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To California go the firsts, and it does not detract from their accomplishment to question whether Avalon's Gay Nineties tuna were bluefin or, in fact, yellowfin. In either case, Atlantic events were about to eclipse them, and the West Coast was left to make its name with other fish.
In 1908 Commander J. K. L. Ross, R.C.N, arrived in St. Ann Bay, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. His stated purpose was to catch tuna. He had some light southern tackle, an optimistic turn of mind and remarkable tenacity. He hooked 22 fish and lost every one of them before he called it a season. Three years later his first fish fought for 19 hours and exhausted even the dogged commander, who finally cut his line. He then hooked and lost 19 more tuna. No. 21 he stayed with. It weighed 680 pounds.
Thirty-nine years later Commander Duncan McIntyre Hodgson, fishing in the same St. Ann Bay, caught the present all-tackle world record, a 977-pound bluefin tuna. Hodgson had Ross's old guide. Hodgson was, in fact, Ross's son-in-law. In those four decades big game angling and its tackle was bred of the quest for bluefin tuna.
The 1930s were bright years for bluefin. With prodding from a tuna disciple named Michael Lerner, Wedgeport converted itself for sport fishermen. Tuna were found on the western edge of the Great Bahama Bank near minute Bimini and Cat Cay, and in 1935 Ernest Hemingway took the first fish there. S. Kip Farrington Jr., an indefatigable angler, was right behind him. As a matter of fact, by this time tuna were found all along the eastern seaboard, and some anglers, for whom it is never quite enough simply to catch a fish, began to wonder where the bluefin were before they trekked past the Bahamas. And where did they go from their summering grounds? Those anglers became amateur scientists, badgered true scientists and even donated healthy sums to find the answers.
The angler certainly did not force tuna research; he did, however, with time, funds and energy broaden the scope of investigation. Some endowed laboratories and foundations for general ocean research which have, at one time or another, contributed pieces to the tuna puzzle. Wendell Anderson has provided valuable support to Yale's Bingham Oceanographic Laboratory, and the Charles F. Johnson Foundation is sponsoring intensive bluefin effort at the Marine Laboratory of the University of Miami. The names these organizations bear are all well regarded in sport-fishing circles (Wendell Anderson's son John W. II is a member of the 1956 U.S. tuna team), but there is also the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on Cape Cod, the National Geographic Society and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and they too have an interest in the Atlantic bluefin.
And there are the scientists, the marine biologists and ichthyologists, many tuna anglers themselves. They have explored and studied. They have tracked tuna by plane and boat, tagged them, caught them and taken them apart. They have asked questions, correlated tens of thousands of observations, and innumerable anglers have cooperated with interest and energy.
Bit by bit, during recent years, more pieces have gone into the puzzle, and it has taken definite shape (see map, page 69). There is, to be sure, still controversy and there will be until man solves all the mysteries of the sea.
What, one wonders, is the lure of the bluefin? It is not the largest game fish; the Pacific black marlin is that. Neither does it jump like the marlin. It runs long, sounds deep, and a man has likened the catching of one to hoisting a bus with the doors open from the very floor of the ocean. Yet both men and women become addicted to tuna. Perhaps there is in them a little of Hemingway's Old Man and the Sea, or of the mountaineer. Whatever they may feel, there is certainly an abiding respect for the bluefin and its epic battles against rod and reel.
There was the time, for instance, in 1934 off Liverpool, Nova Scotia when six anglers took turns and fought a tuna for 62 hours though they were well aware that the fish was foul hooked and if not disqualified for record consideration on that count would be because more than one man had handled the rod. And there was the time when Mrs. S. Kip Farrington Jr. fought a bluefin for 10 hours and 25 minutes though she knew all the time it was a small fish as far as records go.
There have been many other such struggles. When an angler hooks a bluefin he never can tell how long it will take him to win or lose, and that too is a characteristic of tuna fishing.