the sun’s light, and the drone of the engines filled all my senses. This is a good place to be, no cell service, no deadlines, nothing.
Heath, Dean, and I sat in silence and I couldn’t tell you how much time passed before Heath suddenly dropped us from running speed to trolling speed and exclaimed “We’ve got jumpers!”
Tuna jumping doesn’t always translate to tuna biting but it sure as heck means there’s fish around us. We grabbed the first hand-line to deploy and it wasn’t but 20 feet behind us when the day’s first bellow of “Fish on!” meant the day had started, and oh how it had indeed started.
We struggled for a while to get all our gear out because fish kept taking everything we threw at them. Hand-lines, fishing poles, Zuker lures and cedar plugs were all in motion as one, no make that two, then three, then four, then five tuna were pulling back trying to get away with the tackle they had the misfortune of feeding on. Flopping, vibrating fish were everywhere, the bleed bucket was overflowing with them, lines were redeployed and the process continued over and over.
For those of you that have not yet had the opportunity to catch these amazing creatures, they vibrate like a paint mixer when you get them on board and hanging on to them is a strange experience for the uninitiated. Blood covered the deck as well as us and at every opportunity we used the wash-down hose to keep the mess under control.
There were not many restful moments throughout the morning and a few times here and there the fish stopped biting and allowed us to eat, or drink, or do whatever it was that needed doing but other than that it was constant motion.
We fished for what seemed like an entire day by the time we got to count our catch and we were certain we were over 50 fish! I’ve personally never been out and caught 50 tuna and the thought was pretty exciting, split three ways that’s a lot of meat and those of you that know me in person or through this column know I’m all about eating stuff we pick, hunt, or catch.
We got all the fish iced and Dean transferred them to the appropriate fish holds as we counted. Sixty-two. We looked at the time and it was only 9:15 a.m. Sixty-two fresh, tasty Pacific Ocean albacore tuna by 9:15 a.m.! This was insanity!
The limit is 25 per person; surely, we could continue and get three full limits, couldn’t we? I could never imagine such a feat until this day and now it felt so close at hand.
By about this time we were all feeling the effects of the early morning and the day’s work. The original enthusiastic yells of “Fish on!” waned and became much less energetic notifications of “Hey, looks like a fish, you wanna pull that one in?” There may have even been a time or two where I slowly backed away from a bent over fishing pole so Dean was closer to it before I pointed out that there was indeed a fish on it. I’m not saying it was right, I just did what I had to do.
In the end we accomplished our goal of 75 tuna and made our way back to port for several days of processing, packaging, freezing and canning. We’ve literally eaten tuna every day for a week and I’ve also been grinning from ear to ear every day since.
Thank you, Heath and Dean, for what was and will evermore be the tuna day by which all others will be judged.