Here is the story in the captains own words, and it truly is amazing! Great job. JB
708# *PENDING Virginia State Record Bluefin Tuna caught by Matador Charters:
By Jake Hiles, originall posted on his FB Page.
This is going to be lengthy, I wanted to write down the details while they were still fresh in my memory, so please bear with me on the long read.
Saturday morning Jeff Landis and I set out of Rudee Inlet on a mission to go catch bluefin tuna. There have been some really big fish around and I saw an opportunity to re-set the Virginia State record for bluefin tuna. The current Virginia record is 606 pounds caught April 6, 2015, aboard CJ Dawson's "Ate Up" by my late friend Chase Robinson. I was a part of the crew that caught that fish and I always thought since Chase's passing that it would be fitting if one of Chase's friends broke his record. Earlier in the week, I saw a weather window that looked good for fishing and made some calls attempting to recruit anglers to come crank fish for me on an over night trip on my 35' Henriques Maine Coaster "Toro". I even invited CJ and Phil Casone, but neither could make the trip. No one could. I cant really blame people. Cranking giant bluefin tunas isnt much fun. It's hard work, and when you tell someone they can go crank on a potential record fish, I think their reaction is "I'm not your fool today!"
Jeff agreed to go though, but the deal was I had to crank. So we left to go hunting giants, just me and Jeff. Jeff and I have been friends for a while and we make a lure that is just basically a 3d printed soft plastic tinker mackerel called "Stinky Tinky". Jeff wanted to test the baits, but the rule was, he didnt want to crank.
We made our way down the beach, approximately 80 miles southeast of Rudee Inlet to an area off North Carolina called "the tuna hole". The conditions were fairly nasty with a choppy confused swell, whitecaps, and a cold northeast wind, but we arrived in the warm waters of a gulf stream eddy in the afternoon and began trolling. We hooked up pretty quickly with a large fish and I fought that fish into the night. Fishing for the state record, we are not allowed to use harpoons, and must use flying gaffs, so getting a big fish close enough to gaff is a real challenge. I got the fish close, a big 110-115" class bluefin, but at the last second the fish went berserk and swam directly into my propellor, killing the fish, but cutting the line and losing the fish in the process. It was sad watching the sonar as that amazing creature just drifted to the abyss. But it happens. We cant win them all and we were determined.
So we changed tactics to fish at night and started drifting baits. We were fishing a combination of dead bluefish and stinky tinky, but the sharks ate all our bluefish early on. We had a nice run, but pretty soon I could tell it was sharky, a few minutes later, Jeff assisted me in safely releasing a 10' long scalloped hammerhead. Put baits back out and soon after hooked up with a big strong fish in the dark, but something seemed wrong. After 2 hours, we found that a full grown adult bottlenose dolphin had swam into our line and not hooked itself, but had somehow managed to lasso itself with our fishing line. In 20 years of professional fishing, that's the first time I have ever had to crank in a dolphin much less one that wasnt even hooked. It fought really hard but when we realized it was a dolphin, we made sure to send it away safely, untangled from the line, and unharmed.
After cranking a giant bluefin, a giant hammerhead shark, and then a 2 hour battle with a tangled porpoise, I was completely exhausted. I asked Jeff to but the baits back out and watch the lines so I could get a little shuteye. At 4:17am I was awakened to Jeff screaming "we're on!". I rushed to put my boots on and when I walked into the cockpit, I found Jeff cranking in one rod, and the other rod bowed over, losing line incredibly fast. I grabbed the bent rod and started to get settled in to fighting the fish, but as Jeff cleared the other rod, he hooked up with something close to the boat. He pulled it up quickly and a 100 pound class mako shark was thrashing around on the surface just a few feet from the line that is hooked up with an obvious very large tuna that is checking out- running straight for the bottom in over 1 mile deep water. Not good! But Jeff handled it well. He got the shark beside the boat quickly and cut it off to get it away from the fish I was working on.
While that was happening, the tuna was still in the midst of its initial run. The fish was hooked up on the right stuff. The rod is an 8 foot unlimited class Anglers Envy custom rod and the reel is a 2 speed penn 130 vsx, spooled with nearly a mile of line. Jeff had just checked the baits before we hooked up on a green glowing stinky tinky with 20 feet 250# momoi extra hard monofilament leader , a Spro 370# wind on swivel on one end, and an Eagle Claw 10/0 Trokar hook on the other, fished 30 pulls from the rod tip. There was approximately 40 pounds of drag on the fish at strike.
There was so much drag on the fish that it took all the strength I had just to get the rod out of the rod holder so I could get strapped to the rod and settled into the chair for the fight. I watched all the monofilament peel off the reel. Then 700 yards of dacron backing peeled off the reel. Then my reels are set up so that they have 200 yards of Johnny Brown hollow core backing at the very end of the spool of line to act as a warning that we are getting close to the end. When I saw the hollow core backing come off the reel with no sign of slowing down, I knew I was going to have to do something or I was going to lose this fish by losing all my line.
When the hollow core started coming off the reel, I pushed the drag over strike, close to full. That would be about 65 pounds of drag with a full spool of line, but with such a small spool of line, the drag multiplies and I dont know how much drag was actually on the fish at that point, but it was a lot. It was enough to finally slow the fish down. After 6 or 7 minutes of steady losing line straight down, after losing nearly a mile of line, I was able to stop the fish with about 100 feet of line remaining on the reel.
I had been holding onto the rod for dear life at the point and hadn't turned the handle any, but now, after pushing the drag down, he was coming towards me. The saying is "break his will or break him off". I broke his will without breaking him off and now I had a still very angry fish, a very long ways away. I figured since the fish held that much drag on a low spool, might as well keep that much drag, and so I put the reel in low gear and got to work.
I cranked the hollow core back on the reel. Then I cranked for what seemed like forever but eventually all got the dacron back on the rod. I was super relieved to see the monofilament come back onto the reel because I knew that the fish was only a couple hundred feet away. But as I cranked the mono back onto the reel, the fish turned and made one more strong but short run, then its head just turned towards me. I think the fish may have had a heart attack and died because after that it was just dead weight. I put the reel back into high gear, and just cranked as fast as I could. The line started to scope out like the fish was coming up and after 53 minutes, we had the behind the boat. It actually came up belly up and Jeff was easily able to sink the flying gaff into the fish at 5:10am.
We put a swim tool in the fish and cleated the flying gaff and the swim tool and started pulling the fish towards the northwest, waiting for the sun to come up. Jeff and I talked for a few minutes. He didnt think the fish was very big at all, but he was deliriously tired and I told him that when the sun came up, I think the fish was going to be bigger than he thought. The sun came up at 645 and looking back at the fish behind the boat, I knew it was going to be the new state record. I sat there and thought about Chase for a few minutes, thanked God first and Chase second for watching over me, for giving us such a beautiful morning, and giving me that fish.
Then I hollered down to wake Jeff. Looking back at that fish, I knew we had a big problem. I didnt have my chainfall or a ratchet strap on the boat, and just exhausted me and exhausted Jeff were going to have to figure out a way to get this giant fish on the boat. In the dark, Jeff didnt think the fish was that big. But in the sunlight, I think we both knew how big of a chore getting that fish through the tuna door was going to be. So we pulled and grunted for a while to no avail. Then I took a moment to think about it and came up with an idea. I brought the anchor rope from the bow and cleated one end of the ropemidshipmen, then ran the other end of the rope down through the fishes mouth, then pulled the rope tight as I could get it and tied it firmly to the base of my greenstick. I stuck a gaff in between the two ropes and started turning it. I think that's called a rope screw, but either way it worked. Every time i turned the gaff, the rope tightened a little more and it took a long while, but after nearly 2 hours, we had the fish on deck of the "Toro", heading back to Rudee Inlet.
When we started getting closer, I started taking measurements. Being on the crew of "Ate Up" for Chase's record fish, I knew that fish was 103.5". The fish laying on my deck was 109". I new then that my bluefin was probably the new Virginia State record. I made arrangements at the Virginia Beach fishing center to use their scale and called some people to come to the dock to take pictures.
When I got into the slip at the marina, there was a large crowd waiting to see the fish. Weighmaster Charlie Laurens was there with the boom and scale out ready to weigh the fish. We put the fish on the scale, and watched it count 300, 400, 500, 600, 700. As the scale settled at 708#, the crowd cheered and people were coming up and shaking my hand, congratulating me, taking pictures, and celebrating the new state record.
We laid the fish on the dock and covered it with ice, and I started the state record application process, and tried to get a representative from the state to come certify my catch. After a couple hours, Lewis Gillingham from the Virginia Saltwater fishing tournament came out and asked me and Jeff questions, made sure everything was on the up and up, and certified my fish.
With this being a state record, it means that the fish was captured recreationally and laws say that any recreationally caught fish cannot be sold commercially. Coronavirus has asian markets all messed up and bluefins arent drawing a lot of money right now because people in asia arent going out to eat as much, so restaurants arent spending big money on big fish. Theres a lot of supply right now and low demand commercially but to me, breaking Chase's record is much more valuable than selling the fish.
But I had a 708# bluefin tuna on the dock. Bluefin tuna doesnt freeze well. It is excellent sushi when fresh, but I couldnt eat that much, so I decided to pay it forward and give back on a little bit of the fortune that was given to me. I put a post on facebook asking people to come to the fishing center and get a free small piece of the fish if they would like to eat some fresh sushi grade bluefin. Most sushi restaurants in Virginia dont sell quality bluefin tuna because it is too expensive, and I thought it would be neat for people to come experience this amazing fish.
Within an hour of posting to facebook, a huge crowd of hundreds of people had gathered at the fishing center to see the fish and take home a little bit of dinner. Even though I was completely exhausted, both physically and mentally, I cut the fish and gave pieces to anyone who wanted it. My little buddy Brandon congratulated me for the fish and brought some knives to help clean the fish. Jeff cleaned and organized the boat while I cleaned the fish and within an hour the entire fish was accounted for. Hundreds of people went off with sushi. Not an ounce of the fish was wasted. I kept the tail. Someone claimed the entire head. The rest of the fish was picked so clean that a sea gull would have struggled for a nibble. I made off with a couple maybe 2 or 3 pounds of prime Toro sashimi, but I was very happy and excited to see the fish put to such great use and see everyone get a little enjoyment out of my fish so the animal was not wasted.
I put the boat in my slip. Went home. Showered. And slept like a zombie. This morning I woke up super sore. EVERYTHING HURTS, but I'm just beyond happy with this whole thing. Thanks to everyone who congratulated me. Enjoy your sushi. I just feel so blessed and lucky. What an amazing experience! Thank you to everyone who came out and took pictures and helped out yesterday.
Thank you Jim Baugh for this awesome gift! This is a photo painted on lexan of a close up of my tunas eye. Very cool. Thank you!