ITB-Digital contributor Michael Marks of Hawaii was nice enough to write out an account of an epic, unexpected run in with a pack of ravenous bigeye. Check it out… Thanks for the story Michael and keep em coming!
By Michael Marks
The anticipation had been building for a few weeks as a plan was hatched, and the moving parts all started to come together. The crew was solid and consisted of Captain Cyrus Widhalm, part owner of Honey – a beautiful custom 40-foot Buddy Davis, co-owner of Honey Mark Rodrigues, deckhand extraordinaire Nick Watson, owner of the tournament winning El Jobean, Larry Peardon, Brian Cibulka, owner of Relentless and yours truly.
The 4:30 wake up and raw anticipation that comes with the pre-dawn loading up of the boat for a 2-day-overnight trip down to South Point had peaked at about 6 am….and slowly given way to a lot of blue water and zero action.
The opelu at the secret submerged bait buoy were essentially unattainable. They were everywhere, but getting decimated by predators as soon as they bit. An hour and change of work turned into two measly baits.
We resorted to running south for a bit and jumped into ono lane. The run proved to be scenic and beautiful as we skirted alongside the prehistoric looking cliff filled shoreline, but the onos refused to play ball as well. Four hours and not a touch.
As we continued to push south, Captain Cyrus made the call to head outside to “B” buoy. There were some skiffs around, scattered birds and little tunas breaking water occasionally. The general liveliness of the area gave us renewed hope.
We busted out the small gear, rustled up a 4-5-pound aku (skipjack) for bait, bridled it up along with an opelu and sent them back out for a swim. The fish finder showed some serious signs of life. Consistent stacks of medium sized marks down deep that looked like potential tuna, and some big solo marks that looked the part of marlin.
We worked the area. Hard. And after a few hours, and a number of tricky tactics to get the opelu down deep and face to face with the tuna when we marked them, we had nothing to show for it.
The excitement we had first thing in the morning pretty much left us. Frosty IPAs and an assortment of other adult beverages were the only things driving the positivity at this point. All of the other skiffs that were dropping bait at the buoy for tunas seemed to be striking out as well, but Captain Cyrus was convinced that there was just too darn much life underneath us for nothing to happen. Finally, after a number of hours turning fruitless laps around the buoy, he finally proved to be right!
Out of nowhere, a blue marlin showed up directly behind the boat. I mean directly in the props, lit up bright blue and trying to put his bill in the exhaust pipe. Captain and deck hand Nick quietly slid down from the bridge trying not to spook the fish and brought the baits right to it. It turned, ate the port side bait, and then spit it back at us as soon as he felt any pressure, and promptly left. SHIT! Now we had proof there were hungry fish around, but it definitely stung to see one just feet behind the transom and not get bit.
We rustled up another bait with renewed optimism and went back to it. Thirty minutes later, the clips on both baits popped just a handful of seconds apart, both came tight as we pushed the drags up and what we initially celebrated as a double turned into a greedy 350 class fish that jumped up about 30 yards behind the boat for a series of head shakes to show off the matching new circle hook jewelry in either sides of its face! We immediately went to town on it knowing all the extra pressure we could put on it with both rods, and we had it boat side in three minutes, much to the chagrin of Nick who now had the pleasure of doing hand to hand combat with a very green and angry fish. It definitely took some effort, and Nick’s hand must have hurt like hell by the end of it, but we were able to get it freed up for a healthy release.
With a spike in enthusiasm and energy, we went back at it and grabbed two more perfect sized 3lb akus and slowly put them around the buoy. Our plan was to spend the night at Okoe Bay nearby where the Llanes family had assembled a floatilla to celebrate Bomboy’s birthday, so we wanted to be in early to anchor up before dark, but we had to give it a few more minutes to see what would happen.
Now this is where having a damn good skipper makes all the difference in the world. It was around 3:45 at this point and Cyrus had given us the “last lap and then crank em in warning” as we did one last wide circle outside the buoy. Out of the blue, Cyrus picked up on the fact that the 6-8 skiffs that had been tirelessly and fruitlessly working the buoy all day long, making drifts, then driving back up to the buoy for another drift had all drifted away from the buoy in unison. He wondered out loud what the hell was going on over there and said, “I bet they just floated a tuna pile and they’re all hooked up right now….grab me my binos.”
Sure enough, the binos revealed a skiff pulling a real sized tuna over the gunnel…and just like that, our luck for the day was poised to take a dramatic turn.
With the live baits swimming back behind us, we slowly made our way over to the skiffs. Everyone on the boat was mesmerized as we saw each skiff in front of us start pulling sturdy, proper sized tuna over their rails. As soon as we got within a hundred yards of them, both baits simultaneously popped from the clips and started ripping line. The party had started.
As soon as we boated both fish, which were in the 70lb range, we quickly figured out two things: these were not just the standard yellowfin tunas that we normally get, but were some of the roundest, most butterball-y bigeye tunas that any of us had ever seen. And, that we were completely out of bait. This became an immediate issue because bigeyes are notorious locally for being very leader shy and for generally being pretty hesitant to bite trolled lures. As we thought about how to solve the problem, the prop wash literally turned black with tuna backs darting back and forth behind the boat, so we needed to come up with a solution NOW.
Nick and Cyrus moved quickly and cut the belly meat off one of the boated fish and began chunking it for chum to keep them behind the boat, and cut some bigger chunks to slide some hooks into. As they cut off the belly meat, it became clear what the fish had been up to down in the depths all day. They were stuffed, and I mean absolutely packed, full of finger length shrimp. So full that we wondered out loud why on earth they would have tried to fit a 3lb tuna into their already completely engorged stomachs. Regardless, it was a bad call for them to try to fit that last tuna down their throat, but the shrimp turned out to be the key component to our strategy moving forward. Larry started flicking a few shrimp at a time over the side and they were immediately fought over and sucked down as soon as they touched the water. As long as we had shrimp, we could keep the school up at the surface and directly behind us.
I ran into the cabin to try to dig out some rigged moldcraft squid lures that bigeyes tend to like. I was hoping for a pink one to match the color of the shrimp, but the closest color I found was clear/white, and too complicate things, it was only 4”, rigged with 100 lb leader, and a 6/0 double hook. Much lighter gear than we wanted to use for the quality of fish we were tangling with….but it was better than nothing.
I clipped the squid to one of the 130s, threw it out behind the boat as we were idling, jerked it once, and immediately had an angry meatball of a tuna come straight out of the water and decimate the squid…no more than 10 ft. behind the boat. I jerked back and set the hook by hand, but after three headshakes the tiny hooks still hadn’t penetrated and he spit it back at me. Fortunately, a half dozen or so of his buddies were slashing all around him, and were glad to inhale the squid that their buddy somehow “missed out” on. The tiny hooks finally stuck and we were off to the races!
Meanwhile, Nick had put together a bait rig with tuna circle hook, pinned a chunk of tuna belly on it, threw it over the side and was immediately hooked up as well. A number of over-unders with the rods to keep the fish from tangling and we had two more in the boat.
We quickly switched to all bait rigs because the normally leader-shy bigeyes were taking bait on 300lb leaders…and with the beefed-up tackle and bigger hooks, we didn’t have to baby them like we did on the light rigs the moldcrafts were on.
We got two more on baits before they started to wise up and ignore the cut baits…and although we could clearly see them stacked up shoulder to shoulder behind the boat waiting for the shrimp entrees that we kept flicking back to them, it became clear that we needed to change it up and go back to the moldcraft again. As soon as the squids hit the water it became a complete frenzy with tunas literally jumping over each other and boiling all over the place to get to the baits. We managed to get two more before breaking off the only three moldcrafts on the boat. Luckily each fish barfed up a load of shrimp as soon as they hit the deck, which we continued to use to keep their buddies right behind us.
We were about an hour into the frenzy at this point, and the pack of tunas had remained glued to the back of the boat the entire time. The ferocity of the bite had picked back up to a level of pure hostility, and Cyrus was ready to try something silly. With how aggressive the fish were on the moldcrafts squids, we decided that they would probably try to kill anything that splashed behind the boat, as long as it was pink. To test the theory, we put a 130 on each corner, threw back some of Cyrus’ personal line of “Kraken Candy” lures skirted with some pink, and essentially fish them like the commercial “danglers” do with the lures skipping right on the surface, on 530 lb test, right behind the boat. And wouldn’t you know it….it worked like clockwork. No one on the boat could ever remember a time they caught a bigeye on 530lb line, but here they were, jumping out of the water, essentially in free-gaffing range behind the boat (which we really should have tried), and absolutely obliterating every lure that splashed the water. It was pure magic to watch the show, and by now everyone on the boat agreed that it was the most prolific tuna bite that any of us had ever seen. Everyone on board had gotten into a rhythm at this point, and we were all taking turns with everyone either cranking, leadering, or gaffing something at any given time.
We managed to get four more using our improvised “dangler” rigs and with the sun setting behind us, Cyrus made the call that we were going to kill one more and then head into Okoe Bay to celebrate. And just like that we had another one on the end of the line.
It was now about 5:45, and with the sun running low on the horizon, we started to clean up the mayhem on the back deck and get the remainder of the fished iced. We sat back for a head count and realized we had a total of 13 in the boat and it had all transpired in two hours or less. It was hands down the most wide-open tuna bite any of us had seen, and to celebrate the moment (and clean off the blood we were covered in) Cyrus, Nick, and Brian gave a bliss-filled holler and jumped off the back deck into the still boiling cloud of tuna behind us.
The night turned into a show of pure aloha with Cyrus sending over the biggest bigeye to Bomboy as a birthday present, and then we all sat back, bbq’d, drank and sang the rest of the night away.
Our planned trip down to south point the following day was cut short because we were completely out of ice and fish storage space, but no one seemed to care. We wondered out loud how long the bite would’ve kept up for if we had stayed into the night, but every one of us on the boat all agreed that with how good the bite was, it really didn’t matter. It will be a very, very long time before any of us forget this day of fishing.
A huge thanks to Capt. Cyrus Widhalm, Nick Watson and Mark Rodrigues for putting us on the fish and running a ridiculously smooth operation. Find and book your own trip with them at www.Konaseaadventures.com
Also big thanks to Sylvie at www.biggamelureshawaii.com where you can find Capt. Cyrus’ Kraken Candy lures for sale, as well as a huge selection of lures from a wide variety of Hawaiian lure makers, and a large selection of rare and vintage Hawaiian trolling lures.