Posts Tagged ‘Peter B. Wright’

May 23, 2013

Fishing Ain’t Just About Catching

Black Marlin - Panama
A few months ago I was looking up the current black marlin woman’s world record on 50 pound for a customer. I opened the “IGFA World Record Game Fishes” from the shelf on my desk. I opened the book to the marlin record pages, and Mike Levitt’s 737lb 7oz. Black Marlin world record on 12 pound in 1981 caught my eye. I knew exactly when that happened and memories flooded in.

That was the year of IGFA’s President’s, E.K. Harry’s big mistake, when he changed IGFA rules on the length of leaders to 30 feet on all classes. He was responding to a bunch of lazy charter boat captains who found it too hard to keep track of leaders of 15 and 30 feet in length.

Elwood shortened up the double line and leader combined length, but in so doing doubled the allowable leader length on light line. Mike Levitt and Capt. Paul Whelan had set a record that still stands and may not ever be beaten because the rules were changed again, after that one year.

Laurie Wright and the late Doug Haig were my crew. We made a deal with Al Hooper. We used his little trawler yacht, “Cheryl Ann” as a mother boat and fished double or nothing for a world record on 6 or 12 pound line. Al would pay nothing if we failed to get a record and double if we did. Laurie, Doug and I, and the boat owner, went all in for the deal.

With all that much leader we got our chances. We had several 700 pounders on the wire. We broke several leaders and had one jump through, and break the outrigger halyards. At one point Al offered to pay for the whole charter, but not double, if we would let him switch to 30 pound line.

We turned him down and lost the bet! He paid for all our fuel and gave us all a nice tip. None of us will ever forget those two weeks of crazy fishing! The next year the IGFA changed the leader length back for the lightest line classes.

It’s funny that a trip in which we were not successful was one of the best and most fun we ever had! I will never ever forget the details of that trip

Good Fishing,
Peter B

Mar 13, 2013

Keep It Practical

Bendo on the Bow

It was a rough day with wind driven spray. Even at trolling speed the tower leg was coated with a film of salt water and my hands became wet while climbing back into the tower after fighting a marlin from the bridge control station.  As I picked up the VHF radio’s microphone to call in the tag and release to the committee boat the radio jumped back to channel 16. I spun the dial back to the tournament channel and tried again with the same result. Not until the third failed attempt to contact the committee boat did I realize what was going wrong.

The new radio I had recently had installed had a feature that seemed logical to some electronic tech-head but was a major hassle to me in the real world. The radio was designed to automatically switch back to emergency and stand-by channel #16 when placed into its metal holder. Unfortunately, I could not hold the radio in one wet hand without changing away from the channel I was supposed to use for tournament communications. We cut the wire which activated the unwanted feature and the radio worked just fine on whatever channel I chose. I do the same thing for microphones with key pads and buttons that switch channels up or down. They may work well on big yachts, but in rough water on fishing boats they are a nuisance.

That night over an evening cocktail we had a discussion of several ideas which had looked good on paper but were an inconvenience or even a real nuisance to boatmen who actually went to sea in less than perfect conditions. Here are a few…

I really dislike modern towers where form has interfered with function. (I almost always STAY in the tower to get the enhanced vision the extra height gives me.) To create a stylish look many towers have back legs/ladders so close to vertical it is dangerous to attempt to climb them in a choppy sea or at cruising speed.

Equally bad is the tendency to have supports for the Bimini top/sun shade that angle fashionably inboard to follow the line of the front tower leg supports. It is impossible to get comfortably wedged into a corner of the padded belly rail in rough weather without being beaten to a pulp by the un-padded aluminum of the sun shade supports (and the majority of new towers won’t allow you to get wedged in a corner and still reach both reach the steering wheel and the control levers.)

The seats with back rests that are common in today’s towers are a great spot for the owner’s kids to sit looking ahead and drinking a coke in calm water, but make watching trolling baits or seeing what is going on in the cockpit when fighting a fish almost impossible. I rarely see a tower these days I would allow on any boat that I had to run and fish competitively!

Badly designed flying bridges are also far too common on new boats. I was on a “sport fishing” boat that cost several million dollars, from a highly respected custom builder, with a helm station that did not only NOT allow me to see the angler in the fighting chair, I could not see any part of the fore deck while attempting to dock the boat. (When the mate stood as far forward as possible on the bow I could barely see the belt buckle at his waist!)

Yacht captains may be used to running back and forth across their flying bridge as they carefully approach dock but I find that unacceptable in a sport fishing boat. (“Wait a minute and hold still Mr. Marlin while I run over here and see where my angler is right now!” -Fat chance!)

I need to at least be able to see down to the angler’s waist to see what the spool of the reel is doing so I can properly maneuver the boat to help, rather than hinder, my angler.

Cockpit controls can help but should not be placed where an off balance guest can inadvertently pull or push them. (One big advantage of the new electronic controls is that they only function after being activated and assuming command at the designated station, thereby eliminating sudden changes when a control lever is used as a grab rail!)

The new fashionable look in modern sport fishing circles of vessels without a bow rail is also just plain dumb! You may not plan on anchoring (no bottom fishing?) but if you ever have to (especially in rough weather) the owner or designer or builder is ASKING for a law suit  if the passenger or crew setting the anchor falls overboard or gets hurt -and every boat that doesn’t spend ALL its time in dry dock or a marina will at some time have a problem requiring that an anchor be set!

Also, if you are ever going to live aboard or spend a weekend offshore forget about having all the towels exactly the same. Monograms are fine but let’s have several colors so everyone can know which towel is theirs and hang it up to dry and allow at least a couple of days use. (More towel racks please!!!)

Good Luck,

– Peter B

Nov 20, 2012

You CAN Fish in Rough Water

The weather forecast was for 25 to 30 knot winds as a strong high pressure system south of the Australian continent built a strengthening ridge along Australia’s Queensland coast. Yesterday had dawned calm, but as the wind increased from a gentle breeze to a 15 to 20 knot trade wind a sea had started to build. Late in the afternoon, we saw the first of several black marlin surfing down the growing chop and rising swell. By evening, we had tagged and released 3 marlin, breaking a week long spell of slow fishing which had seen only an occasional marlin rising to our baits in the hot, calm, November weather.

Over breakfast that morning, our charter guest looked at the white caps on the sheltered water behind number 5 ribbon reef and watched the booming ocean swell outside the reef crash onto the reef front. “I don’t think I want to fish today.” he said. “I’d rather just lie around the mother boat and read.” “You don’t mind if we go, do you?” was my reply. “The boys and I have been waiting for this. Those tailers we saw yesterday should be just the start of it. Every black marlin in the Coral Sea will have tailed in against the reef overnight, and if they eat like the ones did yesterday it’ll be the best day all year!”

Our charter’s friend and fishing companion/guest said he would like to join us if we didn’t mind. After a relaxing morning on “mom” we set out just before noon. “As rough as it is, we won’t be in any hurry.” I told the crew. “If it’s as good as I think we’ll have all we need. If it’s slow, we’ll have more than we want—even with a late start.”

A "Good" Day on the GBR, Australia!

Overnight, the swell had built, but had time to get farther apart than the uncomfortable, short, steep, chop of the late afternoon of the day before. Duyfken could rise with the large (12 foot plus) seas instead of crashing against the steep faces of yesterday’s smaller, but far more nasty chop. By 1:30 PM, we were back at the motherboat having released 3 marlin and boated one well over 1,000 pounds. My mate had to lean out over our transom and knock vigorously on the motherboat’s wooden hull to roust the sleepers inside to weigh our guest’s fish of a lifetime. His richer, but less adventuresome, friend has still never caught a really big marlin, even though we went back out and released several more nice ones later that day.

If the fishing grounds are close enough to a safe harbor or anchorage, we can fish in some truly rough water. In areas where we have to travel long distances to and from the grounds, we usually stay in on days we would relish in a spot like Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, where yards, rather than miles, measure the distance to the fishing grounds.

Even so, on rough days, special tactics are often required. On really rough days, with heaving decks, stand up fishing is a BAD idea. Trying to maintain balance with both hands occupied is difficult and dangerous. It can be safe to fish even the heaviest tackle from a well-built fighting chair, but foolish to try to stand up against the transom of a wave-tossed sport fishing boat. Even with expert professional crew, it is the question of their safety while trying to stand up and handle a fish on the leader—that is often the main reason for my canceling a trip due to rough weather.

Trolling tactics also have to be modified to suit the conditions. Forget all the hokus pocus about trolling lures on exact positions on the wake. Climbing the face of big seas trolling speeds will drop and rise with the waves. Downsea speeds can jump from 6 or 7 to up to 12 or 14 knots as we surf down the wave fronts. Our wake is changing all over the place and complicated calm water lure shapes are useless in the rapidly changing conditions. (Don’t tell me to only quarter the sea – I AM going to get in front of that tailing marlin or tuna regardless of whether it is upsea, downsea or directly in the trough!!)

Forget staggered trolling patterns. On high wind days troll paired baits or lures of equal weight, equidistant behind the transom. They will be less prone to tangle each other when blown sideways. Trolling fewer baits in rough weather makes life easier and raises overall efficiency.

I always fight fish by chasing them in forward gear rather than reverse. This is especially important in big seas when backing up into breaking waves is down right dangerous — and STUPID. By motoring forward upsea and passing the fish, you reach a position where you can back up downsea in the final manuever of the fight.

In the end it is the safety of the boat and her crew that dictates whether we go or not and it is always better to err on the side of caution.

— Peter B Wright

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Sep 21, 2012

Seeking Perfect Vision and Protecting Your Eyes

Peter B. Wright

Once in a while I still meet fishermen who wear non-polarized glasses. Sometimes they don’t even know their lenses don’t have the glare reducing capabilities serious anglers and guides deem essential. Others prefer their non-polarized “shades” because they value style more than reduction of glare. This is a HUGE mistake!

I rely on my vision and try to both protect and enhance it. My glasses also protect my eyes from ultraviolet radiation, physical trauma from flying objects and damage from dust and salt crystals. I visit my eye doctor at least once every year to check my prescription and make sure there are no other problems that could affect my sight.

Glaucoma, diabetes, pterygium, hypertension and brain tumors can all be detected during a thorough eye exam and early treatment is critical.

Sooner or later just about everyone’s eyes lose the ability to “accommodate” or focus clearly at close range. When I got to be about 40 years old, tying knots in light line classes became an exercise in futility, until I got corrective lenses for close up work. This requires a different prescription than the one I need for my astigmatism and can still give me better than 20/20 distance vision.

I used to always carry a pair of folding reading glasses for reading and tying knots. Then I got a pair of polarized bifocal lenses in a light grey tint that was great in bright light. With these I could see like a hawk at long range and still see even the tiniest flies and two pound test leaders -as long as there is a reasonable amount of daylight.

Even better than bifocals are the new “progressive lenses” that my eye doctor first got me to try in clear, non-fishing lenses. It took a little while to get used to making minute adjustments in the way I have to tilt my head, but I have worked my way from initially hating the glasses to really liking them. There is no obvious line where the lens shifts from near too far and part of the lens is just right at any distance from close up to infinity.

Now I have polarized glasses, progressive, in grey lenses and yellow lenses. With my progressive lenses I can read fine print or tie knots up close, read the gauges on my pickup truck dashboard or see the little numbers on the GPS on the boat at arm’s length and still see fish tails or birds in the far distance.

I use the grey glasses for bright light and the yellow lenses for lower light levels of light, early or late or on dull days. I also use the yellow lenses for sporting clays where shadows and bright spots are both part of the challenge.

There are many pairs of good glasses on the market and anytime I am offered a pair of new classes to field test, I give the company my very latest prescription and take the new glasses to the doctor to check them for their UV protection and the accuracy of the prescription.

Interestingly, ALL of the better known brands I have tried passed my eye doctor’s test for both clarity of vision and protection of my eyes.

I currently wear the Kaenon brand and have superb vision and have gotten better longevity without scratching from them than any others I have tried in the past.

I try hard to take care of my glasses. I wash them with fresh water as often as possible and NEVER use paper towels to wipe them off, only a lens cloth or facial tissue without lotion added. In an emergency, I use a clean cotton tee shirt.

If it is daylight and I am outdoors I am wearing my polarized Kaenon glasses. They give me hawk-like vision and protect my eyes. So far I have no sign of macular degeneration or cataracts!

I hope to keep it like that!!!

Good Fishing!

—Peter B Wright

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Aug 15, 2012

Old Tricks Renewed

Years ago I bought a fishing reel and a planer from a man I saw walking along a beach on the Indonesian island of Lombok. I first noticed a wake a hundred yards or so offshore, moving parallel to the beach. It stood out dramatically on the clear, still water on a windless day.

“Look!” I exclaimed to my companion. “A big fish, or a porpoise, or a turtle – or something!” My puzzlement grew. Something was making a significant wake, but I could not tell what kind of marine creature it was. Then I noticed the man walking along the white sand beach which curved for nearly a mile below our rented, thatched roof, bungalow.

I ran down and followed the man who was carrying a crude handline spool carved from a short section of large diameter bamboo. A segment of the bamboo, below the piece which had the line wrapped around it, was carved into a pointed vee shape which reminded me of the sand spikes surf fishermen use to hold their rods while they wait for a strike.

A light monofilament fishing line stretched out toward the wake which paralleled the man’s path, slightly behind him. As I looked more closely I could see three more tiny wakelets, evenly spaced, between the shore and the larger wake.

A hundred yards before we reached the rocky headland at the end of the beach the man stopped and drove the spike at the bottom of reel into the beach sand. He continued to walk slowly as he pulled in his fishing line, which he laid out along the beach, a couple of yards above the wet part of the sand.

As the closest of the tiny wakes approached the shore I saw that a dropper line trolling a small homemade feather lure was tied to the main line. The fisherman laid both the dropper line (and lure), and main line on the beach and continued to walk along and pull in his line. Two more dropper lines and lures were laid on the beach alongside the main line before the large wake approached the shore and its secret was revealed.

A piece of a wooden plank had been carved into a fish shape with a short piece of wooden dowel protruding from the centerline one-third of the way from the head to the tail. The main line was attached to the end of the dowel.

The carved fish functioned as a side planer dragging one lure directly behind, and several more from the dropper lines. Walking the beach he could troll for fish at several distances from shore .

To fish back up the beach the fisherman rotated the symmetrical carving so it faced in the opposite direction, but with the dowel still protruding toward the beach. He lifted the line from the beach and paid it out as he walked along. Because of the way he had placed the dropper lines and lures on the sand he had only to pick up each lure as he came to it and flick it into the water. He was soon trolling all his lures. Halfway back I watched him catch a small jack that reminded me of a blue runner on one dropper lure.

I suspect that the price we finally agreed upon for me to take possession of his simple but sophisticated and lovely tackle was the most cash money he had ever owned. I had already seen his small son with a simpler, less ornate, version of his father’s tackle so I knew their ability to earn a living was not compromised and we both seemed happy with the bargain we struck. I KNOW I still treasure the tackle and the memory.

Today planers are a common and often essential item in tackle boxes. They are usually constructed of metal or plastic and have some method of being “tripped” so that once a fish has struck the planer quits trying to dive down or pull out to the side and offers less resistance to being reeled in to the boat.

Planers which angle off to one side are not common among big game anglers but are used quite effectively in lakes. Anglers trolling lakes use side planers to troll in shallow water or over submerged weed beds or reefs which the boat cannot cross over.

Diving planers have a myriad of applications along with, or in place of, down riggers used for species as large as bluefin tuna and marlin or as small as trout or land locked salmon. Any time a lure or bait needs to be trolled well beneath the surface a planer may make the difference between being “skunked” and a limit of your favorite fish. Your local tackle shop will gladly sell you the planer and lures or bait you need, and will give helpful hints on productive areas and tactics.


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Mar 2, 2012

World’s Greatest Fishing Hole

When John Rafter asked me “Pete, if you knew tomorrow was going to be the last day you ever got to fish in your life, but you could be wherever you wanted to be, and in the prime time or season, where would you choose?” A thousand images flooded my brain. “That’s really tough. There are so many places.” I replied.

“What about St. Thomas?” Rafter queried, “We were talking about this at Oden’s Dock in Hatteras and someone said that was the best blue marlin fishing ever.”

St. Thomas is a lovely island and the Virgin Islands have great diving and snorkeling in crystal clear bays over sand so white it hurts the eyes—and some of the best reefs in the Caribbean. With 5 to 10 bites a day on blue marlin not guaranteed, but also not unusual, it conjured up fond memories.

“I’d have to think about that and Cape Verde would probably win if I was going after blue marlin. There are even more fish there, and lots of action would probably win out over someplace like Madeira, which is such a gorgeous place just to be, that the fishing is almost a bonus. In Madeira, even though the action is not as red hot when you do get a bite, it is likely to be a real monster. But the biggest blue I ever saw was off Mindelo in Cape Verde so that’s a tough one.” I mused.

I make my living fishing for monster marlin and tuna and love that kind of fishing even though it can be hard work and is often stressful when we’re under pressure to produce. When I fish for the sheer fun of it, I’m often targeting smaller fish.

The Great Barrier Reef is the ultimate. Not just lots of marlin, but monsters over 1000 pounds..."

“I haven’t had a chance to take Bimini after bonefish yet.” I told Rafter. “I can remember wading the flats east of the island she’s named after at sunrise, and that’s pretty darn gorgeous. With a rising tide and those schools of fish pushing up onto the flats trying to pick out tails and get a bite out of those spooky devils, if I could only fish one more day I’m not sure I wouldn’t like to share that with my little girl.”

Then I thought about tarpon. It’s cooler and yuppier to fish with fly rods on the flats and that is also great fun, but Boca Grande won for that scene. I remembered the sun setting in the west just as a full moon was rising in the east. Calm water shimmering in the light that never really quit with the big full moon spring tides carrying all that LIFE. Weed and crabs and minnows all going with the current and then the tarpon— thousands upon thousands of them rolling in huge packs of prehistoric predators eating every bait we put out. No records, no pressure to perform, just fish after fish jumping, fighting, and being released-healthy. I’d hate to think I’d never see that again.

“What about those days we had in Hatteras when the bluefins were THICK?” Rafter interrupted my silent thoughts.

Boy could I see that in my minds eye. Enormous shapes zooming through the water eating chum before it could get really wet. Giant tuna eating chicken wings and squashed Pepsi cans if they were thrown in the cadence of the cut up baitfish chum. The line crackling off the reel. Using 100 pounds of drag on custom Cal Sheets Penn 130 reels with a top shot of 300 pound line.

Or sunny days off Cat Cay and Bimini in the old days with even bigger tuna running before the sea. Harder there to get a bite but even bigger fish!

“And the diving there is truly wonderful. The dive industry is WAY bigger than fishing down under. We get to snorkel and dive in the best spots that even the dive boats don’t go to – in fact, the fishing guys found most of the dive spots when we were the only ones out there and that was only during our short black marlin season.”

Then Rafter stopped me cold. “You know what? Ernie Foster was in the crowd at Hatteras and here’s what he said. ‘Boys, you never know which day IS going to be the last one you do get to go fishing. You better enjoy each one as if it WAS the last.’”

Thinking about this has made me appreciate my time on the water even more and I’ve resolved to concentrate even more than I already do on two aspects of my fishing.

Share it with kids. There is no better way to enjoy a day on the water than taking a kid fishing. Someday, I’m going to finish a book I’ve started called “Mentors” partly about men who took me fishing. In the meantime, I’m going to do more of what my grandmother called “Paying for my raising.”

Help out the fish. Only strong resources and good management can ensure what I have loved for future generations to enjoy.

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Jan 11, 2012

Old Dog New Tricks

A big bonito was splashing along from the left outrigger leaving a hefty wake. A small mackerel-like scad trailed from the right outrigger and was swimming beautifully below the surface of the Coral Sea. We were trolling at 5 knots. These are my two favorite baits for the giant black marlin that roam Australia’s Great Barrier Reef during the southern hemisphere’s Spring spawning aggregation of these mighty marine predators. I consider this combination the “marlin equivalent” of the steak and lobster dinner humans call “surf and turf”.

Australia's Great Barrier Reef is the spawning ground for giant black marlin which arrive in the fall each year

When the strike came, it was an attack upon neither of my favorite natural baits, but because of what I had previously derided as such a poorly performing artificial lure, I had refused to use it. Moldcraft’s “Spooler” does not perform well at the high speeds at which I normally troll artificial lures. It is prone to leap out of waves and tumble over, often tangling the hooks and skirts, especially on rough days when the boat would surf and change speed and wake patterns, especially on down sea tacks. I didn’t like the look of the thing out of water and hated the way it ran. It sat, unrigged, in the tackle drawer for over a year.

“You’re missing out Peter B.” John Phillips told me. “You won’t believe how good it works at slow speeds. I call it the ‘scad’. You really ought to try it.” “That’s because you can’t catch scad.” I needled him. “And I’ve told you where to go and on what tide.” “No it’s not. Even when I do I have scad, the “spooler” really works. Try it, I promise you— it works great at low speed. I even use it with live bait sometimes, and just the other day, it got bit instead of the livey!” Phillips replied.

A few days later we were fishing together with a group of friends from the Canary Islands sharing our two boats. It was calm and I had plenty of big baits. Late in the afternoon I wanted to look over a sunken patch of reef in shallow water that held enough toothy critters like wahoo, sharks, barracuda, and large mackerel, to make fishing live bait out of the question. In short, there was no need for the small bait lure I usually pull down the center. I might as well give the spooler another try. Minutes later we were releasing a 200 pound black marlin that passed up the surf and turf combo for a handful of junk food!

Moldcraft’s “spooler” is a soft plastic lure modeled after earlier, homemade, lures that were constructed from discarded wooden spools that had been filled with sewing thread. The “spooler” had a nifty action at the five to six knot speeds that I use for dead bait. But the hydrodynamic instability that worked against it at high speed became an asset. The lure head wiggled and wobbled violently leaving a stream of bubbles (or “smoke” as fanatical fishheads call it) combined with a lively swimming action.

The next day we had three strikes. We caught one marlin on a natural dead bait and caught one and lost one on the lure. “A couple of more days like this and I’ll be a believer!” I told Phillips on the VHF radio. I became a “Spooler” fan! Dead bait anglers, or even live bait anglers, for any species of billfish, should try adding a spooler approximating the size of their natural bait to their spread. You will be pleasantly surprised!

Peter B

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Dec 14, 2011

My Latest Trip to Panama

When the staff of the Tropic Star Lodge tells you it is a fairly hard 35 minute walk/climb from the lodge, across the peninsula, to the white sand beach, believe it! And that is each way, NOT over and back! And if it has rained earlier in the day, which turns the clay soil into grease, it is even more difficult!

We all made it but found out we were not as fit as we would have liked! If one of us had slipped and been hurt, getting someone with even a minor injury like a twisted ankle or busted leg up, and then down ( down was even worse in the mud), would have been a real challenge. Our clothes were wringing wet with sweat from 100% humidity, hot weather and exertion, when we got back down to safety a drink of water and then a cold beer!

Tropic Star is a spot I have been recommending for decades after I had visited a few times several years ago. I first met Terri Kitteredge and her dad Conway when they visited Australia in 1982. Terri and her husband Mike run a great operation.

Before this trip, I had fished Piñas Bay on big U.S. boats owned by Jerry Dunaway and Jean Paul Richard, but had seen the lodge’s fleet of 31 Bertrams in action. I was also lucky enough to have stayed in the original owner’s private home, now part of the accommodation for guests, and referred to by one and all as “The Palace”.

There is a little cable car up the hill to the palace which we used for what we called a cocktail cruise as we had for a much needed shower at day’s end. Mostly, I walked it as it is just enough of a climb to make you breathe heavily, but always glad you did it —good cardio exercise and not TOO hard.

The efficiency of the crews, mechanics, and support staff, make this arguably the best run and most successful, charter fishing fleet anywhere. With over a dozen identical boats (31 Bertrams, a long established gold standard) fishing daily, there are always extras available and every essential spare part is on site.

Black Marlin are the main species of marling encountered off Tropic Star Lodge on the famous Zane Grey — Photo by Richard Gibson

The boat I was on caught a blue and a sail and lost another blue in 4 days fishing, reasonable action, but not great. Some of our boats had quite a bit more action and had multiple marlin days. The sun does not shine on the same dog’s back every day.

There were good luck and bad luck tales every night over a choice of tasty Piña Coladas, rum drinks or beer before we retired to our luxurious accommodations to shower and get ready for dinner.

It seemed to me that communications between crew and anglers, in both English and Spanish, were not as good as they could have been due to a reluctance of both the local crews and our team to TRY to speak in an unfamiliar language. The better Spanish speaking students translated when necessary and after a couple of days both sides found out the reluctance to attempt to speak together were not necessary and basic communications improved.

When traveling, do not be embarrassed, go ahead and try to communicate. Often, both sides know some words, enough to communicate. Things like “weight “ for more drag, and is NOT “wait”, and let him eat it, got resolved over time.

We came home and I retrieved the computer I had left in the TSA screening area in Miami. What a relief that was!! I had failed to back up files on my new computer and the idea of losing all those magazine articles made me decide to get a new flash drive ASAP!

When I got home, I helped coach some brand new members of the “Young Guns at Quail Creek”, the local scholastic shooting team. Some of the youngsters who started shooting less than a couple of years ago are already winning, not only in junior class, but even winning state championships as High Over All – beating everyone including all the adults and the instructors who got them started.

My hat is off to the entire crew of kids, instructors, parents, owners and staff of Quail Creek Plantation. GREAT JOB!!  I really enjoy teaching young people to both fish and to shoot. It is very gratifying to give back some of what I was given when I was a kid!  Also, ethical fishing and hunting are the strongest forces for real conservation of our game fish and game animals.

Good fishing wherever you are.

—Peter B

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Nov 16, 2011

We Still Need MORE Tagging

I recently found an old story I wrote while looking up some information about tagging and its benefits. When “Migratory Movements, Depth Preferences, and Thermal Biology of Atlantic Bluefin Tuna” was published in the 17 August 2001 issue of Science there were some great stories to tell. Stories that had to be kept as secrets until the paper was published in Science.

The data presented, and conclusions drawn from them by a team headed by Dr. Barbara Block from Stanford University (and including scientists, anglers and crew making up a who’s who of tuna angling , research and management) created shocks waves across the Atlantic.

National Public Radio, National Geographic News as well local, regional and national newspapers, had already discussed the ramifications of having tuna tagged off Hatteras, cross the Atlantic Ocean, and even enter the Mediterranean Sea in larger numbers than any previous estimates could imagine. This threw a monkey wrench into all management plans and conservation attempts, based on earlier theories, that eastern and western populations of bluefin tuna were separate and need to be managed separately.

Giant Atlantic Bluefin Tuna, each weighing over a quarter-ton — Photo by Guy Harvey

Two types of tags were used in the study, surgically applied internal “archival” tags and pop-up satellite archival tags (PSAT tags in the article’s jargon). Both showed that fish from the west cross over into the eastern Atlantic. These tags, plus captured fish with conventional spaghetti tags, raised the thorny issue of North American fishermen (commercial and recreational) accepting low catch quotas in order to allow the overfished tuna populations to recover, only to have the fish massacred in huge numbers in the Mediterranean and eastern Atlantic. (East of longitude 45 degrees West twenty metric tonnes of bluefin tuna were being caught for every tonne caught in the west!)

The Science paper is fascinating but takes some serious reading! It is not something you can glance at and retain. Some highlights, with some input from me from information gleaned during the tagging process, include:

There were 377 electronic tags in this study. Electronic tags were recovered from a few days to 3.6 years later, AND the TAG program continues to produce amazing results. Internal archival tags totaled 279 with 49 tuna being recaptured. This 18% return rate is extremely high and by itself suggests overfishing.

The 90% data acquisition rate from pop-up tags is a marvel of both technology and tuna survival rates. The return rate is higher since the fish does not have to be recaptured and the data is downloaded through the Argos satellite system. Although, the percentage of recovery is higher less information per tag can be retrieved, because of the high energy needed to send a radio signal, not just burn data onto a chip.

There were 7065 conventional spaghetti tags applied by Carolina tuna fishermen between the years 1994 and 2000. There were 292 recoveries (4.1%). This is a high rate in itself and valuable information was added, but it is obvious that trained scientific teams with top anglers and crews are more successful than the general public in properly applying tags. (One reason for non-return is probably mortality where a dead fish sinks or is eaten by sharks and the tag cannot be recovered.)

Some tags could record depth (through pressure) and location (by measuring the levels of light). Sunrise and sunset were the “most significant light events” and with an accurate electronic clock allow extremely precise east/west location and reasonable north/south estimates. It became apparent that Western tuna breed later in their lives than originally thought- another huge consideration in conservation and management.

Deep dives to over 500 fathoms (1000 meters) sometimes resulted in lowered internal body temperatures that experiments at the tuna lab showed to probably be the result of feeding on cold squid or fish living at those depths (Block fed captive yellowfins cold bait and measured cold internal temperatures.)

My question is “HOW DO THEY KNOW?” You can dive half a mile in most parts of the ocean and NOT find a meal!

In the field, the emotional highs and lows were enormous! The successful signal reception of the first pop-up tag started a major round of toasts and celebrations. Shortly after, on a rough and stormy night when the second pop-up tag failed to report in on its scheduled time, long faces abounded- until the weather eased and in calm water the tag sang like a bird to the overhead satellite. This alone allowed an adjustment, low tech but important, in additional buoyancy for subsequent tags.

Dr. Block was reduced to tears on the flying bridge one rough day when a large sea lifted the boat and one rudder hit and killed a tuna we were trying to tag. “I’m trying to save them- not kill them!” she sobbed.

The cooperation of anglers and crews, and their donations of time and money were an extremely important factor in the amazing success of this study and along with dozens of scientists and technicians all involved are to be highly congratulated! For more information get a copy of Science (17 August 2001). .

Recently, Paxson Offield was initiated into the IGFA Hall of Fame and a high light of his career and work in conservation was an ongoing program of PSAT tags in marlin. Currently, the internationally noted artist Dr. Guy Harvey is also a leader in not only tagging but other conservation initiatives.

We need people like Dr. Block, Dr. Harvey and Mr. Offield to help conserve our precious stocks of “Marine Megafauna”. AND we all need to do our part to help out.

See my next column in Marlin Magazine for a story of a Sportfishing CLUB gone BAD and becoming a detrimental group of swordfish killing amateur professionals.

Peter B Wright

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Oct 26, 2011

How fast can fish swim?

I seriously question the speeds often given for any fish, especially when Wikipedia and some reputable some encyclopedias claim that sailfish are supposed to be the fastest fish and can hit 60 miles per hour.

I once went to several references and online sites looking for Orca speeds. I found a range of speeds from 25 to 35 miles per hour (from here on shortened to mph) on the publications and web sites. None were anywhere near as fast as some the speeds some fish can supposedly attain.

Since Orcas can run down, catch, and eat, blue fin tuna, I question all the old, unsubstantiated fish speeds. I believe the speed of most fish is highly exaggerated by anglers, especially fishing writers. How excited can a reader get when reading about a bonefish tearing line off a reel at 15 mph, which is slower than many humans can run? In my youth, I could run down a beach in shallow water fast enough to avoid losing line to even a big bone.

Billfish, like this jumping Blue Marlin, are considered to be some of the fastest swimming fish in the sea. Photo by Richard Gibson

As a long time big game fishing guide, part time and ex Biological Oceanographer with decades of personal experience, ( called anecdotal evidence by scientists) I am positive no marine fish can exceed about 25 mph. I often chase large marine fish (tuna and marlin) with a boat and quickly catch them at 20 mph.

In addition, if a fish jumped straight up at 60 mph (88 ft/sec), simple math shows that after one sec the force of gravity (32ft/sec/sec) would have slowed the fish to 38 mph (88ft/sec -32ft/sec = 56ft sec which is 38 mph) The height of the fish at the end of that one second would be 72 ft and it would still going up at 38 mph. Height equals AVERAGE velocity times one second. Average V would be 88 + 56 divided by 2 giving a height of 72 feet.

Last but not least, there is the study AFTCO did decades ago which showed how much frictional drag there was on given lengths of line being pulled through the water. If any fish could go even 30 mph, they would break off before any crew could clear the lines and merely backing up would not make enough difference to avoid breaking the line.

Big fish eat little fish and the biggest predatory fish are the fastest. I doubt very much any fish can go 30 mph — it is too easy for Orcas to catch them for fish to obtain that kind of speed and no one says Orcas can hit 60!

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