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.