Hot Dog and Baltimore Canyon July 15-17, 2011 Tuna Fishing
It was finally that time again and with an all star crew of Big Karl, Andrea, Rich, Matt, Eric (Big Er), Eric jr (Lil Er), Brandon, Shane, and Joe slated, The Maximum Gusto was ready for another offshore overnight tuna trip. The plan was to steam out Friday night and do the usual Sunday afternoon return. After scouring fishing reports all week and checking the weather 3 times a day, Friday finally arrived and the forecast for the weekend looked beautiful! There was one issue however and that was there were no real definitive reports of solid tuna bites throughout the week due to the rough weather. The word during the week was that the Washington Canyon was the hot bite but that’s a 90 mile haul from Cape May Inlet. After looking at the Sea Surface Temps again the evidence of where the fish were was still inconclusive, that is until we got some intel letting us know that the bite at the Hot Dog was on fire Friday with boats limiting out in short time. This sounded too good to pass up on as the “Dog” is about a 60 or so mile run from Cape May, much more wallet friendly than the 90 mile Washington run.
With intentions of leaving the dock at 10pm we did our usual fashionably late departure around 11:30 pm. Plenty of time to head to the Hot Dog and have lines in before sun rise. We arrived just outside the Dog at 4:30 and began getting the spread ready with visions of the epic 2001 yellowfin tuna bite at the Hot Dog. Unfortunately upon arrival about 100 other boats had the same idea! There was a mix of boats trolling and chunking/jigging covering all corners. After trolling for a few hours while marking pretty good bait and fish we decided to give the chunking/jigging a go as it appeared that the boat traffic had completely killed the odds of trolling up a fish. There was chatter on the radio of a few people picking at them on the chunk.
With the chunk spread set and the crew leisurely jigging (or attempting to jig in some cases) it was time to play the waiting game. After about 2 hours or so one of the free lined chunks starts screaming! A very welcomed sound! The battle began a short time later Matt stuck the gaff in a nice 50lb YFT. Great feeling to get the skunk off! The next few hours went by and some of the crew tried to catch a short nap until Lil Er yelled from the transom that he was hooked up on the jig and man was that fish burning off the line. Er was using Matt’s Penn Torque 200 spooled with 80lb power pro as it would have provided a nice fight on the 50lb class YFT in the area. This fish however was nowhere near the 50lb class. Er passed the rod back to Bran as the fish slammed the jig had headed straight toward the bow of the boat. Bran recognized that we were running out of line in a hurry and proceeded to lock the drag down (20+lbs of drag!) which essentially did nothing so it was time to burn some thumb. This slowed the fish down for about 10 seconds while we yelled to start up the boat give chance. By the time the boat started up the fish hit the afterburner and there was nothing but gold left showing on the spool. Pretty helpless feeling but it was kind of interesting at the same time. The jig was about 2 cranks or so from the bottom in 130ft of water, so our best guess would be a big bluefin hammered it and didn’t look back! That would be our last real bite on the chunk aside from wrangling with some lethargic hammerheads.
The afternoon rolled around and we began trolling again looking for bait and tuna marks on the sounder, hoping the decreasing boat traffic would turn the bite on. It was pretty much seaworld out there with amount of whales and porpoise and the bait and fish marks were outstanding yet we couldn’t buy a bite! We had a short YFT come tight on the WWB blue/white islander ballyhoo combo but that was it for the Dog. We certainly put in our time and it was not for lack of effort but man did that boat traffic kill the bite. Lesson learned I guess!
The frustration of the hot dog led us to that decision that we were going to the hit the Baltimore canyon for the night and see what we could muster up there. Still up on troll we pointed the bow toward the deep and decided to start trolling our way the additional 20 miles to the canyon. About an hour later seemingly in the middle of nowhere without a boat in site and the sun beginning to set the Joe Shute crystal/ballyhoo combo starts screaming and in comes another nice 50 or so pound YFT. Nice moral boost heading into the night! It was getting dark and we wanted to get setup in the deep so we threw the hammers down and ran the rest of the way to the Baltimore.
Arriving at the Baltimore the plan was to fish for swordfish, shark, tuna, mahi, or pretty much whatever responded to the barrage of bait and chum we were about to unleash! Bran readied the swordfish rigs and got those set out first. We have never hooked up with a swordfish before and were hoping to give it a whirl. After all the lines were set and the hydroglow bobbing in the water off the transom a portion of the crew went in for some much need rest. This napping session did not last long as a commotion on the deck caused everyone to wake up. Rich claimed that something hit the swordfish line but he didn’t know what it was or if it was even big so we kind of ignored him and focused on Lil Er who was water skiing a nice gaffer mahi on an 80w! After the mahi was boated, which came in real hot and caused a hell of ruckus, the focus turned to Rich on the sword rod who was just dilly dallying around trying to figure out what he had going on. The fish appeared to be heavy but did not do much. Then all of a sudden Rich yells, “Guys it just got big!” and the Penn International 70vs starts peeling off line. Now the drag was set at around 18lb-20lb of drag since the swords have soft jaws and you can’t apply much more pressure without pulling the hook. I will tell you however the amount of pressure we had on this fish was no joke as Rich and Lil Er can attest to! Richard battled the fish back and forth for a good 45 minutes before we had any confirmation of what it was we were up against on the end of the line. Was it a big shark or did we really just lay into our first sword!? Well that confirmation would come shortly after, as we began to make out the green illumination of the glow stick that was placed 20ft or so up from the hook. The boat was situated so the full moon was directly off the transom and was shining bright upon the water. The light began to surface about 40 yards off the starboard side of the boat just outside the moon light. Big Karl was at the helm driving the boat as the rest of the crew looked on, staining their eyes to get a look at this beast. Big Karl had the best view from the bridge and as the cyalume light ascended he yelled down, “He’s going to jump!”, and jump he did, thrashing violently with half of his body out of the water! It was an intense moment watching that glow stick get whipped around but the hook stayed tight! The crew in the pit could just barely make out the bill and the torso of the fish but that view combined with the sound of the splash were enough to give away that were in battle with a big swordfish! Just how big was the question? Well Big Karl had a solid look and yelled down, “You guys are going to be very surprised when you see how big this thing is next to the boat!”. Now we just had to get the thing next to boat! Something that apparently was not on this fishes agenda quite yet as he proceeded to dive and peel off any line that Richard was able to gain. After an hour of this back and forth battle Richard was calling to the bullpen where Lil Er had been limbering up to step in should Rich need assistance. Er harnessed up and we made the switch! The battle continued with lil Er doing his best to lay the wood to this monster. The crew in the pit was still yet to get a good gauge of exactly how big this thing was. Now 1 hour and 45 minutes or so into the fight Lil Er is making some good progress gaining line and slowly the glow stick begins to surface again, this time 20 to 30 yard directly off the transom right under the glow of the full moon. The crew began to devise a plan to end the battle should he get close and readied the gaff hooks, and flying gaff. Everyone watched nervously as the glow stick ascended once again and looked poised for another jump this time under the moon light. The sword breached the water with a violent head shake with about half of his body thrashing out of the water! Finally a good look, and this thing was massive prompting the whole crew to simultaneously say “Holy shit!”. Lil Er reeled quickly keeping the line taunt and we stayed tight through another epic jump. After the jump we thought we had him on the ropes and the “End Game” crew, even more nervous than before after getting a good look at the size of this behemoth, began to ready. The fish however was not ready and decided he didn’t like the looks of what was going on up top and decided to head back down, much to the dismay of Lil Er who was now getting thoroughly beat up after an hour at the reel. Richard was semi/not really recovered and was thrown back into the battle! Through the entire fight Big Karl did a masterful job of positioning the boat, keeping our anglers in the best position. When lil Er left the rod the fish was still tanking along toward the deep. Richard took over in hopes of stopping the beast however he decided to kick it into whole new gear that we hadn’t seen the entire fight yet! Ripping off line with its biggest run yet 2+ hours into the fight! An absolutely amazing display of power and stamina. We had now drifted into the deep of the Baltimore canyon and apparently this is where he was headed. A bit of frustration set in as only 15 minutes or so earlier we thought we had him tired! We decided to turn up the pressure on him a tad in hopes of getting him to come up. We had feared that the leader maybe chaffing through after such a long fight so we wanted to try to end it. After a short bit the line suddenly goes slack. Such a sinking feeling as Rich reeled violently in hopes that the fish was darting toward the surface. That was not the case and we had thought that the 250lb leader had finally let loose. As the glow stick rose toward the surface so did the leader, intact, with the hook still attached. Nothing but silence as the demoralized crew looked out into the vast moon lit ocean trying to grasp what had just occurred. We estimated the swordfish to be 300+ pounds. That fish put on a great show and was one of the best adrenaline rushes we’ve had out on the water. Not a favorable end to an epic battle but such a cool experience none the less! Better luck next time guess. We certainly learned a lot from it and will be better prepared for a next run in with the gladiators of the deep!
Some of the crew was still left wide awake and continued fishing, deploying the lines, chum, hydroglow, and whatever stink bait remained in the freeze (there was a wide variety and it certainly stank!). Matt was running the overnight show now with Shane and Joe. They had a going out of business sale on bait and a big ole blue shark showed up to see what he could bargain for! They wrestled with the shark for a good bit for making a clean release boat side.
The next morning we set out the trolling spread at sunrise in hopes of riling something up in the Baltimore before heading back to the Hot Dog to see if the bite turned back on there. The spread was not out long before a nice white marlin piled on our rainbow green machine bar being towed from the starboard outrigger. He made a couple nice explosions before descending back to the deep. We proceeded to run back to the Hot Dog hopping the boat traffic subsided enough to give the fish a chance to surface without getting run over by hundreds of boats. We arrived and marked bait and set up for the chunk again. The whales that covered the area were nowhere to be found and neither were the tuna. We played with some hammerhead sharks again before pulling up the lines and heading for the barn.
Overall we had a great weather, and a great crew on board. The fishing overall was pretty tough but this will go down as one of the more memorable trips we’ve had. It was just one of those unique trips. We had opportunities but just couldn’t get the cards to go our way. Very rarely can you catch some nice tuna, mahi, get absolutely smoked on a jigging rod in 130ft of water, have an epic battle with a monster swordfish, and have a marlin blowing up your spreader bar. What a weekend! Its trips like that these where you don’t always come back with the most meat in the box but come back with stories and memories that will last a life time and in the end, that’s what it’s all about!