It's right place, wrong time for tuna hunt


Good reports of yellowfin and bluefin tuna fishing lured me aboard Captain John Runkel's Liquidator Too last weekend. Joining me was Sykesville's Bill May, and Bruce Williams and Bob Jones, both of Bethany, Del.

The week before, my friend, Captain Dick Broden, had boated three yellowfins in the area of the Jackspot. This was the same day that Hampstead's Michael Wolinski, fishing aboard Captain Joe Drosey's Osprey, boated a 47-pound bluefin in the same area. A day or two later Harry, Eddie, and Dave Yingling joined Tom Bauerlien, Ray Dittmar and Dave Traenkuer, all of Hampstead, in combining to catch six yellowfins off the area known as the Hot Dog, while fishing aboard Captain Frank Pettolina's Last Call out of the Bahia Marina.

Then, just to make sure that I was shivering with anticipation, the weekend I choose to fish blue water happened to coincide with this summer's Ocean City Tuna Tournament. The evening before I watched dozens of bluefin and yellowfin tuna get weighed in at the Ocean City Fishing Center's docking area, most in the 40- to 60-pound range.

Captain Runkel cleared the Ocean City beach and threw full power into the Liquidator Too's powerful inboard engines. The Atlantic's surface was nearly flat. It was 6 a.m. and I knew that we were looking at about a two-hour ride before Mate Pete Hitchen would set the lines upon our arrival at the edge of the Baltimore Canyon, some 60 miles out of Ocean City. This was the area where Liquidator Too had boated three yellowfins plus hooked and released a white marlin the day before.

Moments after the last of our lines hit the water, No. 4 rod violently jerked and the big gleaming Penn sang. May, who had never caught a tuna, grabbed the rod as pre-agreed and Bob Jones worked to fit him with a fighting belt.

"It's a dolphin," Hitchen announced, and at the same time I spotted the green and yellow flash just beneath the surface and about 50 yards out.

May jerked hard on the rod, meaning to set the hook securely, but instead making a classic mistake. The line went limp immediately and he looked bewildered.

The fast hit wasn't a good sign. We saw and mixed in with a half dozen different schools of porpoises. Tuna often travel with porpoises and they feed on the same fish. We spotted and stayed close to another good-luck tuna charm -- a pilot whale. Three times wasn't a charm this day.

We drug line along the western edge of the Baltimore Canyon and through the Elephant Trunk and never saw a tuna, marlin or anything else catchable. And we were not alone, according to the radio contact we maintained with dozens of other boats in the area. Captain Bob Gowan, of the Liquidator, went as far south as Norfolk and came up empty. Eight hours of line pulling later, the Captain headed home.

The next day, Sunday, was the complete opposite. Once again dozens of tuna were unloaded -- caught in the same places we had fished in vain 24 hours earlier.

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