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Ascension Island Yellowfin Tuna Frenzy

Bedlam breaks out for tuna anglers around Ascension Island, an isolated volcano in the middle of the southern Atlantic Ocean.

September 24, 2016

A FEW YEARS BACK reports started to filter through to me, in Australia, of monster tuna in plague proportions. I quickly discovered that reaching the island is a mission in itself, not only because it is extremely remote, but it’s also a British military base.

A Speck in the Middle of the Ocean

Ascension Island - map
. Courtesy Google Earth

Quite simply, Ascension is one of the most isolated islands on earth, a A tiny dot in the middle of the southern Atlantic Ocean roughly midway between South America and Africa.

It took us almost a year and enough paperwork to destroy a entire forest but eventually we got there, and it proved one of my most amazing trips ever.
On the very first day we had yellowfin swarming around the boat in a matter of minutes. It wasn’t just that once, but every day that we encountered tons of fish, including several monsters well over 200 pounds. Nor were they shy about hitting poppers, as Sondal Benson proved when throwing a popper.

Epic Struggle

Ascension Island - huge tuna
. Al McGlashan

Sondal Benson traveled halfway around the world just to chase Ascension’s jumbo yellowfin on poppers. No fish came easy, in particular this 250-pounder, landed out of a rubber ducky.

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Simply chopping up pilchards (chunking or cubing as it’s also known) was all it took to get the tuna around the boat in short order. When the smaller (75-pound) fish moved in, the big boys often back ed off. But while I was underwater, taking photos, a true monster close to 300 pounds pushed the smaller fish aside and eventually cruised right up to me, an experience I’ll never forget.

Swimming With Monsters

Ascension Island - huge tuna
. Al McGlashan

I went to Ascension not simply to catch the mega tuna there, but to film them. The beast in this shot is close to 300 pounds. It swam around with me and my cameraman for more than an hour. It’s impossible to explain just majestic these tuna are in the water, their sickle fins running all the way back to their tail.

The Edge of the Ocean

Ascension Island - small boats at anchor
. Al McGlashan

When it comes to remote, Ascension is it smack bang in the middle of the Atlantic between Brazil and the Congo. Nothing more than a rock … it doesn’t even have a boat ramp!

Brutal Battle

Ascension Island - fishermen battles a huge tuna
. Al McGlashan

After swimming with a 300-pound yellowfin for hours, my producer forced me to fight one for another 3 hours, which was nowhere near as much fun!

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Huge Tuna on a Popper

Ascension Island - huge tuna
. Al McGlashan

You know the fishing is insane when the cameraman Brad Cone, who has caught nothing bigger than a flathead (a small, popular inshore fish in Australia) lands a 210-pound yellowfin on a popper out of a dinghy during the only morning he fished. Unlike all the other hooked tuna that swam out to sea, Brad’s fish headed inshore towards the beach. Lucky bugger!

What Lurks Below, Around Ascension

Ascension Island - huge yellowfin tuna underwater
. Al McGlashan

Apart from filming an episode for Al McGlashan’s Fish’n With Mates series, I wanted to score some amazing underwater still photos of big yellowfin in clear water. When I shot this image, out of the blue (water), this tuna swam past, with the sun catching it perfectly to give me a classic split-water shot.

A Maelstrom of Jacks

Ascension Island - jacks galore
. Al McGlashan

It wasn’t just the tuna that had us mesmerized in the waters around Ascension. Inshore we saw some amazing baitball action, with hundreds of amberjacks and black jacks harassing bait. To get their attention all we needed to do was take the hooks off a Halco Roosta Popper and start working it back, and we had an immediate audience.

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Watch that Gaff Hook!

Ascension Island - huge tuna landed on an inflatable dingy
. Al McGlashan

Fighting a huge yellowfin out of a rubber ducky is seriously tough, but at least when it comes to lifting it aboard the inflatable, you’re a lot closer to the fish. (Mind, you you want to be careful with that gaff!)

Blind-Casting Poppers for Yellowfin!

Ascension Island - yellowfin on a popper
. Al McGlashan

Another 230-pound yellowfin caught on a popper, and within a mile of the shoreline in just 300 feet of water. Ascension is the only place on earth where tuna anglers don’t chase birds. Instead, just pull up off the island and start throwing poppers — and its only a matter of time till you get bit!

Tagging Tuna

Ascension Island - battling a yellowfin tuna
. Al McGlashan

Aussie angler Mick Dundee puts his back into a school-sized yellowfin: It will be tagged for research. Anglers have been working in with Ascension Island Conservation to tag these fish in an effort to learn where they go. The Fish’n With Mates crew managed to tag 19 tuna while filming on the Island and already some of the fish have been recaptured in the same spots suggesting they are holding around the island for extended periods.

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Looking for Hooks

Ascension Island - huge tuna
.. Al McGlashan

Spending days in the water with these tuna gave me, as an underwater photographer, a unique opportunity to study their behavioral patterns. What was really interesting was how they shied away from an exposed hook much more than they seemed to worry about the size of the leader.

Fish of a Thousand Dreams

Ascension Island - huge tuna
. Al McGlashan

The fish that dreams are made of — and justified traveling three days just to reach Ascension. Best of all, the four-hour battle was filmed by our camera crew.

Inshore Action, Too

Ascension Island - jacks everywhere
. Al McGlashan

Inshore around Ascension, the fishing was just as hot as offshore, with literally hundreds of amberjacks and black jacks cruising around the rocks. It was almost impossible to not catch them with jigs or spoons, even off the rocks.

Behemoth Above

Ascension Island - huge tuna
. Al McGlashan

I snapped this classic shot of a massive yellowfin close to 300 pounds after it snatched a bait clean off the surface. Seeing that happen from underneath offers a unique perspective.

Memorable: Our First Ascension Tuna

Ascension Island -yellowfin tuna
. Al McGlashan

Not our biggest tuna but the first one we caught after traveling halfway around the world in pursuit of much biggest yellowfin, so was a starting point!

About Al McGlashan

Al McGlashan — the angler at right in the photo just above — a longtime contributor to Sport Fishing, is one of the world’s foremost photojournalists and videographers of fish and fishing, as his photo below, from a series that went viral a few years ago, demonstrates.

Huge mako devours a striped marlin
. Al McGlashan

The intrepid photographer shot an entire amazing sequence of a huge mako attacking a hooked striped marlin, from just a short distance away. The Australian-based McGlashan shares his passion for fish and fishing with an international audience of fans, in particular these days via his TV series, Fish’n With Mates.

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