Blue Fin Tuna Fishing in NS

L’Arche Halifax’s Tuna Town Adventures, Sunday, September 4, 2011

On Sunday morning an eager tuna fishing crew assembled as planned at the wharf in picturesque Ballyntine’s Cove in the north east corner of Antigonish County, Nova Scotia. Captain Durney,Adam and Derek of Tuna Town Charters operated by Pictou Landing First Nation, welcomed members of the L’Arche Halifax Golf Tournament Committee aboard. Committee Chairman David Banks was joined by committee members Brian Hebert, Frank Carson and Laura McMullin and Laura’s friend, Lisa MacEachern. The trip had the makings of bad joke: “A financial planner, a lawyer, a banker, an optometrist and an accountant were all in a boat …”

However (luckily for the lawyer) it was no joke. This was the “reel” deal. At 9:30 AM the crew steamed out of port and into the grey waters of the Northumberland Strait.

The sky was overcast but the air was warm and the water calm. The action started almost immediately. Captain Durney eased off on the throttle and let the engines idle while Derek and Adam distributed bait rods. The motley crew tried their hand at jigging mackerel. Soon the rods bent under the weight of no less than 6 mackerel flipping and fluttering as the multi-hooked lines were reeled in much to the delight of the newbies among the crew. Soon the bait tank was teeming with fish all swarming around in a circle; their shadows visible through the sides of the opaque plastic tank which had become there new, albeit temporary, home.

Meanwhile Captain Durney was busy charting the course. His reconnaissance had turned up reports of tuna sightings off the eastern tip of PEI – internationally renowned tuna fishing grounds. The crew was advised to sit back and prepare for the three hour crossing of the Northumberland Strait. The coolers were soon opened as the crew settled around the picnic table, sheltered from white spray catching the sunlight as the waters of the Strait parted before our bow. As Captain Durney opened the throttle the boat rocked back and forth making the frequent trips to the food and drink coolers an adventure. The time passed quickly as we ate, drank and conversed excitedly, the conversation punctuated by intermittent shouting as the crew spotted seals, whales and other creatures (real or imagined) in the surrounding blue.

As we drew within sight of PEI the mood became more serious as the task before us was explained. Once in the fishing grounds one of us would be designated to sit the chair to fight the tuna and the chains that would hold the rod to the chair would be fitted to that person’s size. Four rods would be baited with mackerel which would wriggle and swim around to attract our prey. Once one of the bait was taken the rest of the rods would be reeled in and removed from their holders so as not to interfere with the subsequent proceedings. The live rod would then be relocated by two crew members to the tuna chair where the designated fisher would be installed and the rod fastened by chain. The task of fighting the tuna and reeling it in would fall to the crew member in the chair. Other crew members would turn the chair as needed to keep the line clear and still others would provide liquid refreshment to the chair-bound member. Captain Durney would man the wheel at all times keeping the proper distance between boat and fugitive and ensuring that the fish NEVER had the chance to swim under the boat.

After this explanation, Laura and Lisa took positions on the cabin roof as lookouts and soon spotted other boats off in the distance. The rest of the crew joined them and soon Captain Durney was pulling alongside fellow tuna boats, one of which had already hooked a tuna! The excitement mounted.

While the crew set the 4 rods in place and baited the hooks the loyalty of the female members of the crew was tested as entreaties from the other boats sought to entice them to jump ship and join their expeditions. Luckily they remained loyal – a tribute to their good character.

The bait was now twisting and turning in the water beside the boat trying to escape the lines that held them. A sudden flash of light against a dark shadow from beneath the water drew gasps of excitement as tuna were glimpsed racing past the lines, teasing the crew as much as the bait.

Then, only ten minutes after setting out the lines, one of the shiny black rods bent sharply and began to whine as its line ran out rapidly signaling that the crew had been “hooked up”. Things began to move quickly: the other lines were reeled in and the rods removed out of the way.

Derrick and Adam grabbed the rod firmly as Lisa made her way to the chair; as birthday girl she had the first honours. The rod was placed firmly into its rest at the front of the seat and was secured by chains. Lisa was now as much a captive as the tuna she would soon be fighting. Derrick stood at the back of the chair and Adam watched the line from the front. Captain Durney manned the wheel and the rest of the crew looked on in excitement – the fight had begun.

Lisa pulled and reeled and reeled and pulled. The rod would at times bend under the weight of the monster as it swam away from the boat and then straighten as it rested. When the rod was strait, Lisa reeled it in only, but only to watch the rod bend again moments later as the line ran out undoing the gains for which she had worked so hard. This to and fro played itself out over and over as the sun beat down unrelenting. Lisa called for water and other drink which was promptly delivered to good effect. As the temperature rose Lisa began to shed the layers of clothing that she had wisely worn. Laura stood by her side helping turn the reel to give her friend a rest.

Others in the crew watched approvingly with drinks, food and cameras in hand. “Tommy” as the beast had now been affectionately named by its tormentor, put up quite a fight; but after 1 ½ hours the “leader” line showed and we knew there was less than 15 feet of line left. Tommy had showed himself for brief seconds at a time during the battle - a fin here a tail there – but now he rose up in all his glory for one last fight – and not too soon as Lisa was down to her last layer!

A tuna is technically caught once the leader shows, luckily for Lisa because the line suddenly snapped. Tommy had freed himself avoiding an uncertain fate at the hands of the waiting photo gallery. He swam away in relief. A gentleman to the end, Tommy had saved the crew the trouble of cutting him loose. Although he was technically caught, Lisa will always remember Tommy as the only guy that had ever gotten away.

With Tommy’s last minute escape, Lisa also found her freedom and she exited the chair under wobbly legs retiring to the cabin roof top to rest and watch the rest of the show.

Soon the hooks were baited and the lines danced in the water once again. There were more flashes of light from underwater and soon another reel was bent and crying for help. The scene was repeated all over with David now firmly in the chair however thankfully without the shedding of layers of clothing.

It soon became clear that this fish was larger than Tommy and was “really” playing hard to get. It was decided that she was female and was dubbed “Darlin’”. David fought the goliath Darlin’  for 2 full hours! Frank supplied him with liquid refreshment from his private reserve (Frank had generously supplied the beverages for the day) to keep him from exhaustion. The battle of man versus nature raged on and the scene played out like the plot from an Earnest Hemingway novel.

Eventually Darlin’ succumbed to David’s charms.

To the delight of the waiting photographers, an exhausted Darlin’ gently floated alongside for several seconds while Adam reached overboard and cut the line. Her grey mass lay there gently for several more seconds until she sunk under the water and swam slowly away. As David left the chair and headed for the picnic table with “high-fives” and “fist-pumps” all around. With other eager crew members waiting to take the chair, the Captain wisely announced that it was time to turn the boat around and head back to Nova Scotia. The crew took their places around the picnic table and the food and drink flowed as freely as the conversation as the boat churned its way back across the Northumberland Strait. At some point birthday cupcakes appeared and the crew hit a few of the notes to “Happy Birthday” to Lisa’s surprise.

Soon gold seemed to flow over the water from the sun setting to the west and it wasn’t long afterwards in the twilight of the day that the boat reached harbor. Captain Durney cut the engine and silence descended upon the cove. It was a spectacular scene:

The reflection of the lights from the dock swayed slowly on the still seawater. The air was warm and still. The stars danced overhead and the silver half-moon watched its own reflection floating lazily on the water. It was the perfect end to a perfect day.

The tired crew said their goodbyes and departed into the night leaving behind a quiet Ballyntine’s Cove and taking with them enough memories to last a life time.

One thing is certain – whoever is the highest bidder on the Tuna Town Charter package at the L’Arche Golf Tournament Auction will not be disappointed thanks to the hospitality, friendship and fishing expertise Captain Durney and mates Adam and Derrick.

-Brian Hebert 2011



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