A Long-Range Journal: Day 5

An editor’s trials and triumphs on his first-ever, 11-day, long-range fishing trip off Baja.

mp day 5

mp day 5

Two divers prepare to dive near a bluefin tuna pen.

Dawn broke with us headed toward Magdalena “Mag” Bay, off the coast of Mexico. Capt. Ekstrom has no problem traveling through the night, with different deckhands taking turns at the wheel during the sleeping hours. Each of the operators has a captain’s license.

Today was a travel day, but we stopped in offshore waters if we saw signs of fish activity. Ekstrom slows whenever he sees floating kelp paddies, diving birds, schools of porpoises, dead seals, turtle or whales, or other flotsam in the water. Between spots, we trolled Marauder plugs in case wahoo were around.

Floating debris was pretty much non-existent today, but we did make a stop at some floating tuna pens holding massive bluefin tuna. We didn’t fish inside the pens, but instead marked tuna schools outside the structures. Inside the pens, the massive bluefin tuna are fattened up with sardines to get ready for market. “They’re basically giant kelp paddies that hold fish on the outside,” said angler Mark Rhodes.

Motoring around a couple different pens, plus the boats pulling the pens, Ekstrom marked tuna down deep. We didn’t have luck bringing them to the surface, or getting them to feed, but we did hook a couple of dorado (sometimes called dodos), skipjacks and small yellowfin tunas. Most of the tuna were shorties and were released.

We spent most of the day telling stories, trolling and rigging tackle. Team 3 was trolling for so long today without a bite that they finally gave up and forfeited their position. It became a running joke on the boat.

Mate Blake Wasano gave us a quick seminar of what to expect if we hooked into large yellowfin tuna. “The captain will call out what pound tackle to use, and that could be 50-, 80- or 100-pound tackle,” he says. “Make sure your knots and drags are ready to go. We have two rods ready to go if you’re about to get spooled.”

These backup rods feature 200-pound tackle and a buoy that connects to the harness mounts on your own reel. If an angler is about to get spooled, he has two choices: 1) Lose all your expensive braided line (which anglers here generically call "Spectra," whether it is or not) and the fish or 2) Hook your setup to the backup rod and throw your own rod and reel overboard. Next, the angler fights the fish from the second rod until he gets enough line back to fight from their own rod once again.

The bite was slow today, so there are no giant tuna reports to mention. We ended the night catching tons of mackerel to refill the baitwells in Magdalena Bay. In the morning, we’re hoping to find some giant tuna to tangle with. I don’t want to have to throw my rod overboard, but I will.