Back in younger days, Ron Freitas set ultralight tackle records for bigeye tuna and albacore. Twenty years ago, I interviewed Ron about the techniques that made his catches possible. This article appeared in my Kona Fishing Chronicles column and then in the book Fishing Hawaii Offshore by Jim Rizzuto
Bigeye on Four
Ron Freitas of Kona set an IGFA 4-pound class record for bigeye tuna with a 16-pound fish caught on a long-range trip aboard the Liquid Gold. To catch ultra-light records like this one, anglers have had to revamp the way they fish. Freitas, Bob Holder, Captain Lincoln Ahlo and boat owner Bob Sterling were aboard the Liquid Gold as it headed far offshore to the Cross Seamount on a four-day trip specifically to hunt records. Cross is roughly 150 miles southwest of Kailua, so a venture like this requires a very seaworthy boat. The Liquid Gold is a “major size sportfishing boat,” says Freitas, a 60-foot Hatteras powered with twin 1271 Detroit diesels, well-equipped and comfortable.
The secret to making catches on whisker thin lines is to keep your 4-pound class outfit rigged, ready, baited and out of use until you have hooked a few decoys on stouter tackle.
“We trolled ken-kens until we hooked a couple of tuna. Bigeye, yellowfin and aku behave a lot like mahimahi. They will follow hooked fish right to the boat. When a school of followers is right at the transom, you can toss them a bait and the strike is immediate.”
Freitas’s record bigeye followed a pair of hooked tuna weighing 20 to 30 pounds each and then snatched a hook baited with squid.“Tuna are quick and stay down until the strike. And there are so many there you really have no choice. You can’t pick your fish to cast to — or even see which one took the bait. So you hook fish and fight every one as though it were a record.”
With four-pound test, that means fighting on free spool with all of your drag coming from thumb pressure. You push the drag lever forward only until the drag is engaged and the handle will turn the spool when the line is under no pressure. Then you pump by first lifting the rod with light thumb pressure on the side of the spool and then cranking quickly while you drop the tip back to the water.
“With bigeye, it’s just a matter of patience until you get them up,” Freitas said. “There really isn’t much the boat can do for you on thin line fishing straight up and down,” he explained. “I had to break off eight or ten fish until I had it down pat. Some of those breakoffs came after 30 to 45 minutes of fighting, which means you can invest a lot of time in hooking fish before you get the right one.”
Decoys May Spell Disaster
The hooked decoys offer an immediate problem, too. Your crew has to get them out of the water as soon as a fish takes your bait. Otherwise you are likely to tangle your hooked fish with their lines. “That would be a disaster. Your four-pound would break instantly. Four-pound- class allows a 15-foot leader and we were using 100-pound-test nylon and a 4/0 hook, but the leader is gone into the depths a second after the strike. Tuna go straight down to the thermocline and then just stop. With four-pound-test line, you really don’t know how much line you have out because a 12T holds a lot of Ande Tournament grade line.”
Ron credits his tackle, especially the rod. “At first I was using a 20-pound class rod but it was much too stiff. Biscayne made me an 8-pound class rod that was a lot more flexible, and I switched to that after breaking off some fish. The rod did all of the work and without this one I wouldn’t have gotten the record. The whole time I fought this fish the tip was in the water. The rod was wrapped with ceramic guides — roller guides this small just don’t keep rolling.”
“Bigeye are tame compared to aku,” Freitas said. “One night we got an aku that turned out to be 12-pounds, 5 ounces, which is one pound short of the IGFA 4-pound record for skipjack tuna. This was the hardest fish I ever caught in my life. I thought that was the world record. It kept running and hiding under the boat and would not give up.”
Where and When
You don’t do this without a good GPS. Not only does it help you get to your destination, but it allows you to mark the locations of fish schools so that you can return to them time and again. Relocating the school can be especially important in the low light of evening when the best action happens.
“The tuna seem to feed most eagerly in that last hour before sunset and that’s when you have your best chance,” Freitas said. “They get frantic when you toss them the sardine — zipping around like rocket ships. We hooked the record just before dark and fought it into the darkness. If you want to break records, the seamounts are the place to go. I guarantee you’ll get all of the practice you can handle.”
The seamounts have a reputation for big fish, too. Giant marlin blitz baits and disappear with a full spool of line in the blink of an eye.
“We saw the big one on this trip, too,” Freitas said. “She was there behind the baits when we were towing a couple of bigeye tuna, a 15-pounder on the short bait and a 30 on the long one. Bob Sterling saw it first and yelled to the rest of us. Lincoln estimated it at over 1500, and he’s seen a lot of big fish. But she was content to eat the free-swimming tuna in the school and wouldn’t take our bait.”
You don’t really have to go so far for so much action. The same technique will work anywhere tuna gather to feed. We’ve copied it at FADs when schools of bigeye and yellowfins were thick and ready to eat. Freitas’s bigeye had longer fins than most, which raised a few eyebrows among observers who thought it might have been an albacore. The albacore record for 4-pound class stands at a whopping 42-pounds, 2-ounces. Fin length alone is not enough because young albacore may have shorter fins than similar sized bigeye and vice versa. The only true test, says the IGFA, is an examination of the liver. The liver of an albacore is striated on the ventral surface. When doubts arose, Freitas asked Dr. Chuck Daxboeck of the Pacific Ocean Research Foundation to do the dissection and make a determination. Chuck found striations, and his results were part of the record application.