Presented from Issue 109, April 2014
Fishing has always been a big part of my life however, for most of it I was land based. I was content fishing from the shore for a very long time, and don’t get me wrong I still love fishing off jetties and beaches to this day. However after getting the tuna fishing bug about 5 years ago, I knew that the only way I could fish for these offshore speedsters whenever I wanted was to get my own boat.
It wasn’t till January 2013 that I finally bit the bullet, and ended up purchasing a modest 5.5m fibreglass Savage Ensign named “Mustang Sally”. After taking ownership of her I considered changing the name at some point down the track. Little did I know at this point in time that after the season I’d have with her, this name would be staying with the boat forever.
After the reports of numerous jumbo southern bluefin tuna (SBT) caught days before, during, and after the 2013 Tom Jenkins Memorial Bluefin Competition, the temptation to fish was too much. After checking the weather for the week, I applied for one day’s leave from work, and Tuesday was the day.
It started like any other day of tuna fishing off the Tasman Peninsula,…EARLY. A quick stop to pick up my crew member for the day - Daniel Vallance, and we were on our way down the Tasman Highway in darkness. We arrived at Pirates Bay boat ramp by 6:00 a.m and had all the rods in and trolling by 6:30 a.m. Our spread consisted of three 24 and two 15kg outfits with a range of pusher style skirted lures. Forecast for the day were light winds under 10 knots and bright sunny conditions. Not exactly ideal tuna weather, however Daniel reassured me that big tuna would come up in all conditions.
We made our way down the coastline, past the Lanterns and the Monument, into Munroe Bight, past Cape Pillar, and around the western side of Tasman Island. We did a few laps of the island, sweeping hard in against the shoreline and into the shadows but there were no signs of life. Hours passed, and apart from seeing a few schoolies (small SBT) busting out of the water but refusing the lures, there had been little to get excited about. We began to make our way back up the coastline, and decided that we would make a quick detour over to the Hippolyte Rocks, and if we didn’t do any good there we would call it a day.
As we approached the western face of the big rock, we noticed a few terns and gannets soaring high in the air, but they didn’t give too much away about what was happening down below. On our second pass around the eastern side of the rock just in front of the seal colony, the Tiagra 15kg combo set in the shotgun position growled into gear and began howling, as line emptied from the spool at an alarming rate. I looked at Daniel and told him to grab the rod as he was first up. However prior to our trip, our arrangement was if the strike appeared to be a jumbo I would be up, as he already had a jumbo under his belt. He hesitated for a few seconds listening to the drag screaming then shook his head and calmly said “that’s not my fish”. I reached up and pulled the rod from the rocket launcher and pushed the drag lever up to strike, which had been set at 5kg. This just appeared to enrage the fish and the run began to intensify with even more line disappearing into the ocean.
Daniel kept the boat in gear and began to clear the rest of the lures from the water. At this point our main worry was that we would draw the attention of a pack of seals sitting on the rocks just a couple hundred metres away, however for whatever reason our guardian angel was looking over us and we were left alone.
Soon after I was harnessed up and settled into what would be the longest and most exciting fights of my life. We knew the fish was big when it charged towards the boat then proceeded to overtake the boat while we were pushing along in gear.
The fish fought deep initially, but with Daniel’s exceptional skills behind the wheel, we were able to break the fish’s swimming pattern, forcing it to come closer to the surface (this was a stellar effort seeing as though this was the first time he had driven my boat, as well as the first time he had operated a boat with left-hand controls!).
Within the first 20 minutes of the fight I had the double back on the reel, however the fish was nowhere near done and suddenly surged back to the depths directly under the boat. I yanked the drag lever back to put the reel into free spool, while hanging as far over the edge of the gunnels as I dared. Meanwhile Daniel slammed the throttle into reverse, turning hard starboard in order to spin the boat away from the diving fish, and avoiding the line rubbing on the hull. Apart from having what seemed like a couple hundred litres of water pouring in over the transom, we avoided disaster on this occasion and continued with the battle. Fifteen minutes later the fish was within reach, and yet again it took another dive. At this point I was fighting the fish on sunset drag (10kg), and my legs were beginning to ache and burn. My drink bottle was near empty and I was beginning to dehydrate but I knew I had to push on. Once again due to some quick evasive action by both of us, we were able to stay connected.
An hour and ten minutes we had our third shot at the fish. As the fish came closer, with each pump of the rod I held the spool to prevent line from ticking off the reel. Slowly but surely we had the big barrel swimming gently alongside the boat. As I struggled to pull the fish closer and get the final wraps of the wind-on leader onto the reel Daniel got the boat in to position, then at the chosen moment he left the wheel to grab a gaff and prepare to take the first shot. In what seemed like an eternity with white water and gaffs flying everywhere, the fish was firmly secured at the side of the boat.
Even though at this point we were both exhausted, we somehow managed to find the strength to drag the beast into the boat. It hit the deck with a loud thud and we both collapsed on the deck. We sat in silence for a few seconds just staring at what we had landed, then came the high fives, handshakes, and photos. We could only estimate the size of the fish as being 100kg plus, but still didn’t realise the significance of a fish this size on the tackle we were using. Although we hooked up a few hundred metres east of the Hippolyte Rock, the fish had dragged us approximately seven kilometres further east by the end of the fight.
On arriving back to the boat ramp, Daniel organised a set of electronic crane scales owned by local guru and game fishing charter operator Stuart Nichols. As the fish was hoisted up from the deck of the boat and hooked onto the scales, we watched in anticipation as the numbers climbed into the three figure range, and stopped at 107.5kg. At this point I still didn’t know that it had beaten the state, national, and world 15kg SBT line class record by 1kg, nor did I care.
Catching a jumbo tuna was the holy grail of tuna fishing since I had started fishing offshore, and being able to catch it out of my own boat was everything I’d ever dreamed of.
What made this capture especially memorable for Daniel was that the lure the fish took was one made by him, and marketed as an “Eaglehawk Lure”. After the fish was weighed and more photos taken, the fish was cut up and packed into mine and Daniel’s freezers, as well as it being distributed to a few friends, family, and work colleagues. Various parts of the organs were also removed and collected by staff and students at the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS) for further research.
A few days passed and I was just settling back into reality when I got a call from Dr. Sean Tracey (Project leader at IMAS on the study of Post-release survival of southern bluefin tuna from recreational fishing) asking me if I realised that the fish I caught was a 15kg line class world record. I had already written off the chance of claiming a state or national record as my Tuna Club of Tasmania membership had expired months ago (a requirement for claiming these records).
The thought of claiming a world record hadn’t crossed my mind. After a few calls and a bit of searching on the International Game Fish Association (IGFA) website, I discovered that I did not have to be affiliated with any sort of fishing club to claim a world record. This then led to a frantic few days of filling out paper work, measurements made on a range of fishing equipment, ensuring the scales were certified, and statutory declarations written/ signed. After compiling everything and sending it off to the IGFA headquarters in Florida, we had a painstaking 6 month wait before being notified whether it was accepted.
The original owner of the 15kg line class southern bluefin tuna world record originated from a catch made by Ian Cutler on the 8th of May, 1959 with a 78.02kg SBT caught off Cape Pillar. This record was beaten 19 years later on the 10th of June, 1978 by Stanley Gibbon with a 99.99kg SBT at Tasman Island. 20 years later Jim Allen, founder of the Compleat Angler retail chain retired this record on the 11th of May, 1980 with a 106.5kg fish also caught off Tasman Island. Thirty three years later in early October 2013, I received a long awaited email from the IGFA world records coordinator Jack Vitek that my record claim had been approved.
Words could not describe the sense of achievement I felt as I saw my name and the details of the capture slotted into the records page. Never did I think I would actually catch a world record fish, as regardless of the official status, that fish already meant the world to me. After speaking to Jim Allen shortly after it was accepted, he was very supportive and pleased that his record had finally been broken. It was also interesting hearing the details surrounding his capture and how the whole fight played out. In this current age with fishing boats, tackle, and electronics constantly evolving to becoming more resilient, efficient, and overall more powerful, I would be surprised if this record lasts even half as long as Jim’s.
However when the day comes for an angler who manages to land an even bigger SBT on 15kg, either by pursuing the record or by accident, I would gladly congratulate them, as I know how much joy it brought me. My only hope is for the record to stay in Tasmanian waters, and illustrate how lucky we all are to have a world class game fishery on our door step.
Fishing for a world record
One advantage of claiming world records is that any angler can do it, and being affiliated with a fishing club is not a requirement. I’d better clarify first off that I have never been nor am I currently a record chaser. Fishing for me has always been a pastime that allows me to relax and get away from the stresses of life, and having to follow set rules and regulations just didn’t appeal to me. However, since starting game fishing and joining GFAA affiliated fishing clubs I realised that it wasn’t quite as bad as I’d thought. Being able to crew with friends who took the sport very seriously (you guys know who you are), spent hours of preparation, and were meticulous with using quality fishing gear as well as the rigging of all tackle, illustrated that these were key elements in being successful. If you are chasing a particular record, the preparation stage is taken to an extra level, in that you need to know what your target is (i.e. the particular sized fish needed to beat a particular line class or all tackle record!), and if you are lucky enough to hook and land this fish; how to make it count.
On the other hand, many people (including me) may not be interested in a particular record, but want to put the odds in our favour if that one particular fish jumps on the line. An example of this scenario could be an angler who fishes every year for tuna (or any species for that matter) has only 15kg outfits and does not own any lighter/heavier gear. He/she manages to hook a jumbo SBT or yellowfin tuna, and is eligible to submit a claim to the IGFA, they want to give themselves the best chance of it getting accepted. You constantly hear of stories in social and mainstream media where world record fish are caught, however due to ignorance, inexperience, and/or a lack of familiarity with the associated IGFA regulations, they are rejected. In many cases these fish never even reach the submission process as the anglers don’t realise the significance of their catch.
Realistically I will probably never come across another fish which will qualify as a world record, especially without having a particular target in mind. Nevertheless all my gear and fishing techniques still adhere to IGFA regulations just in case that fish comes along again!
The points listed below were just a few factors which helped me hook, land, and claim my record fish. Not only do these apply to record chasing and opportunistic anglers, but they can also assist any angler to gain a more consistent and successful catch rate.
Game fishing is a team effort- ideally you want one person driving, one person fishing, and another person gaffing/tracing. Ensure that all of your crew know that they have a role to play.
Use quality gear and check for any signs of wear routinely- the last thing you want when fighting a fish of a lifetime is to lose it from gear failure
Fish by IGFA regulations- this can be found on the IGFA website and isn’t as hard as it looks. Once you get used to fishing to these standards it becomes second nature.
Don’t share the rod once hooked up- this comes under a specific section of the IGFA regulations which goes into more detail than this.
Avoid seals at all costs- obviously this is easier said than done, but there are a few tricks which can assist you in landing your fish unscathed. Turning your ratchet off when you hook up, continuing to drive forwards once hooked up, and free-spooling the reel if a seal is on your fish can all assist you in landing your prize without bite marks. The minute a seal bites your fish, it is instantly disqualified from any sort of record claim. This also comes under a specific section of the IGFA regulations which goes into more detail on fish mutilation.
If you think you may have caught a record fish but you are unsure, take immediate action in contacting an IGFA representative or a knowledgeable member of a fishing club to confirm whether it is. There are time limits for claims which start from the time you have caught the fish, and you would want the associated photos, fish lengths, weight, and gear measurements to be taken ASAP before the fish gets cleaned and discarded.
Lastly, when the fish are biting get out there ASAP- tuna can be very unpredictable, one day they are on, the next they are either off the bite or they’re gone. This season has already started with a bang with multiple jumbos, school SBT, and big albacore caught, so start planning a trip and get amongst them!
World Record angler Jonah Yick and Daniel Vallance pose with their catch
The ‘Eaglehawk’ lure made by Vallance that took the record