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February 22, 2013

Schooled on Tuna

The Pacific coast of Panama offers unrivaled casting action for big yellowfins.

Porpoises rolled in every direction around the boat, as they had for hours, and once in a while, a yellowfin tuna would either roll with the porpoises, or leap from the water in pursuit of a baitfish. George Large, vice president and general manager of Yo-Zuri Lures, stood next to me at the bow as we both cast relentlessly, sweat pouring off each of us. We were fishing out of the Islas Secas Resort in Panama with our good friend Carter Andrews, and the tuna were thick, traveling with schools of spinner porpoises. Seeing those porpoises and the ­attendant tuna that swim with them makes your pulse pound as the adrenaline flows, and somehow it doesn’t seem ­unreasonable to make 200 casts or more a day in the tropical heat.

“Look at that, man,” Andrews said from the tower. “That’s solid tuna in front of the boat.” Large and I both acknowledged that fact and reminded him that we had been casting into the fish all day, with periodic success, but somehow the large fish we sought had eluded us to this point. We had each caught several nice yellowfin, the largest of which probably pushed 70 pounds, but we knew bigger ones were out there — much bigger ones. We had seen them.

Big Bite

We were fishing near the famed Hannibal Bank close to Isla Montuosa when we ran across a smaller school of porpoises, and several large tuna rolled with the school simultaneously. “There they are, 2 o’clock!” Andrews hollered. Large was on the right side of the bow, and he let fly a long cast. His popper hit the water, and after only two pops on the retrieve, a huge tuna boiled on the lure. The yellowfin lay on its side on the surface for a few long seconds and thrashed the water in a furious frenzy, but when it finally sounded, it left in a hurry, taking lots of braided line with it. 

Large is an expert angler, and he had hooked the fish on stout spinning tackle. He strapped himself into the stand-up  gear and went to work, and twice the big tuna almost spooled him, but each time he persevered and gained line back foot by foot. Line came more steadily after some time, and an hour and 45 minutes after the bite, we saw color below the boat. After a few more strokes, the big fish lay just under the surface. Andrews’ mate, Juan Andres Spragge, sank a large gaff in its shoulder, and he and I hauled the fish over the gunwale in one motion. Large was one exhausted — yet exhilarated ­— angler. Later that night at the dock, the big yellowfin tipped a digital scale at 207.5 pounds.  

Numbers Game 

Catching big tuna on casting gear is a numbers game. You have to cast a lot, and be fully prepared for long and brutal fights when you do hook up. Carter Andrews has become one of the world’s leading experts at this style of fishing during his tenure as Islas Secas’ director of fishing, so we asked him to share some thoughts about landing the fish of a lifetime on spinning gear. 

“We are using 65-pound braid,” Andrews says. “It’s heavy enough to fight these monsters with maximum ­pressure but still small-enough diameter to maximize the cast. Heavier braid, 80- to 100-pound, just does not cast the same. The leader and double line needs to be at least six feet long. We have lost fish after a long fight when the main line chafed from the tuna’s tail. Leaders are a minimum of 100-pound-test fluorocarbon. A huge tuna will inhale even the biggest lure, then all you have is leader coming from its mouth, and a 250-pound ­yellowfin has substantial teeth.”