For the first time in almost 14 years, a giant bluefin tuna is poised to crack into the Top 5 of the Louisiana record books.
On Saturday, April 22, about 120 miles southwest of Grand Isle in the Green Canyon near the Neptune platform, 14-year-old Kaleb Richardson of Lafayette reeled in a monster that officially tipped the scales at 835 pounds.
The bluefin was 113 inches long, with a massive 86-inch girth, and a biologist estimated the big female was about 15 years old.
Kaleb’s dad, Keith Richardson, owns a 58-foot Jarrett Bay named the Whoo Dat, and father and son and crew headed out of Grand Isle last Wednesday afternoon to go marlin fishing.
They tagged and released a 500-pound marlin on Thursday, and missed one on Friday, so they decided to investigate areas they hadn’t yet worked on Saturday.
“One of the platforms we hadn’t fished was Neptune, so we were heading toward there and we were about a half-mile off the platform and I was on the bridge with my captain, Chris Mowad,” Keith Richardson said. “He saw this tuna just busting bait and said it was the largest yellowfin he’d ever seen in his life. So we went to try to catch it.”
On Mowad’s first pass around 2 p.m., the still unidentified bluefin smashed the center rigger — a Scotty Crampton Quarter-Toner — but missed it.
“So we made the turn, came back to the same spot and a little before we got there you could see him coming,” Richardson said. “He was like a submarine pushing a wake. And when he got to the lure he came about halfway out the water and just engulfed it.
“And at that point, we were like, ‘It’s got to be a bluefin. A yelllowfin doesn’t get that big.’”
Kaleb — an 8th grader at Ascension Episcopal School in Youngsville who goes about 5’6” and tips the scales at 115 pounds — was the sole angler onboard, so he got settled into the chair and prepared do battle with an 80-Wide Shimano Tiagra reel and 100-pound test line.
“The fish ran for maybe 10 minutes and stayed on the surface like a marlin. It probably didn’t really know it was hooked,” the elder Richardson said. “Finally it went down. Kaleb’s caught granders before in Nova Scotia, so he knows the technique and knows what it takes and knows how to handle the heavy tackle to do it — and about 45 minutes later we got it to the boat and stuck two gaffs in it.
“We tried to pull it in the tuna door with four grown men and we couldn’t get it through.”
With an assist from a Come-Along borrowed from a neighboring boat, the massive bluefin finally came aboard.
“When we pulled it in the deck, I thought it might have been a state record,” Richardson said. “The formula on it says it would be around 900 pounds, and we weighed it Sunday at 835 (pounds), and the people who run those numbers and do a lot of tuna fishing say it probably lost 50 pounds overnight.”
The No. 1 bluefin in the state is an 1,152-pound monster caught south of South Pass in 2003 by Ron Roland, but pending certification by the Louisiana Outdoor Writers Association, Kaleb’s tuna should settle in either 4th or 5th place depending on the final certified weight, which was filmed bouncing between 833, 834 and 835 pounds.
In the meantime, Richardson is practically swimming in tuna steak, and estimates they harvested about 400 pounds of meat from the beast — with the help of a battery-powered reciprocating saw provided by the biologist, who took the head, some fins and the ovaries for testing.
“You couldn’t saw it with a serrated knife. I guess we could have, but it would have taken like three hours,” he said with a chuckle. “I sent three 270s (270-quart ice chests) with a friend of mine to Lafayette Sunday, and I still have a 270 in my truck that’s a quarter-full. Of course, before we caught the bluefin, I have a 500-quart refrigerated fish box on the boat and it had two bigeyes and about eight yellowfin in it.
“So I have two more 120s full of yellowfin and bigeyes — I have a lot of tuna.”