Our New England waters play host to some of the best fishing grounds within reach for the elusive Atlantic bluefin tuna. These fish range from small “footballs” of 30-60 lbs. to world class apex predators in excess of 1400 lbs. This is a story of the fall migratory run these fish undertake and a group of fisherman who took advantage of the near proximity of these beauties to our local shores.

It was Halloween eve, and the Fin and Tonic was ready for the 50 mile run to the fishing grounds. One minor problem – our usual suspects for a trip like this were stuck on the wedding marathon cycle or had lost the mojo for one last chance at these legendary fish.


Over a few vodka beverages at a local birthday party I wrangled my brother, Hill, into the adventure. My son, Will, persuaded his long-time friend, Peter, to commit to an early morning outing and we were good to go.

Our battlewagon for the quest, Fin and Tonic, is a 41’ Albemarle Express. Our gear, Shimano 130 w/ 200 lb. top shot and 400 lb. Dacron backing. We decided to go light with fluorocarbon leader, as that had produced more fish for us in the past. With that in mind, we knew if we were to get into a giant tuna (73”+) it would be a very technical fight to lift him from the depths.

At 28 kts, we came up to the fishing grounds in a short clip. Less than a mile from our destination, SPLASH! Will spotted crashing tuna and we slowed down to check out the bait they were chasing, then drop a few jigs to see if one wouldn’t take a sniff. We loaded up on mackerel and herring and decided to set up shop.


Our strategy was simple: locate the edge, anchor, set the baits. After setting up, Will and I decided the depth was off so we moved up the edge. “Time to reset” we told our crew, again, and begrudgingly they agreed. The reset required lots of legwork for Hill, who could have benefitted from some Advil that morning.

We fished three baits, all similar set ups. We’re believers that this technique makes or breaks your day. Rigging the lines requires utmost perfection. We crimp the leaders on to the mono, stretch them tightly wiping them with alcohol, and then “black out” the crimps with a Sharpie so to not reflect light. The depths for the baits were at surface, 70’ and 120’. Every 45 minutes we rotated the rods and baits, and set back up. Our crew was getting a bit tired of this repetition, but in the end it was this commitment that resulted in putting a monstah on the deck.

Slack tide was an hour away. Will called for a reset, Hill tossed out a comment that showed he needed more sleep. Pete and Hill got to work as Will waited for their two rods to be reeled in before bringing in his own.


Then we saw it. We watched intently to be sure. The balloon bobbed on the surface, but there was no pull of the line. There was a moment, then BAM. The balloon surged underwater and the line started screaming with no abandon in sight. Will realized he had a big one on the line as he cranked the drag up to 40 lbs. and it only increased in speed. He yelled “Start her up! We’re on!” as I turned over the big Cat diesels and Pete ran to the anchor line to toss us free.

We knew this was going to be a technical fight. Captain and crew would have to be completely in sync to land this tuna as the light fluorocarbon could chafe through at any minute. Will and Peter rotated fighting the fish from the 360 degree corner rod holder. They were puffing – they hadn’t seen this kind of exercise since their early college days!

After a few debilitating runs from the fish, our spirits were sinking as we started to doubt we could get this fish to the boat before a chafe snapped the line. It was time to turn it on. Will turned the drag up slightly, as the fish buried itself in the depths of the Atlantic. Reel in three feet, give two
feet back.

The fish set its sights on a new target other than the ocean floor: a lobster trap, a mere 150 yards from the boat. And the tuna was heading straight for it. I immediately guided the boat the way it was built for.

We begin to back down on the fish, fast. Water was splashing up like a geyser off the transom as Will and Pete got soaked, cranking on the fish as fast as possible. I managed to spin the boat around the trap. Success! We were back to the grind and pound.

We were an hour into the fight at this point, and determined to end it victoriously. The tuna began its “death circles,” a sure sign victory was near. Peter attended the line as Will readied the harpoon. Will yelled “Color!” as we got our first close glimpse of this magnificent animal ending its fight. It finally breached the surface and showed us its true size. We starred in awe as Peter reeled through the wind-on leader. Will threw the dart, carrying the 15 feet necessary to plant it directly into the shoulder of the fish, perfect. With a solid pull on the rope of the dart, he stuck it. Peter grabbed the gaff, and stuck the gaff in Trojan-like to lift the tail for the tail rope. I ran off the helm, grabbed the tail rope and quickly wrapped it around the tail, cleating it to the transom.

We were shaking with excitement, hooting and hollering! It was over! It was an unbelievable team effort to finish the fight in an hour and a half, and we had landed a monstah!

We had finished what we came for, all this way on a day when we should have been doing more practical things. A giant bluefin tuna measuring 96” lay across our deck, the largest we have ever caught on our own vessel.

Captain Jock Danforth, Captain Will Danforth Crew, Hill Danforth & Peter Reiley
Captain Jock Danforth, Captain Will Danforth Crew, Hill Danforth & Peter Reiley

As I headed us to Gloucester for the official sale of our fish, Hill, Peter and Will began the work of dressing the fish. “Dressed” is when the fish is gutted, topped and tailed, and loaded up with ice. Only the meat is left. This is essential to keeping it cool and in saleable condition. Our fish dressed at 398 lbs., a fish with great girth and quality. We were pumped! The end to an amazing day.

With such an incredible ecosystem right off our shores of Massachusetts, I am grateful to have the access, friends, and family to support our fisheries and our lifestyle. The day I described was incredible. A day that will be remembered as The Day of the Halloween Fish. The Fin & Tonic performed superbly, as did my crew. Although always difficult to call the season a wrap, this season came to a close with a feeling of satisfaction and joy difficult to repeat. Coming into this holiday season, I know I’ll have my cocktail story ready, will you?

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