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Al RogersTwo state record yellowfin picked off Midnight Lump
Category: Fishing - Saltwater - Offshore
Date: 3/19/2005
Written By: Al Rogers - Rodnreel.com

Two state record yellowfin picked off Midnight Lump


When the “Stress Management,” a 39-foot Ocean sportfisher arrived at the Midnight Lump Friday morning, Capt. Scott Leger and deckhand Hunter Caballero seriously considered not even stopping, foregoing their deepwater anchoring and chumming ritual.


The sight of 35 other boats, dozens of brightly colored poly balls and miles of obstructive anchor rope concerned the Rayne, La. native. Although this legendary submerged salt dome 20 miles out of Southwest Pass has produced some rather impressive yellowfin and wahoo in recent weeks, Leger he felt it might be advantageous to keep heading south to fish less populated areas.


Friday was opening day of the third annual Venice Winter Invitational, headquartered at Venice Marina. More than 200 anglers had signed up for this year’s event to compete in several inshore and offshore categories. They would be targeting tuna, amberjack, wahoo, shark, speckled trout and redfish in the two-day event. The tournament ended Saturday evening with awards ceremonies and some serious Louisiana festivities.


Mid-March is considered by many to be a little late in the season for the Lump. Historically, fishing peaks at or near the first full moon in February. But this year has been different. The peak period, according to many offshore veterans, came later this year.


In favorable conditions during this period it’s not unusual to find 100 to 200 boats anchored in a relatively small area. Leger and Caballero were obviously concerned. They knew that a veritable armada of boats would soon arrive. Fishing boats would drift dangerously close to one another. Captains and anglers would jockey for prime positions, while others would troll baits around the perimeter of the underwater mountain. They’ve seen pandemonium here before. Anchor lines severed, and monster tuna entangled and lost.


From the fly bridge, Leger surveyed the pristine greet waters. Although he’s been here countless times, he remains in awe of the powerful forces of nature at work. At the Midnight Lump, 20 miles out of Southwest Pass, Gulf currents hit the base of an ancient salt dome creating an upwelling effect. Some say this phenomenon disorients baitfish, forcing them to the surface. These smaller fish are easy meals for predators that lurk below.


The conditions impressed Ledger, so he carefully positioned the Stress Management at the southwest corner of the Midnight Lump. Caballero prepared to put out more than 600 feet of nylon anchor rope.


“We decided to give it a try,” Ledger said late Friday. “We knew the crowd was on the way, but the conditions were too good to pass up.”


As the anchor was set, there was audible excitement below as five anglers were ready to drop their lines. The team, sponsored by St. John Enterprises, included Anthony Taormina, Keith Metcalf and Chip Abadie of LaPlace, Josh Esper and Chad Jezik of Paducah, Kentucky. The five, who work for the New Orleans-based American River Transportation Company, had been looking forward to fishing the Venice Winter Invitational for some time.


Taormina said he and his teammates occasionally get the chance to fish offshore. He admitted that he’d never caught a yellowfin, and was more than ready to tangle with a big one. He could have never imagined what was about to happen.


Caballero was hard at work, slicing and dicing some of the more than 200 pounds of pogies on board. He periodically tossed out fragrant handfuls of the oily fish, and soon created a chum slick that extended 25 yards off the stern. The equipment had been checked and was ready to go. The Penn 30s and Penn 50s had been spooled earlier with 30- and 40-pound mono tied directly onto five-foot sections of 80-pound Suffix fluorocarbon leader. The rig was completed with Frenzy Big Game 7/0 circle hooks snelled to the leader.


Two rods were set out and Caballero continued to chum. Then a small 10-pound blackfin became the first victim. It was put into the fish box and the rods were set back out. At that point Leger watched in utter disbelief as a giant tuna barreled through the chum line and engulfed one of the tiny pieces of baitfish.


“It was incredible,” he said. “We clearly saw it and knew right away it was big – well over a hundred pounds.”


He shouted down to Caballero but the astute deckhand was already cranking in lines and putting on fresh bait. He then placed the lines back out in the current. And the beast appeared again, racing through the chum line and devouring anything in its unfortunate path.


“He was right there,” Leger said emphatically. “Maybe 10 feet off the back of the boat.


Taormina, still anxious to do battle, picked up one of the hefty sticks and started to strip out line to place the bait in the general area where the tuna was feeding. There was slack in the line when the tuna reared its monstrous head and engulfed the cut bait.


“(The fish) took it and ran,” Leger said. “I guess he had must have stripped out 50 yards of line before (Taormina) pushed the drag lever up. He handled it perfectly. Exactly the way we showed him.”


The beast stripped off another 100 yards of line in no time. As the Penn squealed like a banshee in heat, Taormina realized that he was finally getting the battle he had longed for. But he had no idea how complicated this was about to get. In a seemingly instinctive maneuver, the yellowfin headed directly for the anchor rope and passed underneath. Under normal circumstances this is a manageable problem for an experienced captain and deckhand. But the tuna made a sharp turn and passed back over the anchor line, creating a loop and serious concerns.


Realizing that they had to drop the anchor immediately, Leger cranked up the pair of 3208 diesels and backed up to the poly ball. Caballero seized the ball and began to retrieve anchor rope. After Caballero pulled in some 30 feet of rope, Taormina was able to untangle the line.


Taormina fought the fish for another 35 minutes before they saw their first shiny glimpse of it below. Only then they realized the enormous size of the tuna. It was enormous. Perhaps the largest that the Stress Management crew had ever seen.


“It’s a monster!” Caballero shouted just before gaffing the fish directly behind its gills. “Hang on,” Capt. Leger replied as he literally flew down the fly bridge. Leger then impaled a second gaff in an area very close to the first one. And the beast thrashed even more frantically in a fight for its life.


“He went ballistic,” Leger said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”


They realized that the tuna was at least 150 pounds, maybe 180. But it continued to thrash violently until it threw both of the gaffs. The tuna headed straight for the sea floor, stripping more line. Taormina, dripping with sweat, held on for dear life. His friends reminded him repeatedly of the potential size of this fish. It sounded once again, taking out another 50 yards.


At this point, Leger said he was amazed that the yellowfin was still at the end of the line.


Taormina pumped and cranked. And then he pumped and cranked some more. Soon their hard efforts began show as the tuna began its “death spin,” a final and futile attempt to escape. In five minutes the captain and deckhand put their gaffs in the giant yellowfin a second time.


“We all knew that there was no way this fish was coming over the transom,” Leger said. “So we pulled him back to the tuna door. My heart was in my throat.”


When the monster was hoisted through the tuna door, its size was even greater than their previous estimates. They guessed that it was about 200 pounds, and would likely win the tuna division in the Venice Winter Invitational.


After a brief celebration, they put baits back in the water. And in a matter of minutes another yellowfin struck the bait and Metcalf grabbed the rod. After a 25-minute battle, his tuna - later determined to weigh 112 pounds, was put into the fish box. This fish, considered to be big by most anglers, was completely dwarfed by the first. The crew then decided it was time to head back for a meeting with the weigh master.


“I knew it was big,” Taormina said. “177, maybe 190 – But of course I’m hoping it would break 200 (pounds).”


When the tuna hit the scales it was heavier than anyone expected. Its whopping 240.3 pounds shocked everyone who looked on at Venice Marina.


“I saw it take the bait,” Taormina said. “The water was crystal clear. All I could say was ‘Oh, my God!’”


As the biologists came and checked it out, someone asked Taormina, “Do you realize that this is the new state record?”


He said he had no idea.


The team took care of the requisite paperwork, and then filleted the monster tuna. The steaks filled three ice chests, Taormina said. And they then began a celebration that continued well into the night on the Strike Zone Charters houseboat.


According to Jason Hebert, co-founder of the tournament, Taormina’s 240.3-pound yellowfin has been certified as the new state record fish. However, another yellowfin, also caught at the Midnight Lump on Friday, will assume the state’s new fourth place yellowfin tuna.


The 224.1-pound monster was caught by Dr. Dennis Henry of the Capt. Mule Team.


 “Yea, that was a big fish,” Taormina said late Friday. “But the tournament’s not over yet. Maybe we’ll catch a bigger one tomorrow.”

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