I stood on the back deck of the boat this morning, watching the wake bubble and churn as the Gladiator reliably chugged herself at ten knots towards Cabo. Low, grey clouds filled the sky, drifting towards an undetermined point somewhere beyond the horizon. Slight, variable winds kept the sea rippled and playful.

A gentle rolling ground swell gave patient chase from the south, pushing the boat as the seas rolled under her starboard stern, giving us a gentle yawing motion as we steamed northward. A subtle symphony of pleasant weather and a benevolent sea, an orchestra tuning up a long, long way from land in any direction.

I’d become well used to the relaxed rhythms of the Gladiator by now, having spent the last six and a half days aboard her. Given time, a man comes to know each particular ship, their various nuances, moods, and behaviors. I couldn’t help but smile as I thought of my own relationship with this boat, the many days and nights of quite rare adventure that we’d already shared together. With two great journeys to the Revillegigedo Islands already logged, I’d certainly consider that the Gladiator and I are off to a favorable start.

I contemplated the first tentative steps of our relationship together as I watched her wake dissipate astern, the deep humming of her engines mingling with the chatter of waves and wash. The music of madness is not always a booming chaos of crescendo and clatter. Sometimes the simple hum of an engine and the delicate whoosh of the wake is enough to get the blood boiling. But it’s not always this subtle and pretty. Only yesterday those same engines roared, the Gladiators rhythms more frantic and hasty. Yes, it’s a vast and different tempo sometimes. But for now, things are quiet, peaceful, and steady.

The entire boat is in a somewhat sedated mood lately. Considerably spent after four days of what proved to be incredible fishing. An emotional desert where the adrenaline has worn off, our voices are hoarse from the screaming, and we are sometimes found to be staring off into space, at things like the wake, wondering how the hell this trip could have possibly turned out any better.

Grown men are sometimes reduced to contemplative moments of introspection in situations like this. Each and every member of the crew taking the time to process the events from the past four days, and secretly wondering to ourselves if, in fact, it all really happened.

But the answer is yes, without question. One look around the deck assures us that the beaten tackle, the disheveled gear, the anarchy of previous meticulous order is the result of only one thing – four days of non-stop incredible fishing.

 

Below: A first look at a giant Yellowfin Tuna starts off the trip


It was only six and a half days ago that we boarded the immaculately clean and polished Gladiator. Carefully set up and perfected our tackle, diligently stored our provisions and gear. Spent the day and a half ride down to Clarion Island going over all of our efforts, planning our strategy, and preparing for the assault.

After nearly forty hours of drilling and planning, when that first fifty wide started screaming and the first of countless tunas and wahoo started feeding, it only took three minutes of unspeakable madness to turn the best laid plans of our crew inside out. Drags exploded in every direction as wahoo and tuna of all shapes and sizes pounced on baits and jigs with abandon. So much for our careful and calculated planning, because when the shit hits the fan there’s just no way to prepare yourself for madness like this.

Dan and Dave Bedell joined us once again. For those of you that remember they’ve fished with me for nearly ten years, most recently on our first visit to Socorro and San Benedicto on the Salty. They’ve both caught innumerable giants on my deck over the years, besting several three hundred pound tunas, and countless other remarkable catches in between. They travel with a veritable arsenal of equipment, the best of the best and quite literally everything from bait rigs to heavy tackle that you’d need for an expedition like this. No less than twelve complete rod and reel combos and another half dozen duffle bags worth of tackle. Throw in a surfboard or two, some high-tec camera gear, an assortment of i-pods and hard drives, and let’s not forget the somewhat daunting wine selection. These brothers are quintessential adventurers, modern day fanatics, world travelers, and certainly one of the most dedicated teams that this sport has ever seen.

Barnes Cooper of Hard Core sport fishing fame also joined the team. No slouch in either dedication or preparation either, Barnes was in charge of bringing the HD video gear, from which we would document every minute detail of the trip from beginning to rear. He’s a great sportsman whom I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know from our mutual exploits in Puerto Vallarta over the years. Fishing from his twenty-six foot Parker the “Hard Core”, Barnes has jumped into the PV community with relentless abandon, and has become a staple in the local offshore scene. After reading about our last trip aboard the Gladiator to the Revilligegidos, Barnes decided that this trip was just too good to miss. He signed up and in hindsight I don’t think anyone on this trip would complain that he did.

Fred Rohrs, a thirty year resident of the Hollister Ranch and world traveling surfer and fisherman joined us with his son Sandy, a nineteen year old neophyte angler who could claim a two and a half pound farm caught rainbow trout his only angling accomplishment before this trip. Fred and Sandy both have the kind of personality that’s nearly impossible to resist. Relaxed, happy, and grateful to just be a part of the adventure, the father and son duo added a fundamental dimension to any voyage of this nature. For Sandy, claiming that your first trip offshore was going to be to Clarion Island would leave several hardened offshore veterans cringing at best.

Brian Rapf was the last minute lucky sonofabitch. I’ve known Brian for several years, he and his dad have a forty-eight Uniflight “Rapfsody” that they run out of Cabo. He’s no virgin to offshore fishing, having quite literally grown up on the deck of his family’s boat. Because of a last minute cancellation Brian was able to jump on the trip the day before we were scheduled to depart, a fortuitous turn of events that led Brian to toast the guy that backed out at every occasion. We actually took off at the start of the trip and forgot Brian on the fuel dock momentarily; the look of panic in his eyes when we backed up once again to the dock to pick him up was absolutely hilarious. Sorry buddy!

 

Below: A triple-digit Tuna makes its way to the deck


The remainder of the crew was the same, Ben and I as charter masters, Arturo and Lionel in the cockpit, “Magic” Manuel in the kitchen, and Danny Alvarez as captain. You could not possibly hope for a better dynamic than this.

It was, to put it simply, one hell of an assembly of people. With no shortage of stories, and several heated games of “Don’t Get Mad”, our now favorite pastime, and plenty of tackle and gear preparations to keep us busy, the day and a half ride down to Clarion seemed to pass in an instant. Days were filled with music, and laughter. Where the roll of the dice in Don’t Get Mad dictated severe humiliation or championship celebration. Manuel kept our stomachs applauding, while Johnny Walker and Don Julio made sure our already beaming smiles just got brighter.

We woke up on the morning of June second with Clarion Island looming in the distance. Scattered candy colored clouds filled the sky, a beautiful sunrise slowly creeping across the horizon. Bird schools were already visible from the binoculars in the distance, and as the first rays of sunshine climbed over the rolling Pacific swells Clarion revealed her prehistoric beauty to the crew of the Gladiator once again. I’ve grown somewhat jaded to moments like this over the years, but I’d be lying if I said that this particular morning didn’t offer some sort of magical quality that caused the skin to rise up on my forearms, and my body to shiver. Perhaps on some subliminal level my instincts knew what lay in store for our crew in the days to come, my body a conduit, translating the signals to physical form. I looked down at the chicken skin on my arms, thinking, “ Mama never told us we’d ever feel excitement like this”.

 

Below: Twin Tuna Goliaths


Danny raised the Naval base on channel 16 as we rounded the southeast corner of the island. We motored into the bay and dropped anchor while the small contingent of Navy personnel pushed their panga down a rudimentary launch. Fred, who was aloft in the tower, kept a running commentary as he watched their performance from behind the binoculars.

“Uh oh…” Fred said, “It looks like they can’t get the motor started!”

The rest of us, hanging out on the bow, turned to watch their efforts. A strong south swell was running and the three Navy boys on each side of the panga struggled to hold the boat upright in the surf.

“Not a good sign! They’re taking the motor cowling off!”

 

Below: One of the many 'lit up' Wahoo the crew encountered off the waters of Clarion


It was apparent after thirty fruitless minutes that they weren’t going to get their panga going, so the commandant sent one of the Jr officers back up the hill to their headquarters to let us know that it was OK to go fishing, and that once they got their motor going they’d call us back in.

We all looked at each other and started laughing, pulled up the anchor and officially let the adventure begin.

Two marauders went astern in a hurry and we’d barely gone a quarter of a mile before the port corner fifty wide barked with a fury. Sandy, who had drawn the first number in the trolling rotation dove for the corner and in no time had his first yellowfin tuna, a decent fifty pounder, vibrating on deck.

From there things got very difficult to keep track of. Wahoo started demolishing our spread and the boys took turns casting bombs and irons as fast as they could. At one point every person on the deck was hooked up to either a wahoo or a tuna, all six lines evaporated and screaming anglers chased their fish in every direction. Cameras rolled and clicked with fully automatic efficiency, capturing one unbelievable strike and subsequent capture after another.

 

Below: All smiles after a hellacious fight!

Wahoo literally flew through the air behind the boat as the Gladiator sat in what would prove to be one hell of an enormous school of toothy, tasty critters. For the better part of the next three hours the boys took turns cranking, grinding, and hollering as fish from thirty to seventy pounds annihilated anything we threw at them. Dave was on fire with his iron, nailing fish on every stop with experienced ease.

After three hours of non-stop action we decided to put the wahoo gear away and go look for some larger sized tunas. Danny aimed us for the pinnacle where last trip I’d lost a quality fish when the wind-on pulled, and as we neared the high-spot it was clearly apparent that there were fish in the area and feeding.

A small school of maybe fifty birds were working the zone and as Danny brought the Gladiator into a broad starboard turn a group of perhaps half a dozen, hundred-plus pound tunas erupted just north of the bank. Screams of excitement filled the deck as Danny pulled back the throttles and set us up for the drift.

Barnes got his bait in the water first and immediately hooked up to a hundred and twenty pound tuna. Sandy was next and boated another quality fish in short time. We gaffed Barnes’ fish and went back up above the high spot for another drift.

This time Barnes immediately hooked a sailfish, while Fred came tight to a tuna. Barnes’ billfish bolted for the bow, I followed him with the camera, snapping photos as his sail jumped all over the flat calm seas. Dan calmly set up on a substantial fish but there was just so much going on that none of us really paid him much attention at the time.

In the meantime Brian and Sandy both hooked and boated two fish over one hundred pounds while I was on the bow with Barnes shooting the action. Barnes brought his sailfish in for a release, and we took stock of the deck and realized that Dan’s tuna was still there and pulling.

“Dan?” I asked him.

“I think this is a good one JT!!!!”

Sure enough the fish then took another two hundred yards of line in a blistering run before finally settling into the deep tail beating rhythm that means only one thing – cow tuna, and a good one.

We pulled in the other lines and gave Dan our full attention. Having fished with the Bedell’s on many occasions I had full confidence in Dan’s ability in a situation like this. His slow, patient work on the gear soon brought the fish to color, and as the gaffs went in we officially nailed our first Clarion cow tuna. Two hundred and twenty five pounds of hard fighting beast caught on the edge of the world. Congratulations to Dan, and several shots of tequila were in order.

The hour of the day, and our need to restock our bait supply chased us to the anchorage. While we brought down one hundred and fifty caballitos from Cabo most of our bait supply had rolled on the way down. We knew that Clarion had a healthy population of salami mackerel, and thanks to a few tips from Frank LoPreste during our last trip we knew where to find them.

Danny dropped the anchor and the bite was on. In no time we plugged our tanks with a fresh supply of salami’s, a ritual that we would perform nightly during our stay.

With our bait tanks plugged and Manuel kicking ass in the kitchen we retired to the showers and changed out of our now blood soaked and scale crusted clothes in preparation for dinner.

 

Below: Patience and Teamwork is required when getting one of these beasts to the boat...


Arturo and Lionel, whom had been cleaning fish for the better part of eight hours, continued to add to the mountain of wahoo and tuna fillets that were industriously packaged and placed in the freezer. After nine hours of non-stop catching our crew was famished and happy. Manuel put a spread of food out that left our bellies as satiated as the all day long bite did for our passion for fishing. It was truly a remarkable first day, and one hell of a start to our week at Clarion. We wolfed down supper, fired up Don’t Get Mad, and let cocktails keep flowing.

We eventually retired to bed, though not easily. Adrenaline and outright anticipation for what tomorrow would bring kept sleep at bay for hours. We lay in our bunks and laughed like school kids, twelve grown men in the wilderness, wide awake, but already dreaming.

We awoke in the morning before sunrise, already eager to start fishing. Danny reached for a fifty wide and cast out a salami, it certainly didn’t take long.

Thirty feet from the boat a fish inhaled the bait, Danny’s white smile flashing in the deck lights as he screamed “HOOK UP!!!!” causing the rest of us to run for our rigs.

Fred took over the rod from Danny, who was now helping others bridle up baits, and as I snapped photos Fred brought his fish to the deck, a solid hundred and fifty pounder. No sooner had Fred landed his fish then his son Sandy doubled over on his own. Then Brian started hollering from the bow, the sounds of action reverberating around the decks.

One after another fat tunas hit the teak. Barely six am and already the action was furious. We pounded the tunas until the sun came up and the radio eventually crackled to life. The Navy boys had apparently succeeded in breathing life into their motor, and wanted us to finish up breakfast and then proceed to check in.

We cleaned up the carnage from the morning bite and motored into the Naval base once again. Danny dropped the anchor and Dave, Fred, Sandy and I began to look seriously at the six to eight foot waves that peeled directly in front of the boat. No time like the present, I thought, going for the board I had brought along with me this trip.

 

Below: It wouldn't be a Pelagic trip without a billfish thrown into the mix!!



I hit the water and immediately thought of the countless sharks that we’d already seen, hooked, and dealt with. The hundred yard paddle to the right hander peeling in front of me seemed shaky at best. Still, with waves like that reeling down the reef in front of me it was hard to concentrate on thoughts of sharks.

While Danny and the crew checked in with the Navy Fred, Sandy, Dave and I took turns dropping into some sizeable bombs over a very shallow, and very nasty coral reef. The water was gin clear and it seemed only inches remained between the bottom of our surfboards and the dangerously sharp coral heads lining the reef. The wave was incredibly fast and challenging. Pro surfer’s we’re not, but we surely gave it our best. The experience of dropping into a wave at Clarion Island is not something that many people get to enjoy, and we counted ourselves amongst the indefinitely lucky.

The guys on the boat waved us in after a while, signaling their need to get back to fishing. I’m sure I speak for the boys in the water when I say we could have been happy to stick to the surfing for the rest of the day.

I paddled out to the Gladiator and took stock of our surroundings on my way back to the boat. Nearly four hundred miles from the nearest civilization, a great crew and an eighty foot custom sport fishing machine, perfect weather, surf, and already we’d enjoyed some truly incredible fishing. As I climbed aboard I was greeted by a cheerful and welcoming Navy contingent, shaking my head as I toweled off and wondered how in the hell it could get any better than this.

Before the Navy boys sent us on our way we gave them a fresh supply of tackle, provisions, and officially sponsored them with Pelagic gear. It’s not every day you get to add Clarion Island Navy to your list of world-wide characters that sport the Pelagic brand. Wear it with pride amigos, make us proud!

After a few high-fives we pulled anchor and got back to the fishing, deciding that we should try our luck at jigging over some of the fishy looking pinnacles that we’d marked along the way.

Danny stopped the boat over one particularly fishy spot and Barnes, Ben, and I went BENDO in a hurry. Cabrilla and all kinds of bottom dwellers soon got a ride to the surface, and later the kitchen, where Manuel would work his magic later that night once again.

We spent the better part of a few hours dropping along several ridges and banks, before our thirst for tuna once again got the better of us. You could have literally filled the boat with Cabrilla and grouper if you wanted, but after killing enough for the table and a few for the trip home we opted to keep moving.

Danny took us back to our favorite bank and Fred immediately hooked a striped marlin, his first billfish of any kind. I barely had time to go for the camera before Barnes screamed “FRESH ONE!!!” as another nice tuna doubled over his rod and tore for the deep.

Sandy, Dave, Dan, and Brian all took their turns with the tunas. Fred had an epic battle with his hefty striper as it tore the surface to a froth with it’s jumping. HD video cameras and my new Canon 5D Mark II doing their best to keep up with the relentless action.

Barnes hooked up next with a sizeable beast. Tearing ass for the horizon, and with the sharks now upon us, we all agreed that it’d probably be a good idea to fire up the motors and stay on top of the fish. Over the next hour and a half we watched a hundred and eighty pound tuna absolutely kick Barnes’ ass.

Barnes is no stranger to big fish fishing, and he’s no small dainty human incapable of pulling. With maximum drag and a powerful dedication Barnes gave this fish everything he had. We call fish like these demons, and for good reason. The fish stayed upright and green for the entire fight, refusing to circle, seemingly defying to be caught. We all breathed a sigh of relief when finally the gaffs sunk in and the painstaking work came to an end. It would prove to be good practice for Barnes, who at that point had no idea what was coming.

When the dust settled we made our way back to the anchorage under one of the most spectacular sunsets that we collectively agreed we’d ever seen.

By this point in the trip we’d certainly fell into a comfortable rhythm. The group had gelled and as the bait rods came out the smells of the kitchen wafted on deck. The salamis started biting, the bait tanks were filling, and happy hour began with a vengeance again.

As we went to bed, still high from adrenaline, we wondered aloud if it could possibly, once more, get any better than this. A question we would ask ourselves over, and over during the trip.

Little did we know what lay in wait for us next.


We awoke at four the next morning, finding it nearly impossible to sleep. The anchor rattled up as the baits went astern, the tunas finding us immediately thereafter. With fish holds already filling we agreed that the cut off for tunas would be 200#’s from now on.

The first light bite was fast and furious, but nothing more substantial than one hundred and twenty pounders greeted us. Already spoiled we decided to keep moving, back to the bank that had thus far treated us well.

Brian had his bait ready and waiting and as Danny pulled the Gladiator out of gear Brian flipped his bait out and watched it disappear in a messy explosion.

“HO! GOOD ONE!” he hollered as he struggled into his harness and settled in for the fight.

Just as Brian hooked up Sandy had a massive strike, and before we knew it we had two cows hanging. Sandy giving it everything he had from the bow, while Brian settled into a rhythm in the stern.

Unfortunately after fifteen minutes Sandy pulled the hook on his fish, a shame but by no means a disappointment at this stage of the game.

“We’ll get Brain’s fish and go get you another one!” we consoled him, not realizing how close to predicting the future one could actually get.

Brian fought his fish like a champion, going to heavy drag immediately after the first run. Still, despite our best efforts, these Clarion fish are not easily manipulated. It took everything Brian had to eventually steer his two hundred and forty pounder to the gaffs. We snapped a bunch of photos as Danny brought us back to the pinnacle, could we possibly do it again?
Sandy had revenge in his eyes on the next drift and as I walked to the bow with him I wasn’t surprised to see his bait disappear in a savage boil almost immediately. I watched line literally melt of his reel as another obviously large Clarion cow bolted off the bank.

Sandy was not to be shamed by this one. He walked his way back to the cockpit and began the slow, determined labor that comes with doing battle with giant pelagics, particularly tuna.

Keep in mind that before this trip Sandy had only been fishing once, for trout. In the past two days he had bested countless wahoo and tuna, and seen some truly incredible chit. Now, here he was on his third day at Clarion Island, strapped into the stand up gear and grinding away on his second chance at a cow of the day. Like fishing much now Sandy????

Nearly two hours later Sandy heard the words that all anglers, after several hours of backbreaking labor, relish to hear.

“DEEP COLOR!!!”

 

Below: After an enduring battle, another large YF is alongside the boat...


The next fifteen minutes were not without their moments of breathless anticipation as Sandy steered one seriously pissed off cow towards the waterline. The end game is never easy, though some of us certainly wish it could be.

With a shower of spray the boys sunk the gaffs in and our second cow of the morning walloped the deck. Sandy and Fred were elated, that is a moment that father and son won’t soon forget.

Dave threw the next bait out and it was off to the races, but by now the sharks were ravenously thick. His fish didn’t have a chance and was unfortunately devoured at color. With the sharks now swarming we decided to head back to the anchorage, have lunch, clean up, and let the shark situation thin out.

Most people would say, “What the hell? Why didn’t you just move and keep fishing?” but you have to understand that by this point we were getting a little beat up. Two and a half days of non-stop fishing and our tackle and crew needed a break. Some of us broke out the DGM board game while Arturo and Ben cleaned the fish, while the rest of the crew ate some lunch or settled in for a nap.

About an hour later, when our game was getting really heated up and I happened to be winning, Ben screams from the deck.

“HOLY SHIT!!! GUYS THERE’S FU%&$NG HUGE TUNAS SWIMMING BACK HERE!”

“Yeah, yeah Ben. We’re playing…”

Barnes, who at this point was either sleeping or resting his eyes, the story is not abundantly clear, wanders out on deck and is soon heard to be screaming.

“HOLY CHIT GUYS GET THE HELL OUT HERE!!!!”

OK, fine. We reluctantly leave the board game and wander outside where Barnes and Ben are in a flurry of activity.

We were anchored in a hundred feet of water over a white sand bottom just outside of the surf line for the past hour trimming tunas, the only thing that we’d attracted up until that point was a handful of sharks. As I wandered astern and looked down into the water I saw a pair of very large, dark shapes swim from left to right along the entire length of the stern gobbling every piece of chum going over.

“SONOFA….!!!!” I screamed as I dove for my camera and struggled up the stairs to the second level.

I reached the top of the stairs just in time to watch Barnes lob out a softball sized chunk of tuna loin that he’d pinned on a fifty wide about five feet in front of the fish. In slow motion both giant fish turned and the lead tuna engulfed the massive chunk six inches under the water with its allison fin breaking the surface not five feet from the boat.

“BARNES HE’S FU&*ING GOT IT HIT HIIIIIIMMMMMMMMM!!!!!” I screamed.

Barnes locks up on the fish and it absolutely goes BATSHIT. The giant tuna tears off towards the bow of the boat in the direction of the crashing surf. Barnes flies up the port rail in the direction of the anchor line as the boat erupts in chaos. People are screaming, motors are roaring to life, anchors are weighing and just about everybody was hollering at the top of their lungs – “HOLY MOTHER OF CHRIST CAN YOU BELIEVE THAT?!?!?!?!?!?!”

“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!”

“WHATTHEFUQGOODGODALMIGHTYCHRISTDIDTHATJUSTHAPPEN?!?!??!?!”

And

“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!”
And

“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!!”

And

“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!”

Over, and OVER again.

Chaos, chaos, CHAOS. Never in my life have I witnessed a series of events unfold like that in crystal clear water, over a white sand bottom on a fish of that size within arms reach of the boat.

“BARNES YOU JUST FU^&ING HAND FED A THREE HUNDRED POUNDER!!!!! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!”

Danny roared the twin Caterpillar C-18 motors to life and spun the Gladiator like a man possessed. Barnes held on with everything he could as the fish dumped line from the reel at unimaginable speed. The beast headed right for the surf line and somehow turned right along the beach before it reached the crashing eight foot waves peeling down the reef.

 

Below: Another Killer Combo...


The boat charged in reverse, sending water flying over the stern as people ran in every direction for cameras and video gear. Barnes, in an obvious state of shock over what had just happened was in a world of his own. He started chanting something incoherent to himself as he ground line back with demonic fury. Sweat poured from his head and splashed off the reel. Someone put the volume on the stereo up and the crew went RICHTER.

To be there first hand when a moment in time happens like this borders on biblical experience. We screamed at the top of our lungs like little children as the Gladiator chased a three hundred pound tuna around just outside the surf line.

As if we weren’t already thinking we were in the Pacific version of the Bermuda triangle, a fog bank somehow formed and thick sheets of fog descended down the mountains of Clarion island, swallowing the Gladiator all of us whole.

The sky blacked out and a heavy fog mist began to fall. We all looked at each other expecting, at any minute, a portal to open up behind the boat and that the massive tuna would drag us through the door to another, more unbelievable world.

I’ve said it before people, YOU CANNOT MAKE THIS CHIT UP.

We went freaking nuts as each grind of Barnes reel brought the demon closer. The next hour and a half of our lives would change us forever.

It was, without a doubt, one of the most awe inspiring moments in offshore fishing I have ever seen.

When that fish finally came to color and we could fully appreciate the depth of what had just happened we were speechless. The last five minutes before the gaffs went in were nearly impossible to endure. But let me tell you, when Ben and the boys reached out and buried those gaffs in the giant the boat erupted in the most savage and enduring roar that I have ever heard. If monsters still roamed the shores of Clarion Island they would have heard us, turned their heads in our direction, and then run for their lives.

 

Below: Barnes and his 'hand-fed' beast...


Barnes you did the impossible amigo. Hand feeding three hundred pound tunas right off the boat is not something that happens with any frequency, not even at Clarion Island. Unbelievable, and we were there to see it first hand.

We had to wait a full half an hour before we could stop screaming, and steady ourselves enough to take pictures. The fog was still extremely thick and prevented us from taking pics that would do the fish proper justice. We returned to our spot at the anchorage and started chumming while we waited for the sun to come out so that we could take better pictures, hoping that the fish’s twin would return, but it never did.

After what seemed like an eternity beneath that fog the sun finally battled it’s way back out and the island and anchorage erupted in color. As you shall see, we managed to score some incredible pictures. Three hundred and five pounds amigo, it just does not get any better than that.

 

Below: Another solid Yellowfin is hoisted for a photo of a lifetime.

 


When the smoke cleared we still had a half day of fishing in front of us. But what the hell can you do to top that.

We left Barnzees Bay, our new name for the anchorage, and went back up to our faithful bank, a spot that we now called “Cowbucks” for obvious reasons. We fished until dark catching more tunas, but after the morning and afternoon cow fishing the evening bite seemed anticlimactic at best.

That night we partied hard, and you can damn well bet that we deserved it. Four of the six clients on board for this trip now had cow tunas, from two hundred and twenty five to over three hundred pounds. Our freezers literally bulged with wahoo and tuna, and with the cutoff still at over two hundred pounds we wondered if our last half day of fishing would prove fortuitous for the rest of the crew.

We awoke a little later the next morning, thanks no doubt to copious amounts of Barcadi and Tequila during the festivities of the evening before. We started off at the anchorage and once again nailed more tunas, but with hundred pounders invading the chum line we opted to pull anchor and head back up to Cowbucks see if our faithful spot would give up two more.

Fred and Dave were the only ones left who had yet to land cow, so we gave them the floor. Fred dropped a bait in on the first drift and immediately hollered. “GOT ONE!!!”

Line melted off his reel at a startling rate, a couple of us exchanged glances meant to say – “Ahhhh, OK. Really?”

After five or ten minutes it was apparent, Fred’s cow had come knocking and kicked in the door. The rest of the crew reeled in their lines and we gave Fred the spotlight. Danny worked the boat with the kind of skilled, calculated attention that only thousands of hours at the helm reveals.

It was a long, anxious few hours before we finally saw color. Fred was relaxed and comfortable in the rhythm of the fight, finally leading his fish towards the gaffs and firmly crossing his name off of the list. Two hundred and eighty six pounds of Clarion tuna. Five down amigos, and only one to go.

Next drift at Cowbucks and Dan and Dave had their hearts set on just one more shot of espresso. Could the bank give up one more in the final hour of the trip????

Dave gave a yelp as he hooked up, and against all odds a massive tuna tore ass for the deep. We looked around the boat in shock, NO WAY JOSE.

When you get into a groove like this there is literally no stopping you. We were a cow catching freight train that reached the end of the line, and kept running. No amount of brake pressure, regardless of how it was applied, was going to slow the locomotive just yet.

 

Below: Teamwork once again pays off!!


Dave settled into the harness and I knew an hour and a half before it finally happened that we’d done it. With his kind of experience on the rod with big fish I knew that as long as everything held together the fish was as good as ours.

Sure enough, nearly two hours after hookup his fish came to color, but the end wasn’t easy from there. It took some remarkable boat handling and some patient, experienced work on the drag to coax the fish to leader. When the gaffs finally went it another maddening cheer rose up from the decks, our prayers were confirmed, we had scored the impossible.

Dave was ecstatic. The last man standing went down with style, and the honorable death of yet another cow meant that our entire team was going home in glory. We boated Dave’s fish, pointed the Gladiator for Cabo, and promptly went into shock. The clock struck twelve noon, the appointed time when we had to be leaving. Down to the minute, the last fraction of an inch.

There were a lot of people standing around staring out to sea, speechless for the first few hours of the trip home yesterday afternoon. Myself included.

I’ve seen some truly incredible chit over the years, but this trip was something special. Something that none of us have yet been able to fully absorb, for obvious reasons. We look at the pictures, we watch the countless hours of endless video footage and it still has trouble sinking in.

I watch the wake disappear astern of the Gladiator. The grey clouds let us pass under them, the swell pushes us forward, the symphony of our lives continues to play on the wind.

A week ago twelve of us boarded a boat for Clarion Island, with no idea of what the future could bring. Something happened to all of us out there. Something now written within those same notes of the wind.

There is a place where magic continues to happen.

A place a long way from nowhere, where many of us will almost certainly find magic again.

 

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