Fighting Fish

Tuna are famous fighters, but they really put on something special the day this fisherman returned to Soldiers' Rip

S. Kip Farrington June 1 1946

Fighting Fish

Tuna are famous fighters, but they really put on something special the day this fisherman returned to Soldiers' Rip

S. Kip Farrington June 1 1946

Fighting Fish


By S. Kip Farrington, Jr.

IT WAS my first visit to Wedgeport, N.S., since before the war, and I worked long after midnight over my tackle. I was excited.

Only a few miles away into the Atlantic was Soldiers’ Rip, the world’s best fishing grounds for giant blue-fin tuna. At the dock outside was the boat that would take me there, and sleeping nearby were the men who would man the boat—Captain Eve LeBlanc, his son George and Oliver Doucette.

I’d been looking forward to this ever since V-J Day, a month before, and much of that month I’d spent getting my tackle ready and getting to Halifax, then through Liverpool, Jordan Ferry and Shelburne to Wedgeport. And that night I probably would have lost what little sleep I did get if I’d known what was going to happen.

We were up early, and away from the dock by eight o’clock. On the way down Lobster Bay we hailed an incoming herring fisherman and bought a few bushels of fresh herring for bait. Then we made ready for the tuna.

I got myself settled in my chair at the stern and let out my line about 100 feet astern. At the end was a herring with my hook sewed inside. Up at the boat my line was fastened with a light piece of string at the end of a long outrigger—a pole projecting at right angles to the boat. The line also was tied lightly at the lower end of the outrigger pole and again at the lower end of the rod.

There are several good reasons for all of that. One is to prevent the line flying in the wind and possibly catching on something when one of those big block busters strikes the bait. Another is that it gives you a little time after the strike—the light twine breaks in all three places before the full weight of the fish hits your rod. A third is that a man in the crew can manipulate the outer string—up and down—so that the bait on my line moved through the water in fits and starts, as lifelike as possible.

On the starboard side of the boat was a string of about 10 or 15 herring, rigged without hooks on a 25-foot cod line and towed astern. That, nicknamed the “grapevine,” was the teaser— the tuna eventually would come up and yank those herring off the line one by one.

Doucette occasionally threw out a loose herring, also to attract the tuna to the boat. He tossed them out at intervals long enough that the big fish picking them up eventually would follow them right up to the wake and take the one that my hook was in.

Nowhere had I fished where so many big fish were surfacing at one time. That morning I don’t believe there was a fish showing that weighed less than 500 pounds. My most conservative guess would be that at least 150 were jumping, rolling and swimming at high speed all around the Rip. My bait had not been out two minutes when another tuna boat nearby hooked one. In another two minutes a big blue torpedo lunged at my bait and missed. Then another one had it! It was 9.25 a.m.

Bang! snapped the first line at the top of the outrigger. Then the second string broke, and the third one—on my rod. The line came up tight on the bending rod tip, and I struck as hard as 1 could—three,

Tuna are famous fighters, but they really put on something special the day this fisherman returned to Soldiers' Rip

four, five or six times—and Eve LeBlanc gunned the boat ahead to help me set that big hook in the tuna’s hard, massive mouth.

Instantly he was off at high speed. I released my drag. There could be no t ension on him for the first runs. They are so fast that if 1 had tried to stop him the line would have parted. The boat had turned and we

were after him.

He ran out more than 1,000 feet. I was happy I’d taken the precaution to wet my line for almost its entire 1,800-foot length. 1 was using a 39-thread cuttyhunk, which tests 117 pounds wet, and I knew it would take everything the fish could offer if I handled it properly. My rod was laminated bamboo weighing 22 ounces. It had caught me more than three tons of big fish, so I knew what it could do. The reel was a 12-0 veteran. I’d been fishing with it for 17 years, and it wasn’t going to fail me now.

Eve LeBlanc handled the boat beautifully, moving after the tuna. I recovered some line and applied more tension to the reel.

After 25 minutes of wild runs, the fish started for the wreck of a freighter that went ashore on Soldiers’ Ledge one foggy night during the war. If he’d got near that jagged hulk it probably would have been the end of my line. But I finally managed to slow him up, and he began to turn. Then he started on a merry chase around Outer Bald, one of the many islands in the Tucket Group. He cleared the island. The Rip was left behind. We were out in the broad Atlantic they all head for open water sooner or later— with nothing to bother us but n few stringy messes of floating kelp. Continued on page 49

Continued from page 23

An hour went by. The fish was what we call a “Rapid Robert”—one that goes at top speed most of the time. He should have been tired, but he wasn’t. As fast as I recovered line he took more. I got madder and madder. Then I started giving him everything the tackle could stand. Still I couldn’t break his spirit.

At the two-hour mark I had to put on a new left glove. I’d worn right through the thumb leather guiding the line.

At 11.45, two hours and 20 minutes after being hooked, he at last began to circle—the first sign he was weakening. Again I gave him all I had, mainly in short pumps—which really bother big fish. I screwed the drag on the reel up as tight as it would go and squeezed the line down against the felt rod grip for extra tension. I could still feel him kick that powerful tail as he moved off.

However, this time he didn’t go quite so far. Again I went after him. As Ernest Hemingway used to say (and Ernest is one of the strongest men who ever fought a fish): “Never give

them a rest and never take one yourself. If you do, they get the equivalent of five minutes for every minute you get.”

Twelve o’clock went by, with both of us tiring. At 12.15 he surfaced and began to circle. The water was fairly smooth. The sun was out, and his beautiful blue back and yellow fins looked pretty gorgeous. He was tired out, and we brought him closer and closer. At 12.23 Oliver grabbed the leader with his gloved hands. Two minutes later young LeBlanc drove the gaff home. Three hours to the minute from when he was hooked we got the tail rope on him. It took the whole four of us to pull him into the boat. The fight had added 20 minutes to my longest previous fight in Nova Scotian waters.

Just as I had suspected, he was hooked in the corner of the jaw. The majority of tuna take hooks in the upper or lower jaw, but if the hook lodges in the corner they put up a much harder fight.

We got out our lunch, and started back to the Rip. The fish had taken us about 10 miles. As we ate we tried to guess his weight. He looked about 550 pounds to me.

Now for a Big One

It took about 90 minutes to get back to the Rip, and at 2.10 we were fishing again. Eve LeBlanc hadn’t wanted to return, because it was almost low water by then, but I had seen too many big fish not to give it a trir. There were some 1,000-pounders in the Rip that day—and no fisherman could turn his back on a chance at getting one of them.

Five minutes later we had another tuna in our wake. “It’s a big one!” Oliver shouted. Right under our eyes the fish gobbled up three of the herring young LeBlanc threw out. Then he made a pass at the “teaser” grapevine, but missed. The commotion he stirred up looked like a submarine diving. Then he crashed my bait with a boil and splash like the explosion of a depth charge. Away we went again!

This fellow, however, dallied in the Rip only about 15 minutes. Then he started east into open water. From the way he was going it looked as if Halifax would be the first stop.

This tuna made the longest and fastest nonstop run I have ever seen in those waters—about three miles. Then he surfaced and started another run. His dorsal fin and tail were showing, his great blue back sometimes awash. He fought like a tiger, and stayed much longer on the surface than any other tuna I’d ever hooked.

After about an hour I called for another pair of gloves—fourth that day—and the fight went on. It was a beautiful afternoon. The shore line of the grand Evangeline country made

a perfect backdrop for the scene— until the fish took us out of sight of it.

After a couple of hours it began to look as if this one was hooked in the comer of his mouth too. He was really tough. He did everything a tuna could do in that depth of water-—not more than 150 feet deep. 1 fought him as hard as I’ve ever fought a fish, but it was three hours before I had him up ! a few feet astern.

Then the motor stopped, and the tuna went under the boat! I threw off the drag, jumped up, dipped the rod tip in the water and cleared the line from the boat. Just as the fish raced off Eve LeBlanc started the motor going once more.

At 5.15 I put on my fifth and last pair of gloves. The others were worn out, and I was beginning to think that if this kept up much longer I would be too. When I’d been fighting him for three hours and 40 minutes, I had exceeded the longest tuna fight I’d ever had. And I still couldn’t get him in.

For the next half hour I held the fish within 30 feet of the boat. He stayed on the surface, hut I couldn’t get him any closer and he couldn’t get any farther away. His great tail worked back and forth in a crescendo of solid smacking splashes.

Then, at 6.25, we had him alongside. Oliver reached for the leader, but the fish tore it from his hands, cutting through the glove and slicing open Oliver’s finger. Bleeding, Oliver courageously grabbed the leader again. After

two misses young LeBlanc got the gaff into the tuna’s head. I’d been fighting him for four hours and 15 minutes.

It had been a tough job to get the fish aboard in the morning, but this one was twice as tough. He dwarfed the first one in size. We all took a look and guessed him for 750.

Then, as we stopped a second to regain our breath and clean things up, the boat’s motor stopped for good. If it had done that when I was fighting the big one, I’d never have got him. However, luck was still with us. After about 20 minutes of working fruitlessly on the engine, the new provincial sportfishing cruiser, Helen Lerner, came over the horizon. She towed us in—a mere matter of about 20-odd miles.

It was too late to weigh the fish that night. At 10 the next morning, after pictures were taken, we put them on the scales. The first one was 600 pounds, the second 830 pounds. This made them the two biggest fish ever caught by one man in one day, and gave me the honor of being the only angler who has ever caught two species of fish weighing over 800 pounds (the other had been an 853-pound broadbill swordfish caught off Chile).

In the next two days I hooked three more tuna, but each one shook the hook after about 90 minutes of fighting. As I put my tackle away that third night at LeBlanc’s Fisherman’s Rest, 1 had to wonder if maybe the fish were getting younger and tougher as I had grown a little older.