Dan and Dave Bedell returned yet again to the hallowed grounds of Puerto Vallarta on February 24th in hopes of cashing in on some of the fantastic giant yellowfin tuna fishing that we’ve been enjoying down here since November. They’ve fished with me in Puerto Vallarta, and beyond, countless times over the last decade, and each and every time they come back I intuitively know that something special is going to happen. Together we’ve bested countless giant tunas over the 200# mark over the years, caught enough 300#ers to rub elbows with the best of them, released black and blue marlin of epic proportions, and traveled to far off places like Panama and Clarion Island, to name but a few.
We all know the saying that it’s better to be lucky than good, well in Dan and Dave’s case I like to add something to the old cliché. I tell them that sure, it’s always better to be lucky than good, but if you’re both, then watch-out amigos, cause then you are DANGEROUS!
As the mountain of tackle and equipment that they routinely travel with piled up in the back of my truck while I picked them up at the airport I couldn’t help but ponder just what kind of havoc the boys would unleash upon the fish with their arsenal of top quality gear. Dangerous is right, I thought to myself, those fish had better be prepared for what’s coming!
After picking up the boys we ran around town stocking up on food, beer, and wine – the essentials for any offshore fishing trip in my opinion. After loading the boat and assembling their gear we made a quick stop at Margaritas in Punta de Mita for some dinner, and our now patented pre-trip blessing of the fleet a la tequila from Don Hector himself. With the last of the shots drained and some much needed warmth in our bellies we returned to the marina, fired up the 35 Cabo, loaded up on bait, and pointed our bow for Maria Madre Island nearly 100 miles away.
A cheeky, 15 – 20 knot nor-westerly seemed determined to dash our hopes of an enjoyable journey that evening. You get very spoiled driving around 60’ custom sportsfishermen and while I do love my Cabo’s, 35 feet is no comfortable match in six foot seas. As I took the first watch at the helm, and my crew and clients struggled to keep themselves from falling out of their bunks, I silently prayed to the weather gods for benevolence. The last thing I wanted was another 48 hour washing machine session like last trip. Ooohhhhhmmmmm….dear all-powerful gods of wind and sea….ooooohhhhhmmmmmmm….take pity on them and me….oooohhhhmmmmmmmmmmm.
It was a long night of bucking and rolling but when the sun finally climbed up and over the Sierra Madre mountains astern, and the silhouettes of the Marias came into view to starboard, and the first few signs of boiling tunas leapt into view, all beefs with the weatherman were all but forgotten. We had arrived in the ZONE and for the next 48 hours we were living and breathing giant tuna. To hell with the weather amigos, it was time to go fishing.
Dave and Dan immediately set to work fine-tuning their gear for the onslaught ahead. It took all of five minutes to locate a school of tunas in the gyro binoculars, the tell tale signs of birds diving in the distance gave the location of mayhem away. I steered for the boiling mass of fish and told the boys to bait-up and get ready.
Within seconds of deploying the baits both brothers were bendo and what proved to be an excellent day of tuna fishing began with a bang. The kite, fly line, and top water poppers were all on fire, all hail the fish gods when the action is like this.
After a few hours we had our fill of the legions of 40 – 100 pound tunas, and left the school we had been working in search of bigger fish. We spent the remainder of the day trying to locate the larger 200 – 300 pounders, but despite our best efforts we came up short.
As the sun began to dip below the horizon I set us up on a drift through the area that had produced remarkable giant tuna fishing for us on our previous trip, hoping that there were still a few big fish lurking below and that they would rise up with the squid under the lights at night. Sure enough, as the first few squid attacked our squid jigs, one of the rods went off in an explosive bite that can only mean one thing around here – BIG TUNA!!!
Dan jumped the rod and the signs were abundantly clear – deep, pulsating tail beats and long, sustained runs. Dan smiled and patiently went to work on the fish, thirty minutes later it was high-fives all around as a beautiful 200 pound cow slid through the transom door to bid us goodnight.
After an excellent NY steak BBQ dinner, complete with all the fixings and a couple of excellent wines that Dave had brought down with him from California, we settled into our squid catching for the duration of the evening, hooking another big tuna almost immediately after dinner, but losing it shortly thereafter thanks to pulled hook. By morning a livewell full of 18 – 24” squid kept me giddy as I climbed up to the helm and fired up the gyros.
Once again, tunas boiled 360 degrees around the boat for as far as I could see in the binoculars. Quite simply, it was difficult to tell which bird school promised the chance at the largest fish as frigates, boobies, terns, and gulls wheeled and pelted the water with aggression in all directions. Eeeny, meenie, miney, mo…pick a bird school, here we go.
We spent the better part of the morning weeding through the same mid-sized fish, and a nice striped marlin, in hopes of coming across a pack of monsters. Sigh…it’s a good problem to have I suppose. Around noon I repositioned the boat in an area with four solid schools of fish feeding voraciously in cycles. The wind had finally abated and the seas became eerily calm. The bite began to wane as the piercing mid-day sun penetrated the water column, forcing the fish to seek refuge in the depths.
Figuring we were going to have to go deeper to illicit a mid-afternoon bite, we reached for the leads and sent two large, live squids down deep, one at 100’ and the other at 200’, cracked a few beers and hoped for the best. Almost immediately a school of tunas popped up off the stern, as the boys scrambled for their spinning and popping gear the 100’ rod bucked once and then exploded as an obviously big fish engulfed the squid and tore off for the deep. Dave, who happened to be closest to the rod literally tossed his spinning gear to the deckhand and wrenched the now screaming 50W from the rod holder. The fish tore under the boat in an instant, so the boys cleared the remaining lines and I raced to the helm and fired up the engines, spinning the Cabo on it’s axis and positioning Dave in the starboard corner astern, so far standard procedure.
Obviously we’re all thinking Dave is firmly imbedded in another giant yellowfin, so after the first few blistering runs Dave pushes the drag up to full and proceeds to really hump on the fish. Dave is a master angler with a veritable lifetime of experience pulling on big fish, so when I say he is reallypulling, I definitely mean it.
Sometime after the first thirty minutes we begin to realize that this fish is acting a bit different than say your average 200 – 300 pound tuna. The tail beats that regularly transmit from fish to rod tip during the fight are nearly non-existent, and after the first few heated runs the fish has now settled down and behaves almost nonchalantly. Hmmmmm…
At the forty-five minute mark the line starts angling upwards, and sure enough the fish rises to within viewing distance of the surface. From my vantage point at the helm of the Cabo I get a glimpse of the tail end of the fish about 75 yards astern of the boat. The tail is huge, the beasts girth obvious even at that distance. Something doesn’t seem right about the color of the tuna, it’s glowing a radiant blue, my mind tells me that it’s nevertheless one hell of a monster yellowfin, likely well over 300 pounds, but that little man on my shoulder pipes up and encourages me to take another look. I kick up the throttles a notch in pursuit of the fish in reverse but as we get closer the fish sinks out again and vanishes from sight.
A good half-hour later the line screams towards the surface and as the fish rises everyone on board searches astern for a glimpse of the fish. I see the shadow materialize first from the helm and yell “THERE HE IS!” pointing 30 or so yards astern. As the fish continues to bully it’s way to the surface the little man on my shoulder is now fully alert and screaming past the adrenaline now pumping through my head. “HEY YOU DUMB SONOFA*****H DOES THAT LOOK LIKE A 300# TUNA?!?!?”
The giant “tuna” has an obvious deformation in the form of a very large, sword-like bill attached to it’s face, which it has now decided to swing violently side to side mere yards off the back of the boat. I take a minute to ponder this recent development, the familiar rushing sound growing louder in my ears as all six collective mouths and twelve sets of lungs aboard the boat take in a giant gulp of air. Silence for a split second then follows, before an explosive simultaneous scream erupts from the boat – “FAAAAAKKKIIINGGGGG SWWOOOOOOOOORRRRDDDDFFFIIIIIIISSSSHHHHH!!!!!!”
And with that the boat springs into frantic action as flying gaffs and ropes and daggers and shields and spears are ripped from the deep recesses of the Cabo and brought henceforth into action. Panic erupts as we realize we have been pulling on this beast, this rare glimpse of our most beloved and feared opponent, like it was a tuna, with heavy drag, and the realization that we have hooked this fish on what would surely be considered very light 150# leader now sinks in. CHIT CHIT CHIIIIIT!!!!
The broadbill, obviously sensing our lack of readiness, savagely charges at us in an attempt to prove it’s considerable advantage. We retreat, backing off the drag and taking stock of the situation. OK, I offer to the crew and anglers below, we have him on a large circle hook, hopefully in the right location, and we’ve pulled on him this hard for this long, so I can only assume that the hook has found proper purchase, but what does worry me, nay, scare the living **************** out of me, is that 150# leader is no match for that terrifying appendage on the business end of this beast. We huddle and contemplate our next move.
After brief consultation we decide to push the drag up to strike, roughly 25#’s, offer a few hushed prayers and Hail-Mary’s to whichever gods we are privy to at the time, and hope for the best. The little man on my shoulder reaches out with his wrist and show’s me his watch, the clock is indefinitely ticking.
A very tense and slow hour passes. The swordfish is in complete control, all we can do is follow it around like pathetic, whimpering puppies on a cold and rainy day. We are scared of it’s power, and more importantly it’s advantage. The sonofa***** has us physically and psychologically beaten at the moment, and it seems to relish in this knowledge, often rising to the surface behind the boat, vehemently slashing it’s bill in nasty directions, taunting us, giddily playing with our fragile emotional state. Each and every savage headshake sends convulsions throughout the crew, our pleading prayers sent skyward, please, dear gods, let the leader hold!
Another hour passes, and we enter what proves to be the most gut wrenching hour of the fight, the fourth and most grueling round of all. The broadbill once again races for the surface, settles in just inches below the stern of the boat and swims menacingly away from us at a strong and steady clip. Dave is a testament to patience and determination as he expertly maintains composure and keeps steady pressure on the fish. Suddenly, as the leader nears the rod tip the beast seems to sense danger and tears off in a blistering three hundred yard run that all but sends the lot of us into near epileptic seizure. How can it be? Nearly four hours into the fight and this thing, this mythical creature, has yet to show a mere sign of weakness. Oh, say it is not so dear gods, I do not know how much more of this our psyches can endure.
I hammer the throttles in reverse in attempt to gain line as the fish races for the horizon, my face twisted and snarled behind my Costa’s, an image of outright disregard for our predicament, a façade of courage despite my most secretive fears. Oh you will be ours you nasty BASTERD!!! I hammer the throttles again, enjoying the groan of the gears. For once we feel like we have harnessed the advantage, ONWARD MY FRIENDS!!! COURAGE!!! STAND FAST!!!
Over and over we trade blows, the will of this beast!!! And then, suddenly, an opportunity. The broadbill slashes to the surface, we scream after it in reverse, the boys ready with all manner of devious equipment, but it once again senses the seriousness of the situation and turns on us, charging the boat with it’s terrible weapon. It’s all guts and glory now as in a froth of propwash and danger the boys reach out and strike, strike, STRIKE!!! The beast is impaled but it’s far from over, Largo takes a savage blow to the hand from the fish, but refuses to let go of the gaff. Mayhem!!! Umberto reaches for the bat and deals a series of crushing blows to the head while Phillipe and Largo bravely endure the last ferocious advances of that terrible bill. Oh the bravery! The endurance! These are not men, they are gods, standing shoulder to shoulder against the hideous advances of a most fearsome Titan!
And then, once again, it is quiet.
The deep breathing ensues after those final moments of battle. Exhaustion descends for a minute, and then the realization sinks in and our valiant crew erupts in triumphant celebration – WE’VE WON!!! WE’VE WON!!! WE’VE WON!!!!! OH GOD WE HAVE WON!!!!!
And so it was written, the now legendary tale of the largest swordfish to have come from Puerto Vallarta waters. A tale of perseverance, persistence, determination, and most of all LUCK! Amen.....