Hook up! The loud buzzing of a slipping drag announced the violent take of a trolled feather lure by a big yellowfin tuna. As the boat shut down its engines and slid to a stop, 30 anglers immediately left their card games, reading, satellite TV, movie watching, eating or napping to grab their rods, impale a wriggling sardine on a hook and cast. Each angler hoped for the immediate take from one of the big boys swimming around the boat and the rod-bending action only a high seas tuna trip could provide.
Almost instantly, many rods bent into upside down U's as the school crashed bait and lures with abandon, creating absolute bedlam across the deck. Cries of "Gaff!" and "Color!" kept the deckhands in a flurry untangling lines and gaffing fish after fish as the bite went ballistic. With the decks awash in bright red tuna blood, fishermen dragged their catch aft for unhooking and tagging and then immediately grabbed bait for another go.
The bite can last only minutes, or, in some instances, hours. One never knows, so speed is a must. We were lucky; the fish stayed close and the tuna bit well, and the numbers of yellowfin soared to unexpected counts. Eventually, the bite slowed, and anglers once again returned to what they were doing prior to the strike: taking it easy and enjoying the atmosphere of a long-range fishing trip.
The cruise ships my wife and I once shared in the past were good trips, where the staff of the luxury boat went out of their way to make our stay a memorable event. But putting me on an ocean liner and forcing me stay on board without a fishing rod or chance to use one was close to sticking me in the brig; oh sure, they fed you right and tried to entertain you, but you were stuck on board and could not leave. Something was definitely missing; here's all that water, plum full of hard-fighting fish, and no way to get at them. For a fisherman, that's almost criminal.
Three years ago, my friend Don Crabtree talked me into going on a five-day fishing trip aboard the Royal Polaris; a 110-foot-long sportfishing boat out of San Diego. Of course, the invitation opened the door for a jillion questions about safety, accommodations, tackle, personal hygiene and cost. But my fears were short-lived. Once aboard, I realized that the trip was in fact going to be a six-day cruise, just like the big liners offer, only the passengers were all serious fishermen.
This year, Crabtree, after working out a deal with Royal Polaris Captain Roy Rose, extended our trip to six days rather than five. Not one of our groups complained, because, for the uninitiated, time flies when one is having fun. That's hard to believe, I know, but the five-day trips flew by so fast that most of us wanted the sixth.
Included in the 30 anglers on board, our 12-man group included a potpourri of local citizens from all walks of life (including our pastor, just in case things went unexpectedly 'Titanic,' if you get my drift). Besides Crabtree and me, Wendell and Jeremy Vinson, Mike Dean, Jim Thornell, Terry Hibbitts, Robbie Taylor, Don Reimer, Larry Lamar, Rick Wurster and Randy Patt all spent quality time aboard the Royal Polaris on a trip worth remembering.
Each one of us shares that special passion that fishermen across the board have, the hunger and thrill of catching tons of hard-fighting big fish without anyone interfering in that quest. That's exactly what we did, and this year's adventure turned out even better than the previous two. Our 12-man take for the trip hit an incredible 5,530-pounds of yellowfin and bluefin tuna, yellowtail, dorado, calico bass and good eating whitefish. With an expected 45-50 percent return after filleting and packaging, each of us can expect another year of fine eating delicacies in our freezers.
Life aboard the "Royal Polaris" resembles that of a cruise ship, minus the shuffleboard, of course. Captain Rose took us 340 miles south of San Diego to Cedros Island, where yellowtail and bass made up the bulk of our catch. We then traveled out other 90 miles to the tuna grounds, where consistent action kept us busy for the better part of three days fighting hundreds of tackle-straining fish.
Fishermen wanting the perfect trip to experience great angling need to put a trip like this one on their bucket list. Life on board remains an easy escape from the humdrum of everyday life, and with the crew and other fishermen on the same page, one cannot help but have the time of their lives.