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Big Fish Part 2 – A Giant Bluefin Tuna and A Monster Tiger Shark

Big Fish!

After my last post on big fish I got to think about some of the instances where fish of ‘abnormal’ size have made an appearance when I have been out at sea. There have been a number but here are two of my own favourite encounters and indelible memories…

It is August 1995 and I am fishing in a light tackle (30lb test) tournament in the Adriatic Sea for Bluefin tuna. The Italian tournament rules state that you fish from anchor and chum your fish with sardine. The first day of the competition has gone by without many fish being seen and none being caught. Plenty of boats anchored but not much action!

On the second day we are anchored well out in the Adriatic and basking under the midday sun in absolutely ‘oil slick’ conditions. It is one of those days when you can see the oil from your chum slick for miles. There was not a ripple on the water and the only sound coming from an odd seagull calling as it finds a small piece of sardine from our chum on the surface.

Calm and quiet that is…… until we hear what sounds like a truck being dropped into the ocean! I look up with my fishing partner Denis to see a gaping hole appear in our slick some 400 yards or so away from the boat. As we stare a huge Bluefin tuna breaks the surface again, this time only 300 yards from us! It is massive, it fully lit-up and it is feeding on our sardines!

We look up to the fly-bridge and our captain who has gone into very animated Italian over the boats radio.

We pick out a few words and it sounds as if he is saying to his friends on the other boats that we have the ‘mother of all tuna’ in our chum trail. Something with ‘Mama Mia’ in anyway….

He looks at our 30lb outfits and shakes his head. Impossibleeeee! Impossibleeeee! He shouts!

Den and I look at one another and for once we have to agree with him. But then think it may be good fun trying!

The fish shows again and this time it is right behind my far bait suspended at 50’ below a balloon. The balloon bobs, the rod tip dips and I take a deep breath…. Nothing else happens and then the balloon  bobs again…..Nothing!

We stare out into the slick looking for another sign of where it may have swam………

Suddenly the fish appears head up right at the transom where Denis is still chumming sardine. Denis jumps about three feet in the air with surprise!

Now Denis had caught a fish of nearly 500lb from the same area only the year before. This one, he said straight away was at least twice that size. It was so close to us that you could see the back of its eyes and every marking glowing iridescently as it continued in a feeding frenzy.

It would disappear and mark on the fish finder as it dived down and then looked very much like a rocket on the screen as it came back to the surface to take another free offering.

Over the next hour we fed it nearly two boxes of sardines, we tried every trick we could think of but it would still not take a sardine with a hook inside.  It would swim up as though it was going to inhale the bait and then veer off at the last moment. After taking its fill of our sardines it swam off a couple of kilos heavier and leaving an indelible memory with both Denis and myself.

Back then we did not have the benefit of fluorocarbon to use as leader material and lighter extra strong hooks. I am confident that if we had the same situation again we could hook the monster up.

Of course we would still have the same problems in trying to land it!


Very close to the 1000lb mark but still much smaller than the fish we had around our boat!

Having seen many images of 1000lb plus fish since that day I have no doubt in my mind that it was a GRANDER PLUS!

Close Encounter Number Two.

We now fast forward to 2005 and I am fishing in the Indian Ocean out from Watamu. The offshore canyons here are famous for the very large tiger shark’s that take up residence at certain times of the year. On this particular day we were fishing on the charter boat Snark with our good friend and captain Salim. Denis and I have fished with Salim for nearly 20 years now and between us have caught some amazing fish and had many great times.

On this particular day we had decided to try for a tiger or two and on the way to the canyons we fished inside for bait which for once we found both in plentiful supply and cooperative to take a lure. After reaching the far edge of the canyon with adequate bait supplies we set course to slow troll along the underwater cliff face. Conditions were perfect with a crystal clear azure blue sea, hardly any wind and a slight southerly current keeping our bait close to the ‘wall’ of the canyon as we trolled slowly back and forth. The baits we were using were sierra mackerel around 5 or 6kg in weight. They are great baits in that their silver flanks reflect and flash brightly as they are pulled slowly through the water. Our deep bait was set around 130’ on a downrigger in 200’ to 250′ of water (depending on our loaction along the canyon). A surface bait was also set to skip and splash from an outrigger. This area is also known for marlin and on more than one occasion we have been fortunate enough to see a bill appear behind this skipping bait.

Back to the shark quest!

On the third troll the downrigger rod tip dipped and then straightened as the elastic band holding the bait in position snapped. Denis and I share the time on the rods and it was his time……Quickly taking the rod from the chair he wound down tight to the fish. With tigers and especially big tigers it is really important to get tight as quickly as possible and ‘try’ (try that with a 1000lb fish) to take control of the fight. Tigers (like many sharks) are very adept at rolling themselves up the trace and leader before rubbing through on the main line.

On this occasion Denis was very soon making line on the fish that was staying deep and not running a great deal. Our tackle consisted of a Penn International 50 wide matched to a custom 5’6” stand-up rod and 80lb mainline. This set-up when used with a Black Magic butt pad and harness is a deadly fish fighting combination. After a fight lasting around 20minutes we had brought a fish of around 400lb to the boat ready for tagging and releasing. The crew planted a tag and then cut the wire trace just above the hook. It does not take long for the hook to work loose and drop away.

On this trip I had brought along a hand-held GPS and marked the strike position for a point of reference later in the day. Quickly rigging a fresh bait we dropped the down rigger back to 130’ and resumed our troll along the edge. After reaching the end of the canyon we made a slow turn and started to make our way back in the opposite direction. It was not long before the rod tip dipped again and then dropped back. Despite Salim gunning the boat and me winding as quickly as possible there was no hook-up this time!

"Oh bother!" or words to that effect. The crew wound up to check the bait I marked the position on the GPS again. Imagine my surprise when I saw that it was within a couple of metres from where we had our first strike.

We fished on without any further action until early afternoon. I still felt confident that we would get another chance and remarked to Denis that I would get a strike in around 150 metres! Looking at my GPS I could see that we were just that distance from where the first two strikes had occurred and on an exact course to pass over that point. Placing the GPS on the fighting chair next to the rod holder and rod I literally counted down the distance "100m to strike…." "70m to strike…." With just 10m to go the rod tip bounced and I grabbed the rod from the holder winding down as Salim (who had also seen the bounce) gunned the boat forward with a roar of the engines a cloud of diesel fumes and plumes of smoke……

The rod arched over and sure enough I was in. The fight was very similar to the earlier one that Denis had experienced and again after 20 minutes or so we had another fish of similar size to the first alongside the transom.

Now this is where our close encounter starts……..

One of the crew has my fish one the leader whilst another is jumping up and down and shouting SHARK! SHARK! SHARK!

"I know we should tag it quickly and release!"

He carries on jumping and shouting and is now also pointing to a position about 20 metres off the transom. Denis, Salim, the crew member on the leader and myself look behind the boat to see a HUGE brown shape of a tiger that must be the mother of the 400lb ‘pup’ I have just brought to the boat!

It is the width of the transom and a few metres more. Denis thinks of bringing in the surface bait to try and tease it. I think of releasing my fish a quickly as possible and putting another bait on! The crew think of getting safely in the cabin!

Before we could do either the fish slowly drops back down into the depths. We tag and release my fish and then get together and wonder just how big the ‘mother’ was. Salim who has caught more big shark than we will ever see put an estimate of 600kgs forward. That is 1300lbs plus in old money……

We fished on without any further action and returned to port with a fishy tale to tell. It was our last day of fishing and we flew home to the UK the following day.

Back in work two days later I received an e-mail from Salim.

It said – Trevor released a tiger ESTIMATED AT 650kgs TODAY – position on GPS I had marked as TREV’S SPOT.

Think it was your fish! LOL…Salim

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