We are currently editing some video’s of catching BFT Giants and some tagging and other scientific work on the Karen Lynn by the Large Pelagics Lab at UNH.
Captain Jim Ansara, Karen Lynn Charters
I have seen a number of questions on this site and been asked in person and on the radio by others about how to best kill, care, and handle Blue Fin Tuna. I thought it might be helpful to some of the newer BFT fisherman on this site to post how we try to do it. I think it is great that so many people who are newer to BFT fishing are landing fish. I can tell you that for me, it was a long and at times discouraging learning curve in the Giant fishery. This is by no means the “only” or “correct” way, it is simply one method and the way we were taught in the commercial BFT fishery where the difference in caring for the catch in the first 30 minutes, can be worth thousands of dollars. I have try to modify this for the 50″ to 65″ fish most of us have been catching recreationally. I hope it is helpful. Part 1. Killing and bleeding the fish This sounds simple and obvious but how you kill a BFT greatly affects the quality of the meat. With fish that are in the 47″-73″ size range, we will usually bring them to the boat and leader and gaff them in the head area. I know it can be scary but try to wait and don’t try too gaff them to early and then get them swimming along the boat at 1-2 knot speed. They will often lie on their sides, exhausted and present a very easy target. Immediately after gaffing the fish we will slip a tail rope over the tail using a second gaff to hold or pick up the tail. We will then cut the leader or remove the hook, and sink a head hook through the lower jaw and starting swimming the fish from it’s head behind the boat, slowly 2-3 knots, secured by the head hook and keeping the tail rope on the fish and cleated off, but not so tight that the fish can’t swim somewhat naturally. We will try to swim the fish for 10-20 minutes and until it seems to have really come back to life and gets some of it’s natural vibrant color back. Always Gaff through the head and never in the throat where the heart is located or it will bleed out while you are swiming it. We will then pull it back to the boat by the tail rope and bleed it out. NOTE: We have found that on the 50″-60″ fish that instead of using the rubber coated wire and carbiner tail ropes we use for giants, that a 3/8″ nylon braid dockline with a spliced eye loop gives us a more secure grip on the smaller tail of these fish. First we will pull the fish up high on the transom by it’s tail rope and make a cut approximately 2″ wide and 1″ deep behind one or both pectoral fins which taps into major arteries. We used to also make a bleed cut on the tail but found it wasn’t necessary and cut too deeply, makes real problems. Then towing the fish by it’s tail, we will rake it’s gills with a gaff or more preferably a harpoon iron while towing it. This should fairly quickly bleed out the fish. Once the blood flow slows down and the fish does not appear to have much movement, we haul it onto the deck by the tail rope and take some very quick pictures with the anglers then immediately start to dress it. Leaving the fish on the deck in the sun for even 15-20 minutes can really shorten the refrigerated shelf life of tuna steaks. High Core temperature of the fish is your enemy and you want to get it cooled down as quickly as possible. Part 2. Dressing the fish With the fish on the deck, we use a basic short handsaw (Stanley 15″ FatMax, $16 @ Home Depot) to cut off the head of the fish. I would suggest that if you are new to this you do this in a few cuts versus just lopping the head off which could case you to lose good meat. See the drawing below. Next you want to carefully cut in a circle around the fishes anus so you can pull the main intestine out of the body and carefully cut it free. This allows you to remove from the head cavity, the stomach, organs, etc… in one shot. After you get all these parts out we wash out the cavity with a high volume, salt water wash down. You can also scrub the cavity with a stiff round boat brush with a 2′ handle to get rid of any coagulated blood. Don’t forget to cut open the stomach to see what the fish was feeding on before throwing it overboard. You can also remove fins, except one pectoral fin and the tail for easier handling. Part 3. Icing and Storing the fish We cram the body cavity with as much crushed ice as we, can carefully packing it in. Next we place the carcass in a bed of ice in a 4′ iceytek cooler and pack it as tightly as we can with ice around it and fill the cooler. The heat from the fish will quickly melt out the ice around it, so packing the cooler with lots of ice to the brim helps to not have warm air pockets around the fish. We then put the cooler in our below deck fish hold or in our big, on deck ice box to help keep it cold and to keep the sun off of it. For those of you in smaller boats consider putting it under the T top. Another great alternative is an insulated bag. We recently bought a really good one through the First Light Anglers shop for Giants. I believe the bag is made by “Boone” and is a Monster Double Tuna Bag. If you want to know more, just call the First Light shop. We used the bag this past weekend when a scientist on the Karen Lynn was sampling other boat’s catch for a study for the Large Pelagics lab and the bag was incredible in keeping ice and cooling down multiple fish before we gave them back. This all may seem a bit obsessive and extreme, but try it once and you will be amazed at the quality of the fish you are grilling that night! After you have done this procedure a few times it is easy and goes very quickly; for our crew it is almost automatic. Please let me hear you comments and feedback on this. As I said before, this is just one way to do it and there are always good alternative ways and improvements. If it would be helpful, I could put up a similar post on cutting up and steaking out a tuna.
After a frustrating start to the week including being shut out of BFT Monday on a trip with three Scientists from the Large Pelagics lab at UNH and being in the wrong place at the wrong time on Tuesday’s Giant trip, we had an awesome day at the bank yesterday Hooking five Big fish yesterday on mackerel and whiting.
Tuesday Night we realized as we were cleaning up the boat that we still had a tank full of live macks and a few jumbo whiting in the other tank and that the wind was forecast to blow 25-30 Knots out of the East on Wednesday. East and Northeast are often good on the bank especially if it is snotty.
We got out to the bank to find our friend Dave, a very good and successful commercial BFT fisherman already set up and fishing. Other than us and a few boats trolling it was pretty quiet. Quickly we started marking big fish and soon after Dave went off and we watched him for the next 1 2 hours fight what must have been a 700+ lb fish. Dave has caught a couple of hundred giants and usually has them wrapped up in 30-40 minutes so when he is 2+ hours on a fish you know it is big. Dave called us on the radio a couple of times, first saying that he couldn’t get the fish up past 70′ and then that he had broken three of his five rod holders on his transom and had lost the fish. He headed bank to Gloucester for repairs and to get out of the weather that was rapidly turning nasty.
We then got and released our first fish which was 66″ BFT. No sooner had we gotten back on the ball then we hooked another large fish that ended up to be a 77″ keeper That went smoothly but we now had wind gusting to 30 knots which made getting back on the ball and fighting fish much more difficult. We flooded all the ballast tanks and with another 8000# of weight the Karen Lynn settled in nicely. We then quickly hooked another fish that gave us a tough fight but when we got it along the boat and measured it came up short by 2″ and was released. As soon as we were back on the ball we hooked up a third time and as we struggled to stay with the fish in now very large seas, we were worried that we had hooked another monster like Dave had. When you have 30 Knot winds the chances of getting a really big fish on the boat without pulling the hook or breaking him off go way down. We got the fish after 30 minutes and it was smaller than we had thought about 88″ but incredibly round and fat high quality fish. However, we had broken our second and last harpoon due to the aluminum shafts that Jim decided to try this year, that snapped off cleanly where the shaft threads into the harpoon. Collin then rigged our 8′ long wooded boat hook “old style” with another harpoon shaft flossed and duct tapped to the wooden closet pole! With that crisis sorta solved we concentrated on getting our third Giant. Now we were all alone on the bank as the smaller boats trolling had had enough of the wind and the rain. We remind ourselves that we had built the Karen Lynn specifically so we could fish days like yesterday so we decided to stay out there and go for the trifecta..three giants. Things slowed down for a couple of hours and gave us a chance to clean up the boat and get a little more organized but then we were on again, but after a short but hard fight due to the now large and confused sea’s we released a third fish that was 64-68″. We gave it a couple more hours but by 4:00 PM we headed back to Gloucester very happy but quite tired. For our mate Chris, who had caught many school to large BFT’s, this was his first Giant and he was absolutely jacked! He even took a bite out of a Tuna Heart!
We will post some pictures and a video in the next few days.
Jim and Collin
Karen Lynn Charters
We had two tuna charters this weekend and trolled at the bank successfully both days.
Saturday was just one of those awesome days where we had a slow early morning but after a very helpful call from Nat of First Light, we made a move and soon after started hooking up. We ended up Saturday hooking ten fish trolling, bringing six to the boat. Our clients were an assortment of Boston Restaurant people and the group had originally included the sushi chef from the very high end new Boston restaurant “Oya”. Unfortunately the sushi master had to cancel at the last minute. Most of the fish were in the 45″-60″ range with our last one being an absolutely beautiful 65-70″ very round and fat fish which we released at the boat. Our group had a lot of fun and they were planning a big sushi party for many of their friends tonight at Oya.
Today, we took out another well know Boston chef/owner and his family, Steve DeFillipo of Davio’s restaurant and others. We got a very late start and didn’t get to the bank until 10:15 AM but apparently we had missed much. With clear skies and a very full moon last night, there was not much of a bite this morning. We heard much frustration on the radio. We hung in there for the tide change and then trolled up another very fat fish which was about 100+ #’s. Steve’s 18 year old son fought the fish for 40 minutes on a 2 speed 50 and we couldn’t understand why it took so long to boat the fish until we opened up the stomach and found to our surprise that there was absolutely nothing in it! With all the bait around and the moon that was the last thing we expected. BFT with empty stomach’s always run really hard and can be difficult to get up to the top. Steve and his family were really excited about catching their first BFT.
We are back out tomorrow with another group of regular First Light customers who are experienced fly and light tackle guys, but are excited about giving Tuna a try.
We will try to do an update tomorrow night.
Jim and Collin
Karen Lynn Charters