By Captain Kevin Deerman
It’s always been amazing to me to see what kind of creatures show up in the lights around the boat at night when tuna fishing off the Texas coast. Over the years, we’ve encountered many different types of fish. These nocturnal visitors are welcome entertainment for the crew on the long nights in the Gulf of Mexico. We are always on the lookout for flying fish to use for live bait.
Over the years, we have also scooped up our share of juvenile dorado, wahoo and even different billfish species. Hanging around a lit-up spar rig in 5,000 feet of water is not very safe for these smaller fish when the tuna start feeding at night.
A few years back, Capt. Kirk Elliott told me about a juvenile sailfish his mate left swimming in a bucket. After watching it for a few minutes, Kirk asked his mate if he would release it before it got hurt. The mate had no sooner complied with Kirk’s request than a big tuna gobbled up the sailfish.
As we tuna fished for a few hours on a July night a few years ago, we netted and released a couple of juvenile sails and spotted around a half dozen more swimming around in the lights. I’m sure most of the boats that frequent the deepwater spar rigs have experienced similar sightings of these small fish. In 2019, The Billfish Foundation announced a pretty cool program called the Juvenile Billfish Project. TBF asked for help obtaining information about these young billfish to get a better understanding of their habitats and distribution.
This information not only helps provide data on juvenile billfish, but is useful in determining where the big ones spawn. To help out, all anglers need to do is email a photo of a juvenile billfish that they have caught with as much information as they can provide. Pertinent facts include the approximate location, date, time of day, weather conditions, size of fish and the like. Snap the picture, jot down the details and email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
While a few photos with information would not accomplish much, widespread participation can provide scientists with a wealth of data. Not only could this help to more understand the habits of juvenile billfish (and the species as a whole), but it makes netting up all the small marlin and sailfish that swim into your lights even that much more fun. Just try not to feed them to the tuna!