Mike called me months ago and told me to block out some dates so I could run his 38′ Uniflite “Mundy Mooring” in the fall “Stag” tournament this year. Its an annual tourney in the Southern California Tuna Club (SCTC) and we have fished it together for the last 4 or 5 years. Mike is the perfect guy to run a boat for. He is fun and easy going, yet likes to catch fish and is will to go the extra mile. For the week leading up to the trip I worked on the boat, doing routine engine and generator service, and getting the tackle and gear ready. At the same time I was watching the tuna deal very closely, and the weather. Last minute the weather forecast turned for the worse, but Mike said “go for it” anyways, and boy am I glad we did.
An old friend of Mikes passed away very recently, Gordy Bateman. Gordy was (I think) 99 years old, and one of the saltiest guys ever the walk the earth. A member of SCTC, Gordy had a reputation for taking his boat, the “Fighting Lady” to the ends of the earth in these tournaments. He’d show up for the weigh-ins at the last possible minute, and pull some big, tournament winning tuna out of the hold. I mentioned to Mike that the tuna were on the edge of our range for the time alloted, he was hesitant. Then I said we could do it in memory of Gordy, and the idea became set in stone.
Rigged and ready to go.
On thursday, October 4th I loaded up my gear and got things ready. Mike came down along with his guest Ron and we went to the fuel dock to top off the tanks, then out to see Nacho at the bait barge for our ammo. Nacho asked me “whacha want?” I said “Some live squid would be great about now buddy.” (Not knowing he HAD live squid). “Okay, its in that well on the other end.” I was stoked beyond words. The sardines have been hard to keep alive on long trips this whole year, but I knew the squid would make the trip no problem. There is a lot of squid offshore right now, and I knew the tunas were keyed in on the squirts anyways. The tanks full of live squid lifted my spirits, considering the deteriorating weather reports on the outside.
We ran back in to the slip to pick up Tom, Mikes son and one of my good friends from all the way back to grade school. Tommy jumped on with his gear and we were off in minutes flat. I checked my voicemail and e-mail for last minute intel, and even got an on the water call from Josh who was just in from the tuna grounds. With that intel I plugged in the #’s and set our course, only 117 miles to go. “Its gonna be a LONG night boys”, I said as we rolled our guts out going across the flats in a beam sea.
I took my turn at the wheel, but refrained from overdoing my time like I typically do. I knew I had to have my game face on when we reached the grounds, so I took my place on one of the bridge bunks and rested as hard as I could. No way to sleep when you can hardly keep from falling out of your bunk. It wasn’t rough, but the angle could not have been worse. I was actually waiting for the axe to fall, but it never did. Sometimes the weather forecast is wrong, but instead of being worse than they said, it was better. At 4am I took the helm and looked at the plotter. We were outside the 1010 Trench, just 5 miles from a 213 spot. The water was 69.8, and had been for the last 30 miles. I knew we needed to find the break before we would be in the tuna. I turned up the gain on the machine and set the depth to 10 fathoms, then set the fish alarm so the first meter marks could be heard as well as seen.
At grey light we were almost right on top of the high spot, and the jigs were out. From the 213 to the 1010 Trench would be straight downhill, just like I had planned. Mikes guest Ron is 80 years young, and I wanted him be be safe and comfortable. I heard the Furuno fish finder alarm go off and looked down to see a nice jag of tuna, then looked over at the Furuno RD30 Sea Temp meter and it read 70.5. The next thing I heard was the sound of reels screaming. “Perfect! I love it when a plan comes together.” I ran down the ladder and helped clear the jig rods, and at the same time brailed a 1/2 scoop of live squid into our wake as the boat slid to a stop. Tommy was winding in a hoochie daisey chain right through the chum and got bit on the grind. The tuna ate the thing not 15′ off the transom, and he came tight on a nicer grade fish.
At deep color I called it out “big albacore guys!” Mike was stoked. I gaffed Tommy’s fish and placed it in the kill bag, then went to work on Mikes fish, which was a little bigger model. The head gaff ended up in the mouth, and the lift into the boat was a little sketchy. Glad the fish made it in the bag, because it ended up being the tournament winning fish. As is typical with early morning first bites, we were slow getting baits in the water, and never did get a bait bite on that stop. No doubt we would have if we had been better prepared. We transferred the ice from the freezer on the bridge and put in on the fish, then set the jigs and I went back to work.
The jig stops were steady and we began to pick off bait fish here and there. The albacore turned into yellowfin, and our numbers were getting up there. The kill bag was getting hard to close. We found a kelp on the 1010 proper and hooked a dorado, then another. It sure is fun when the kill bag has several different species in it, especially in a tournament that has different categories for different fish. With the job basically done and now being 130 miles from Catalina, I made the turn to start heading uphill. It was still early, and we were still in the fish. I set a course for the Hidden Bank and expected a break in the jig stops, but it never materialized. No late morning lull or crew falling asleep. You gotta love fall fishing.
Ron on a tuna with Tommy handling the deckhand duties.
We came up on another kelp and I got out the first bait. A very slight backlash when I cast a flylined live squid up wind turned into an instant tuna bite. The result was a knot on my spool and the tuna getting the best of me with a loud “SNAP!” The whole thing took all of 3 seconds. Thats how good it was. We added some yellowtail to our score on the way up the line, then crossed the break and back into dead waters we went. It was time to head for the barn.
We ran through the night at 8.5 kts, straight uphill. Not one drop of water came over the gunnels the whole trip, but it was still bumpy. You could tell it was blowing hard on the outside, and the weather updates on the VHF spoke of 40kts of wind at San Nicolas Island. At midnight the weather really laid down, and we bumped it up to 10kts. After more than 30 hours at 8kts, 10 felt like we were hauling ass. At 4am I pulled back the throttles as we came up under the East End light at Catalina. I metered around for some conditions and marks, but found nothing I liked. So I continued up the front, looking for signs of life. By now my legs were weak with exhaustion, and I could feel my eyes burning.
Mike with his tournament winning 29lb albacore.
I set us up at Yellowtail Point, and we cast out a few baits. Then we weighed our catch and began the process of filleting and packaging our beautiful fish. It was flat grease, and in this club you can weigh your fish at anchor with a certified scale if the seas are calm. We fished through half the day, knowing it was not going to be anywhere as good as the day before. I did catch a big calico that I thought might win that division. It was bested by just ounces, but didn’t take away from our tournament victory in any way. In every other tournament that Mike and I have ever fished, we stayed out and fished hard til the very last possible second. Not this trip, we were in 4th Of July Cove and on the mooring at 3pm, with the dinghy in the water and ready to go. Lines out was scheduled for 4pm, but we wanted to head into the Isthmus for Buccaneer Days, and witness the mayhem first hand. We ate ice cream and tried hard not to fall asleep standing, then headed for the awards banquet.
At the clubhouse in 4th of July Cove we met up with all 60+ of the other tournament participants. We all shared stories of our travels, and nobody could believe we had done what we did. Basically was stayed up for 3 straight days to get down to the tuna grounds and back, but it was worth it. The traditional swordfish and steak dinner only made me more tired, and as they announce that Mike and I had each won a category (tuna for Mike, and yellowtail for me) we felt the real pay off of doing the trip in memory of Gordy Bateman and the “Fighting Lady”. I was now so tired I could hardly put together a sentence. Tommy headed back into the Isthmus for more of Buccaneer Days, and Mike, Ron and I sat in the cockpit of the “Mundy Mooring” sharing some fish stories.
I called my wife and my son Scott to tell them I was safe and missed them tremendously, then laid down. I fell asleep faster than I could ever remember, and woke up with both a victory and the memory of Gordy fresh in my mind.
Marlin fishing on the way home from Catalina.