by Damon Mcknight
Tuna fishing and Technology.
The fishing these days, it has changed tremendously over the past 15 years. This change has made things much better for the fisherman and to every fisherman's delight, not so good for the fish. The equipment that most fisherman use has certainly come a long way since the mid 1990's, and it starts from the boats and motors all the way down to the leader and hooks. Electronics have become so sophisticated that most people don't use or even know certain features on their own units. When I first started in the fishing business everyone ran twin-diesel sport-fishing boats and now they are just about obsolete in our area, and seem to be heading in that direction in others, but that could be for several reasons, which is a story for another day. We had twin KAMD 42 Volvos on our first boat and we knew they were good for about three days and then you spent two days fixing something that broke, mainly tensioner pulleys, and nothing cost less than one-thousand dollars to fix on a turbo diesel engine. This was actually the case for most charter Captains who ran diesels on an everyday basis. But they sure could raise a Marlin and it sounded great listening to the turbo's kick in while taking off just before light to get to blue-water. Those are now days in the past and today outboards or what some of the old timers call "Clip On's", are definitely the faster, easier, and more economical way to go. Now that they offer center console boats in the 42ft. range with dependable quad or triple-outboards, a portion of the big boat owners are selling their 60ft. Hatteras or Viking, and replacing them with go fast boats. This seems to be the new trend in offshore fishing.
Since 2004, the Yellow fin Tuna state record has been broken 9 times in La. Since about 2002 we started seeing numerous Yellow Fin come into the docks, weighing over 175lbs. Before that time frame, we actually had very few that big come in on a regular basis, but they were definitely out there, it could be because there were less people fishing but there were still plenty of expert Fisherman, fishing the same areas that these big fish were coming from way before 2002, and also stories of the big one that got away due to equipment failure, being spooled, or lack of knowledge. You would always here someone on the radio transmit that they just hooked into a big one, only to come back just as quick to say they got spooled. In the 90's and very early 2000 it always seemed like rods were breaking (Penn Tuna Stick) and tackle failures were very common. In 1992, a company that was developing a line for flying super kites stumbled onto what is now Power Pro. In 1997, Power Pro was introduced and a couple of years later they came out with the larger diameter Power Pro in 80lb. It took a couple of years for it to really catch on, because we were still using 80lb. monofilament on 30 and 50 wide's but we were also getting spooled sometimes on days we were on the bigger fish. So, in about 2003-2004 using a top shot started to catch on and we were filling our reels with 80lb. Power Pro, and using some of the higher priced brand mono's such as Jinkai and Momoi, to put about 150 yards of top shot on the reel. Off the subject for one second, the first time I used Jinkai 80lb. we were in the fish thick, big tuna. Along came a boat that dropped his anchor and I won't mention names, but he dropped right next to us because he saw that we were in the fish. Well, about the time his anchor rope came tight we hooked into a big Yellow fin tuna and it went right to his anchor rope, figures. Well it burned out line so fast, it burned right through his anchor rope and cut his anchor off and we caught the fish. I think he learned his lesson and I was feeling pretty good about it. Turned out to be a 132lber. Here is what happened since the introduction of better tackle. In 2002, the new state record came in at 232lbs., before that catching one over 200lbs. was almost unheard of. So, in 2004, which is about the time when Power Pro and adding a top shot became really popular, the state records started dropping every year to bigger fish. In 2005 (224 and 240lber.), 2006 (229 and 230lber.), and 2007, (222, 229, and 233lber.). These are still in the top ten. There were many Yellow fin in 2007over 200lbs. as well, and more than I have ever seen in the 180+lb. range. This is also the time that fluorocarbon, newly designed circle hooks, and better rods and reels were flooding the market. Without the use of Power Pro, a top-shot, fluorocarbon, and being able to hold 800 yards on smaller but stronger diameter line, in my opinion half of these big fish would not have been caught. We just didn't catch the bigger fish like this on a consistent basis before this type of tackle was introduced. Right now, the top ten fish in the state were all caught in a 20 square mile area since 2002, big fish are still coming from this area but not like they were. In 2012 the new state record came in at 251 pounds, but that has been about it since 2007. In 2008-2011 fishing seasons, we did see a decline in the bigger Yellow fin Tuna in this area, mainly the migrators. They are still out there but not quite as many that use to come to this area. Now don't get me wrong, you can still go out and have a great day catching all 100 plus pound tuna., but it just isn't happening as much as it use to.
The fishing has definitely changed due to the change in technology, and fishermen are changing along with it, becoming much more proficient while doing so. But, so are the fish. They are getting smarter as well. When I first started Tuna fishing all you needed was a couple of Rapala's and a daisy chain and you could catch all you wanted. Now, you have to sometimes have several different species of live bait and possibly some chum to go along with it. Certain top-water lures were a sure thing to catch Tuna while they were busting on the surface. Not any more, you had better have an assortment and try them till you find one they like. You can get satellite weather on your boat to decide more easily if you need to come back to port, or continue fishing for another several hours. Radars are now user friendly and present an unbelievable image to be able to run in fog or complete darkness. The larger center consoles, which have lately become the boat of choice for Northern Gulf anglers fishing offshore can make it out safely and faster on some of the more windy days, when before you may skip a day to avoid the beating. With today's technology, including the internet, those that use to have to learn for a few years how to fish, can now do it successfully in half the time.
Gulf fishermen have certainly come a long way since the mid 90's. However, the fishing today still remains just as strong, if not better, than it was 15 years ago. That shows just how resilient the Gulf and the species that live in it really are.
Capt. Damon McKnight
Super Strike Charters