AUGUST 10, 1998
A really big fish story
© 1998

I have been on vacation for the past week, and have hardly had either the chance or inclination to explore the hundreds of e-mails I have received or even think about the embassy bombings or President Bill's Monica woes. However, I have been busy. Saturday I caught a big fish ... a VERY big fish. My younger brother has been giant tuna fishing for 25 years, and has developed a reputation in the northeast for considerable knowledge, skill and success. Despite having devoted considerable time effort and energy fishing over the years, I had not (until now) ever caught a giant bluefin tuna. Saturday my first (and probably last) giant bluefin tuna was 111 inches long, 88 inches in diameter, and just under 900 pounds. Tuna fishing, in fact big game fishing in general, is different from my normal angling adventurers. It is very much a team sport. I was fortunate (and lucky) to have both a great team, and inordinate luck. My brother Greg is a pro, and possesses a wealth of fishing knowledge. Three fish were caught the same day on the same piece of ocean, and that "magic" spot was found and nurtured by my brother. Ed Duffy, the owner of the boat (Fish Story), is a wonderful and gracious host, and did a superb job maneuvering the boat during the fight. We left Kennebunkport harbor early Saturday morning in a dense fog, and navigated through a labyrinth of lobster pots until we came to a stretch of coast just off President George Bush's family home at Walker's Point. The day before we had caught a bunch of mackerel for bait there, but Saturday was a disappointment. We then ran about 15 miles off shore to Greg's "secret spot" and anchored in 260 feet of water. During the ride I spent the time cutting up herring into chunks for the chum we would drop in throughout the day. I set the anchor with Ed as Greg was busy working on our gear. It takes a lot of expensive equipment to fish for tuna. While Greg and Ed rigged the poles, I started jigging for bait, and quickly pulled up a Whiting and a Mud Hake (an ugly cousin of the cod). We put three baits out at varying depths and I kept fishing for live bait while Ed kept an eye on the electronics to see what was happening under the boat. Once the three rods were rigged and set, we started chumming, and proceeded with the most annoying part of the whole ordeal. We waited ... and waited, and waited. The fog cleared and the whales were making their presence known. The Raytheon gizmos were showing us vast and constant quantities of bait under the boat (both good and bad news), and we waited some more. About noontime a friend on another boat about a half mile to our east hooked up and we watched him fight and land their fish. Another boat in the same area also hooked up and was fighting another fish. As we were watching the action in the distance and ladling chum into the water one of our rods bent and the three of us erupted into action. Greg grabbed the rod, Ed started the engines, and I undid our anchor line ... all that happened in less than 20 seconds. By the time I got back to the stern, my brother was swearing, and the rod was again straight with a slack line. The fish had run under the boat and the line was cut on our prop. I'll spare you the dialog in the interest of good taste. We re-rigged the broken line, and Greg, after assuring Ed and I there was nothing any of us could have done, started fishing for bait. He quickly caught a whiting which he then rigged on the pole which had just had the close call. The other two boats which had caught fish had already departed the area, and we were alone. Even the whales had left us. The ocean was calm. Visibility was unlimited, but there was nothing to see except ocean and an occasional bird. The Raytheon gizmo kept showing vast amounts of bait still under the boat, and regular showings of what appeared to be tuna. At two thirty, (when at least two of us were feeling sorry for ourselves) the number two rod went off, and bent like a crescent moon. Again, I kicked us off the anchor, and Ed started the engines and we were moving off our anchor buoy in less than 30 seconds. I jumped on the reel and started cranking as my brother barked instructions to Ed and me. The next hour and twenty minutes was exciting, frustrating, moderately painful, and a memory of a lifetime. The fish stripped line, I'd crank line. I'd get ten feet of line on the reel, the fish would strip 20 feet off the reel. The fish was pulling the boat backwards. Fish Story is 36 feet long, 12 feet wide, and we had just loaded 200 gallons of gasoline and a hundred gallons of water. My job was to crank line onto the reel whenever I could. Ed's job was to keep the boat squared so the fish stayed off our stern. Greg's job was to direct the drama. The tuna's job was to make our jobs as difficult as possible. I saw the 50 foot marker on the line no less than three times, and every time (except once) the fish ripped off more line. Eventually we could see some color in the water about forty feet to stern. It looked kinda big. After several annoying circles around the area to our rear, I was able to pull the fish up behind the boat, and my brother jabbed it with a harpoon which had a line attached to the dart. Next we gaffed it with a huge hook that also had a line attached to it. We tied off those two lines and I grabbed another gaff to lift up its tail so we could get a rope around it. That took a while and I handed Ed the tail gaff and (since my arms were longer) I fought to get a line around the tail. We then had the fish secured by three lines to the stern. A week earlier Greg and Ed had taken a 600 pound fish and it had slid cleanly through the small door in the transom. Our fish however, wouldn't fit. The three of us could not pull the beast into the boat. Some might have described the exercise as reminiscent of watching a monkey trying to make love to a greased watermelon. After enlisting the aid of a friend on another boat, four of us eventually got the monster on board -- 111 inches long, 88 inches wide, about 888 pounds. In closing I want to thank my brother Captain Greg Metcalf, the boat owner and skipper, Ed Duffy, and my wife for allowing me the opportunity to experience a once in a lifetime adventure. As I sit here remembering the battle, the subtle and gross surprises, and the pain, I can empathize with Judge Kenneth Starr and what is to follow.