With the flags of
almost a dozen nations bowing their halyards in a chill Nova Scotia breeze,
some 30 boats this week will invade narrow, tide-rent Soldier's Rip 10 miles to
the south'ard of tiny Wedgeport. The mood aboard them will be patience overlaid
with tension, as crews, like the one above, chum and tease to bring giant
bluefin tuna boiling in their wakes. For this is the week of big game angling's
World Series, the 13th International Tuna Cup Match in which teams of top sport
fishermen from all over the world compete for the tuna-mounted silver bowl
donated by Alton B. Sharp, a Boston sportsman who helped organize the first
International Match in 1937.
fickle tuna will be cooperative this year, however, is a matter of serious
debate and much anxiety. No catch has equaled that of golden 1949 when five
teams boated 72 fish in three days of competition. In the same time last year
seven teams could produce only two fairly caught bluefins, with A. M. Whisnant
Jr. of New York pumping in a fortuitous 585-pounder to win for the United
States and recapture the Sharp Cup from Mexico.
outlook for 1956's match is not so dismal as the 1955 results might suggest.
The herring run is heavy, tuna are in the rip, and Wedgeport is buzzing with
multilingual speculation. It may be "tunny" to the British Empire Team,
der Thunfisch to the Germans or, rather appropriately, o at�m to the
Portuguese. But it is still the giant bluefin tuna they speak of, a fish with a
bizarre history, a partisan following and a migratory instinct which drives it
for thousands of miles.
To think of
nature's great migrations is to think of Barren Land caribou threading their
path across reachless tundra, of sheets of wildfowl covering late autumn skies,
of salmon struggling up rivers to spawn and die. These are dramatic sights, but
no more dramatic than the glimpse man is permitted of the giant bluefins as
they start north in the spring.
the first dark shadows poke onto the shallow Great Bahama Bank 50 miles east of
Miami. These are slim 500-pound fish plodding along at a purposeful three or
four knots, not feeding, just moving. School after school, fish after fish
follows, and for roughly a month they pour across the Bank to bore into deep
water at its outer tip. By late June the Bahama migration is over and the
angler has taken his toll. Though not hungry, migrating bluefin will, out of
reflex or pique, strike a bait, and Cat Cay and Bimini in the spring rank as
the finest of tuna ports.
weeks after they have straggled off the Great Bahama Bank, bluefin appear in
New Jersey, Long Island and Rhode Island waters. In a matter of days, more
arrive off Cape Cod, in Cape Cod Bay and Massachusetts Bay. Others push on to
the coast of Maine, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. The so-called school tuna,
those reckless youngsters from 10 to 150 pounds, have by that time joined the
giants. They are will-o'-the-wisps and no one knows what ocean roads they
preoccupation now turns to feeding, and they drive after schools of mackerel,
menhaden, squid, herring and all the lesser fish life upon which bluefin exist.
Rarely do they take a fish over one pound, but they are gluttons for quantity.
By late fall when they fade from northern waters those that were 500 pounds in
June may weigh a deep-bellied 750.
The bluefin is
the largest of 12 to 14 tunas in the ocean world. Only two millimeters in
length at hatching time and a one-pound sprout at two months, it will, if it
survives the unpleasantries of a carnivorous society, in 15 years swell to 500
pounds of beautifully streamlined energy (see pages 70 and 71). A patriarch may
exceed 1,000 pounds, though an angler has yet to take one of these.
Man has been
seeking bluefin for as long as man remembers. They were fished commercially in
the Mediterranean Sea in Roman times and still are. The Japanese and other
Pacific nations have been tuna fishermen for centuries. Only in the western
North Atlantic in that area from the Bahamas to Nova Scotia does the tale take
a different tack. There, until the turn of the century, bluefin provoked only
meager interest, commercial or otherwise.
Then sporting men
developed an interest in deep salt water, and the first fish encountered was
the bluefin. Efforts were heroic, results minimal. The boat was often an
oar-powered dory and few reels had the luxury of a mechanical drag. More often
they were a vicious free-spool contrivance. Departing line spun the handle like
a propeller, and braking power on the spool was applied via thumb. It was on
such primitive tackle in 1896 that W. Greer Campbell off Avalon, California
caught the first rod-and-reel tuna in angling history, and mechanical matters
had not improved appreciably by 1898 when Dr. Charles F. Holder took a
183-pounder from the same waters and founded the Catalina Tuna Club, an
organization which contributed much to early tackle development.