Pacific Ocean: Albacore Tuna!
Greetings once again from the U.S.A. In one of my articles, I briefly mentioned the thrill of sport fishing for the spectacular Albacore Tuna in the Pacific Ocean, off the mouth of the Columbia River. In August last year, I received a phone call from a friend and local fishing guide Andy Betnar, asking if I was interested in a Tuna trip. Never experiencing this fish before, I could not decline the offer.
The forecast for the ocean conditions were to be 1’ – 2’ swells at 10-second intervals. You simply cannot ask for a better ocean than that!
We were meeting at the boat landing at 3:00 a.m., we packed coolers with several bags of ice, packed extra cans of fuel for the long run out to the tuna grounds, and some food and drink — they (Tuna) are reported to be out around 25 miles Andy informed us!
There were a total of four of us going on this particular day. We departed the dock at approx. 3:30 a.m. and it was a 14-mile run to the Columbia River entrance, where the Columbia meets the Pacific Ocean. We are in a 28’ Aluminum Sled (guide boat), and it is pitch dark, navigating by GPS only, with no radar we were running at 25 – 30 mph. That made me a bit uneasy so I decided to put on my life jacket as a precaution. There would be no time to react should we hit a floating obstacle such as a log, or other debris at this speed in the total darkness!
We crossed the Columbia River bar at nearly full speed. It was the smoothest bar crossing I had ever experienced, as there is usually a 4’ – 6’ swell at a minimum for a mile or two through the transition to the ocean. It was not even apparent we were crossing the bar except for the GPS indicating our location. A bit more than an hour after our departure, the sunlight was starting to show in the eastern sky. We were 17 miles out from the rivers entrance, still running in search of warmer waters that held the tuna. The Ocean as predicted was glass smooth, similar to a lake on a calm day! Water temperatures were creeping up as we put miles between the shore and us.
The mornings light was enough to us to start to narrow our search for fish. We were about 26 miles out now ant the water temperatures were 72 – 73 degrees, adequate for holding the fish we were in search of! We had passed the line they refer to as “blue water”. It is a distinct difference in the water visibility. The inshore water is more cloudy and visibility of a few feet. When you look into the blue water, you can see clearly 80 – 100 feet as if you were looking into a mirror. As we would find out later, you could actually see your lure 60+ feet below the surface and you can watch the fish circle and grab the jig- Quite spectacular to witness! We slowed our speed a bit and began to discuss the technique. This being new to me, I sat quietly taking it all in and watching the others, to learn as quickly as I could. Captain Andy explained, we would spot a pod of jumpers (tuna, jumping at the surface) and you should call out the direction and the distance to the group of fish. We would motor to them on a full plain, and kill the engines when we were a few yards from them, we would coast into the pod and begin casting / jigging, letting our lead jigs flutter or freefall between the jigging actions. The freefall is when the fish will take it!
Suddenly a call out from one of the guys, “Jumpers” “ at 2:00 o’clock, 300 yards”—Andy says get your poles ready guys, as he hits the throttle in the direction of the fish which appeared to be 50 – 60 fish in a 60 -80 foot radius jumping wildly as they feasted on some sort of baitfish in the water. The engine stopped as we approached casting range, and the guys began casting into the pod of fish- “Fish on”, a double as another one yelled out! Get your line in the water Dale, Andy hollered, as I was still observing as the lines began screaming off the reels – I casted my line and it seemed like an eternity as I was fearful I was doing something incorrectly, as the others were still fighting there fish. In actuality, it was likely only a minute or two before
I felt the first fish snatch my jig and make the initial run – Fish on, I let out! Whew, there was no slowing this fish; it was smoking line off the reel, as I had never seen! We are using 30 lb test and fairly light gear, but the fish seemed like a bullet moving through the water. I finally got him turned around and started putting some line back on the reel! The others in the mean time had boated there fish, 15 – 20 lb’ers and were back in the water for more. I landed my fish and it was a nice 20 pounder. As quickly as the action started, it quit! Andy said, “They sounded off” meaning they let out a warning alarm to the other fish and the bite is off!
We resumed our pursuit for another pod of jumpers. It was about 15 – 20 minutes when we spotted another pod. We only boated two fish before they sounded off this time.
Back to the search… An 8-foot shark was circling the boat, when one of the others asked Andy to stop the boat. He grabbed his pole and casted in front of the large shark. A fraction of a second the water around the fish swirled and the pole doubled over, fish on…. We fought this fish for about 20- 30 minutes, before it broke the line.
‘lets get back to business” Andy exclaimed! It was sparse between pods, so we decide to make a big move further west! We ran another 5 – 7 miles when we spotted a good size pod of jumpers. We repeated the approach and in a matter of seconds, we had four fish on at the same time. We boated another 6 – 7 fish and put some of the fish in the coolers on ice. Still it was not for what we were hoping for after the first few hours of fishing. We made another move, a few miles to the southwest. We began getting into more fish, the action was improving and the fish were getting easier to find.
We are now over 35 miles offshore and we refueled the tank with the extra cans of fuel we had brought along.
We took a short break for lunch and we were back to fishing. We would have nearly a two hour return trip to the dock and the time needed of cleaning fish once we arrived. We fished a couple more hours and ended up with 45 fish between the four of us! We made our way towards land, as I was reflecting on the day’s events. An incredible day of fishing. A new experience and a very successful end to a trip that started out seemingly slow in terms of action! By 5 p.m., we were back to the dock. The others began cleaning fish while I cleaned the boat and gear and put things away. The last fish were being cleaned just as it was turning to dusk! It had been a long day. We would be enjoying a Tuna BBQ for dinner tonight. A recipe that has become one of my personal favorites. Tomorrow would be spent canning tuna.
I am cherishing the last couple of packages of tuna steaks in the freezer in hopes I can get another trip out this year in the coming weeks!
We are so blessed to live in these parts of the world, which has so much to offer for the avid sportsman. I hope I never take this place for granted! A few days ago, my wife Julie and I were walking along the waterfront on the river for an evening walk, when we met some folks traveling from British Columbia, Canada. We were talking about the area and some of the things that it has to offer, and they put it in perspective when they said, “waking up here day after day must be like winning the lottery every single day”. It truly is an amazing place.
Until next time!