LAHAINA - Who said you can't catch a record-sized fish on a two-hour charter? The Start Me Up Too did just that, landing a 198.7-pound Allison yellowfin tuna by Robert Van Den Elkhof. He was fishing with Capt. Mike Tappero and deckman Brandon Maxwell.
Having just a two-hour trip, Mike headed south, making an ono run down toward Olowalu. They were almost at the end of the charter heading back toward Lahaina. They were in only 30 fathoms of water (180 feet) off Launiupoko Park, about two-and-a-half miles from town, when Brandon screamed out, "Fish on!"
Mike looked back and saw a giant hole in the water at the long rigger position. The fish screamed off the 100-test line from an 80-class reel in a hurry. Mike's first thought was a marlin. Robert was on the bridge trying to get down to the chair.
From left, Richard and Blake Van Den Elkhof, crew Brandon Maxwell and Capt. Mike Tappero with their yellowfin tuna.
Brandon started clearing the long side of the pattern as Mike put the boat into neutral and came off the bridge to clear the short side. After cranking the short corner and short rigger to the rod tip, he left the lures in the water and headed back to the helm. Robert finally got into the chair.
By the time Brandon got all the lures into the boat, the fish had pulled out 200 yards of line. Brandon got Robert clipped into the fighting harness.
Mike put the boat into reverse and started to back down after the fish a little faster than idle reverse. Robert started cranking on his fish, getting a lot of line back pretty quickly.
They got the rigger rubber band on the spool in about 5-10 minutes and weren't that far away from the fish. As Mike got the boat closer, the fish was down off the stern about 60 yards out doing circles. They were still thinking marlin.
After about 20 minutes of the fish circling, and Mike making doughnuts with the boat, he figured out that they weren't fighting a marlin. The fish had never jumped and nobody had seen it yet.
The rubber band never left the spool the rest of the fight as the ahi stayed at a 40- to 50-yard distance, making circle after circle straight down off the stern. As it circled, Mike reversed the boat out in front of it trying to get an angle, with Robert gaining 10-15 yards of line. But as the ahi straightened out the circle, it would rip out all that line again in a give-and-take game with them.
After 45 minutes of this back-and-forth stalemate, Brandon pushed up the drag past the strike button, putting 45-48 pounds of pressure on the ahi. That seemed to slow its runs a bit. There was a super bend in the rod over the stern as Robert held on and tried to get cranks. They could see the rod tip "pumping" up and down as the ahi kicked its tail as it circled.
An hour and 15 minutes into the tug of war, the double line finally came up off the port side. The ahi was circling in that direction, so Mike kept spinning the boat with it. The ahi continued to pull short yards of line as it circled for another ten minutes.
The double line came back up on the port side. Mike gunned the boat forward ahead of it and spun around in front of it. Brandon grabbed the double line and pulled the ahi to leader.
Brandon got a double wrap on the leader, getting two to three feet, then another wrap. The ahi dug out and continued circling. It turned 180 degrees and came up to the surface, getting half way out of the water, and then dug back down.
Brandon didn't let go of the leader, but he lost his wraps, with the ahi pulling the line through his hands to the swivel. He was able to stop the slide at that point and pulled it back up a couple of feet. The ahi was mad and digging hard as it tried to get under the boat.
The ahi continued this yo-yo, tug of war for 4-5 minutes. Brandon held on to the leader, while Mike maneuvered the boat. Mike put the boat into idle ahead and left the helm to give Brandon a hand. He grabbed the leader, got a good wrap on the line and leaned back, pulling the ahi up a little closer. As he took another wrap, Brandon let go of the leader and grabbed the fly-gaff.
Mike took another double wrap and pulled a couple more feet, keeping up the wrap and pull until he had the ahi to the surface. Brandon finally got a securing tuna gaff into it. The sheer size and long yellow sickles was quite the sight to see as they pulled it through the stern door.
Robert did a great job keeping the pressure on his fish, mentioned Mike.
This Allison yellowfin tuna is the third largest for Lahaina this year-to-date. It is the 14th largest ahi for a Lahaina charter boat since 1980.
Happy 27th anniversary on my first "At the Harbor" monthly report for the Lahaina News on Aug. 21, 1985.