By Johan Wessels

I remember clearly the first book that I read on Big Game Fishing.  The year was 1996 and we have just moved down to the Natal South Coast.

At a garage sale, I bought the book, “Game Fishing Transformed” by Charles Horne.

Reading of giant fish, Black Marlin, Striped Marlin, Broadbill Swordfish, and Bluefin Tuna. I think the first mention of Bluefin was in 1922 with the last being in the 70s and just like that they disappeared…

The biggest fish of that period was a monster of 850lb caught by Brian Cohen in January 1973 off Fish Hoek.

As a schoolboy, I always hoped that one day it might be me on the rod with an angry Bluefin on the other side…

In 2019 we were fishing for Tarpon in Rio Indio, Nicaragua when my friend Ben said that he has booked a Bluefin trip to Nova Scotia for 2020. I was in!

And then 2020 happened, with 2021 not being much better for international travel!

Early August 2022, Ben called and said that the trip is a “go”!!!

We all started with visa applications for Canada. This was tricky, but all our Visas came through a day before we set off on the 5th of September…

My flight took me from Johannesburg to New York, New York to Toronto, and Toronto to Halifax. Ben and Richard traveled via London with Michael and Ivan through Europe.

By the evening of the 7th, we have all made it to Bayfield, on the shore of St Georges Bay.

The team from Rough Rider Charters met up with us to explain the trip ahead. Anita had all the admin covered, Mike was the skipper, and Steve his mate.

We were scheduled to fish on the 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th, but the weather outlook for the 11th was not all that great so we decided to start fishing on the 8th.

We met up at the harbour early Thursday morning. Mike and Steve already had the boat idling with a coffee ready to go! Everything on the boat screamed Big Game Fishing! Three Shimano Tiagra 130s on custom build big game rods with winthrop rollers guides and the line appeared to be brand new.

Leaving the harbour was easy and we made good speed to the grounds. The ocean was absolutely flat, reminding me of days in the Scottish Lochs.

As we arrived at the grounds Ben told me that I would be the first man in the chair…

Mike slowed the boat down as we came up to the first net and immediately started marking fish, just like Wicked Tuna! This was real!!!

Steve started chumming with the whole team staring into the water, not 10 seconds, and the first fish was visible. I made every effort to get out of my warm-weather gear as quickly as I could. Big Bluefin Everywhere!!!

Steve advised that we keep feeding them a bit, just to get their confidence up. We were all laughing and mesmerized by the sheer size of the fish taking herring just below the surface a metre away from us.

Steve asked if I was ready… I answered him by putting my Fish Monkey Sungloves on!

He hooked a herring onto the 11/0 circle hook, crimped it to 200lb fluorocarbon leader, and started lowering the bait into the crystal clear blue depths, the bait sank a meter, and out, from underneath the boat came a monster and tight we went!

I made my way into the fighting chair and as I sat down my team was ready. Steve placed the rod into the gimbal, and Ben and Ivan clipped the reel in. Mike was on top of the fish immediately, expertly walking her out and away from all the nets where they hunt,

During this time it was just all about keeping the line tight and putting the line back onto the reel until we could get off the maze. This was the most difficult period of the fight for me, just picking up the slack line on that big 130!

And we were out! I immediately pushed the drag lever to full sunset, the Bluefin felt that and that was also the last time that I sat flat in the fighting chair. For the next few minutes, I stood up in the chair, using my weight and the ultra-smooth Shimano drag to get the best out of the fish!

Ben was directing the chair, and Steve and Mike communicating with hand signs to have the boat in the exact right position to shorten the fight. Michael passed drinks on and Ivan was filming.

Big Game Fishing is a team sport, and I had a great team backing me up. I immediately knew that we had this!

The runs started becoming shorter and shorter and then Steve said,” I see the leader!” and second or two after we saw color. And it was big color!!! Three metres of it!

Steve grabbed the leader and a short while later Mike had the big Boga grip in the fish’s mouth! I was out of the chair and it just rained high fives.

Leaning over the gunnels and looking at that fish, I was overcome by emotion, what a fish, what an experience…

Steve got the bluefin release tape out and said that this fish is a comfortable 900lb plus.

The crew does a super job of protecting the fishery and every fish is pulled for about 20 minutes next to the boat. This allows the fish to cool down while recovering before release.

She swam off strongly!

We turned back to the “spot” where I had hooked my fish earlier, and on arrival, we started marking them again.

The process was exactly the same. First, the chum, followed by Tuna under the boat!

Ivan was up next…

He went tight as the bait hit the water, unfortunately, the hook pulled shortly thereafter!

The Canadians do their utmost to protect the fishery and they have a rule that you are only allowed to release three fish per boat per day and a release counts as soon as you fight the fish for longer than 15 minutes.

The hook pulled within a minute or two, so we were still golden for two more fish.

In went the chum and back up came the giants! This time the hook found purchase in the giant’s mouth!

Ivan fought the fish hard, but as he started settling into a rhythm and getting on top of the fish the line just went slack. We knew that it was off and we went over the golden 15 minutes…

On closer inspection, we could see that the 200lb fluorocarbon was heavily chafed and it seemed as if the circle hook might have hooked the fish deeper in the mouth than we would have liked.

Next up was Ben, this time we had to work a bit harder to get the monsters up and feeding, but up they came, and tight we went!

We realized that we must apply as much pressure as we could from the hook set. ben did this expertly and after a 30-minute tug of war, we started seeing color, a giant greenish glow. What a sight!

But this fight was far from over, for another ten minutes this fish gave us hell! On the surface with fin and tail out, then it would dive and repeat!

Steve called the leader up and managed to get a good wrap on the leader and the fish was next to the boat.

I was up in the “tuna” tower and looking down while filming was an amazing sight.

The fish was released and once again swam off strongly!

That was out 2/3 and the day was done and still only early afternoon…

We headed back to Bayfield Harbor on a perfectly flat sea. What an introduction to Bluefin Tuna fishing in Canada!

Johan with the first fish of the trip…
Ben in the chair with Michael supporting him.
Ivan is in the chair with everyone supporting him!
Johan is in the chair with Steve to the left and Ben to the right.
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