OFF NORTH CAPE, P.E.I. -- With fishing line attached to it, an empty water bottle bobs on the water. This improvised bobber does its thing for a little more than an hour late Thursday morning but no one onboard the Aly Dan seems concerned about the relative inactivity.
We had already brought an eight-foot bluefin tuna alongside the boat, just long enough to retrieve a hook and get the measurement.
We’re participating in the third annual MacLeod’s Ledge Bluefin Tuna Cup, so far out that the windmills and lighthouse at North Cape are barely visible. We’re in close proximity to fall lobster boats..
Captain Ian Gauthier muses about pulling in the line and moving closer to the other tuna boats out on the ledge. They’re nearby. Just out of earshot.
“If they’re over there, they’re here, too,” Brandon Gallant, Gauthier’s first mate, responds.
Everyone knows he’s right. This is MacLeod’s Ledge, after all, a popular tuna-feeding area off the northwestern tip of P.E.I.
We had stayed fishing mackerel for bait longer than the others on the way out and were the last boat to arrive at the tuna grounds.
There’s the occasional alarm sounding on the Aly Dan’s fish-finding gear, an indication big game fish are passing beneath the boat.
“They’re marking,” Gauthier confirms over the radio to other captains participating in the tuna challenge.
It’s early in the noon hour when Brandon’s confidence is rewarded with our second strike of the day.
A second line is immediately reeled in and Brandon grabs the rod that has a bluefin tuna at the other end of the line, and shouts instructions to the captain, letting him know the direction the big fish is heading – away from the boat, down, back towards the boat, under it.
Handing off the reel to me, Brandon focuses his attention on keeping the line from chafing along the boat or getting snapped off by the blades of the boat.
“Keep reeling,” he instructs as my reeling slows. This is not easy work, but the first mate knows the slack needs to be taken up or the tuna will take advantage of the opportunity to get free.
Barry Adams takes up the fight as my arm turns to rubber. The fish gets under the boat and off to the other side. Brandon instructs the captain to kick the boat around. He does so by thrusting the boat into reverse and swinging the stern in the direction of the line. The tuna comes back around to the side where the fight started.
The big fish still hasn’t surfaced, but somehow the crew knows this one is not as big as our 10:35 a.m. strike, the one that fought us for 25 minutes before surfacing so that we could get our measurement.
Rod MacNeill had invited me to join his West Isle Enterprises team, but I stayed out of that first fight, watching the action from the back end of a Nikon camera.
This time I chose to be in on the action. I relieve Darren Kelly of the reel just as the fish is taking another run for it under the boat. Darren’s efforts had taken most of the fight out of the big fish. It’s now just a few meters below the surface. I’m able to complete the fight.
The tuna surfaces right beside the Aly Dan and Darren loops a gaff around its tail section mere seconds before the fish spits out the hook. The captain and crew, however, have the fish under control.
With a measurement obtained, the fish is released and, with a flick of its tail, all six feet, 10 inches of it is gone.
Our day’s adventure with the world’s largest game fish ended with high fives and handshakes some 20 minutes after the second fight got underway.
An hour later we were the first team to return to Tignish Harbour. The tuna challenge, however, is not a race, but a competition to see which team hooks the longest fish, and there was still a day to go in the two-day tournament. Rod MacNeill is sharing the tuna adventure with another group of teammates on Day Two.