Captain John Cruise and his fishing crew left New River Marina Dec. 2, headed through New River Inlet, N.C. and started live bait fishing for bluefin tuna. They were about four miles offshore, in remarkably shallow 50 feet of water, when a tuna took a live 8-inch long bluefish bait about mid-day.
What began as a fun day of tuna fishing with his mates Zack Foster and Aaron Barr turned into a brutal battle against a tuna about as big as a small car.
“I knew it was a giant of a fish and we were headed for an epic battle when the tuna made a sizzling run of about 600-yards,” says Cruise, age 50, a retired Marine Corps officer who was stationed at nearby Camp Lejeune. “We slowly closed the gap to the tuna, but it was a long, tough fight.”
During the course of the 5.5-hour bluefin battle, all three men on board tussled with the bluefin from Cruise’s 35-foot Contender charter boat, Pelagic Hunter II.
“There was almost nothing we could do except stay in the fight, a down and dirty brawl with an immense fish,” Cruise said. “The fish went real deep, and I figured the only way I could get it up and near the boat was to sort of ‘plane’ it toward the surface using the boat.”
At one point, a pod of dolphin came close to the fish and the Contender and Cruise was concerned that one of the dolphin would rub against the tight 130-pound test braided line and break it. But the dolphin moved away, and Cruise was able to get the tuna near the surface where the reel drag was tightened and the tuna was pulled to 15 feet away from the boat.
“We got a good harpoon shot into the tuna’s shoulder, and got a gaff in him, but things went bad,” says Cruise. “The gaff pulled out, and another gaff got knocked away by the fish. Then the fishing line broke and the only thing keeping us tied to the tuna was the 1,500-pound harpoon line.”
Cruise said it was a wild scene for a few minutes, especially when he noticed that the harpoon line was frayed about 75 percent through and was going to break. The fish frayed the harpoon line by chaffing it against the boat hull. But Cruise was able to grab the line below the fray and cleat the tuna off to his Contender with the harpoon line.
The sun was starting to set, and the anglers were still miles offshore, as they tried to get the tuna into their boat.
“We broke two hoists getting the fish inside the Contender,” he said. “But we finally dragged it in headfirst, so only about a quarter of the fish was hanging off the stern.”
They ran back to New River Marina where the tuna on certified scales weighed 900.1 pounds. It was big enough to be a state record bluefin, except three anglers on the rod disqualify it as a record sporting catch.
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The current N.C. record bluefin weighed 877 pounds, caught in 2017 by Scott Chambers off Oregon Inlet.
Remarkably, two days later Cruise and his boat mates ran offshore again and caught a second bluefin over 9-feet long, weighing 733 pounds.
The December season is closed for North Carolina bluefin tuna fishing. But it opens again in January, and charter captain Cruise will be after them once again.