Bluefin tuna creates 8.5-hour fishing adventure
Trio of young friends finish exhausting fight against fish of a lifetime off San Diego coast
From left: Joseph Aunders, Zach Zorn and Seth DuBois show off a 240.2-pound bluefin tuna Monday at Balboa Angling Club at Newport Marina in Newport Beach. They hooked into the fish 50 miles west of San Diego and fought it for eight and a half hours
The moment line began to scream and rip off the reel last Sunday, Zach Zorn, Seth DuBois and Joseph Aunders could in no way fathom the adventure in bloom, so many fathoms down.
Understandable, really, when the thing on the other end of the line is the size of Chargers inside linebacker Denzel Perryman. Understandable, too, when the fish muscling into the fight is determined to drag your 22-foot bay boat nearly 15 miles over the next eight-and-a-half hours — or roughly the distance from Petco Park to La Jolla Cove.
This bluefin tuna was … a brute.
“We were thinking two or three hours,” said Zorn, of Carlsbad. “Four max.”
The trio of friends — 21-year-old Zorn and the 18-year-olds from Orange — hooked into an unforgettable tuna tussle near a spot known as “The 43,” a bank about 50 miles west of San Diego.
Two days earlier, Zorn and DuBois boated a 136-pounder in the same area after more than three and a half hours. This time, the deep-blue scuffle carried into the night, flirted with the size of California’s state record and pulled in the Coast Guard for good storytelling measure.
“Exhausted is the right word,” DuBois said. “But also excited out of our minds. To get it into the boat was a triumph, more than anything.”
The tuna chomped a slow-trolled mackerel on 80-pound line, a 130-pound fluorocarbon leader and a triple strength circle hook. The head-shaking part: They landed the fish — which ultimately weighed in at 240.2 pounds — in a boat with no railing for leverage, no back brace, no harness.
The catch amounted to a group of buddies, handing off the rod in shifts, hour after hour after hour.
“That boat’s meant to be used for bass in the bay or along the shore on kelp beds,” Zorn said. “They’re not designed to go 50 miles off shore and catch a couple-hundred-pounds fish.
“You have to basically peel your fingers off the rod to hand it to the next guy because you’re holding on so tight.”
The boat returned to the Balboa Angling Club in Newport Beach at 11:30 p.m., long after it had closed. The gassed guys were forced to wait until Monday morning to discover the fish’s weight.
Mindy Martin, Balboa’s secretary who verified the tuna, pulled out a one-liner from her days fishing on the East Coast.
“I said, ‘Did you guys go on a Nantucket Sleigh Ride?’ ” Martin joked. “They were so happy and so tired.”
This isn’t a story of young guys putting themselves in a dangerous, irresponsible situation. Quite the opposite, in fact. They stayed in contact with many, including the Pacific Pioneer.
When the tuna hit the deck, they contacted the Coast Guard before motoring back — agreeing to a plan of 30-minute radio checks until reaching the harbor.
“It’s insane,” said Kyle Dickerson, captain of Newport Beach’s Pacific Pioneer, which bobbed about 200 yards away when the guys hooked up around noon. “At their age, I don’t think I’d do what they were doing. It’s impressive to watch.
“To tell you now good these kids are, they called the Coast Guard to let them know their situation. Most kids would say screw it. If there were more out there like them, our fishing future would be in a great shape.”
The behemoth neared the state record of 243 pounds, 11 ounces caught in 1990, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Experts estimated the gaffs and stay in an iced-down “kill bag” likely cost the tuna 15 or more pounds overnight.
So, the big one was even bigger the night before. The fish could not be considered a record, though, because it was boated by more than one angler.
Steve Crooke, a retired 38-year veteran of the state's fish and wildlife department, said he recalled a fisherman bringing a bluefin that topped more than 360 pounds to Balboa in 1983. Some records simply fail to reach the books.
“There are a lot of world records that have been eaten,” said Crooke, with a chuckle. “Sometimes people don’t turn them in. That’s quite a fish, though. That’s a great memory for those guys.”
The tuna was landed on a rod manufactured by Cousins Tackle, founded in 2012 in Huntington Beach. Will Derrick, a company spokesman, said the bluefin is the biggest recorded on one of their rods in U.S. waters.
No matter how you measure it, the guys grunted and strained their way to the story of a lifetime. They planned to return this weekend, though. After all, ambitious minds reasoned, the big one’s waiting.
Scratch that. The next big one.