Everyone knows that accidents can happen anytime you head out on a fishing trip.
But when you’re 120 miles offshore — fishing at night — your margin for error dramatically decreases.
Buckley Kessler dodged a bullet last Friday evening when a big yellowfin tuna broke free from a harpoon and pulled him overboard in the Gulf of Mexico — and the whole sequence is captured on video.
Kessler, of White Castle, was unharmed, and easily swam back into the 52-foot VIking, but said the incident was a good example of how fast an accident can happen offshore.
“We were 120 miles south of Grand Isle in about 4,300 feet of water,” Kessler said. “When they hit him with the harpoon they hit him low, and he came across the back of the boat, and the deckhand had his hand wrapped up in that 300-pound leader — and he couldn’t hold it.
“When that popped loose, it just jerked the rod and it caught me sideways when (the tuna) came across the back like that. I was up against the baitwell which protrudes into the cockpit — I couldn’t turn around, and he just pulled me over sideways.”
Kessler, who had just fought the fish for about 20 minutes, estimated the yellowfin could have been a 200-pounder.
But as he slid overboard, he had the presence of mind to release the bail on his Shimano Tiagra 50-wide reel.
“I thought I was still hooked on to the fish, but I wasn’t going to let the rod go,” Kessler said with a chuckle. “When the line tightened up again, I guess it popped because I had 30 pounds of drag with the 50-wide — that’s plenty of drag on the fish … unless the line hit one of the trim tabs or something, because he was right there in back of the boat.
“It was a big, big tuna. The deckhand just happened to hit him low in the gut with the harpoon and it tore out, so we ended up losing the fish.”
From the prop wash in the video, the Viking was in gear when Kessler went overboard. An experienced diver, he easily made his way back to the boat safely — with the $2,000 rod and reel in tow.
“They opened the tuna door and I swam back into the boat,” he said.
Kessler’s wife, Denise, can be seen running to the stern at the end of the video.
“She was trying to take a nap laying down on the couch when I went over,” he said. “That definitely got her attention.”
So what did he do after his unexpected swim in 4,300 feet of water?
“I took a shower,” he said he said with a smile.
They headed back for home around midnight, with eight yellowfin — and Kessler — safely aboard.
“I wish we could have hit him a little higher with the harpoon, but that’s the way it is,” he said. “It just didn’t work out.”