Expedition Blackfin. E-mail
Wednesday, 22 December 2010 16:56

  Blackfin

Why would anyone fish?  Especially out of a kayak?  I mean, with all the planning, worrying, working, strategizing, rigging, sweating, cursing, and stressing – is a fish at the end of the line really worth it? Definitely. Case in point.  Two Thursdays ago, I was minding my business at work when my cell phone rang. I saw Captain Scott Warren’s number on the screen and snapped the phone open.   Since blackfin tuna fishing had been fantastic out of Hatteras, I was sure Scott was going to regale me with more stories of bluewater glory. He did.  “We had another phenomenal day today,” he said, the excitement still vibrating in his voice.  He told me how his crew had located huge schools of tuna on the rocks off Hatteras and then annihilated the fish with vertical jigs. Then he said, “My guys for Saturday cancelled, do you think you can get some of your kayak buddies together?”  Start the planning, worrying, working, rigging…

I called the fishcrazy.info kayak division – Lee Williams, Matt Shepard, and Rob Alderman – then negotiated a kitchen pass from the domestic administration.  Friday was a very long day at work. 

At quitting time, I rushed out the door, rushed home, frantically packed the Jeep, hit the store, the gas station, and hit up the ATM, then headed towards Hatteras.  Arriving late, I grabbed a sleeping bag and crashed in the bow of Scott’s 50 foot custom Carolina.  Lee and Matt showed up in the wee hours of the night and fell out in the cabin. Who could sleep?  Visions of glory and catastrophe took their turns.  The anxiety of taking my fishing kayak into untested waters twisted and turned in my mind. Did I grab my paddle?  What jigs should I take?  Do I need a gaff?  Crap, I forgot my GPS.  Will we catch? Will we even get to launch? What about the sharks? Is that the wind picking up?    We were up bright and dark Saturday morning anxious to load our gear and get answers.  No one had ever targeted blackfin with vertical jigs out of the kayak before and we were poised to be the sacrificial lambs. Rob – who had left a Christmas party and driven 2 hours to meet the boat – pulled into the parking lot and we worked together to fill ‘Tahuna with kayaks, paddles, rods, tackle, waders, and the rest. By the time Scott and mate Kenny Koci pulled up to their boat it looked like a kayak battleship designed by the A-team.  We were ready. Scott fired up the boat and we cleared Hatteras Inlet as the sun was clearing the horizon.  No one mentioned the 15 knot wind that had crept up overnight.  No one mentioned the low-dark clouds that blocked out the sun’s warmth.  No one talked about the white caps. Instead, we busied ourselves rigging our tackle, prepping our kayaks and gearing up.

Big Tahuna is armed with an artillery of Daiwa’s newest jigging gear, and Kenny had loaded the medium heavy Saltist rods and Lever Drag 2-speed 30 reels with 65 pound color-coded Saltiga Boat line.   The Saltiga line changes color every 10 meters, allowing the angler to drop his jig to the exact depth where Scott is marking tuna – a major key to success. Kenny attached a 10 foot length of 80 pound fluorocarbon leader to the braided line with a Bimini/Albright combo.  Then, he used a uni knot to tie a 250 gram Williamson jig to the end of the leader. While Kenny readied the rods, we got our gear in order. When mothershipping kayaks, it is important to travel light and be prepared.  Since the support vessel is never far – there is no need to carry a quiver of rods and an armory of tackle.  One rod, a couple of jigs, and a spool of leader are all that is needed.  Grab a hand-held VHF to maintain contact with the mothership.  Add a bottle of water and an energy bar and the kayak is ready to go. With the weather going from not-so-good to worse, we each crawled into breathable waders and a dry top.  As I strapped on my PFD, Scott asked me, “How long can one of you guys stay in the water if you go over?”  I could tell he had reached the “worrying” part of the kayak fishing continuum.  Luckily, I had gotten there hours before.  I assured him that we wouldn’t drown if we fell out of the kayak – hopefully.

We pulled up to the 230 Rocks and it didn’t take long for Scott to find the fish on his fishfinder.  After a couple loops, he pulled back the throttles and ordered someone to take a test drop. “Six colors,” he instructed.   Rob grabbed a rod and deployed a jig. When he reached the desired depth, he put the reel in gear and started yanking and cranking. blackfin  

He only made a few turns of the reel handle before his rod was jolted with the strike of a powerful fish.  “It’s a tuna,” Rob announced as line stripped off his line. No one wasted time with celebration.  We each turned to our kayaks and prepared to launch – abandoning Rob and his fish. With Kenny’s help, we heaved each boat over the gunnel and dropped it in the water.  A 20 foot length of 5mm climbing rope tied to the bow kept our kayaks in tow while one-by-one we swung our legs over the side of the boat and fell into our kayaks. By the time all four ‘yakers were in the water, Rob had already dropped his jig and started working it back to his kayak.  “Hooked up!” he hollered and the rest of us finally celebrated success with a hoot and shout of encouragement. But we didn’t waste anymore time.  With the wind picking up and spray now blowing sideways off the chop, who knew how long we would be able to hold out. Matt dropped, Lee dropped, I dropped, and we each hooked  up.  Jigging in a kayak isn’t easy – mechanically or physically.  Being low to the water, there isn’t much room for a kayaker to get his jig on.  Despite the slop and chop, I hopped up on my knees to give myself more room to work my rod. 

Blackfin aren’t the only fish on the rocks, and it takes fast cranks and furious jerks to keep the jig away from amberjack, albacore, and monster sharks. But there is no doubt when the object fish is hooked.  Even though blackfin that are on the Rocks average 10 to 20 pounds (with fish up to 30) when one slams the jig and starts bulldogging line off the reel – there is no doubt what you’ve hooked. Every 10 feet of line gained is answered when the fish takes 20.  Just before the fish comes into sight, the blackfin will always take another blistering run for the bottom.  Even a heavy jigging rod and 15 pounds of drag are no match for these scrappers.  All the time, the fish is dragging kayak and kayaker around the ocean at astonishing speed.

Often two or three of us would be hooked up at once and the fish would tug and drag us at will bouncing our kayaks into one another like ping pong balls in a tile bathroom. blackfin  

While we worked our fish, Scott would motor around in circles keeping track of the school.  Then we would chase him down and make another drop. Meanwhile the weather worsened.  Before long the wind was blowing 20 knots and rain was falling sideways.    

But we kept fishing.  And catching. At one point, I was looking at the three tuna stacked in Rob’s tankwell when I saw a huge black monster swirl on his kayak like a mutant trout rising to a dry fly.  Rob didn’t see the leviathan, but he couldn’t miss the boil it left – a hole in the water bigger than his kayak. Neither the weather nor the sea monsters could keep us off this bite. 

We continued to catch blackfin along with albacore and amberjack.  Occasionally, the fish one of us was fighting would be eaten by a giant shark and for a few minutes the angler would find himself being dragged around the ocean powerless against an unseen maneater.  Eventually, the shark’s teeth would wear through the leader and we would be free to catch more tuna.

After hours, all the dropping, jigging, cranking, and paddling began to take its toll. The box was full of big blackfin and our energy level was on E.  Even with the wind dropping and the skies clearing, we crawled back on to Big Tahuna and used the last of our strength to reload our kayaks. Scott turned the boat towards Hatteras and we piled into the cabin retelling stories of the day until we each gave way to sleep. This time my dreams weren’t plagued by unanswered questions, they were illustrated with blurry images of big water, big fish, and little kayaks.

Worth it? Definitely!

Big Tahuna runs year-round out of Hatteras and something is always biting. Make your kayak fishing dreams come true – contact Scott Warren at 252-987-3000 or www.bigtahuna.com.  For updated fishing reports and how-to articles check out www.fishcrazy.info

 

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