By DAVID RAINER, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
Johnny Greene has been a captain on charter boats in the Gulf of Mexico for the past 33 years and has landed his share of the Gulf’s bounty. But recently something happened on his boat, the Intimidator, that had never happened before. Greene and crew unloaded a 600-pound-plus bluefin tuna at the Orange Beach Marina dock.
“At several times in my life, we have been fishing in the April-May time frame and have run across bluefin tuna,” Greene said. “But we have never been able to even slow one down. I remember on my old boat, I think it was the Memorial Day tournament, we ran through a school of them. We hooked six and they dumped every bit of line we had. It happened so fast, there was nothing we could do. I got my heart broke on that trip. I’ve hooked a couple of others throughout my career. My wife fought one for a while, and the fish ended up pulling the hook.
“Last year we hooked one about noon and fought that fish four or five hours. We had 10 people on that charter, and they ended up changing the rod between anglers probably 20 or 25 times. We ended up breaking a rod after fighting him that long. We were so close, so that one was really a heartbreaker.”
Greene said everything must go right, and the right group of anglers and deck hands have to be on the boat to actually land one of the massive bluefins.
On the momentous three-day trip into the far reaches of the Gulf of Mexico, Greene’s clients from Georgia caught plenty of bottom fish, like grouper and triggerfish, on the first day. The anglers then wanted to find something “big” to catch, but they probably didn’t expect what came next.
“About 6 o’clock that second day, we got the big bite,” Greene said. “That fish took out on top, and I guess we chased that fish for 2 miles. I didn’t see the bite well enough to see if it was a bluefin, a big yellowfin or a blue marlin. But I knew it was a big fish. We were backing up and got to within 100 feet of the leader. Then the fish made the dive like they often do. They’re warm-blooded creatures, and if they make a run on the surface, they have to dive down to cool off.
“We were fortunate enough to stop the fish on his dive on a Shimano 50-wide and a stand-up harness. The anglers did a good job, and then we started the process of working him back up.”
After about four hours, Greene said it was obvious the tuna had expired, and the task was then to winch the dead fish back from the depths with 80-pound-test Ande monofilament line.
“When you have to pull a 600-pound animal up, it’s not the easiest thing to do,” he said. “It requires communication between the angler, everybody in the cockpit and the wheelhouse. It’s basically a momentum game. You’ve got to get the fish coming up, and you have to keep him coming. If you take a break, the fish is going to start sinking again. It’s tricky.”
For the last hour of the fight, senior deck hand Grady Gunn donned gloves and started feeding line into the reel as the angler cranked the handle to make sure that momentum was not lost.
“I slowly started to feed the line,” Gunn said. “It was like trying to catch a 10-pound bass on 2-pound line.”
After about six hours, the big bluefin was finally beside the boat and the real work began. Deck hand Jake Rezner harpooned the tuna as soon as possible. Two gaffs followed before a tail line was tied.
Gunn said when the tuna was finally subdued, he was overcome with emotion.
“That’s one of those things you think about your whole life that may never happen,” Gunn said. “It may never happen again, but it happened this time. I couldn’t ask for a better crew or captain. If we didn’t have Jake or Jacob (Harris, deck hand), it probably wouldn’t have happened. With a fish like this, it only takes one thing to go wrong. It may happen again, or maybe it won’t, but I’ll remember this one for the rest of my life.”
With the fish secure beside the boat, Greene said everybody was celebrating until they realized they had to get the giant tuna into the boat.
“With a fish that big and the seas not calm, you have to think about every move with that much weight,” Greene said. “It was a battle.”