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Catching Tuna in the sunshine

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Catching Tuna in the sunshine
Why stay in the cold when there is great fishing out there
While most of the country was struggling with sub-zero temperatures more commonly experienced in Siberia than SW1 and pickings for anglers around the capital proving very slim indeed, the London Angler was lucky enough to jet away to Barbados, for a long awaited family holiday in the sunshine. Having eagerly awaited the trip for almost 18 months, December could not come round soon enough and although primarily a family holiday, I was desperate for the chance to dip a rod in the Caribbean sea if at all possible, although some early research had shown that a trip out on a deep sea cruiser trolling for marlin, or most commonly dolphin (thatís Mahi Mahi, not flipper), barracuda and tuna was going to be way out of the L.A price range. Shared trips came in around £300 for 4 hours and around £500-£800 for exclusive use, far too rich for L.Aís blood.

Consigned to a fishing-less trip, I spent
Fantastic fishing in Barbados
an enjoyable few hours watching the localís catching small snapper at sunset on the beach, a simple rig with a hook at the bottom, a drilled bullet about 12 inches up the line, with baits ranging from chicken livers to garfish to a local version of spam, cast about 20 foot out into the surf.

Seeing the guys catching, albeit very small fish, inspired me the next day to speak to one of the lifeguards on the beach and ask him whether any of the local fishermen would be prepared to take me out in their boat. He took me along to meet Ricardo, clad in his Arsenal shirt and cap, and we agreed on a price of 150 US dollars (about £100) for a trip out hand-lining for black-fin tuna in a few days time.

When the appointed day came, I wandered along the beach to meet Ricardo and saw him heading in to shore in his boat, an 18 foot wood skiff, painted sky blue, and named TomaHawk. I hopped
Great catch
in and discovered that the middle of the boat was a water proof bulk head that was full of small fish which Ricardo described as sprats. These were to be our bait. We initially headed out to some shallows, around 60 feet of water, to try our luck for Barracuda. Through a lack of skill and ability I managed to lose one, probably a small barra, not really understanding how to play a fish on the handline and giving it far too much slack line which enabled it to throw the hook. Ricardo was a man of few words and the instructions were along the lines of, hereís the sea, the fish are in it, off you go.

We did manage to catch a small grouper and another fish that sounded like a Squirrel fish, although how it got its name could be anyoneís guess. We then had a call on Ricardoís mobile from other local fishermen saying that they had seen tuna jumping further out. The reef surrounding
Barbados is very close to shore so you donít have to go far out to hit deep sea which means that all of the fishermen get a signal on their mobiles and call each other to say where the fish have been spotted. We struck anchor and headed out to the deeper water to try our luck for black-fin tuna. When we got out to the deeper mark, there were already half a dozen boats anchored up on either side of the buoy that Ricardo had dropped that morning. Ricardo told me that he was the best fisherman off that beach and the other guys had come and dropped their anchors in the same spot once they had seen him put down his buoy that morning. Some bravado perhaps, but Ricardo seemed like a more matter of fact, than blowing his own trumpet sort of man.

The tackle could not have been simpler, 40lb line, tied to a wire trace, attached to a large hook, the hook was then nipped through the back of the bait fish which were then thrown out to swim around on the surface to hopefully attract the tuna. No weights, no grippers, no hook lengths or swivels, no fine tuning or plumbing the depth. A line, a hook and some bait. To start with we cast out 2 lines, Ricardo telling me that when he fishes on his own he will usually have between 4 and 6 lines out, depending on the conditions. It was an overcast and slightly choppy day, which Ricardo assured me was perfect for tuna. After an hour or so we had had no action and there was no sign of any fish jumping, the only movement being the pair of frigate birds who kept swooping down to take the free offerings that were being thrown in around our baits to try and entice the tuna. There then came a shout from one of the boats to the south of us that a King Fish (which looks a little like a giant mackerel and makes great eating) had just jumped past his boat heading towards us. By the time the fish jumped again, it was already about 30 foot passed us, heading for the next boat down, who managed to get a bait dropped right on his nose. The fish took the bait and a frantic few minutes ensued, only to be ended with the disappointment of the King Fish throwing the hook, much to the annoyance of the fisherman who had hooked it, Kingfish being one of the most sought after in the market. The hours ticked by and there was no more sign of any fish and one by one the little boats started to pull their anchors and head for home. When only three of us were left, there was a take on one of our lines and I struck into my first ever tuna. The feeling of playing a fish with a hand-line was quite unlike anything I have ever experienced before in my angling career, you really have a sense of exactly how the fish is running and feel far more in touch with it than when you play a fish with a rod. You pull the line up, arm over arm, taking about a metre of line back with each pull, and hoping that the fish does not run too hard as the mono would make a real mess of your hands if you had too tight a grip on it ( I did ask Ricardo if they ever use anything to protect their hands and he just laughed and showed me a deep scar running across his palm which did not fill me with confidence). You also have a far better appreciation of exactly how much line you have out once you have had to retrieve it by hand. After about ten minutes of careful playing, taking line when the fish felt like it was running towards the boat and letting it run when it wanted to, we could see a flash of silver in the water and shortly up came the black-fin to be expertly gaffed by Ricardo. The next hour brought two more tuna, the last one (which actually turned out to be the smallest) going on two spectacular runs that had me thinking I would have a scar on my hand to rival Ricardo.

As the sunset, we were the last boat to pull anchor and head for the shore (and the only one to boat any fish that day), and as soon as we headed inland, a shoal of around 10 tuna leapt out of the water in the exact spot where we had been fishing. Ricardo flashed a knowing grin declaring he would have to come back and catch them tomorrow, and I had little doubt that he would.Ē

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Certainly sounds more fun than sitting freezing my arse off on some frozen canal and catching nothing but frostbite!

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