The Monster Tuna Catch
Memories that last a life time
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Life presents you with a series of events and situations that all contribute to individual growth. Such events and situations can become everlasting memories, ones that will stay with you throughout your lifetime. This article is about one such event, a memory that has helped me grow in more ways than one.
This started on the eve of one of Malta’s favourite National Holidays, the feast of St. Peter and St. Paul, or as we locals affectionately refer to it as Mnarja which we celebrate on the 29th of June – the year was 1994.
A few weeks earlier my passion for fishing saw me purchase a 40 foot luzzu from a Gozitan amateur fisherman. Prior to this the traditional local craft was owned by a fisherman from Marsaxlokk who used it make his living professionally. The Luzzu came with a guarantee of having been used to catch a number of large fish during its lifetime, but being a wooden boat it needed a lot of regular maintenance. This however did not deter me from investing in this beauty and soon the Port of Msida started getting used to the sight of SAPOL, as I affectionally named the vessel for my mother, going in and out of it’s mooring from my birth town.
Since the swordfish season was with us, and now being the owner of a vessel ideal for it’s hunting i wasted no time to planning for a series of fishing trips with SAPOL. I started calling my regular fishing buddies to join me, however none were readily available for this day – being on the eve of a National Holiday it was ideal for me as I rest the day off the following day.
Unlucky for me the football World Cup was in full swing and as is always the case here, most of Malta were stuck to their TV’s supporting mainly Italy or England.
Eventually two of my cousins accepted the invitation to join me as did two other friends, however one of them brought with him a battery-operated portable television as Italy were playing Mexico in a crunch match on the day. Things were so different back in 1994, as today you can view whatever you decide on your mobile phone.
Having my team ready I set about checking my equipment. I had prepared a 200 hook line set for swordfish – this included line thickness specifically prepared for swordfish or small tuna. This is what a basic amateur fisherman has prepared, and is in contrast to a 1000 hook line that professional fishermen use!
But we were set – we met at Msida at 15.00 hours armed with food, hook and lines, plenty of water and a TV set, and we were slowly off to what we hoped would be a good fishing trip, as SAPOL chugging outwards at 8 knots, which was the maximum speed she afforded us slowly opening up gentle ream into an otherwise exceptionally calm sea ahead of us. This trip would have seen us go out 12-15 miles from Malta’s shores. Having reached our intended destination at around 20.00 hours we quickly set off our line and prayed for a catch. After we were done we settled down watching the game.
With the game over we rested for a while but my mind was focused solely on this fishing expedition.
At 04.00 hours we started gently, and by hand pulling in the fishing line, and with this procedure commences the excitement and hope for a tugging feeling, this being the indication that a prize was waiting for us on the other side of the line.
Indeed as our first hook approached we noticed the float attached tot he hook was being pulled down, and as we gently pulled this line further towards us the first prized swordfish emerged from the depths, a 45 kg beauty. But this was not all, as every 15 hooks another swordfish surfaced, followed by another and another, and it became abundantly clear that this was going to be my all-time record catch.
Our enthusiasm was somewhat quashed however a few moments later as we noticed that our line had snapped – this could happen for two reasons namely either a ship had passed over the line, or a large fish must have snapped it.
Wasting time pondering what or how was useless so we immediately set off looking for the other end of the line and hoping we would find more prey caught on it to add to our 8 swordfish already caught this early morning. Using the wind and currents we made our calculations as to where the other end might be and set off on a search mission and thankfully after a 30 minute search we caught a glimpse of some of our floats some meters ahead of us. We recommenced the operation of pulling the line in however I noticed that a few feet ahead the floats had again disappeared and the line appeared to be taking a dive to the depths. TO me this only meant that something sizable was at the other end of this line.
I sought support from my fellow colleagues on board to try and pull in this sinking line but it was all to no avail – this solidified my train of thought that we must be on something really big here. I sought divine support from St. Peter, patron Saint of fishermen that on this day we celebrate his feast. Seeing that five men could not pull the beast in it seemed that the only reasonable solution at this stage was to tie the line to the back-end of SAPOL and slowly and gently drive forward, hoping for two things mainly that the line wont snap, but also hoping that the fish tires itself out and starts giving in. This was a painstakingly slow process and my heart was in my hands as I continued a litany of prayers to St. Peter so the line would not snap!
After a period of time that I felt lasted forever I could feel that something at the end of this line moved and a heavy weight was being towed thanks to SAPOL’s engines. We monitored this movement by moving forward and reversing the craft and roping in slack line in the process. this process lasted for around 30 minutes and by this time I could feel that the end of the line was getting closer.
The next push was decisive, as from the depths and a few meters behind SAPOL this massive but subdued monster tuna emerged to the surface. All five of us could do was stare in awe at this giant of its species floated behind us. Usually tuna caught range between 150 kgs to 250kgs, but this appeared to be way heavier than that.
We managed to secure the tuna by roping it from the head and it’s tail and pulled it to the side of the SAPOL. it became very clear to us that we would not be able to pull this monster out of the sea and onto SAPOL- it was massive! TO add to our woes the weather conditions were taking a turning for the worse. Winds were picking up and waves started to rock us up and down. We were still quite a long distance from home and with this monster attached to us our speed was a mere one or two knots per hour – with this rate we would need a couple of days to get home!
I only had two options on the cards – I could either let this massive prize sink to the depths or I could radio for help. I opted to seek help and immediately switched my VHF to channel which is reserved to fishermen, and radioed our situation and the risks we faced.
Seeing no one was close by or could be of assistance at one point I nearly gave up – life was more important than this prize and I have learned that one does not take chances with the sea. The wind at this time was force 4 heading to Force 6. then I suddenly received feedback to my radioed plea for help from Karmenu, who was a professional fisherman at the time who was around 10 miles further out from us. Karmenu offered to assist us as his vessel was equipped with tuna-catching apparatus. We gladly accepted the offer and after an hour wait we noticed a fishing trawler named Josephine heading our way. As we were practically next to each other we started looking into how we could transfer this fish from one craft to another without endangering ourselves or the prize itself. The sea has by now become rough and somewhat dangerous for carrying out such maneuvers.
After a few attempts we finally managed yet the tuna was so huge that it could not even fit in this larger craft either, despite the experienced crew managing to secure it for the safe journey home at 15.00 hours.
The ride home, despite being in stronger winds and high seas was a memory in itself. Not only had we managed to catch 14 swordfish in all we also caught what could be described as one of the largest tuna ever caught in Maltese waters to this day. My cousin, one of my inexperienced crew who came with me for the fun of it all did not leave SAPOL’s cabin where he prayed through the entire ordeal – him being a aircraft pilot he said he would rather be in a storm 10K feet up in the air than face the sea in these conditions!
I, on the other hand was so excited that I radioed my family and everyone I know to come to Msida and see for themselves this massive catch for themselves. Karmenu, from his experience calculated the tuna to be over 500kgs and the respect to us, seeing a small flotilla of craft from the Msida Fishing community were coming towards us to see the catch for themselves covered the tuna, to give me the bragging rights once we get to land.
I could not have felt prouder and more elated at that moment of entering we arrived at Msida slipway , my home town, with the Josephine right behind us, both carrying the biggest catch I’ve ever made.
This catch has, and will be a lasting memory and is dedicated to my late father who was as passionate to fishing as I have been brought up to be by him.