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
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
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.
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.
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
“He was right
there,” Leger said emphatically. “Maybe 10 feet off the back of the boat.
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
“(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
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.
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.
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
“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
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.
monster was caught by Dr. Dennis Henry of the Capt. Mule Team.
that was a big fish,” Taormina said late Friday. “But the tournament’s not
over yet. Maybe we’ll catch a bigger one tomorrow.”