Four hours out of Shinnecock Randi-Strike reached the head of the canyon. Barta began a zigzag trolling course, first along the canyon's edges, where the water is 260 feet deep, and then over its depths, where there is 2,000 feet of water and more. Bouncing around in the wash with the baits was the "Barta Wedge," a bizarre cluster of teasers, hookless artificial squids, brightly hued plastic blocks called Kona Heads, mop-like nylon skirts, even two Hebrew National salamis. There were more than two dozen of the teasers, which are designed to lure large fish in close to a trolled bait. Barta needs the teasers because a short baited hookup is vital when fishing with ultralight lines. Suddenly yellowfins were slashing at the squids and salamis. Barta was on the flying bridge at the time, and when the four-pound line went taut, he all but flew to the cockpit, his feet and hands barely touching any surface. Sometimes, at dock-side, for an hour or more he practices moving around the Randi-Strike, to learn how to get where he has to be, instantly. As he landed on the deck in the cockpit, Barta shouted, "May be a record."
The reel spool was whirring away, hardly affected by the three-quarter-pound drag pressure that is the safe maximum with four-pound line, which actually tests at only 3�. Official four-pound records aren't kept by the International Game Fish Association, but any fish caught with it would be eligible in the six-pound category, and using it is a challenge, Barta says.
The boat was moving after the fish now, the line peeling off more slowly, when a patch of weed floated over it. "Get that weed," Barta ordered the mate, "but don't touch the line. IGFA rules." By the time the mate had carefully lifted the weed off, the fish had started diving. Two hundred yards of line were gone, and Barta warned, "More than 300 and the line will break from its weight alone. I know. I've spent hours trolling with no hooks just to see how much water pressure lines of different tests can take."
His touch on the reel was feather light. He constantly adjusted the drag, decreasing it in increments of a fraction of an ounce in pressure; as the line streamed out he reduced it gradually to half a pound, then a quarter, then to nothing at all, thumbing the reel spool lightly to prevent backlash. "In the first eight seconds that yellowfin was going 40 miles an hour," he said. "If you hook up at three-quarters and don't start backing the drag down right away—pop—there goes the line. It's a question of reel-spool dynamics."
He told the mate, "Go up to the tower and discuss with the captain what we're going to do if we get the fish in close." He knew that wouldn't happen soon, but he wanted nothing left unplanned.
He turned to a friend. "Want to make a bet? How long before we see this fish?"
"Another 25 minutes."
Barta shook his head. "If this is the one I think it is, we'll be here at least three hours, maybe four."
He asked for a cup of fresh water and poured it over the reel. The sides had felt warm. Friction was expanding the spool, and that would tighten the drag plates. There was no margin for error.
The yellowfin had been on half an hour, and the line was moving out tentatively when Barta said, "This fish is like a 300-pound mako I once had on six. He was still feeding in the chum line. He didn't even know he was hooked."