It takes only a few minutes to flip a day on the water from uneventful to unforgettable, as angler Thomas “Tad” Bodmer learned Sept. 20, when he hooked a 77-pound albacore (also known as longfin, Thunnus alalunga) tuna that is a pending Maryland state record.
“Nothing had happened all day,” says Bodmer, who was fishing aboard the Top Dog in an area north of Washington Canyon known as the 800 Square, about 60 miles offshore of the District of Columbia. “We had a little action tile fishing, but trolling early on we didn’t see a thing. We were getting to the end of the day, just dragging lines around, when all of a sudden everything happened at once.”
Top Dog captain Ryan Knapp observed pilot whales feeding in the distance and motored closer. The squid-eating whales often share water with tuna, Knapp says, and he likes to fish around them when he has the opportunity. After marking fish on his sonar, he alerted the anglers to be ready. The boat was pulling two teasers, two dredges and six hook rods baited with ballyhoo.
“Three lines went down at the same time,” Bodmer recalls, “and everybody jumped up and started running. I just grabbed the lucky pole.”
“We were zigzagging and crisscrossing each other, trying to keep out of everybody’s way, and the captain is yelling at us to go this way and that way, you go under and you go over,” he continues. “But he kept us straight and we landed all the fish. It was incredible.”
“We had three tunas on at once, so there was a bit of organized chaos,” Knapp says. “But Tad did a great job. We had that fish on the leader five or six times before we were finally able to trick it onto the gaff. It was not willing to go easy.”
After the two smaller albacore were out of the water, both angler and captain could more easily focus on the fish that Knapp dubbed “the grandaddy” of the three. Longfins, so called for the supersized pectoral fins that extend beyond the anal fin, are known to play a wicked endgame, and this fish was a perfect example of the type.
“When they’re straight under the boat and they put those long pec fins out, you just can’t pull them up through the water,” Knapp explains. “When they get straight underneath you and pinwheel in circles, that’s when it’s the hardest on the angler. It’s nothing but you, the rod, and your back holding on.”
“I’d get him up to the boat and he’d take off again,” Bodmer recalls. “That happened several times. It was like he saw the boat and said, ‘Oh, no we ain’t. We ain’t gonna do this.’”
Twenty minutes after hookup, the tunny was gaffed and hauled on deck.
“We all knew right away it was probably a state record,” Knapp says. “I told everybody that without a doubt I’d never seen one bigger.”
Longfin tuna are open-water fish, rarely venturing into depths less than 100 fathoms, and the D.C. area is about as far south as they are reliably encountered on the East Coast. “It’s typically in late August through September, when the white marlin fishing is best, that we see the most longfin—if we see them at all,” Knapp says. “In my fishing career, I’ve probably caught maybe a hundred longfins, as compared to thousands of yellowfins.”
Pending State Record
Bodmer’s pending state-record fish, which the Maryland Department of Natural Resources is still in the process of completing the paperwork on, was initially reported on social media as 79 pounds, due to photographs showing that weight on a dockside scale. The final weight reported by the captain and certified by the state is 77.0 pounds. That dethrones a 74-pound albacore caught in Baltimore Canyon by Victor Gardner, which had held the top spot since July 17, 2004. The IGFA world-record albacore is even longer-standing: The all-tackle fish is an 88-pound, 2-ounce tunny caught by Siegfried Dickemann in Gran Canaria, Canary Islands, Spain, in November 1977.
Not only has Bodmer never caught a state-record fish before, he says, “I’ve never even thought I’d catch a state-record fish before.”
“I’ve only been saltwater fishing in the Atlantic for probably three or four years,” he continues. “Everything before that was just rockfish in the bay and bluefish, a hundred years ago when we had bluefish. Right now, I’m just tickled to death. It feels like I hit the lottery.”