Thursday, February 29, 2024

REPORT: Toona time!

I SPENT last week watching the weather reports and assessing sea surface temperature charts. It was all looking really good for a session chasing yellowfin tuna wide of Jervis Bay.

A big high was moving across NSW, cancelling out the westerly winds that had been blowing hard all week, and a tongue of warm water, with an associated current break, was sitting just north of JB. And all the reports were that the tuna were out there.

My buddy Wes Murphy and I were foaming at the chance to get out and chase a few ‘fin. I hadn’t wet a line offshore for weeks – a combination of crap weather, a busy time at work and an accumulation of familial duties meant that the Bar Crusher had been stuck in the shed.

During the week we discussed tactics, deciding eventually on the proven method of trolling lures until we found fish and then cubing. I spent most of Friday evening preparing the boat, setting up the outriggers, sharpening hooks, tying traces and generally fiddling around in a state of serious pre-fish excitement. My 12-year-old son Harry would be coming along as well. This would be his first serious offshore gamefishing expedition so I made sure I packed plenty of drinks and snacks to keep him entertained during what would doubtless be a long day out at sea.

We launched on the southern side of Jervis Bay and made a quick detour to load the bait tank with a dozen or so slimies. We were heading east out of the bay past Bowen Island just as the sun was rising over the horizon. The sea was flat, the wind calm.

inline_234_ 4 550.jpg  Conditions were fairly ordinary…

The water temp for the first few miles hovered around 17 degrees and began to rise slowly as we passed the 50 fathom mark. At the shelf around the JB canyons the temp reached about 18.5 degrees. We set the lures – a Rapala 30 on the short corner, a Halco Laser Pro on the long corner, a JB lures Dingo on the short ‘rigger, a Blacks Snacks skirt on the long ‘rigger and a pink squid down the middle – and kept heading east.

We saw pods of humpback whales in close and large groups of pilot whales further out around the shelf line and beyond. Several other boats travelled out with us and at least a couple of other crews were heading back in after spending the night cubing. Fish had been caught but it was difficult to tell via the radio chatter how big and where.

Once we hit the 1000 fathom line the temp quickly rose to 19.4. We made the call to pull the lures in and start cubing. The water was blue with iridescent specks of plankton floating around. I started cubing with pillies and set a live slimie about 80m back from the boat under a balloon and sank another one down deep with a sinker. Wes stripped a pillie back in the cube trail and young Haz busied himself with biscuits and a soft drink. After about an hour the deep bait went off and Harry found himself connected to a decent sized yellowfin tuna on 24kg gear. He did a great job to get it to the boat where Wes traced it and then gaffed it with my new Black magic gaff. This proved to be a mistake as the gaff head fell out of the handle and the tuna found a new lease of life with a two-inch stainless steel gaff hook poking out of its head. Luckily the circle hook held in tight, Wes took another wrap and I whacked the tuna with my big gaff. A couple of quick pics and the 25kg tuna was dispatched, bled and put on ice. Hi-fives all round!

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Young Haz on the rod.

We continued the cube trail. I set another deep bait and was rigging up a cube outfit when I noticed a flash in the water as a good sized shark swam up the trail. At first I thought it was a mako but the massive pectoral fins revealed our visitor to be a blue shark. I called Harry over the take a look at the shark as it nosed the berley pot and took a gentle chomp on the outboard leg.

“Can I catch it, Dad?” he asked.
“Sure, mate,” I replied, and quickly clipped a shark trace to a 15kg outfit.

Just I was getting ready to bait the 10/0 stainless hook, my deep bait outfit loaded up and the drag howled. At the same time Wes loaded up on his cube outfit. Tuna time! I dropped the shark rig and started fighting the tuna. It felt like a good fish. Wes was getting stretched on his 10kg outfit and Harry was busy oogling at the stupid blue shark, which decided to take up station right at the transom. It soon became evident that the tuna didn’t like the idea of the shark sitting behind our boat. If we were going to catch the fish I needed to get rid of the shark. I put my loaded-up rod in a rod holder, quickly baited up the shark hook and threw it to the blue shark. It obligingly ate it and took off as soon as it felt the sting of the hook. I passed the rod to Harry and told him to hang on. I started pumping my fish back in but the damned hook pulled just under the boat. Bugger!

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“Shark in the trail”…

By that time Wes had his fish boatside so I traced it and Wesbo sank the gaff in. That fish joined its mate in the icebox. Haz was making good ground with the blue shark. Before long it was beside the boat. I traced it and Harry got his first close up look at a big shark. The silly old bluey was unhooked and sent on its way.

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Jim Harnwell gets up close and personal with the blue shark prior to its release.

After that bout of excitement it took us a while to get things back in order. I re-established the cube trail, sent out more baits and we waited expectantly for more fish. Unfortunately, the only thing that found our trail was the crazy blue shark, which after disappearing for half an hour swam back in and chewed up my livies! By that stage the sun was setting and we had a good 20-mile run over flat seas back to the ramp.

Heading in I heard mixed reports on the radio. Some boats reported zeros, others had caught fish to 60 kilos, a few others had caught sharks and albacore. The next day I heard that two broadbill had been taken and that an 80 kilo ‘fin was caught down the coast.
I’m really hoping the weather will be good again next weekend!

Did any readers get out after the tuna on the weekend? If so, how did you go? Let us know.

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