Written by Jimmy Kokesh on April 20, 2004
I’ll start these memories with my first trip which goes back to 1977 on my first long trip to the Islands (The Revillagigedo Islands off Cabo) on the old Red Rooster. We all hooked up on big tuna. There were several of us pinned to the rail and we couldn’t even budge the fish we had hooked. You have to remember this was before two speed reels and short all roller tuna rods, instead we had Penn Senators 6/0 – 10/0 models and long rods. I’ll never forget what was going through my mind “What kind of fish are these, that we can’t handle on this gear?”
Then there was the incredibly fast swimming wahoo which would burn out the drag washers on the old Penn 4/0 high speed models. I had never caught a wahoo before, and for that matter, never had even seen one. The first one I hooked was on the troll with a 6/0 Penn Senator which the deck hand had previously set the drag for me, which I thought was tight, I mean really tight, so I started to loosen it when another deck hand saw what I was doing and quickly re-tightened it. I thought to myself, “these guys are nuts”, but then I got bit and this speedster heads for parts unknown at a rate of speed that I just couldn’t believe. In no time the reel was half empty and I wanted to put on more drag, but the star drag adjustment was so hot I couldn’t even grab it to tighten it. After another hot run I was finally able to bring my first wahoo to boat side. I thought to myself, “WOW! That was incredible!” Nothing could match that. That was before I caught my first wahoo on iron. I cast a big Tady 45 and they told us “wind as fast as you can,” so I did, and the first time I was very unsuccessful, but finally when on a retrieve I was winding as fast as I could when “BANG” my reel felt like it just locked up and I couldn’t turn it “It’s a wahoo,” I thought! Suddenly he put his tail between me and his head and that old 4/0 just screamed, first straight away from the boat at what I thought was about 200 M.P.H. Then he turned toward the boat and I can’t even get the slack out of the line brfore he turns and heads toward the bow. I ran to the bow as fast as I could only to find out he isn’t there. He is already around the bow and back to the stern then across the stern over and under a maze of lines from anglers and back up the side, then back to the bow where I finally finished him.
Well this is just a small summation of how I got hooked on long range fishing. As you can tell an awful lot has changed since those days expecially the type of gear and the electronics on the boats, but the lure and challenge of catching these magnificent fish has not. Here are some stories of my personal experiences and memories. I hope you enjoy reading about them as much as I do recalling them.
“Big Black Marlin”
It was in1980 on the Royal Polaris and we are on the troll and an angler hooks this enormous black marlin at Roca Portida, this guy fights this marlin and we are all watching this marlin make its jumps and grey hounding and we are just in awe of its size. Finally the guy gets this fish close to the boat and the fish sounds straight down and for quite awhile the angler couldn’t move the fish, then with no warning this monster comes straight up with all his speed and strength not 10 feet from the boat, he erupts from the water in a cascade of white water with blood gushing out of both sides of his gill plates and for what seemed like an eternity of standing on his tail thrashing wildly. We stood in fear not knowing which way he would fall, afraid that he would fall into the boat very possibly hurting a lot of people. Luckily he fell away from the boat. That big black marlin weighed in at 510 pounds.
“Talk About Luck”
It is 1981 on the Royal Polaris we are at Clarion Island and we are fishing at night for tuna. The water is full of life, there are porpoise, needlefish and flying fish and of course a fair amount of sharks. Well, this fellow hooks a beautiful tuna weighing about 200 pounds. He finally gets the fish close and it is circling under the boat while three deck hands with gaffs are poised, waiting for the proper moment to stick him, then he is there and he was very green”. The deck hands go for him, and just then the fish explodes in a rage of fury. One gaff pulls out, one missed and the other was simply overmatched, he was going over the rail when he had to let go. The line breaks the fish is gone and so was one of the gaffs. It was 20 or 30 minutes later we are fishing and one deck hand on the bait tank sees something strange just outside the lights in the water, we all watched it for awhile and its that lost gaff still in that big tuna. The fish and gaff swam completely around the boat then started getting closer to the boat. Soon he is only 30 to 40 feet away, then he comes even closer, only about 25 feet and we are all watching this when he now turns toward the boat the deck hands are frantically grabbing for gaffs hoping to retrieve their lost gaff . The tuna is almost back to the boat and the three deck hands rush to the rail, they looked down and the tuna was right there. The three deck hands quickly got gaffs into the tuna and hauled it aboard. The crew got their gaff back, the angler got his hook back, along with a big tuna flopping around on the deck. I am still astonished!
“Thought I Was In”
We were on the Red Rooster III in 1988 again fishing at Clarion Island and I was soaking a salami (a large mackerel) when all of a sudden a big tuna inhales it and streaks toward the island. I was using my International 80 – 2 speed and a Calstar tuna rod. The big fish then turned and charged the boat so fast I had thought the line broke, then he turned and charged the island again and I thought “he is squirrelly as hell” after a brief 15 minute squirrelly fight he got on top of the water just inside the lights and started to thrash around. I hollered, “Possible Kamakazi!”. I was immediately surrounded with gaff equipped deck hands. The fish swam deep under the boat then toward the stern then came up and was quickly gaffed. He weighed in at 272 pounds. It was getting close to the end of our trip and I was clearly in 1st place for the jackpot with my 272 pound tuna. The following night was our last night of fishing. One of the guys was fishing on the stern catching salamis to soak for tuna, all of a sudden he and the guys around him are screaming, “GAFF! GAFF!”. Deck hands were quick to oblige and gaffed a big 284 pound tuna to win the first place jackpot. The tuna grabbed a salami on his 20 pound bait catching rig and swam right to the boat and just laid there. Shows what the hell I know…I thought I was in!!
It was about 1980 and I was on the Qualifier 105 boat, owned by Don Samson at that time. We arrived at the islands with a steady 20 to 30 knot southerly wind with heavy rain. It rained so heavily the whole time we were there that the water was brown around the islands from wash off from the rains. We were on deck fishing when some of the guys on the port side of the boat noticed their lines were tangled with some of starboard side lines as the boat was swinging a lot on the anchor in the wind. Well, the guys on the port side were telling the guys on the other side to release so they could wind in the lines and untangle them. The guys were trying to wind in and couldn’t. Finally, they noticed all the lines were moving in a group. Puzzled, they noticed lines move to their side of the boat and in this mass tangle they saw color, a huge tuna, he was duly gaffed on the port side. After the tangle was finally undone so they could see whose hook was in his mouth they saw it belonged to a guy on the starboard side of the boat, and he didn’t even know he had a fish on! The guy never had a clue. I think that fish was over 375 pounds!
“Do Wahoo Jump?”
It was on the Red Rooster III at San Benedicto Island in about 1990 and we were on the anchor and I was on the stern standing close, shoulder to shoulder with other anglers throwing jigs for wahoo as there was a good bite going on. I had just completed a wind in with a jig and brought my jig in. I had turned to look at my jig at the beginning of a cast when I felt what I thought was a nudge by the angler next to me. It wasn’t! The angler to my left had brought in his jig in a hurry and brought it back behind him. A wahoo that was following that jig launched itself at a great rate of speed to get that jig. He cleared the back rail, bumped my shoulder and took a header into the side of the bait tank, with people yelling about what happened and a wild wahoo thrashing around the deck. I was amazed! I never saw the fish coming. People said, “Are you alright?””Are you okay? That fish hit your shoulder and look at the slime on your shirt.” Sure enough, I looked at my shirt sleeve and shoulder and there was Wahoo slime on it. That was really close, a few inches further to my right he would have been right in my jugular vein with mouth agape. I’ve also seen schools of wahoo jumping at a distance, they are unbelievable.
“The Fish That Wasn’T Meant To Be”
In 2002 we were on the Qualifier 105 at Hurricane Bank. I was enjoying a pretty successful trip on tuna and I was doing okay on the wahoo as well. My good friend, Dick Bailey, was on the trip and he was standing by me when I hooked a wahoo. As I brought the fish to gaff the deck hand accidentally hit me in the head with the handle of the gaff knocking off my prescription glasses, they hit the top of the rail and bounced over board. At that, I hear Bailey laughing his head off! Well anyway the fish avoided the gaff, swam wildly in circles and in so doing took a wrap around the protruding transducer of the side scanning sonar, then ran about 75 to 100 yards under the boat. Finally he stopped and I tried to wind on him but couldn’t , then they got the “Y” gaff in an effort to push the line off the transducer, no luck. A deck hand grabbed an extra long gaff ran to the opposite side of the boat and was able to snag the line and get it up to the boat. He said, “Quick lets cut it here and also on your side and we will try to retie it here before he takes off again”. Snip, Snip we cut both sides I ran quickly around to the other side of the boat and we quickly retied it. Meanwhile, Bailey is really laughing at me and at this point he thinks this is funnier than going to the circus!! I thanked the crew for pulling off a very difficult task, so now I’m bringing in this fish and naturally he has to take a wrap around the anchor line, we clear that and he takes me to the spot on the rail where this whole fiasco started. He is at color and soon the gaff is reaching down to stick him, then out of nowhere a huge shark crashes out from underneath the boat and engulfs the wahoo behind the head and bit off the body right there. We gaffed the remaining head and there I stood, half blind from losing my glasses, a hundred yards of frayed line with a knot in the middle of it and a quivering head of a wahoo that “wasn’t meant to be.” I don’t think I have to tell you what Bailey was doing at this time. I thought he would wet himself he was laughing so hard. After it was over Mr. Bailey and I sat in the galley and we BOTH had a good laugh and a couple of beers over it. To this very day I think it is one of his favorite fish stories to tell.