Martin Bowler gets more than he bar­gained for on a sea fish­ing ad­ven­ture

I join bat­tle with a truly ma­jes­tic At­lantic Ocean preda­tor


“A crea­ture of im­mense pro­por­tions, in­tent on de­vour­ing the shim­mer­ing prey fish”

THE first sign of life was a white streak on the hori­zon, barely vis­i­ble to the naked eye. But ever-vig­i­lant skip­per Adrian Mol­loy, con­stantly scan­ning Done­gal Bay, picked up on it.

He im­me­di­ately set the boat on a course to the dis­tur­bance a mile away, and soon a sin­gle gan­net grew to a flock, pep­per­ing the waves with their re­peated dives.

Kit­ti­wakes, too, danced above the wa­ter turned a vivid shade of jade by the dis­tur­bances above and be­low. De­spite the At­lantic swell, a slick spread for a hun­dred yards and a thick oily smell over­laid the salt spray.

A vast shoal of saury had been cor­ralled into a bait ball, pushed sky­wards and within div­ing range of the ever-vig­i­lant seabirds. Be­hind us, three rods trolled a team of squid teasers on spreader bars, and be­hind each one an armed squid lure trailed marginally deeper in the wa­ter.

Adrian ex­pertly checked our course

o en­sure the lures fol­low­ing in our wake were not di­rectly be­hind the boat, but to one side of it. Draw­ing ever closer, we could see he frothy white wa­ter 10ft be­low us had been cre­ated by hun­dreds of preda­tory birds over­come by their ust to feed and ea­gerly search­ing out he next mouth­ful. Sud­denly saury sprayed ev­ery­where, their only op­tion be­ing o leave the sea. The source of ter­ror was a fish of im­mense pro­por­tions, mouth agape, and in­tent on de­vour­ing he shim­mer­ing prey fish. Up went a shout of ‘Tuna!’ and sud­denly they were all around us, mack­erel-like mon­sters the size of a sin­gle bed. In awe of what I was wit­ness­ing I let my fo­cus on the rods slip – that was un­til the clip on the out­rig­ger hold­ing the line away from he boat smashed open. I spun round to see the rod twist 180 de­grees stern­wards and the 150lb line wrench over a length of car­bon you could barely bend in your hands.

The drag was set to yield only once the hook had pulled into the bony mouth, but when it did all hell broke loose. The wa­ter be­low ex­ploded like a depth charge and the drag screamed with Ban­shee in­ten­sity.

Adrian, a sea­soned vet­eran of such ti­tanic tus­sles, im­me­di­ately shouted for the re­main­ing two lines to be brought in, as we were now con­nected to the largest, fastest tuna in the At­lantic – a bluefin.

My com­pan­ions Jacko and Paddy fol­lowed Adrian’s in­struc­tions while I made my way to the fight­ing chair. Lots had been drawn and I was to be the one to take on the beast.

Mean­while the rod with the tunny on re­mained in the gun­nel and line con­tin­ued to spew from the spool at an in­cred­i­ble rate – I would have to re­gain ev­ery inch to have any chance of bring­ing my prize to the boat.

At least 150 yards away the tuna’s fins had been re­tracted into its body, mak­ing it as stream­lined as a bul­let and now mov­ing with all the ac­cel­er­a­tion of a Fer­rari.

I have seen many huge fish around the Bri­tish Isles but none come close to match­ing a bluefin’s awe­some power. All the more amaz­ing, this scene was pan­ning out very close to the north-west coast of Ire­land where the At­lantic comes to a full stop.

This wasn’t a fluke of global warm­ing, but ev­ery­thing to do with leg­is­la­tion in the Mediter­ranean, where at last con­trols have been put on the whole­sale slaugh­ter that for years has been dec­i­mat­ing one of the great­est mi­gra­tions on Earth. Now we can wit­ness a global jour­ney that has been hap­pen­ing since time im­memo­rial. Tuna in their thou­sands are be­ing spot­ted from Corn­wall to Wales, and now off Ire­land too.

Why would any­one want to play a fish that strains ev­ery mus­cle, tests your back to break­ing point and blis­ters your hands? Ev­ery yard of line

re­gained is a labour of love and sweat.

Strapped into the fight­ing chair, I strove to keep the line tight to stop the hook fall­ing out – easy enough when a tuna charges away. The fu­ri­ous fish pulled me off the seat and pressed my boots hard on to the foot rest, with only the drag sav­ing me from wa­ter ski­ing. The real fun be­gins when the tuna charges back to­wards the boat, which might seem like the time to gain line with ease. Yes, it comes back on to the spool fast enough, but at the cost of a burn­ing up­per arm filled with lac­tic acid.

Do this three times and your en­ergy is spent, so lit­tle won­der that three-quar­ters of an hour into the bat­tle the right side of my body was al­ready numb.

Be­low, the tuna was also fight­ing fa­tigue and try­ing a new tac­tic to rid it­self of me – pin­wheel­ing.

Spin­ning round in cir­cles had re­placed the surges of power and it was now a war of at­tri­tion. Hy­poxia was tak­ing its toll on the tuna as oxy­gen drained from its mus­cle tis­sue, and as for me…

The mo­ment when the wa­ter lit up with hun­dreds of pounds of metal-flanked fish was only 10 min­utes away, but it seemed like a life­time of toil. Then, re­lieved and ex­cited, Adrian grabbed the trace and guided the mon­ster to the boat to tag and re­lease.

Jelly-legged, I stum­bled over to the rail­ing and looked down on some­thing sim­ply mag­nif­i­cent.

Tuna are a pro­tected species, and there was no time to waste to en­sure its safe re­turn, but then it be­came clear that mine wasn’t the only hook in its mouth.

A Span­ish long­liner’s hook was also in its jaw and, worse still, line was tan­gled around its tail. Be­ing sport fish­er­men, our con­cern meant that for once the tuna came on board through a chute at the back to be freed from its snare.

The fish was so big that it was all the four men on board could do to haul it in. And once out of the wa­ter an in­cred­i­ble meta­mor­pho­sis took place.

The tuna seemed to dou­ble in size, and while I crouched with a hosepipe in its mouth to keep it fit and healthy its colours were no longer tem­pered by the sea. Its back was indigo blue, merg­ing into cobalt in the same way diesel spreads across a dark puddle.

Shades of teal blue edged a 96ins-long ti­ta­nium body of around 500lb, and the fin­lets were a vivid lemon yel­low.

The head was sur­real, a ro­bot sculpted from metal.

I was in awe of the fight, and now of the fish it­self. Our time was short but pre­cious, our prize a sight for sore eyes.

Back in the wa­ter, our wild hunter was free once more to roam the At­lantic, and long may she live.

Strapped into the fight­ing chair mus­cles aching as the bat­tle draws on.

The At­lantic coast of Ire­land – next land­fall is the United States! A giant game fish­ing mul­ti­plier, geared to ‘strike’ mode. fish... Squid teasers at­tract the ...and this lure makes a hook-up. aching as the bat­tle draws on. prey fish. first clue to shoals of saury Feed­ing seabirds give the

Trolling – no won­der the rods are se­cured! I hose wa­ter into the tuna’s mouth to keep it healthy.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.