It has been an exceptional year for Albacore Tuna hunters up here in Washington. We observed consistent fishing from Westport that begun in August and continued through October, which surprised many anglers who never guessed that they could plug fish boxes full of tuna well past the end of our Indian summer. An unexpectedly mild marine forecast left anglers with plenty of opportunity to catch Albacore Tuna even into October. With the exception of All Rivers & Saltwater Charters, the charter fleet in Westport had ended their operations before October this year.
After receiving a last minute invite late Sunday evening to fill the last seat on Captain Mark’s boat, I cleared my schedule and set my alarm for an ungodly hour of the early morning.
As I arrived in Westport that morning, high winds were gusting from the east. I was a bit concerned but the marine forecast suggested that we would have decent weather at least until the afternoon. The crew met the guests; Mark gave us all a safety briefing and a quick word on what we should expect. Fishing had been phenomenal and I was extremely excited.
I hadn’t fished for tuna since 2010, which happened to be my first trip for Albacore. I’d place that day as one of the most memorable fishing trips, so needless to say I was looking forward to another day.
We left the Grays Harbor entrance and set a heading due southwest from Westport. With an easterly wind, the ride out was fairly calm. The sunrise was amazing, I can’t say that I’ve ever seen that October sun as big and red as it was as it lifted off the horizon. 28 miles. A little over an hour before the first stop. That’s the beauty of a speedy boat, and Captain Mark’s Express Trip is a page directly out of San Diego’s fleet yet is unique to the Northwest.
Deckhand Mike pulled out the trolling gear; Mark assembled the crew and gave us our orders. 6 anglers, 4 trolling rods. Once we got into the tuna, four of us were to clear the trolling gear (and fight any fish) and two of us were to race to the bait tank and get some anchovies swimming. We had stopped at a place where the water temperature was 57 degrees, which is a little cooler than Mark would’ve preferred if it were earlier in the season but at a short 30 miles from port and being late October we will take it. There was a fair amount of birds congregated, which is a sign that bait and tuna are in the area.
We were on the troll for less than a few minutes, and it was obvious that we needn’t go searching for tuna. We had parked right on top of them! “Pull em up! We need to drop some live bait Right Now! We cleared the trolling gear and broke out the live bait rods.
We all lined up on the windward side of the boat and proceeded to live bait. The live bait rods featured a lever drag reel with braided mainline to a 25 pound mono topshot to a size 2 live bait hook. Seabirds absolutely love eating anchovies, so to avoid the birds there was a small piece of surgical tubing rigged with a piece of pencil lead to get the bait down out of their reach.
Live anchovies were hooked in the collar behind the gill plate, tossed overboard. Reels were free spooled to allow the bait to drift away from the boat. The freespooled line would slowly pull out from under my thumb, a quick change in line speed would signal a bite! Calm down, count to three, then engage the drag.
It took me several fish before I got the hang of it, but I can’t think of any more thrilling method of fishing. We made one long drift and in those several hours we filled the boat to capacity with large October Albacore. There were more double-, triple-, and quadruple-hookups than singular. We used up every Anchovy in the bait tank. We plugged both fish boxes with Albacore. We covered every square inch of that deck with tuna blood. Mark looked at the building wind chop and decided that it was time to head back; I checked the time and it wasn’t even noon yet! The final count was 45 hefty Albacore Tuna for the six of us, which (in my opinion) is as good as it gets for several hours on a bait stop.
We headed back to Westport in lumpy seas. The ride was long and bumpy. We made it back in the early afternoon, sorted everything out and I headed home. Yet again, I left mesmerized by how phenomenal the day was and counting the days until the next day out on the tuna grounds.