Special Outpost Report August 20’th ~ Tuna: The Bluewater Brotherhood by Don Wells
August 20, 2014 | 3814 Views
In the early morning hours of August 14 an intrepid group of eight Outpost anglers and four guides set out in search of schools of Albacore Tuna that a friendly commercial boat captain had advised were within striking distance of Port Louis. The West Coast Fishing Club’s resident scribe, Deepwater Don Wells, was part of this renegade high seas adventure, and provided the following account.
The Bluewater Brotherhood
First off, let me say thank you to Captain Gord, whoever and wherever you are, for alerting the good folks at The Outpost to the presence of Albacore Tuna some 16 miles out from Port Louis. I hope you are reading this and know what you enabled and abetted, and that you are enjoying the beer we insisted you receive in return. Ditto to you Mike Panz (former Outpost guide) for cooking up this whole idea of Tuna fishing back in 2011, and to your little brother Myles, who led our gang of modern-day privateers to brave the curses of commercial captains and cruise the seas for Albacore gold.
Thanks to you fine men, we had an adventure far beyond our wildest imaginations, and there were some truly wild imaginations among those who took part. The voluntary castaways consisted of yours truly and a couple of high school chums. Riptide Rob and I teamed up in boat three with Big Carl at the helm. Bluewater Bernie and his son J-Hook Josh were aboard Sam’s boat, while guide Andrew had the rare pleasure of guiding his big brother Joey and three of his pals from Victoria, with Myles handling the fourth boat and leading the hunt.
Five miles out we try to raise Captain Gord on the radio, to no avail. We are not discouraged though, as Myles has for days been carefully plotting the location via the internet of a north-south line where cold coastal waters meet warmer offshore waters. It is along this line, which often moves very close to BC shores in the late summer months, where Tuna are known to congregate in large schools, typically feeding on small squid. For this reason, we are armed with oversized hoochies of various colors to tempt the torpedo-shaped Tuna, trolled with Halibut rigs at up to 10 miles an hour near the surface of blue water that plunges to depths of over 6000 feet.
Ten miles out we try Captain Gord again but he’s still not answering. A couple of miles further, we catch sight of a commercial trawler. It’s not Captain Gord but we boot ass toward it anyway like a crazed band of Somali pirates. As we close in Myles tries the captain to see if he’s willing to disclose what he is after. There is nothing but silence on the radio, which we interpret as a sign that he’s not happy to have interlopers potentially stealing fish. We drop lines in the general vicinity of the commercial vessel, keeping careful watch for his high speed movements, sensing he is not about to give way to anybody.
With four lines behind each boat, we fan out a couple hundred metres apart and begin combing a molecular-sized portion of the vast North Pacific. For thirty minutes there is nothing. I begin to think about a similar attempt undertaken a year earlier by The Outpost gang, and how it had been fruitless. But then I recall seeing the photos from 2011, when the senior Panz brother led the inaugural quest that yielded serious tonnage. Too soon, I decide, to give in to boredom or be discouraged. Besides, it’s an amazing feeling to be beyond the boundary of the territorial sea on a sunny day and calm seas.
Suddenly everything changed.
“Fish! Fish!” Riptide yells from a bow chair, pointing to a rear rod that is bent in half and screaming out line. Carl jumps on it and lets out a whoop that I am sure can be heard on the streets of Masset. I grab the radio and tell the group that we have a strike on boat three. “Take it!” Carl says. The fish is incredibly strong, and I remind myself to not loosen my grip on the Hali rig. Carl gets on the radio and feeds intelligence on the strike to the other boats. “But we don’t know for sure yet if this is a Tuna!” I yell to him. “It’s a Tuna!” he hollers back, and lets out another Neanderthal whoop.
I should perhaps explain some things about Carl. He is the most enthusiastic fisherman I have ever met. He is also a salt-water master, which is kind of unusual given that he is an Ontario boy who cut his teeth on the Great Lakes and rivers in eastern and Atlantic Canada. He is, one could say, the Tiger Woods of his trade: deadly serious and focused when the quest is uncertain, and pumping it big-time when he gets things right. A graduate of Dalhousie University in geology and environmental sciences, he could probably have landed a good job in the energy or mining sector, but he appears unable to resist the lure of these waters. Best of all, he is a nice guy, and it’s great fun to see him so jacked up on being part of the group to crack the code on these magnificent fish. A minute or two after we board the first Tuna, one of the other boats – Myles’ I think – reports they too have a fish on.
It’s encouraging, but still not the pandemonium that had been described to us, when all four rods go off as the boat encounters a large school of aggressively feeding Tuna ranging in size from 15 to as much as 40 pounds. Ten minutes later, it happens – bang, bang, bang, bang. Words fail to describe the kind of excitement and hilarity that ensues in the following minutes. Andrew and Myles’ boats are into them too, and as we cross paths we can see and feel the brotherly love that materializes during these kinds of things. Surely this must be what it’s like to win a Stanley Cup.
But with only two fish on board his boat, Sam is not as jubilant as his colleagues. Sam is a law student at the University of Victoria with a competitive streak that is vital to professional fishing guides. With seven Haida Gwaii summers under his belt, he is not happy to be trailing the pack, but correctly deduces that it is the color of the hoochies that is the problem. It is at this moment that we witness the cohesiveness and all-for-one culture that define this outstanding guide team. One of the other boats tosses an airtight lunch cooler overboard containing the green colored hoochies that Sam has requested. Within seconds he swoops in and nets the floating cooler, and it is immediately game on for J-Hook and his dad. Sam has even resorted to throwing a hand line out back with a diving board on it, which J-Hook soon hand bombs in with a gnarly thrashing Tuna on the business end.
As each fish is caught on our boat, Carl immediately guts it, stuffs ice into the body cavity and buries the fish into an ice-filled cooler. As he works feverishly to preserve the fish, Riptide drives the boat and I reset the lines. In spite of an extraordinary penchant for tall mixed drinks on the part of several members of our entourage, The Outpost ice machines have belched out just enough ice to fill the giant coolers on each boat. But the inevitable news soon arrives that we are all running out of room and ice to safely store more fish. Reluctantly we tell Carl that it might be best of we call it a morning. He is crestfallen. “One more pass?” To say no would be like telling a kid he can’t ride the roller coaster. “OK, one more pass.”
The return run is spectacular. The sun is high in the sky with only a hint of mist hanging on the distant shoulders of Graham Island. It is rare that one has such a vantage point of the iconic vistas of mystical Haida Gwaii. Even Riptide, who had to be coerced into joining us, is now satisfied that the decision had been a good one. As we approach the dock, some of the other staff can be seen running down the stairs to greet us, having heard on the radio that we had struck it rich. We felt like mighty hunters returning with ample food for our entire village.
By the time the last boat arrived, a total of 55 Tuna had hit the docks. After photos and many high-fives, the guide team began the surgical work to remove pristine loins, four from each fish. Out of respect to these amiable experts, we agree to take only a portion of the bounty, leaving almost half to the all-star Outpost staff, plus a couple for other guests who were content to carry on with non-stop Salmon action that we had all enjoyed in previous days. While Carl, Myles, Andrew and Sam work well into the night to clean the fish, we feel a tinge of guilt tucking into the best sashimi we will ever eat.
And somewhere in the middle of quaffing cold beer and plates of sashimi, we raise a glass to Captain Gord for tipping us off, to brothers Mike and Myles Panz for pioneering Tuna fishing at The Outpost, and to the Creator, whoever and whatever she may be.
For a day we will never forget, we are far beyond grateful.