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Clive Gammon
June 05, 1978
The author was after Allison tuna in Bermuda, but wahoo, blackfin and 'cuda kept the plot bubbling
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June 05, 1978

A Fine Kettle Of Fish

The author was after Allison tuna in Bermuda, but wahoo, blackfin and 'cuda kept the plot bubbling

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A hundred blips of iridescent silver flicker, then, eddying slowly, sink into darkness. Across their path, spilling electric-blue flashes like scout craft in a science-fiction movie, cut streamlined, predatory shapes. In the ordinary world of air and sunshine, three feet above the Bermudan sea, a skinny, barefoot boy of 12 standing in the stern of Tango squeaks with excitement and drops a fresh anchovy bait overboard. Free-floating, it shimmers momentarily in a new trail of silver blips—a handful of hogmouth fry that the boy's father has thrown out—and then is obliterated by one of the dark predators. A mackerel, a four-pounder, come to raid the chum line.

No contest, normally. But Davy DeSilva's 12-year-old muscles are taken by surprise. The mackerel gets its head down and dives for the bottom; only when it has taken out more than 50 feet of line can Davy turn it and manfully begin to pump. Now the others in the boat can see the mackerel hanging deep in the clear water. Then, suddenly, it seems to explode, giving off what appears to be a cloud of brown smoke.

In the water, blood looks brown. Davy has fished with his father long enough to know what to do next. All that remains of the mackerel—head and tattered shoulders—he reels furiously to the surface. Maybe a shark hit it. All morning a big hammerhead has been loitering with evil intent. Or a barracuda. All week the Challenger Bank has been thick with barracuda.

It is neither. Materializing so abruptly that there should be a whiff of sulphur in the air, a magnificent wahoo, theatrically black and silver, lunges at the mackerel head as it clears the surface. The wahoo hangs there for a split second, leers at us and dematerializes.

Stumbling in the cockpit, shouting orders at one another, David DeSilva Sr., Pete Perinchief and I scramble to put the mackerel head on a two-hook rig, on something to throw to the wahoo. Sonny the mate hacks fast at another fresh mackerel lying on the bait board. Now not only handfuls of fry drift down the chum stream; great bloody gobbets of mackerel flesh follow, trailing brown blood threads as they sink. Young Davy, escaping the sound and the fury, has climbed to the flying bridge above us, from where he dangles his legs and gazes into the water. "Hey, Dad! Hey!" he shouts.

The wahoo is back, we assume. But no. In the chum stream now, feeding delicately on the mackerel slices, is a beer barrel of an Allison tuna, the sun picking out the gaudy yellow of the finlets that run along its belly to its tail. It is the fish that Perinchief and I have waited more than a week for, a fish that we had almost despaired of finding.

For most of that time, the place we had waited was the Challenger Bank, which lies 15 miles southwest of Gibb's Hill Lighthouse on Bermuda. For almost four weeks before I had joined Perinchief, Allison, or yellowfin, tuna had been plentiful. Now they seemed to have quit. David DeSilva, skipper of Tango, suspected that they had taken it into their heads to follow dense schools of small red squid into deep water. "The run could be over," Perinchief mourned.

Tall and spare, the doyen of Bermuda's anglers, Perinchief was probably in a position to know. Again and again he told me how close the Allison would come to the boat on good days. "Sometimes," he had said, "you could hand-feed them."

It was sad for Perinchief because he had been confident he could find me one. And sad for me also because there can be few other places in the world where one can catch Allison in this fashion. About 20 years ago Bermuda skippers began chumming big fish up to the surface from 30 fathoms and more along the sides of the Challenger and Argus banks. In the early spring, chumming seems ineffective and one has to resort to trolling. But from June on, it works.

And it seemed finally to be working for us now. Our Allison was circling regally, 15 or 20 feet beneath the surface most of the time, feeding selectively, taking maybe three out of five mackerel pieces. "That one, he's goin' to humbug us a long time," ruminated DeSilva. "Like to see a couple more of them out there. Even a little blackfin would fire him up, make him jealous."

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