78-inch fish slammed foot-long hardtail 10 miles out of South Pass, Davis says
Conditions out of Venice Saturday morning weren’t exactly ideal for a tuna trip — the wind was whipping up 5- to 6-foot waves 10 miles out of South Pass.
But Capt. Joey Davis with Voodoo Fishing Charters had a special crew on board his 36-foot Contender: along with his deckhand Kyle Chapman’s father, Tony, were family friends Bo Hamilton and George Salloum, all from Ocean Springs, Miss.
“I actually grew up fishing with Tony and Bo and their kids, so it’s kind of funny. Now the roles are reversed and they come and fish with me,” said Davis, 25, a captain for seven years now. “Bo always told me he always wanted to catch a 200-pound yellowfin, and he’s been texting me since he booked the trip saying, ‘You gotta get me that 200.’
“I was like, ‘I’ll be honest with you — I’ve only caught one ever. I’ll do my best to put you on what I can, but I can’t promise you a 200. That’s a big fish.’”
The weather wasn’t ideal, but Davis had boated a 150-pound yellowfin on Friday, so while he knew a nice fish was possible, he didn’t know that he’d actually end up making it happen.
“We headed out at 7 a.m. from Venice Marina and hit a couple of other rigs before we stopped at the spot we were fishing. We knew where we were going — we were targeting bigger fish,” Davis said. “Before we went there, we stopped and caught bait and a few smaller yellowfin.”
His game plan was simple: use larger hardtail to target bigger tuna. While he might use 4-inch fish for bait on a regular trip, Davis drifted with 10- to 12-inch hardtail for big yellowfin Saturday morning.
“It’s the whole concept of bigger bait, bigger fish,” he said. “There’s so much bait right now and so many smaller fish, you have to have something different.
“With a big tuna, you’re trying to feed him something different. He could sit right there and eat all the small baits he wants, but he wants a big bait.”
Despite the rough conditions, the plan worked perfectly, and at about 11 a.m. a big yellowfin helped himself to a foot-long hardtail rigged with a 9/0 Mustad 3X Demon circle hook drifting 300 feet behind the boat.
“Whenever this fish ate, he actually hit the bait and came about 7 feet out of the water with the bait in his mouth,” Davis said. “I knew it was a big one — I knew this fish was bigger than the fish the day before.”
Davis was using a Penn Ally 80-pound class bent-butt stand-up rod with a Penn International 50 reel spooled with 80-pound Berkley Pro Spec and a 20-foot, 100-pound Seaguar fluorocarbon leader.
The battle was on, with all three anglers pitching in to eventually land the fish: Chapman first, followed by Salloum and finishing up with Hamilton — who ultimately got his wish for a 200-plus-pound yellowfin.
“It made two to three really hard runs,” Davis said. “The fight lasted over an hour, and the fish kept pulling the drag, so I kept bumping up a little bit. Every time we’d get the fish situated, he kept pulling drag so I kept going up.
“But I figured out afterward we had like 42 pounds of drag on that fish.”
Complicating the situation were the rough seas and an approaching storm.
“I had the boat sterned into the waves trying to stay on top of the fish. Literally every other wave was crashing into the back of the boat,” Davis said. “There was so much water in the boat we just opened the hatch on the bilge and let the bilge pump the water out as we were fighting the fish.
“We fought the fish with probably 6 to 8 inches of water in the back of the boat.”
When Kyle Chapman and Davis finally gaffed the fish, the captain knew it went 200-plus.
“We definitely knew it was something special when it hit the deck, for sure,” Davis said. “Two-hundred is definitely the benchmark. People fish for a long time to catch a 200.
“Whenever we put it in the boat, I said, ‘This is the longest tuna I’ve ever seen in my life. If this thing was a little wider, it would have been crazy how much it could have weighed.”
Turns out, the big fish tipped Venice Marina’s certified scales at 213.2 pounds, with a length of 78 inches. The biggest tuna Davis caught previously was 200.2 pounds.
Although not applicable here because three anglers fought the fish, the current Louisiana record yellowfin tuna is 251 pounds, with the No. 10-ranked fish going 222.13.
The fish was cleaned, but Davis said the head is in the freezer with plans for a jaw mount. He’s also saving the ear bones for biologists with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries to determine the fish’s age.
“It’s already made a few meals,” Davis said. “Somebody sent me a picture of one of the steaks they were eating, and it was sitting on a normal dinner plate with the fish hanging off of all the sides.
“Those steaks were huge.”