A Welsh charter captain and two anglers drifting for sharks on Oct. 9 caught and released what is thought to be the largest tuna ever captured in the United Kingdom, a 111-inch bluefin estimated to weigh more than 900 pounds.
Anglers Simon Batey and Jason Nott teamed up to bring the massive bluefin to the boat after a 90-minute fight. Capt. Andrew Alsop, who runs White Water Charters, called it “the dirtiest fighting fish I have gone up against.”
“I’ve caught thresher sharks, mako sharks and numerous tuna, but I’ve never had a fish stay up on the surface like this,” Alsop told Salt Water Sportsman. “At times it was like you were a matador. The fish would come screaming straight at the boat and you’d move out of the way, making sure you have tight lines for the angler. Then the fish would take 200 yards and turn back around in the dark to come screaming back at the boat again.”
This happened about five times, Alsop says. At one point the tuna spent “a crazy few minutes twisting and rolling and smashing the surface to foam about 30 yards from the boat,” he noted. “It was one hell of a fight.”
“It was exciting,” he adds, “but my wits as a skipper on the controls and the throttles, especially being in the dark, were tested to the limit, to be honest.”
Bluefin Bycatch While Shark Fishing
Alsop captains one of only six boats licensed to handle tuna under Wales’ new Catch and Release Tagging (CHART) program, which collects data to improve scientific understanding and management of bluefin tuna in Welsh waters. The collaboration between the country’s government and Swansea University trains charter crews to safely handle and release tuna caught by recreational anglers, attaching tags that allow researchers to learn more about the movements of the wide-ranging migratory species.
However, the 900-pounder taken last weekend 25 to 30 miles southwest of Milford Haven was not eligible for tagging because it was caught during a shark-fishing trip, a memorable outing that produced 12 blue sharks, many over 150 pounds, and a porbeagle shark over 350 pounds that the captain believes to be one of the largest males of the species caught in the UK. All were released.
“A lot of the press is a bit mixed up because I am part of the CHART program,” Alsop said of news reports linking the tuna to the tagging initiative. “I’d be breaking the rules if I tag a fish that’s technically outside the CHART.” Instead, fisheries regulations classify such fish as bycatch, and Alsop recorded a video of the release to prove to fisheries officials that the bluefin was handled carefully.
Such incidental catches have become more frequent off the west coast of Wales in recent years, because big bluefins have begun scavenging off the trawlers that work the area, Alsop says. “We do get a crossover when we’re chumming the water for sharks. The bluefins will join the chum trail to feed as well, and when they get into a feeding frenzy they’re not too choosy on what they eat.”
The tuna smashed a mackerel the captain dredged out of his freezer after running out of pollock, the bait that enticed the 350-pound porbeagle. “The boys were actually over the moon with that fish, and they wanted me to put another big pollock on when I re-rigged the rods. I said, ‘We’ve got some old mackerel; it’s not the freshest, but it should be fine for shark.’”
He baited a 6.5-foot 30- to 80-pound-class standup rod with a Talica 50 reel spooled with Diamond Braid Hollow Core and dropped it about 30 feet directly under the boat. He was headed for the cabin when he saw the rod bend over and spring back. Thinking one of the anglers might have bumped it accidentally, he asked if anyone had touched the rod. No one had.
“I picked up the line in my hand and pulled some slack in,” Alsop recalls. “All of a sudden it pulled straight out of my hand, and the line was just screaming off the reel.”
A Seasoned Bluefin Tuna Captain Comes in Clutch
In 2017 Alsop caught a 500-pound bluefin, then thought to be the largest ever taken in Wales, and he has battled bluefin as big as 700 pounds.
“Usually you fight them for a while and then they go into that predictable pinwheel,” he says. “But this fish just kept coming at the boat from out of the darkness and then running. As it was smashing the surface and going berserk. I thought, ‘Well, that’s good, because it will tire the fish.’ Then I realized how big this thing was. I shot down the ladder and said, ‘This is a monster, guys. Take your time now.’ Eventually we were able to get it to the side of the boat and realized what we were dealing with.”
Measured from nose to tail fork, the bluefin stretched 9 feet, 3 inches long. The 900-pound estimated weight is based on a formula. The fish was never removed from the water. The crew recorded a video while reviving the tuna and released it quickly.
“It was just an unreal capture,” Alsop says. “The fight was explosive. The only thing we didn’t get, because it was such a high-speed fight with the gear we had, we just didn’t have time to film the speed the line was coming off the reel. But it’s the biggest thing I’ve ever seen and just proves that we’ve got very, very big bluefins off the coast of Wales.”