597-pound bluefin tuna caught on spinning rod

bluefin tuna caught on spinning rod
597-pound bluefin tuna is shown with the spinning gear it was caught on; photo courtesy of Coastal Fishing Charters

Massachusetts Capt. Dom Petrarca appears to have made history recently when his charter group teamed to land a 597-pound bluefin tuna … on spinning gear.

The catch occurred two days after Bobby Rice, another Cape Cod charter captain, logged the catch of a 423-pound bluefin … also on spinning gear.

Petrarca and Rice say these are the largest bluefin tuna ever landed on spinning gear, and so far they’ve received no argument.

bluefin tuna
423-pound bluefin tuna was believed to be the largest caught on spinning gear, until the 597-pounder was landed; photo courtesy of Reel Deal Fishing Charters

The catches are remarkable because giant bluefin tuna, according to popular belief, simply are too powerful, and dive too swiftly and deeply, to be caught on anything but heavy conventional tackle.

Such tackle generally includes a large conventional reel, whose spool allows line to strip freely in a straight line toward the water, rather than perpendicularly from a spinning reel.

Heavy tackle also includes a stout rod and a harness. Anglers strap in, use their bodies for leverage, and sometimes place the rod against the rail of the boat for additional leverage.

bluefin tuna
423-pound bluefin is safely boated as crew returns to port; photo courtesy of Reel Deal Fishing Charters

This method has enabled the capture of bluefin weighing 1,000 pounds or more.

By comparison, even the heaviest spinning gear is considered light tackle, which Petrarca and Rice say makes the sport more challenging and fun.

“Five years ago, nobody would have even believed that you could catch a 200- or 300-pound tuna, let alone a 400- or 500-pound tuna,” said Petrarca, who runs Coastal Charters Sportfishing in Marshfield. “But we’re proving that with the right methods, you can.”

Nowadays, a handful of reel manufacturers are designing spinning reels more for use in big-game saltwater fishing. (The captains use Shimano reels, RonZ lures and Point Jude Deep Force jigs.)

bluefin tuna
Anglers pose with 423-pound bluefin tuna caught on spinning gear; photo courtesy of Reel Deal Fishing Charters

However, Petrarca and Rice say, despite significant technological advancements, spinning reels are limited. Their spools are too small and their drag systems aren’t able to stop the truly giant tuna from racing away with all the line.

But the captains are finding ways around the limitations.

They fish on smaller, faster boats that make chasing and keeping up with fleeing tuna possible. They target their tuna, using a variety of jigs, in reasonably shallow water. That makes it difficult for tuna to spool a reel merely by sounding toward the bottom.

Lastly, when a really big tuna is hooked, the captains make it a rule that everyone on board takes turns reeling, because one angler cannot handle the task alone with these lighter-tackle outfits. (Their anglers use flimsy, 8-foot rods, which would break if placed against the rail.)

“There is no way in the world that one angler could land a 400-pound tuna the way we fish,” Petrarca said. ”It’s that difficult. Our anglers get worn out, beat up, and spit out, and then they pass the rod off and wait their turn again.”

Petrarca said giant bluefin off Nova Scotia and in the Mediterranean are targeted in much deeper water, making the Cape Cod area somewhat unique, and perhaps the only place the big fish can be successfully landed on spinning gear.

“This is the only place in the world that this can be done,” Petrarca said.

When Rice and his Reel Deal Fishing Charters group landed the 423-pound tuna last Friday, the captain was ecstatic, because he claimed the catch as an unofficial spinning-gear world record.

“Yes, that just happened,” Rice wrote on the company Facebook page. “All eyes exuded an incredulous gaze at the luminosity and girth of the fish that was now being brought on board.”

On Sunday, Domenic Petrarca arrived at port with the 597-pound bluefin, landed after an intense hour-long fight. He wrote about his catch for On the Water. His description of the hookup:

“The first 20 minutes were spent with heavy throttle, an angler pinned to the combing bolsters along the rail, reeling like mad as we tried to get enough line back on the spool to handle the next run, as the fish went east, west, then back to east, all at a distance of three to four football fields away from us anytime it switched direction.”

Later in the report, the bringing of the bluefin to color: “Tugging on what felt like a runaway bus, we finally worked the beast into sight, and the true dimensions of this animal became clearly evident to all on board … this was a true stud of a fish, a real giant by anyone’s definition.”

Finally, it was subdued with ropes and towed to port, “setting another bar for the light-tackle crowd to shoot for.”

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