Gearing up

This year, we’re going for tuna. Bluefin tuna.

Yes, Kevin and I have caught tuna fever. It’s tempting to blame our friend Jon, who, out of the blue, invited us on what turned out to be a successful tuna fishing trip. But tuna is big around here, and we spend a lot of time with people who fish. We would have caught it sooner or later, so I have to let Jon off the hook. So to speak.

If you’re going to catch a tuna, you have to have the appropriate tuna-catching equipment, and so, over the winter, we geared up. Those of you who have ever bought fishing equipment know that there is a direct correlation between the size of the fish you want to catch and the cost of the gear that catches it. Tuna gear ranges from pretty expensive to ungodly expensive, and you have to choose where on that continuum you’d like to be.

There are several schools of thought on this. The first, I like to call the Cortesian school, after my friend Skip Cortese.

I’m taking a liberty in calling him my friend, because I actually met him only once, when he and his charming wife, Lisa, invited a bunch of seedy journalists into their home, on Mobile Bay’s Dauphin Island, to eat a dinner prepared, just for us, by Wesley True, arguably Mobile’s best chef. My first clue that Skip was a fisherman of the Cortesian school was the boat docked outside their house, a 32-foot Regulator with twin 350s.

A Regulator is to boats what a Vita-Mix is to blenders, and the 32-foot version with 700 horsepower is an unparalleled offshore fishing machine. But you can’t catch a fish with a boat, even a 32-foot Regulator. For that, you need gear. My suspicions about Skip were confirmed when, after we talked about fishing for a while, he asked if I’d like to see the tackle room.

Tackle room? We have a tackle box. It’s a big box, but still.

Why yes, I most certainly would like to see the tackle room!

It’s a room as big as a good-sized bedroom, and its walls are lined with rods and reels. Really good, really new rods and reels. Spinning reels and conventional reels, in all sizes. And tuna gear. Big, shiny, tuna reels, rigged to land a giant. Fortunately, the tackle room is equipped with comfortable chairs, because I had to sit down.

The Cortesian school of gearing up is founded on the principle that the best gear increases your chances of catching fish. It is a principle that few would take issue with, but not everyone can afford to gear up accordingly.

Then there’s the Gloverite school, which I’ve named for our friend Bob Glover. People caught tuna long before Penn came out with the 130VSX reel, retail price $1300, and Bob tells stories of catching them with a balloon, a laundry basket, and some clothesline. I will admit that I’m not clear on the details. I will also point out that Bob doesn’t fish this way anymore, and I name the school after him only because he told me about it.

But most of us are neither Cortesian nor Gloverite. We are somewhere in between. Kevin and I have our wistful Cortesian moments, but just enough Gloverite sensibility to keep us from regretting that we don’t have a Cortesian budget.

In our neck of the woods, the standard tuna reels go from the 30-class (the smallest) to the 130-class (the biggest), with several classes in between. The bigger the reel, the bigger a fish it can handle, because it has stronger drag and a larger spool that can hold more line. A skilled fisherman can catch a very large fish on a surprisingly small reel, but an unskilled fisherman is much more likely to get spooled – have the fish run away with all the line, and then break off.

Because we fish to eat, Kevin and I have no desire to catch an 800-pound giant tuna. We’ll be targeting the smaller fish, 50-150 pounds, and those can be caught on relatively small equipment. Trouble is, there’s no way to guarantee the fish on your line is one of those smaller fish. It’s not random – there are places and times for smaller fish, and places and times for larger – but neither is it foolproof. Although a 30-class reel would be fine for the fish we want to catch, we wanted slightly larger reels to accommodate a larger range.

The reels we decided on, Penn 50VSWs, can hold up to 2000 yards of line (depending on what kind of line it is), and is rated at 45 pounds of drag. Because the reels are extremely well made, and will last almost forever if properly maintained, we kept our eyes open for used ones. A few months ago, we found them. Captain Eric Stewart, one of the best-known tuna captains on Cape Cod, and skipper of the Tammy Rose, was selling three that he’d been using. We knew they’d been well cared for, and we hoped they might even come with some special bluefin mojo. We bought all three, and a similar fourth, for a full complement.

By the time you buy the reels, the rods, the line, the lures, and, oh yeah, the boat, you’re definitely seeing the merit of the Gloverite school. I know I sure was. But then I remembered what it was like to bring home 15 pounds of the bluefin tuna we caught with Jon, and the sushi we made out of it that night, and I’m reminded that I’m unwilling to stake my tuna-fishing future on a balloon and some clothesline. Bob Glover doesn’t even do it, and he’s got the school named after him.

We took the shrink wrap off the boat this week, and Kevin’s been getting it ready for the water. The stripers have begun to arrive, and we should have a good chance at a keeper in the next week or so. The tuna bite is said to begin in June, when the smaller fish get in the habit of feeding off the Provincetown shore.

We’ll be ready. Or, at least our gear will.

13 people are having a conversation about “Gearing up

  1. its a 6 hr flight from here to Boston. Which means that from the time you make a catch, assuming reception on the open water and text immediately, i could likely be there by dinnertime.

    sashimi? why thank you, I think I shall! I’ll even bring the good beer.

  2. YUMMMMMMM, fresh tuna!!!!!! Good luck, and have fun. Darn, a fast flight to the East coast, even for an overnighter is out of the question this time of year! 🙁

  3. Accidental Mick says:

    God, I envy you and Kevin. I don’t begrudge your trips because I know how hard you have worked for it but I am still envious.

    Just one point. Remember that you are doing this to get food so it is work – it just happens to be enjoyable work. Don’t get guilty about “taking a day off” like you did once before.

    Good luck from your green-faced friend.

  4. “Kevin wanted to role play: “You be the fish,” he said.” C’mon, Tamar, I thought this was a family-friendly blog. Keep the intimate details to yourselves, will ya? 🙂

  5. Just remember that if you land a monster and it doesn’t all get made into sushi, tuna is a pretty easy thing to can safely with a pressure canner, and it tastes a whole lot better than the commercial stuff. Just tuna gets popped into the jar and processed- no oil, no water, and it comes out with this lovely baked or roasted flavor, which makes great tuna cakes and sandwiches.

    Hmmmmm. I’m making myself hungry.

    Good fishing!

  6. Myrna — If we do catch a fish, we’ll toast you west coasters!

    Mick — I do tell myself that, when we go out fishing, but it never really works. Yes, we’re getting food. Yes, I write about this stuff, so it’s my job. But it’s just too much fun for me to be convinced.

    Rick — We are wasabied up!

    PQ — Watch your comments, there! This *is* a family-friendly blog.

    Paula — I have a pressure canner in the basement (although it was a $10. yard sale buy, so I’m a little afraid of it). We’ve always just frozen leftover fish (after vacuum sealing, which makes a big difference), but if you can just pop it in the jar and process it, I should definitely give it a go. Thanks for the suggestion …

  7. I pressure canned albacore in 2011. Here is a link to the information I used.
    Pressure canners/cookers are wonderful tools.

    Tuna hook you as much as you hook them. When I take my 2-speed reel (did I mention I’m a weak woman?) with 60 lb test and 18lbs of drag, I need to tug on that line pretty hard to get it to move. The tuna takes that line and makes the reel sing such a beautiful song.

    • Jean, thanks for the link. How did your tuna come out? I’ve always balked at cooking fish that long, at pressure — but lots of people rave about it.

      I know that song you’re talking about. There’s no sound quite like the sound of a fish taking line.

  8. I packed it with olive oil. In some cases I added peppercorns, and/or garlic cloves or hot(ish) peppers. It came out quite yummy. I also used a garlic flavored olive oil for some of it.

    Next time I think I will also try different oils as well.

    Do some testing with the pressure cooker to familiarize yourself with it. If it’s a yard sale item, make sure you have all the parts in good condition. Good luck and have fun.

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