The Long Range Experience - Part III
by Colin Sarfeh
In Part I of 'The Long Range Experience', we first went through what it is like during the first leg of your long range adventure - the travel days, the tackle requirements, the rigging, the incredible cuisine, etc. - and ended by recapping the first full day of fishing aboard EXCEL. The first day saw great action with four cows, or Yellowfin Tuna over 200-pounds, come aboard, as well as some intense, wide-open wahoo fishing. Read 'The Long Range Experience - Part I'.
In Part II, we found a little "slower" action at Hurricane Bank, and ended by recapping the first day spent at the famous yellowfin tuna haunts of Clarion Island, where more intense wahoo action was discovered, and a few more cows were boated. Read 'The Long Range Experience - Part II'.
In Part III, however, we might have just saved the best for last...
Salamis (the long range term for mackerel over two-pounds) are best fished in “grey light”, the early morning hours from 4-7 AM before the sun has risen over the horizon, and that next morning I was up early, armed and ready to fish the big baits – determined to hook a cow.
I can remember it all vividly: the long soak, the lazy tailbeat once away from the boat, the retrieval, and of course, the take.
It was 06:30; I know this because Chef Jason had just given first call for breakfast over the boat’s loudspeakers. My salami had been out there for over ten minutes, so I decided to wind in and change baits. I took a few cranks on my Accurate 50 and BOOM! It was like hooking into a freight train. The monster instantly dumped 200-yards of my spectra backing leaving me with only about 50-yards of line on a reel that can hold roughly a half-mile of spectra/mono combination.
Below: Eric Maulhardt with a sunrise "bendo" // "Little" Al Downing (_EXCEL _co-owner) with a morning yellowfin
The fish made a sudden U-turn and charged the boat. I had to wind as fast as I could in high-gear to keep tension on the line. Just when I thought I couldn’t crank any more, the beast took off again in the opposite direction, ripping off another 100-yards or so of line that I had just gained back from its initial run. Again, another sudden change of direction had me struggling to keep up with the tuna charging at the boat.
This back and forth ended when the fish finally sounded and began doing its deep circles. I dropped my reel into low gear and settled into a heated man vs. fish battle. I could tell it was a big fish – the power and length of the tailbeat that I physically felt and could see on the tip of my rod were greater than that of any tuna I had fought before in my life.
The fight went on through breakfast, as most of the passengers were inside enjoying a big plate of Huevos Rancheros. Jake and Brandon were with me once the fish settled into a deep standoff, and with these two veteran crewmen by my side, I was in very good hands.
Below: A few quality yellowfin started showing up that morning // Things getting a bit "sharky" - hoping this doesn't happen to my fish...
As the sun began to rise over the Pacific, I could now see “deep color”, first visual of the fish. The elongated sickle fins of the tuna stood out prominently in the clear blue waters miles off Clarion Island, the telltale signs of a monster Yellowfin.
When I initially hooked the fish, I was mid-ship, port-side. Now, almost an hour later, I was sweating, taking every inch I could get from the beast on the opposite side of EXCEL’s 124-foot beam. As the fish got closer, I became aware of the fact that this was a true trophy and most likely a cow. Its length and girth equated in my mind as a fish over 200-hundred pounds, but I was getting ahead of myself. There was still a lot of work to be done to land this monster, and captains will tell you that most big fish are lost within that last few yards of the battle. I saw it firsthand earlier in the trip with a fellow angler having his cow liberate itself by snapping the line just out of gaffing range.
The fish was now 25-feet down, and in typical fashion doing wide circles. I would gain line as it came towards the boat, and lose a little as it circled away. 10-feet down, just out of reach, and the tuna’s circles took it under the boat on the in-swing to the point where I had to lean out and down over the rail to prevent my line from rubbing on the boat’s hull – I was not in the most ideal of spots on the ship to be battling a cow, but there was no directing this fish where I wanted it to go.
Below: Not fighting the same fish, but you can get the sense of the intensity of the action here // Cow yellowfin at color, circling
I had a crowd of fellow fisherman gathered around, watching, hoping for a successful outcome. They cheered me on and gave words of encouragement. I was focused, zoned-in on capturing the hardest-fighting fish I had ever felt. One final circle to go, and I got the final instruction from the crew. Pull, pull, pull! I found the strength within and lifted with all my might. One gaff went in, and another – the brute still wasn’t defeated. It thrashed its tail, putting a beating on Jake and Brandon. “We need another gaff!” someone shouted. Capt. Justin rushed from my right and sunk a third gaff in near the fish’s tail, which subdued my tuna.
Below: Capturing the moment, let the thrashing begin! // Heavy order - pulling tuna over the rail
As the fish was hoisted over the rails I was congratulated by the gallery that had joined to watch the fight – I let out a long sigh of a combination of relief, exhaustion, and joy. Capt. Justin hung the fish from the boats certified scales and made the call.
“Congrats, Colin! You’re in the club…202-pounds!”
My dream had come to fruition, I landed my cow. I went into the galley, sat down and had a spectacular breakfast. I tasted victory, and even though it was only 08:00 I washed it down with a celebratory cocktail.
Below: The culmination of the quest to land a cow yellowfin tuna
I needed to go outside to take it all in. I had been so infatuated with trying to hook the fish of a lifetime that I hadn’t taken much time to sit back and realize that I was at a place that I had only ever read about and dreamed that one day I could venture to this land of giants. I stood there mesmerized by the moment, the scenery was absolutely breathtaking. To the east the sun had risen over a low cloud bank in the distance on the flat calm Pacific waters, contrasting a vibrant orange glow on the cobalt blue of the ocean. Off to the west beckoned Clarion, its distinct volcanic origins that rose from the depths showed off dramatic cliffs, Jurassic rock formations, and impressive structures carved by the eons of swells pushing up against the island. The scene was surreal – magical – a moment I will vividly remember the rest of my life.
Below: Photos won't truly do justice to the scene
The next day, on the last morning of fishing before we had to depart for Cabo San Lucas, I tested the bait retrieval method one more time and again was rewarded with a final 100-plus-pound Yellowfin for the trip. That, however, was not the highlight of the morning.
It was only fitting that the last tuna and biggest fish of the trip went to new EXCEL co-owner, “Big Al” Gross. We all witnessed the “take” right off the stern of the ship. Al was drifting a mackerel near the surface some 50-yards from the boat, suspended from a balloon that was attached to his line. We saw the boil, followed soon after by the balloon plunging into the depths.
The fish rushed off, nearly spooling Al’s 50-sized Accurate reel. A back-up rig had to be attached, and soon deckhands sent the initial rod and reel into the Pacific as the fish continued to dump line off the second Accurate. Capt. Justin and Second Skipper, Mike Ramirez, prepared on the Excel’s skiffs to chase down and hopefully land the monster on the end of the line.
Below: The wahoo showed up to the party once again as well
We all watched as Mike and Al motored after the fish, rounding the backside of the island and out of view. I went up to the wheelhouse with Capt. Justin and listened for the play-by-play coverage over VHF radio. Forty-five minutes later, we received the word from Mike that they would be bringing a big fish back to the boat.
Al was all smiles in the front of the dinghy as the tandem approached the main ship. Once pulled on deck, many took their guesses on what the great fish would weigh. It was the savvy long-range captain, Justin Fleck, who nailed the weight spot on – 265-pounds.
Below: Big Al returning from his "tour" of Clarion Island // Big Al, Big Fish - The 6'5" _EXCEL _co-owner all smiles with his trophy yellowfin
This was the perfect ending to an amazing trip. Clarion Island and Hurricane Bank proved their ambiance as one of the best big game fishing destinations in the Pacific. In all, the trip saw an incredible volume of quality Yellowfin, including nine tuna over the magical 200-pound mark, as well as plenty of jumbo-sized Wahoo.
As we motored northeast towards Cabo, leaving Clarion Island in our wake, I couldn’t help but think to myself: “What’s next?”
My goal had been for the longest time to take on a cow, and land that coveted Yellowfin Tuna of over 200-pounds. The next tier, however, in long-range greatness is gaining your “Super Cow” status. That, my friends, is – you guessed it – a Yellowfin in the 300-pound class.
I watched from the back deck of EXCEL as Clarion grew smaller and smaller on the horizon before finally sinking into the Pacific. I’ll be back there one day. And they’ll be there – waiting.
Below: The sun sets on our final evening aboard EXCEL // Most of the group got together for a few drinks in Cabo before flying home
_Photos by Jack Nilsen (Accurate Reels), Jason Fleck (Excel Sportfishing), and Colin Sarfeh (Pelagic Gear) _
I want to give a big THANK YOU to everyone involved that made this trip an incredible experience for myself and the twenty-seven anglers on board EXCEL:
Big thanks to owners Big Al and Jason Gross, Captain Justin Fleck, Al Downing, and Dave Geis for having me on board Big EXCEL for this epic trip. The boat is, simply put, gorgeous, and the captains and crew did an incredible job of not only going the distance and putting us on fish, but giving every passenger on board a lasting impression of top-notch service as expected on these long range charters. Passengers pay good money for a long-range fishing vacation, and these guys welcomed us all aboard with that mindset and treated us in every minute as this was our trip of a lifetime. To book your next long range fishing trip or to learn more about the wide variety of long range fishing options, visit the EXCEL’s website at www.ExcelSportfishing.com
Thank you to Jack Nilsen and everyone at Accurate for allowing me to join as a co-sponsor and for bringing on all the great gear. Needless to say, I think a lot of Accurate fans were made on this trip. They truly are built for high-intensity, big game fishing.
To Seaguar and John DeVries and Gerry Benedicto for providing an ample amount of fluorocarbon that simply made all the difference between getting bit and watching other rods bent at the rail.
Below: Seaguar's Gerry Benedicto with a Bluefin Tuna caught this year aboard Red Rooster III
To Gamakatsu and Jeff Roberts for donating an incredible amount of hooks for use on the trip – these bad boys caught their fair share of giant tuna, including several cows using the big baits on 7/0 Ringed Super Nautilus hooks.
Fisherman’s Processing – Many will enjoy some of the freshest fish meals for months to come due to the care and handling put into processing the fish taken. Fillets, sushi cuts, smoked, and jerked options are all available. These are your fish being processed, and they will customize your filet options especially for you.
Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits – Because what’s a fishing trip without one of the finest craft brews on the market?
Below: "A good wahoo calls for a Wahoo Wheat" - Colin Sarfeh and Al Gross