Monday, September 17, 2007

Tagging Giants Down Under - #6 - 5 more Giants!

TAG scientist George Shillinger is back from his incredibly successful tagging expedition in New Zealand and is ready to share his adventures. Below is the sixth entry in his seven-part series .

After our extremely successful 24 hour tagging trip, we headed to Westport to drop off the 4Gs and pick up the two passengers for the next charter – father and son team of Owen and Trevor Hart.

By mid-afternoon, we were underway again --- heading South following reports of giant tuna occurring en route to Greymouth. The weather had taken a tuna for the worse and another low pressure front had closed in on the South Island. Heavy rains poured down upon us as we raced through increasing winds and swells to the fishing grounds. Shortly before midnight, about 40 miles south of Westport, Captain Larry picked up some marks on the sonar that suggested bluefin were in the vicinity.

Without a trawler nearby to draw the fish to the surface, we began chunking hoki bait in an attempt to bring the tuna to our boat.

Within seconds we had a fish on – but after a gallant fight in the driving rain, the fish was lost at the leader when the hook pulled out. This was the first fish that we’d lost on the trip – and it was followed in quick succession by another giant tuna that snapped the leader as it approached the rail.

We tagged our first fish (~ 260 kg) of the second charter after a 65 min battle at 1:40 a.m. Adrain wired the fish beautifully (caught by Trevor) and it came up alongside the boat for a perfect tag strike. The father and son team fished non-stop for the next 10 hours --- catching and releasing three more tuna, including a huge fish that Captain Larry estimated to weigh over 350 kg!

Our final fish was a 300+ kg beauty that was caught by Captain Larry in 30 minutes on a hand line (tossed on the starboard side of a hoki trawler that was swarming with big fish) with a hoki-baited circle hook.

Tagging Giants Down Under - #5 - 400+ kg!

TAG scientist George Shillinger is back from his incredibly successful tagging expedition in New Zealand and is ready to share his adventures. Below is the fifth entry in his seven-part series.

Within less than twelve hours, the Greymouth Gourmet Guzzlers Group (4Gs) had caught and released four giant tuna. After exchanging salutations with a Kiwi observer standing on the deck of a Russian trawler, we were alerted to the nearby presence of a school of giant tuna.

The tuna were gathered in numbers at the trawler’s stern. They moved wraithlike through the water in pursuit of detritus and waste that spilled from the ship’s onboard fish processing plant. Our jaws dropped in awe, as we watched one tuna after another rising to the surface, flashing momentarily, and then disappearing in unison under the passing swells.

Adrian and Josh worked quickly to rig a giant hoki bait and Captain Larry found position alongside the trawler, aiming the Cerveza 2 so that she would pass within meters of the cod end of the bag. The bait hit the water, swung past the trawler’s stern, and fell into our boat wake. Within seconds the bouncing hoki was slammed by a monster tuna.

But it was a short bite --- the tuna spit the hook, and left us with jaws agape. In frustration (and anticipation, we raced back to the trawler to throw another hoki into the water. Within seconds another giant tuna slammed the bait – fish on! Line screamed off the reel and the pole bent nearly double as the fish took off on a scorching run!

Nearly 2.5 hours later, at approximately 12:17 p.m. a.m. on August 18, 2007, Mike Trousleau “landed” into the biggest tuna that Captain Larry Johnson and his crew had ever seen. As the fish came to the rail, the anglers, captain, and crew were confronted with the decision to either “land and carry” or “tag and release” a potential world record fish. The decision was simple and unanimous. We were not about to miss the opportunity to tag this beautiful bluefin!

Wireman, Adrian Stokes, masterfully restrained the giant fish alongside the boat and lined it up perfectly for me to make the tag stick. I aimed the dart for a spot just in front (2”) and below (3”) the leading edge of the tuna’s second dorsal fin and moved quickly to avoid crossing paths with Adrian and the mighty fish.

With the tag safely deployed, deckie Josh Worthington bravely leaned over the rail to capture a DNA sample. As Adrain clung to the wire, Josh grasped the tuna’s right pectoral fin with his left hand and successfully clipped the fin. We had a sample for the biggest New Zealand bluefin on record!

We released the big bluefin seconds later and watched it drift back for a moment behind the boat, before turning and righting itself with several strong tail thrusts – diving into the depths with the tag in tow.

Although excitement was in the air, it seemed that the bluefin fared better from the battle than fisherman, Mike Trusleau. That said, we established that Mike was a legend for this display of fishing prowess but, more importantly, we were thankful to Mike and his friends from the 4Gs for their commitment to “catch-tag-release!”

Tagging Giants Down Under - #4 - Tags Out!

TAG scientist George Shillinger is back from his incredibly successful tagging expedition in New Zealand and is ready to share his adventures. Below is the fourth entry in his seven-part series.

The scream of the reel and the flex in the rod sent our adrenaline levels soaring. Mike Truseleau, the first angler in the chair, could only hold the rod and watch in amazement as the fish took off on a scorching run. Seventy minutes and two anglers later (Kevin Beems joined the fight) the fish was flashing below us. A short but interminable leader’s length was all that remained to bring the fish into tagging distance….

With Captain Larry at the helm and deckhand, Josh Worthington, manning the chair, our ace wireman, Adrian Stokes, seized the leader and masterfully brought the tuna to the rail.

The fish was gorgeous! She appeared every bit of 250 kilos! As Adrian struggled to bring the fish to the surface, I worked to find the best possible tagging angle. Over-the-side tagging on no sleep, in a rocking boat in big swells in the pre-dawn darkness is no easy feat. The tuna rolled in the boat wake and fought vigorously at the leader, requiring me to constantly change my approach and position – searching for the best possible stick while simultaneously staying clear of the wireman and the tight line!

At last, persistence and patience paid off and the perfect tagging moment arrived! Adrian positioned the fish at the surface on its left side as Captain Larry slowly advanced the boat, allowing water and oxygen to flow freely over the tuna’s gills. I planted the tag deep into the tuna’s dorsal musculature on its right flank, approximately three inches below the leading edge of its second dorsal fin.

During the course of the next four hours, we tagged and released three more giant Pacific bluefin. Each of the Greymouth Guzzlers (4Gs) took a turn in the chair and the bluefin bite stayed white-hot!

Ian (Beau) Boustridge “landed” the second fish at 7:15 a.m. – a beauty that Captain Larry estimated to weigh 280 kilos. Josh bravely volunteered to assist with DNA collection and as Adrian held the wire, Josh took a clipping from the giant’s pectoral fin. Collection of the DNA from the tagged fish proved extremely difficult during last year’s tagging and Josh’s effort represented our first specimen from a tagged NZBFT!

The next fish, the largest yet --- was an estimated 330 kilo behemoth, caught and released by Greymouth dentist, Dr. Garry Rae. While fighting the tuna, Garry quipped that “his friends would probably pay to finally see the dentist suffering in the chair.”

The fishing was so good and so non-stop, that the boat’s owner, Dave Wooff, took his turn in the chair too. Dave promptly hooked up with another giant – and within 45 min, the 4th fish of the morning had been tagged and released!

The fishing off Westport was “off-the-hook.” The fishing reports of monster tuna had been validated and the long wait in Greymouth had been worth every minute. Captain Larry and his crew were making sure that we took full advantage of our limited weather window. We were building an amazing dataset and we were determined to finish the job. Sportfishers off New Zealand’s West Coast were shattering records for giant Pacific bluefin tuna. We were determined to tag more of these fish and to collect as much DNA as possible.

Tagging Giants Down Under - #3 - Fish On!

TAG scientist George Shillinger is back from his incredibly successful tagging expedition in New Zealand and is ready to share his adventures. Below is the third entry in his seven-part series.

The excitement mounted as we pulled within earshot of the trawler. The stern of the trawler was illuminated in bright lights. The silhouettes of hundreds of seabirds mobbed the trawler’s stern and danced around the incoming net. Even as thousands of kilos of dead and dying hoki rolled into trawler, the sea was alive around the boat. A cacophony of seabirds pierced the night sky, overwhelming the din of the trawler’s gear and the sound of our own engines as we approached the scene. In the water, seals darted around the net, scooping up fish from the net and fish-processing offal spilling from the trawler’s scuppers. The photo above shows a tuna feeding on hoki at the bag (left corner of bag).

Captain Larry positioned Creveza alongside the trawler, so close that we could see the faces of the men working the trawl net high on the port side above us.

As we drifted and swung off the trawler’s stern and past the incoming net, Adrian flung the hoki bait into the current. We were hooked up in seconds – fish on (photo above)!!!!

Tagging Giants Down Under - #2 - On the Grounds at Last!

TAG scientist George Shillinger is back from his incredibly successful tagging expedition in New Zealand and is ready to share his adventures. Below is the second entry in his seven-part series.

Sixty miles from Greymouth and two false alarms later, we were chasing hoki trawlers off Westport (photo above). Our sleepless and hard-working crew was ready with the bait --- large specimens of thawing hoki attached dangling from jumbo circle hooks (photo above).

Captain Larry was adamant about the importance of fishing with the best possible gear and terminal tackle. We were armed with Shimano Tiagra 130A reels, rigged with 130 lb line and 650 lb leader, on Shimano Tiagra bent butt rods.

The crew, Adrian Stokes (First Mate and wireman) and Josh Worthington (deckhand) worked intensively to insure that all leaders and knots were tied properly and that terminal tackle was in the best possible condition before the gear entered the water.

Tagging Giants Down Under - #1 - The Search Begins

TAG scientist George Shillinger is back from his incredibly successful tagging expedition in New Zealand and is ready to share his adventures. Below is the first entry in his seven-part series.

After nearly ten days of waiting, the skies cleared and the seas calmed enough for us to brave the Greymouth Bar and run for the Hokitika Trench. A long-awaited high pressure front cleared the way for us and we raced to the docks intent to capitalize on this short-lived opportunity.

The captain and crew were abuzz with news – fresh reports of jumbo size tuna breaking rods and tearing up tackle in rough waters off the coast of Westport, more than 70 miles north of Greymouth. I arrived at our vessel, Cerveza (photo above), around 10:00 p.m. with Capitan Larry Johnson. The crew was working hard, rigging gear for the giant tuna, and preparing the boat for the 36 intense hours of fishing that awaited. The passengers had gathered in the galley, anxiously awaiting our departure.

The passengers comprised a crack team of local sportsfisherman from the “Greymouth Gourmet Guzzlers Group” (4Gs, see photo above). In their spare time, the Guzzlers were coinsurers of New Zealand’s finest wines, rich cheeses, and fresh game and seafood. The 4Gs had gathered for their first-ever crack at fishing giant bluefin tuna. They had heard tales from West Coast commercial fisherman and local charter boat captains and wanted to partake in the amazing bluefin action.

After giving our requisite safety briefing, Captain Larry Johnston headed for the wheelhouse, with Ian Boustridge (Beau), and I following him up to the second deck to witness our transit over the Greymouth Bar during high tide in the cloak of darkness. Although the waters had calmed significantly in the past few days, we rocked and rolled past the harbor mouth, over the Greymouth Bar and out into the big winter swells of the Southern Ocean. We were on our way at last – on a quest for giant tuna!