Monday, August 3, 2009

The Bachelor Party

Heyman's getting married soon and we had to throw him a bachelor party. Hooters? Nope. Poker and Cigars? Nope. Strip Club and Tequila Shots? You guessed it, not a chance. To throw a bachelor party in true Heyman style, we had to go fishing-all weekend. The plan was to leave early Saturday morning, fish all day, camp and then do it again Sunday. But if you know Heyman, you know the plan can change. He's been dreaming of taking his 22 foot Trophy out to the open ocean for Albacore and the conditions couldn't have been more perfect for a run out to the blue water. So, instead of spending the entire weekend at Ocean Cove fishing for rockfish, we headed home Saturday night after a full day of fishing and prepared for the big trip.
Albacore are the ultimate sport fisherman's quarry. Fast and strong, they take tackle to the limit, defying everything you learned about fishing as a kid. Pops used to tell me, keep the drag loose, don't horse em', let em' run, back when we used to fish for trout and salmon. Not with Albies. For these hard-fighting Tuna, you'd better use heavy line, a stiff rod, and a heavy duty reel with the drag cranked down tight. If you let em run too far, you run the risk of getting spooled and oddly enough, the school will follow the hooked fish away from the boat, spoiling your shipmates chances of hooking up again. It's not uncommon for every rod to go off and have everyone working a rod or two
After an hour and a half drive, we met Heyman's buddy from work, Gary at the Marina in Half Moon Bay at 6am. Pattyo and I have fished for Albies aboard The Flying Fish, I think Heyman went as a kid and Gary is an avid saltwater fisherman and I assumed he had fished for Albacore before. He had some "hot numbers" where some of his buddies from the coastside fishing club had caught fish yesterday and three bags filled with tackle. He was wearing sweats so I assumed he'd put on some waterproof pants on the way out.
Running a private boat out to the tuna grounds is always a risky proposition. Heyman has "vessel assist" insurance but it will only cover out to twenty miles and we were probably twice that far when we heard the "crack". Pattyo yelled "hey" and I glanced back to see the 15hp kicker motor bouncing awkwardly off the stern, bucking at sickly angles like a pissed off bronco. Before we could slow down, the poor engine dropped off, ripping out the fuel line as it bobbed and then sank peacefully down to Davy Jones' Locker. We had a moment of eerie silence as we assessed the damage. With no land or other boats in sight, I thought of Gilligan and the skipper but then snapped out of it. The nearest islands are the farallones and they are most definitely not a tropical paradise nor do I suspect that the dfg biologists who live on it look anything like Mary Anne or Ginger. By a stroke of pure luck, the main motor survived the ejection of it's little brother unscathed and we proceeded as planned only without the kicker as a last resort backup engine.
We trolled for hours without seeing a thing save for a few lonely seagulls. Finally we spotted a school of "breezers" or surface feeding albacore but our hopes were dashed when another fishing boat ran past (the closest we came to any boat all day) and drove the tuna back down. Just when impatience began to rear its ugly head, we spotted another group of Albies on the hunt, busting up baitfish on the surface, breeching like mini-whales and doing like albacore do all day: eat and swim, swim and eat. As they are known to cover distances of sixty miles or more in a day and migrated to this exact location from Japan, it's not always a guarantee that you'll hook up when you see them. Sometimes you simply don't cross paths in the vast oceanic playing field. Often the course can be too aggressive, running right through the middle of a feeding school and spooking them back down to the depths. Regardless, anticipation mounted as we closed in on the frenzied school. Suddenly Pattyo yells out, "on the hook" and a reel starts to zing and the rod pumps. Albies are notoriously hard-hitting and there's nothing like the excitement of that first run. We troll for a few more seconds and two more rods go off in unison, we've got ourselves a triple hook-up. Game ON!
I grab my rod and crank down the drag. The fish slows but keeps pulling off the 60lb. test, intent on a course in opposition to my own. I raise the rod trip and slowly the submerged force begins to see things my way. With quick pumps I recover as much line as I can. As the fish nears the boat I switch the two-speed Penn reel to low and start cranking it up. Finally I yell out "color" and Pattyo flips it onto the deck with the gaff and we start doing our fish dance. This fish is about 28 lbs, on the bigger end of the scale for the fish we encounter here in the Pacific so we know we'll be into some quality fish if we can catch some more. That's when I realize that I'm pumped full of adrenaline. My hearts racing. I'm stuttering and mumbling as I talk and I feel like I can tackle a mountain.
Heyman and Gary each bring their fish up and the deck is a blood-bath of pulsating tuna. The rythmns of tails beating the deck mixed with the thumping of a stick to the head of each tuna is a primordial dance repeated by seafaring humans since the dawn of time. Even if we don't catch another fish the rest of the trip, we have done what we set out to do six hours earlier. We are victorious. We have succeeded.
The congratulations are brief however as lines are checked and tossed back in, the engine kicks into gear and we're fishing again before all the blood is hosed off the decks. The albacore are stashed in the livewell to bleed out before we toss them into an ice-filled cooler mixed with saltwater to keep the flesh firm.
There are days spent fishing when everything seems to fall into place perfectly. The weather cooperates, the fish cooperate and the gear and tackle stand up to the abuse. Today was that day and we enjoyed every minute, repeating the fish dance precisely, rotating only the dancers.
Before we knew it time was running out and there was no more room in any of the four fish lockers. Our 14 football fat albacore would probably yield over 140 lbs of meat and so we went to work with our fillet knives and hose and bags of ice until all of the meat was cleaned and packed and the remaining carcasses set out for the ocean's perfect disposal system.
After two days of fishing, eight hours in the truck and twenty on the water, the bachelor party came to a glorious and productive end.

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