“There are tuna in the Pacific Northwest?”
That was a typical reaction when people heard I was going out fishing for albacore (long fin) tuna. Albacore travel across the Pacific to the west coast from mid June through October each year. As ocean conditions change, their route has shifted northward, putting them right in the crosshairs for great fishing 30 to 50 miles off the Washington coast. Traditionally a multi-day trip, they are now within reach in a single day with express-style charters on powerful purpose-built sportfishing boats. I spent a day with Mark Coleman from All Rivers and Saltwater charters in Westport, Washington, to learn about the unique experience and the boat.
Express style fishing is an adrenaline-packed day from start to finish. From the 40 MPH blast through the ocean in the early morning gray, to six hours of intense fishing, and then the return blast home—this time, with exhausted anglers and iceboxes full of fish.
Albacore are caught on jigs and live bait. They travel in large schools, and we trolled at two to three knots looking for ‘boilers’. Once we got a hook-up, we started to drift. We dropped multiple lines on lightweight Okuma Cedros reels, using anchovies for bait. Each anchovy is carefully placed on a single hook with little or no weight. Then it’s free-spooled out into the water until a tuna strikes. I never grew tired of the buzz of the line when fish hit the bait.
The battle is challenging—tuna have a lot of fight in them, and it can last a long time. The most unique aspect of this fishing was the ‘tuna dance’. Each line has to be kept vertical, but the fish don’t stay in one place. So during multiple hook-ups anglers have to ‘dance’ around the boat, going over and under each other, left and right, to keep their lines from getting tangled.
The other trick to avoid exhaustion is getting the fish to come towards you. With 30 pound torpedo-shaped bodies, they swim at around 30 to 40 knots. A few quick jigs of the rod will turn their head up, and you then reel in as they head towards the boat. If you don’t keep up and let the line go slack, they’ll then head off in a different direction—if the hook doesn’t come free—and you then have to start over.
The fight doesn’t end there. The fish are bled quickly to avoid spoiling the meat, creating a scene like the end of a Tarantino movie. Once onboard they bang around the cockpit like popcorn in a microwave. Only when our ninja deckhand Donald filleted these impressive creatures was the war finally won.
I captured our day of albacore fishing on video; click below to view it.
The Defiance 290 is a sportfishing machine, built for challenges like tuna fishing: lots of weight, chaotic action, long running times, and big water. Designed by a team active in the sport, they have balanced these demands in the right proportions to help catch more fish.
A spacious 9’10” open cockpit provided ample room for fishing. Low gunwales made it easy to bring fish onboard and reduces windage. The large 135-gallon centrally-located live bait tank had a 1100 GPH to keep water flowing and anchovies healthy and happy. Meanwhile, an enclosed cabin with seating for six kept the skipper, crew, and clients healthy and happy.
Twin Honda 225 HP outboards propelled the boat at 40 MPH, and the 325 gallon fuel tank enables owners to take the boat on 100-plus mile trips that are typical with Tuna runs. The fuel weight together with three-angle reverse chines helped with the ride, cornering, and keeping the boat on track in a drift.
The builder has also paid attention to finer details, like using recessed cleats to avoid snagging lines, and side fishboxes to keep the transom shorter, making it easier to get a rod around the engines.
Express-style tuna fishing was one of the most unique and fun experiences I have had with a fishing rod. The Defiance 290 was also an impressive platform, and if you're in the market for a serious fishing boat, this one’s definitely worth a look (see some Defiance listings, or visit Defiance).