The Reel Deal
THE REEL DEAL 2012 Tuna Nationals remembered for its monster catch!
Leander Wiid, Richard Brown Leisure Boating staff member Richard Brown attended the Tuna Nationals deep sea angling competition in Cape Town’s False Bay.
Not only did he try his hand at a bit of deep-sea fishing, he also bore witness to a new world record: a relentless and epic battle between man and fish. Richard gives his rookie account of what happened at the Tuna Nationals. It’s 07h00 on a Wednesday morning, and I find myself waiting outside the picturesque False Bay Yacht Club in Simon’s Town. As I watch the sun making a slow ascent over the myriad of boats in the harbour, I feel the excitement creep in, like a little boy ripping off the wrapping of his first bicycle on Christmas Day. It was the second day of the Tuna Nationals, a prestigious deep sea angling competition in Cape Town, and I was looking forward to spending the day out at sea, and cranking some reel!
Although I’m not a complete rookie when it comes to fishing (I’m an avid bass fishing angler), I must concede that training wheels were a definite requisite on my first Tuna hunt. Luckily the crew accompanying my colleague and I on the press boat turned out to be an experienced one. Our skipper, Dr. John Cowlin has been fishing and skippering for a good 30 years and, also being a keen boat-builder himself, certainly seemed to know how to skillfully manipulate the big Rodman 1250 that took us to the deep waters.
Barry Stringer and Dave Goodman are both experienced Tuna anglers and were very helpful and patient in their efforts to educate me on the do’s and don’ts surrounding the landing of a Yellowfin Tuna. And Lee Goldschmidt, a co-organiser of the event and only female on board, provided an excellent spread of delicious snacks and treats, along with bubbly conversation when the fish weren’t biting. We left the harbour, cruising into the spectacular sunrise, and apart from it being rather cool, there wasn’t a breath of wind and the ocean was as flat as the Cape would allow. As we rounded Cape Point, the sun steadily emerged from its refuge behind the horizon, painting the sky with an array of pinks and as it rose, so did the temperature, promising a perfect day at sea.
As we were on the press boat and not part of the competition, we had the luxury of sleeping a bit later and we only arrived at the Tuna hunting grounds an hour or two after the other boats. The seven competition boats had already been at sea since 06h00 that morning and already there were reports of fish caught. The seven teams entered were SADSAA (South African Deep Sea Angling Association), Western Province, Eastern Province, Zululand, Natal, Southern Cape and Border. Slowly approaching 30 nautical miles off from Cape Point, skipper John slowed the boat to a trawling speed of seven knots and the lines were quickly and efficiently rigged with squid and ‘deep diver’ lures and lowered into the water.
While Barry cut up pilchards for chum, the rest of us idly sat around waiting for something to happen. But I used this time to absorb my surroundings, and enjoy the isolated feeling of being surrounded by a vastness of impossibly blue water with no land in sight and only the low rumbling of the engines as background noise. Meanwhile, John, steering from the flybridge, kept in constant radio contact with the other boats and more reports filtered through of Longfin caught. Suddenly a reel squealed. And then another, and then another.
Fish on! The whole boat was abruptly astir and everyone was running for the nearest rod. As I was closest to Barry’s rod with the shiny golden Shimano Tiagra reel (a reel as big as my head and which he had jokingly dubbed ‘the Big Sexy’ – the reel, not my head), I grabbed it and started reeling fervently. As we grinded away at the reels, I was expecting to see some Tuna in the form of a Longfin or possibly a Yellow break the surface but the first fish to come up was a Skipjack. So was the second and when I finally proudly dragged my catch aboard, surprise surprise, a Skipjack! A smaller cousin in the Tuna family and a beautiful fish – but unlikely to win you any points come competition time. A few minutes later the ‘Big Sexy’ screamed again and I hastily snatched it up. Another Skipjack! With hooks removed, backs slapped and photos taken, the four fish went in the box and lines were cast out behind the boat once more.
We were off to a good start and felt optimistic. John had his doubts, though, and observed that the water temperature was too warm for Tuna, being at around 20-21 °C. His doubts were confirmed when, after a few hours, not a single fish had shown any interest in our lures. However, we stayed hopeful and, keeping our lines out, we came across one of the competition boats, Witch Craft, an Arrowcat 30. John radioed them and they warned us to keep our distance, as Frank Scholtz, Border’s team captain, seemed to have a monster Yellow on the line.
We kept clear but since there was no action on our lines we hung around to see what the outcome would be for Witch Craft. But Frank had already been fighting for an hour when we arrived and the fish seemed nowhere near throwing in the towel, so we moved off in search of our own Yellowfin. We passed a big stern trawler dragging enormous fish-filled nets – attracting birds and seals alike, when the ‘Big Sexy’ let rip with an alarming shriek. Whatever was on the end of the line was taking it from the reel at a speed much faster than the Skipjack had, and I was convinced of it being a weighty Yellowfin.
As Barry dashed to his bent rod we spotted something breach the surface about a 100 metres behind the boat, a colossal fish, or so I thought at first glance. The reel was still zinging furiously and when the “fish” jumped again we realised it was a seal. It must have cut across the lines and got caught on one of the lures. A minute later, Barry decided to cut his line and the seal defiantly cavorted off into the distance, costing Barry his lucky lure. That proved to be our last bit of excitement as the rest of the day was fruitless. We kept trawling and made use of the Rodman’s fish finding technology, but to no effect. When John radioed Witch Craft a few hours later, Frank Scholtz was still wrestling his Yellowfin.
The other boats hadn’t had much better luck than us and only a few Longfin had been caught. The Western Province and SADSAA teams hadn’t caught anything – although SADSAA did lose a Yellowfin in extra time; the Eastern Province, Zululand and Natal teams had caught one Longfin each; and the Southern Cape team had managed to land four Longfins. Lines-up was to be called at four, and an hour’s grace would be granted to anglers with a fish hooked before four o’ clock. Frank eventually landed his fish – making it a laudable six-and-a-half hour battle! Despite our desperate curiosity, the team on Witch Craft were mysteriously guarded concerning the size of the fish and wanted to keep it a secret until weigh-in. We slowly made our way back around Cape Point and tried for Yellow Tail, but without luck. We finally arrived back at the harbour, tired but cheerful. The consensus was that four Skipjack are better than nothing at all. When Frank Scholtz arrived at the scales he unveiled a colossal Yellowfin of – wait for it – 106.75 kg! A new world record on 10 kg class line! The last record was 97 kg caught in New South Wales, Australia in 1980 by an angler named Gregory Phillip Clarke.
Frank was exhausted but ecstatic about the catch and reports of the fish soon spread throughout global media. Mother Nature wasn’t overly agreeable after relinquishing the Yellow beauty from her depths and didn’t allow any more fishing for the rest of the week with winds and swells too big for the fleet to go toe-to-toe with. But based on day one and two’s results it was no surprise that team Border were crowned overall winners, raking in the prizes – including Biggest Catch expectedly awarded to Frank Scholtz; Best Skipper going to David Edgar, skipper of Witch Craft; and of course Witch Craft herself claiming Best Boat.
Angler G. Tanner from Southern Cape came in second with overall weight and N. Nel from Natal placed third. The Southern Cape team placed second overall, Natal third, Zululand fourth, Eastern Province fifth, Western Province sixth and SADSAA last. A total of 58 fish were caught during the event amounting to a combined weight of 838.48 kg, with the second largest being a Longfin of 23.9 kg caught on day one by Zululand’s Jacques van Wyk on Met Eish!. We are already looking forward to next year’s Tuna Nationals and more records being broken by South African anglers! The list of sponsors for this year’s event included: Leisure Boating Magazine; G-solutions; Reef South Africa; MXFX; GuideGear SA; Omada Studios; False Bay Tackle; Guideline Polarized Eyegear; Fisherman Eyewear; Lwandle Technologies; NSRI; Bosky Dell Seaside Cottages; and Molin®.