Giant Tuna Fishing

Capt. Jack Sprengel of East Coast Charters wrote up this story of a giant bluefin tuna trip off of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. ~KB


Giant Tuna

by Capt. Jack Sprengel

On Monday morning I went to work at Quaker Lane Outfitters in Rhode Island at 4am on a shift that was to carry me to around 2 in the afternoon. At 10am I received a call from my friend and Co-Captain Louis J Defusco informing me that a friend of ours was planning to head out in search of giant tuna and needed a crew. He asked if I was interested in making the run. “Of course,” I replied.  “When are we planning on heading out?”

“In two hours!” said Lou, laughing.

Immediately my brain began to hurt, as I started to plan a reconstruction of the work schedule, began to review a last-minute checklist of necessary gear to pack, and most importantly, tried to figure out how I was going to break the news to my wife.

Exactly two hours later I was in my truck, pulling out of the supermarket parking lot chock full with food and as much gear as I could grab with short notice. Riding with me were Capt. Lou and his Father-in-Law-to-be Rob Pascale, who was coming along to help out.

A short ride up to Green Harbor, Massachusetts and we were off to the back side of Cape Cod to jig up some bait before the steam out to the fishing grounds. We jigged up some nice live baits, threw them into the well and began making our way to the tuna grounds.

When we arrived, we began to make note of changes in contour, water color and signs of bait. About an hour into our efforts, our focus was interrupted when a boat passed very close to our bow, making a fast move toward another vessel. Upon closer inspection we noticed the reason for his hasty charge was that the other boast was tight on a fish. They appeared to be working together and operating on another frequency, because almost as soon as the fast mover stopped and got a bait into the water, he too came tight on a fish.

Prepping baits for giant bluefin tuna

Capt. Jack and Capt. Lou prep the tuna baits.

We moved out a little to give the two captains room to land their fish while we watched them battle the giant tuna. After seeing the size of the fish we were dealing with, Lou made up some nice new rigs on fresh fluorocarbon, the captain positioned the boat up drift and like a well-oiled machine, we got to work: cutting and tossing herring for chum, sewing hooks inside some of the larger baits, cleaning the leaders with alcohol, blacking out hardware with sharpies, setting up our spread at varied depths.  After about 2 hours of repeating this process a few times, one of the rods doubled over and began to dump some line.

The captain jumped on the rod, Lou got on the wheel, and Rob and I cleared the other lines and readied the harpoons. After a very short battle, the fish came boat side and to our dismay it was a blue shark. On the positive side, it was nice to run the drill onboard before actually having to boat the first fish. On the other hand, it was becoming quite clear that there was a lot of chum in the water in this area and it was bringing in some unwanted guests. After a quick meeting of the fish minds, we decided to slide outside of the pack into some deeper water to try and position a drift along the edge where we were marking more bait and could see a color change in the water.

Once we were outside of the fleet and fishing our own pattern, we ran the set-up drill and begin a nice drift at a consistent depth. Intrigued by the massive piles of bait near the bottom, we decided to “deploy a probe,” a term Lou and I use to describe blind jigging, to see what was down there. As soon as my 9-ounce Deep Force Jig hit the bottom, I got slammed. I reeled the scrappy fish up to the surface and it was a really nice cod. Not what we were looking for, I threw it back in. Just as I did, Lou noticed a huge mark on the sonar. We set our baits a little deeper and chummed a little harder, but no love.

I sent the jig back down, and again it was smashed almost immediately, this time by a nice-sized pollock. Again, Lou pointed out that right after I landed it, a massive mark showed up on the screen. We quickly grabbed from the livewell one of the live baits, put it on a hook and sent it down. WHAM! The rod doubled over and the reel started burning!

Capt Jack Sprengle Battles Giant Tuna

Capt. Jack Sprengel works to gain line on a giant by pulling line toward the reel and cranking in the slack.

Sharp from the drill a short time ago, we manned the stations. This time the captain got on the wheel and I got on the fish. Lou grabbed the ‘poon and Rob cleared the deck. Fighting the fish from the rod holder, it pulled so hard that it was impossible to turn the handle, so to gain any line, I had to reach forward, grab the line with a gloved hand, pull about 10 inches back and reel up the slack. This went on for about 30 minutes before we had the fish in its final spin right under the transom. Lou took a careful shot with the harpoon and ended up getting the fish though the lower jaw, like a stringer. Talk about meat preservation! Then, as its massive head broke the surface of the water, I backed off on the drag, grabbed a gaff and sank it.

Harpooning a giant bluefin tuna

Capt. Jack works the tuna close to the boat as Capt. Lou readies the 'poon.

“We’re on the board!” Lou exclaimed. We secured the fish with a tail rope, heaved it up the ramp, snapped a few photos, dressed out the fish and packed the 90-incher on ice.

A 90-inch bluefin tuna

Capt. Jack poses with the 90-inch bluefin tuna.

After the smoke cleared, our crew got right back into the swing of things and set up another spread using our new tested methodology. It took about another 3 hours, but once again, we marked the fish, fed them the live bait, and WHAM – the rod folded in half as the reel dumped. This time Rob got on the fish, Lou got on the ‘poon and I cleared the deck. This fish was different than the last one, it was DUMPING the line right into the backing.

“This is a bigger fish,” shouted Lou. As the fish used its immense size and power to get down-sea where it had the advantage, Rob gave it hell. About 30 minutes went by, and Rob was beginning to show some signs of fatigue. It was time for the change up to break this fish’s will, or as we like to put it, “WHIP HIS LEGS!”

I tagged in and began to put the heat on the fish with a fresh pair of arms. The fish still managed to last another 15 minutes before we got it into a circle. “Here he is!” I yelled out. Just as the fish came into view, I saw two harpoons come flying by me from alternate angles: one from the stern from Lou and one from the starboard bow from the captain. Remarkably, both darts landed perfectly, just below the pectoral fin, about 3 inches apart from one another. Not too shabby! We secured a tail rope to the fish and began to attach the hardware for the block and tackle, as there was no way we were going to drag this fish in on man power alone. Some big heaves along with some much needed mechanical advantage and the awesome 104-inch fish was on deck. After another quick photo shoot, we dressed and packed the fish and got back at it.

Capt. Jack with the 104-inch giant bluefin tuna

Capt. Jack with the 104-inch giant bluefin tuna, estimated to weigh more than 600 pounds!

About another 4 hours went by, and following the same pattern as before, our live bait got slammed once again. This time, it was a hard, quick run and then nothing. The fish had grabbed the bait but never got the hook! Lou reeled the naked hook up to the surface, and it would turn out to be our last at-bat for this trip. We made the call to pack it up and began the steam back home.

All in all, an incredible trip with one of the fishiest groups of guys you could ever ask to fish with – and a nice way to kick off our giant season.

Capt. Lou preps the giant tuna

Capt. Lou gets ready to dress the giant tuna.

  1. Dean Corso

    SHAME on your for further exploiting an endangered and soon-to-be-extinct species. Its either mindless, greedy, and/or apathetic people like you that have pushed this magnificent fish to oblivion. May the confluence of wind, rain, and tides catch you like you caught, then killed, it.

    • Chet

      Dean – Go post your beliefs on the PETA website where they belong…..we have the most rigorous management of this resource in the world….your barking up the wrong tree!

  2. Ann

    Chet, regardless of regulations and fishing laws, the bluefin tuna is endangered and experts suspect the fish that have been caught lately are the last generation, are juveniles and have not spawned yet. There is no real defense for you here.

  3. Bluefin Tuna

    Dean / Ann – In short terms Chet is right. We do have the most rigorous management on the Bluefin Tuna out of any other country. The damage to the Bluefin stocks are the countries that put out mile long nets and net a whole school of Bluefin and harvest the entire catch no matter the size of the fish.. These other countries are pulling a major number of the Bluefin population out of the water. They are destroying the stocks not us. As they take 100s and 100s of Tuna out of the ocean in one day from only one vessel alone – that is major damage to the stocks…..the rod and reel guys aren’t the problem. If other countries abided by similar guidelines the stocks would sky rocket.

    Rod and Reel is the way is should be done for this species not using mile long nets to wipe out an entire school.


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