Friday, October 7, 2016

Summer Tuna Fishing Trip

Something has shifted for Charley and me. Perhaps it’s our kids getting older, perhaps it’s just us getting older, but we are seizing opportunities to pull some rocks out of our Bucket Lists, no longer leaving them to “someday” or “maybe when”. When Charley's brother-in-law, Dave, called and asked if we wanted to join him and his buddies on a chartered fishing trip, we jumped at the opportunity, “Hmmm, I don’t know...” Which was followed by a definitive, “Um sure, I guess so,” when he called a couple weeks later.

Go, us!

Our fishing trip turned out to be a tuna fishing trip.

Ok, cool.

Tuna shoals are typically 20-50 miles off shore.

Whoa, so that’s like out-to-sea. I’ve never really been out-to-sea before.

The usual trip takes about 12 hours.

Twelve? As in 1-2 hours?

Neither of us knew how we’d do seasickness wise. The reports from my sister-in-law, Lina, is that it sucks, like really, really, just-shoot-me-and-make-it-stop sucks—Dramamine, notwithstanding.

Gosh, hope that doesn’t happen to us.

I have been on a boat in rough seas before, but only for a couple hours and always within sight of land. Using only pressure bands and ginger capsules, I felt fine. I thought I’d be OK. But I was also worried about being out that far, for so long…shit happens out there and there’s not much you can do if it does, just hope you can roll and swirl like a tenacious poo-nugget if the ocean decides to flush you down.

Charley was really tense. He and his sister share DNA of course, and he was worried he’d be trapped for twelve hours in his own personal puke fest.

His nerves zinged my nerves, and my nerves zinged his nerves. We got going on some research, and decided to get prescriptions for the Transderm Scop® patch. I also planned to wear my lucky pressure bands.

I didn’t sleep much the night before the trip; which was fine by me, because I hate getting up early, and when 4:30 rolled around after tossing and turning all night I was relieved—finally!—rather than bleary. We dressed, ate—cautiously, and packed our gear and food. After coffee, we headed out with our crew.

On the road, my nerves settled. By the time we got to the SeaBreeze Charter office my mood had improved considerably. I almost always feel better when things are in motion. We checked in and we were told that our deckhand overslept and we would need to wait a bit.

I had a good appetite, so I had some of their office coffee and an amazing oatmeal cookie Lina had made for our trip, and tucked in to wait. I had a hard time sitting still. Three tinkle trips later, I admitted to myself that maybe I was still a tad nervous. The others sat and rested their eyes, lifting a lid now and again to survey the office.

The deckhand arrived and we made our way down to the yellow Salty Dog and were welcomed aboard by Captain Jeremy. Captain Jeremy wore tattered cargo shorts, flip flops, an oversized hoodie, and a mop of unruly hair. He looked legit.

The deckhand James was a compact young man with an easy, affable manner. He wore bib overalls, a hoodie and a hat with a short brim. He has an easy smile and although he had overslept and held up the boat, he did not look stressed or anxious, just ready.

Captain made introductions, gave us his spiel as well as brief instructions on how their rod and rigs worked, and how the day was likely to play out. He mentioned that other boats reported finding tuna about 25 miles out. Charley and I shared a that's-good-news look.

Gear was stowed, Deckhand James was weaving the deck deftly untying and tying ropes and stowing stuff, checking stuff…doing stuff, unhurried and efficient. The guys, Dave, Clay, Kevin, Chris, and one other guy who was not in our broup, all packed into the cabin and sat down. With heads laid back and eyes closed, they were ready to doze through the next couple hours of driving and catch a few of the zs lost by the early rise. The little yellow boat rumbled to life. I stayed on the back deck taking in the lights of the Ilwaco Port and watching the sky turn from black to blue.

Getting cold, I poked my head in the cabin wondering if I wanted to sit inside, and the steamy, compactness, as the boat pitched and rolled filled my body with a sense of NOPE. I pulled back out and looked for a comfortable spot to ride outside, there wasn’t one, so I leaned up against a huge ice cooler near the cabin that was somewhat sheltered by Plexi windows. Charley was worried about getting sick, so he stayed out too.

It was glorious.

I was having fun. The engine roared as I turned on my GPS runner’s watch. My watch reported that we were moving at 18 mph. I was looking forward to seeing the GPS map of our route when we returned, I would find out later that in “other activity” mode, maps aren’t saved. Darn.

As we motored by the jetty, humpback whales blew and breached. The black and white striped Cape Disappointment Lighthouse blinked her light in the morning gloom. I realized that this was a first; it took me half of my life to see a lighthouse from the sea.

Charley and I watched the sea looking for blowing whales, and other wildlife. We saw a pod of small dolphins that looked black, sea lions hanging out on a buoy, many more whales, and a pod of pelicans soared by our boat.

The engine roar died and Captain Jeremy and Deckhand James appeared. DH James got busy doing stuff and Cap explained that James was setting out rigs for trolling for tuna. He told us what the rods would look like if there was a fish on, bent and thrashing, and that we were to shout over the roar, “FISH ON!” at which time he would stop the boat, and one of us was to grab the writhing rod and start reeling ‘em in. The rest of us would grab a rod from the twenty or so in the middle of the aft deck, and bring it over to Cap or Deckhand, who would bait our hooks with a live anchovy. We were all to stand on the same side of the boat, facing the wind, pitch our little fish in, flip the bail, and feed out line. They would also pitch in some anchovies for chum to keep the tuna near our boat. When a strike happens we were to count to ten before flipping the bail to set the hook. Later, DH James told Charley and I that nobody ever waits that long, they’re just hoping that by saying, ten, fishermen will wait for five. It was good he told us, because we’re both very literal and would have waited the ten seconds, and seeing how hard they run, we would be reeling in our fish from Japan by then.

Jumping fish and diving birds would tell us we were close to a shoal of tuna.

Got it. We’re ready Cap.

The boat roared back to life, somewhat slower. The two trolling rods bent and jumped as the water pulled on their rigs.

Some minutes later, one of the rods was flopping, I elbowed Charley, “Do you think that’s what he meant?” Charley looked startled, “I’m not sure, should we yell, ‘Fish on?’ I think we’re supposed to.” Then from somewhere behind us shouts Dave bellows, “FISH ON!” making us jump, and there is a dash to the rod. Dave is breathing down my neck, “Get it! Reel it in! Grab it!” I obeyed.

This was no trout. Holy smokes these things are strong!

I pinned the heel of the rod into my hip for leverage and reeled. It ran, I let it, and then I reeled some more. My whole body was activated, and my heart pumped furiously as I worked. I was vaguely aware of the other fish being reeled in and the slightly frantic, but orderly activity as the guys got their rods ready and in the water. There were several other shouts of, “Fish on!” We were definitely in a tuna shoal.

I reeled, and it ran again, I reeled some more then…nothing.


I reeled in the jig and it flopped on the surface of the water and I felt like crap. Dave gave me the fish to land when he could have taken it for himself, and I let it get off. Damn. My line was always tight; I was at a loss for what I had done wrong.

Cap came by to check on my progress and I told him it got off, just as I finished reeling it in. Without hesitation, he put a different rod in my hand, baited an anchovy and told me to toss it in over the port side. The line of bodies on the left side of the boat revealed to me which was port.

I flipped the bail, tossed in my anchovy and watched it swim away with my line. I fed out line and watched others reel in their fish. Shouts of “color!” sent the deckhand dashing for a net. DH James then hung perilously over the railing to net the fish. After he netted the fish, he dumped it on the deck and dashed off to the next fisherman. A trout will fold itself in half to get back into the water, tuna however, mostly just vibrate. They look like steely torpedos with a wind-up tail. Brrrrrrr. If DH wasn’t called by another shout of “color!” he would pick up the fish by the base of the tail and carry them over to a blue barrel. Then he’d produce a knife cut the fish where the gills connected to the jaw (throat?) and let the blood drain into the barrel, thereby killing and bleeding the fish, rather than leaving it to suffocate.

My anchovy swam, so close yet so far from freedom. My line fed out. After a while, I reeled in checked to make sure my anchovy was still looking perky and tossed it back in. Soon the fervor of activity died down and we were instructed to reel in so we could find the fish again. I reeled in my little anchovy, unhooked it and tossed it in the sea. “Whoop, wait, save those for chum,” Dave corrected me. “Oh yeah, whoops.” Secretly, I hoped my little anchovy would enjoy a few moments of freedom before becoming an unkippered snack for something else.

Wide awake, everyone was asking who caught what, and I retold my, I-had-one-but-lost-it story.

We trolled. The rods flopped and jumped, someone shouted “FISH ON!” and the boat rocked to a stop. I steered clear of the trolling rods, as they were clearly cursed, and grabbed an unbaited one. DH James grabbed my hook, netted an anchovy, bent it at the gills and hooked him under the gill plate to catch the collarbone, popping the hook back out of the shoulder.

I took my rod over to the port side and dropped in my swimmer and started to feed line. Wham! I waited, 1...2...3...4...5, took a breath, then flipped the bail and gave a tug to set the hook. The tuna ran and I watched 30 lb test peel off my reel. The run slowed, and I planted my rod in my hip, ouch, and began to reel. Pull back, reel down, pull back, reel down, this process went on for about 12 years, with a few runs in between, then I saw my fish! It was so small! It wasn’t anywhere near the size of the VW bug I’d anticipated. It saw the boat and dove. I watched my efforts peel off my reel and as soon as it slowed I started pulling and reeling again. My rod arm bicep burned as I reeled, Cap came by and adjusted my drag and gave me some pointers. I reeled down and pulled up, reeled down and pulled up. “COLOR!” is how I wanted to say it but I think it came out more like “gasp—color—gasp”. I held my fish there while DH helped land a different fish.  Then he leaned over, I pulled up and he scooped, and plop! my fish was vibrating on the deck of the boat. DH James pulled the hook and dropped it into the barrel.

As a person who had only seen whole tuna lying dead in ice, it was remarkable how beautiful they are. They iridescent blue on the top, brilliant sides and yellow pectoral fins, silvery undersides. Viewed from the top the blue must blend with the sea, and viewed from the bottom the silver must blend with the sky, the yellow must be there for the eye to blend with blue for shades of green. They have neat little triangular fins towards the back of the tail that open and retract.  When open, they look like something you could cut yourself on, until they retract and reveal themselves to be soft. Once dead and packed in ice they looked like every other tuna, gray and dull.

Soon the activity died down again and we were off to chase another shoal. DH James, bled the fish and left them in the barrel. Then he shoveled ice from the big coolers, working around Charley and me, into smaller coolers under the bench seats. He laid the dead fish in the cooler and shoveled in more ice handling the thirty-pound fish with ease. Then he took a hose and washed down the blood from the deck and otherwise prepared for the next stop.

I poked my head in the cabin for food, water, coffee, and to rib the guys a little and noticed Chris was missing. I wandered inside and found him driving the boat. As a long time sailor and all around eager for experiences, of course he was driving. I visited with him a bit until Cap popped out of the tiny bathroom. Cap told me I could stay, I declined. He jumped in the other seat and let Chris drive as they chatted about nautical stuff.

We made another stop. I hooked into a fish immediately. I counted, 1..2..3..4...5...took a breath and flipped the bail. I was fishing portside on a narrow, two-foot wide walkway between the fore and aft decks. Tuna tend to swim in circles, and a crossed line could mean lost fish, so we had to follow our fish, making it necessary to pass under, or otherwise maneuver around other fishermen. Did I mention the walkway was super narrow? The ocean heaved and rolled, our fish pulled and there was a few times that I thought if the boat rocked just right, I would be in the drink. You’d think that would be a bad feeling, but it was actually really, really, fun. Was I going to drown? Nope. Would it be a great story to tell? Yep. But alas, I did not.

“Color!” send Cap for a net and my fish was vibrating on the walkway. I carried it towards the barrel, and James took out the hook and dropped it in.

Having caught a couple fish at this point, I was feeling OK. I walked over to the anchovy tank and fished one out and was going to try my hand at baiting. I grabbed it and flip! it was on the deck. I chased it around the deck and got it. Flip, it was on the loose again. I grabbed it again and managed to hook it as I’d seem Cap and DH James do. I tossed it in. Wham! Another fish! I counted and the process repeated. Cap squeezed by and said, “Come on woman—reel in that fish!” I suppressed a groin kicking reflex and channeled that energy to my rod and reel. Another 12 years later and another beefy tuna was vibrating on the deck. My rod arm was quivering, my reeling hand was tired, and my hip was sore. But I baited another anchovy, after losing it a few times back into the tank, slippery little bastards, and tossed it in the water. I had only let out a little line when Cap asked if any of us was hooked into a fish. We all said, “No,” and he told us to reel in. Sweet relief! I looked over to Dave and told him, “I was a little afraid to toss in my anchovy—I might hook into another one.” Dave said, “Ha!” and gave me a look that told me he kinda sorta wanted to pitch me into the water.

The next stop, Charley and I fished together on the port-side bow. Captain came over to check on us and as he retreated he tripped over a fixture on the deck and went flip-flops over tea kettle and I noticed he had pink toenails. He mentioned earlier that he had a kid, and I concluded that he must have a daughter. We asked if he was OK, and he laughed and said nothing was hurt but his pride and made a hasty retreat. I caught another one and lost one. While I was reeling, Chris laughed at me. Mistaking it for making fun of my fumbling and struggling, I said “Hey, no laughing!” He said, that it’s just that every time he looked over I was into another fish. Probably seemed that way because of the 12 years it took me to land the buggers.

The next one I lost and it took my hook too, so I rooted around to find another. Cap said it was probably a blue shark and made a motion to do it for me and I said, “You’re using a cinch knot right?”

“Yep,” he replied as he stayed to watch me tie my hook on.

I’ve tied hundreds of cinch knots in my life, but never has it taken me the three hours it took me that day; the thirty pound test and the captain’s watchful eye conspired to make me all thumbs. But, I got it done and went over to bait another anchovy. Captain’s voice followed me, “You know, the next person to lose a tuna will be because you tied that knot.”

Rigging my own rod, did wonders for making me feel more like a fisherman and less like a tourist. I walked over to the railing and pitched in my anchovy. I hooked a fish right away. I waited, then flipped the bail and started to reel. It was much easier this time, and felt kinda weird. Before long I could see a blue back, then the triangular pectoral and dorsal fins of a shark. How cool! I caught a shark. Cap was right, it was a shark shearing off our anchovies. It was hooked it where the pectoral fin connected to the body, right in the armpit. Again, I was stunned at how beautiful it was; its back was a rich blue and had a white belly, about two to three feet long.

Cap and DH James netted him as I fumbled to get my camera out. They unhooked it and tossed it back in the ocean. I shrugged and put my camera away. Captain realized his error and apologized. He asked if I wanted a picture with a tuna. I said sure and grabbed a random smallish one from the barrel. Having my hands full of fish, I propped my hip against the railing to keep my balance. Later, I looked at the picture and wondered at my swanky pose, then remembered I was trying to keep my feet.

We reeled in and headed off again. DH James was busy as usual, the guys rested and talked over the catch, Charley and I stayed on the back deck in James’s way, as usual. Dave handed us a Coors Light, which sounded wonderful! I took a sip and instead of the usual refreshing taste it tasted like metal. I concluded that it must be the patch I was wearing to prevent seasickness, which had also given me wicked cottonmouth. I drank my beer anyway sat on the big cooler and relished the moment. Charley and I were both tired, but decidedly happy. No nausea, we’d both caught fish, and had had a great day. We were ready to head back in, but it was only early afternoon, and there were more fish to catch.

The rods started hopping again and the boat died as we surged into action. Dave and his friend Kevin headed for the trolling rods, I waited, stretched a bit, took my time selecting a rod and baited it, picked a spot then casually tossed it in. Wham! Fish on. Chris laughed at me, I sighed. 1...2...3...4...5… While I fought my fish, following it up and down the railing, boat heaving, moving for other fishermen, I could hear Captain's voice shouting to Kevin, “Come on MAN, reel in that fish!” To which Kevin’s strangled voice replied, in excellent Scottish burr, “I’m giving her all she’s got Cap’n!” Why didn’t I think of that?!

 I landed my fish as did the guys, and Captain said we had a great haul and would troll as we headed back in. Everyone agreed. Charley and I were still out back and were tired enough to hope we wouldn’t run across another shoal, and we didn’t.

The drive back in was lovely. The day had warmed, the wildlife soared and splashed, and daily life for the people of the port churned in a way we don’t normally see. There was a huge dredging machine working, boats were coming and going. Then we were back.

Deckhand and Captain got busy unloading our fish and carting them up the ramp to the landing. DH James hung a dozen or so on a Sea Breeze Charters’ rack for photos and we had fun lining up.

Photo courtesy of Clay.

Photo courtesy of Clay.
Then the one person not in our group took his share of five fish and headed over to have it processed. Of the 33 fish, that left us with 28, 30-ish pound tuna to deal with. Twenty-eight! The two large coolers Dave brought were wildly inadequate, each held about five fish with their tails jutting out in all directions. We toyed with having them processed at the port, but ultimately decided to simply load them up and go. I ran back down to the boat to get fish bags with the Captain. He found about eight or so and loaded them up with bloody, watery ice, and we trucked them back up the ramp. The guys grabbed the bags and loaded all the fish and we were off!

Hungry and tired, we trekked back to Oysterville. We cleaned up quickly and went over to say hi to our girls who had spent the night and all of the day with their Oma and Opa.

Then the real work began. We bought all the ice on the peninsula, knives were sharpened, and fish heads rolled. Dave, Lina, and the rest of the crew chopped and filleted well into the night. Removed of their bones and heads, the 28 fish now fit comfortably into four coolers and spent the night packed in ice.

The next three days would be dedicated to processing. Two fillets per fisherman were vacuum packed and frozen, the rest was canned. Four pressure cookers steamed away as we chopped, packed, salted, cooked, and cooled.

Charley and I worked for only one day and had to leave for home. Lina and Dave, and their dwindling crew labored for another two.

For about a week my arms smelled of rancid tuna oil.

It was awesome.

What an experience.


  1. I think It is a great summer fishing trip of yours, And you all have enjoyed your days with fun and caught many big fishes. Get the best full time charter service for a week to enjoy trip and fishing.
    Charter Fishing Chicago

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. nice

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.