Donegal Tuna by Dan O’Kelly

Well unless you`ve been living under a stone for the last few years. You will know that a run of massive Bluefin tuna have been visiting Irish waters. It`s not the first time that they have visited in numbers. I remember seeing a photo of a massive fish years ago being held up by a forklift. 

This fish was the new record at the time and still is to this day at 968lbs held by Adrian Molloy. I remember thinking at the time it was crazy but it never even crossed my mind to go and fish for them. 

I did not think anymore about it until they started showing up again and the stories started circulating again. After numerous conversation`s with Paddy Keogh on the subject he directed me to the very guy that I seen in the photo years before. None other than Adrian Molloy himself. 

Nowadays Adrian is running tuna trips out of Kilcar in Donegal. So myself and friend mark decided to see if we could make a booking and see what all the fuss was about. 

As you can imagine news of these big game fish arriving on Irish shores sent ripples through all of Europe and anglers were coming from far and wide. We were lucky to get a booking at all. We made the booking in January of this year for the 30th of Oct. Then we just had to wait and anticipate. 

We watched Adrian`s web site intentally towards the end of the summer and finally around mid August the first few captures start rolling in and the excitement start growing. As we only had a day booked we were praying for good weather. 

Thankfully the weather gods shined on us and we were good to go. We made our way up to Kilcar on the sat night opting to book into a b&b so as to avoid a long drive from home in the morning. 

We stayed in the Dun Ulun House on the outskirts of Kilcar. Which was only 5 mins from the pier. This way we would be well rested and fresher in the morning. 

Needless to say I was awake before the alarm clock went off and after nice full breakfast we made our way to the pier. It was 7.30am and just getting light. We met Adrian and a friend of his Micheal and three guys from the marine institute there, the guys from the Dept of Marine were there to satellite tag the fish. 

The tag`s would stay attached for 11 months , then disconnect and upload the info they collected over the last 11 months. So this was all very interesting and had the making`s of a interesting day. 

It took less than an hour to get to the target area where Adrian thought the fish were. I`d never fished for tuna before so the tactics and methods were all going to be new to me. Teaser Bars, Stingers, Daisy Chain, Wave Walkers,Outriggers, Gimble`s were all new concepts and things I’d never encountered before never mind used or had any experience with.

Adrian and the guys set the gear up and not long after we were fishing. A total of three rods were set up, two were put on the out riggers and one was in the middle and fished just off the back about 20 meters out. It`s very interesting to see how one fish`s for tuna, eye opening to see the size of the hooks etc. 

We trawled around for a while and seen nothing , until all of a sudden a Tuna jumped about 10 foot in front of the boat. I was in the Wheel House and still managed to see this fish. 

I had not expected to see much surface action as Paddy had told me that in previous months the Tuna were feeding primarily on saury, which are a surface dwelling fish and means you can get a right show of nature going on in  front of you. In late Oct the Tuna are feeding on Herring and Mackerel. This means that they are lower in the water and the chance of a surface frenzy was massively reduced. so I was happy to see one for a number of reasons. The main one been that there was Tuna in the area and Adrian had put us on the fish. Now all we needed was a take. 

Mark intently watching the lures working behind the Evie Rose

The first bit of action came at 10.30am when a Tuna nipped at the Wave runner lure. A Lure of Adrian`s design that walks across the water and could be described both as a Water Skater or like a Crocodile. Seconds later the Teaser bar on the right rod was hit by another one. This fish pulled the line out of the down rigger , but did not hook up. At this point things were getting exciting and it was only a matter of time before we hooked up. 

Shortly after this I was sitting in the chair watching the lures with mark, hoping to see an actual take, then the middle rod with out warning just bent over and line start emptying off the reel. We were fishing a rod each and had tossed a coin for the middle rod which I had won, so it was my time to shine. 

I clambered into the Harness and made my way the the chair to fight the fish. By the time I had got into the chair the fish had all but emptied the reel and there was only about 20 yards of line left. The line was grabbed before the rod and reel went over the side and unfortunately the line snapped and that was that. 

I stepped out of the chair a bit confused as i tried to fathom out what had just happened. I had just lost a really big fish that`s what happened !!! 

Myself and Mark had agreed that if one of us had a run then it was the other guys turn on all the rods. So I had to sit in the corner and lick my wounds and wonder if I would get another shot at one of these Tuna.                 

As soon as there’s a run, all the other rods are pulled in to try and avoid a double or treble hook up’s which I believe never ends well. So the guys set about getting the rods back out. 

Mark was on all the rods now as we had agreed so he put the Harness on and got ready. I`d said it was about an hour later and the rod on the right pulled out of the out rigger and spun around, creased over and the line start melting off the reel. 

The whole crew jumped into action at this point , everyone had a specificity job. Mine was to turn the chair in the direction the fish was heading , basic enough but essential. Adrian controlled the boat from a special throttle at the back of the boat. There was a lot of shouting going on as well. Although I’ve no experience with Tuna it was clear that Mark was into something very big. 

Mark locked into his fish

Adrian coached mark along in the methods and tactics of playing Tuna. Universal to all fishing the main objective is not to let the line go slack, a lot easier said than done by the look on Mark`s face at this point. It looked very tiring although your in a chair it`s not a walk in the park. 

There`s a lot pulling back and using your body weight against the fish , then trying to gain line as you drop the rod and lean forward. Anyway Mark was slowly gaining line on the fish and after about 40 mins or so we could see colour below the boat. The spreader bar was visible and just after that a big dark and silver shape. It was big very big the biggest fish i`ve ever seen anyway. 

When mark got the it in a bit closer Adrian grabbed the leader and guided the fish to a special door on the right side of the boat. Once the hook was removed it`s then possible for the captor to dismount the chair and go to the fish and view his prize. You must stay in the chair until this point in case the fish makes another run. You must still be in position to play the fish back to the boat.

Safety is paramount when your dealing with fish two and three times your body weight these fish are big and one wrong move could see you or a crew member going over board, so you must listen and obey the commands been issued by the Skipper. 

That said Mark was in no condition to jump out of the chair. Fighting these fish is a tiring affair and you`ll need a few minute`s to catch your breath. The fish was estimated at between 450 and 500 pounds, and it will come as no surprise a life time PB for Mark. After a few photos along the side of the boat. The fish is then pulled gently along with the boat to get the water running through his gills in a Technique/process called swimming. Not long after the giant fish started to flap and with a strong swipe of his tail made his bid for freedom. 

Swimming the fish before a safe release

Job done blue fin tuna box ticked and Mark quiet happily handed the harness over to me and had a cup of tea and a seat to recover form the encounter. I’m not sure who was more tired him or the fish.

It was my turn on the rods, a quick look at the phone informed me that it was 1`0 clock. Given the time of year and hours of daylight I knew I had 4 to 4 and half hours to pull one out of the bag. 

Between 10.30 and 1pm we had two hits and two hook ups, so sarcastically I had a good chance all things been equal. But nothing is fishing is guaranteed, but i will admits to being a bit confident. 

At this point in the day the behaviour of the tuna changed and they were busting more than the morning. 

We were just turning to go back over water where we had seen fish and just out of nowhere a group of tuna came busting along the starboard side (or right) of the boat. 

Luck would have it that we were turning to the right. which meant that the bars being 50 to 60 meters behind the boat were in perfect position on come in line with this group of fish. My heart was beating very fast now. I knew this was a very good chance to get a take. 

When the lures lined up with the fish, one hit the left spreader bar but did not hook up my heart sank, then again the left rod was hit by another fish and did not hook up, I was getting nervous now. 

We had all seen these fish and they had the attention of everyone on the boat. So every time there was a hit and miss there was a group roar from the boat. 

The atmosphere was electric, I was praying for a take and starting to feel that my chance had slipped away when the right rod on the daisy chain got a hit. This time the outrigger bent over and unclipped. 

At this point there is a nervous couple of seconds between the line popping out of the out rigger and the rod hooping over because the fish can just hit the teasers and not the stinger (the one with the hook) at the back of the teasers but this time the rod bend over and the line started tearing off the reel. 

With the harness already on i jumped into the chair and waited for Adrian and mark to take the rod out of the gimble and put it in the gimble just under the middle of the chair. 

The line was just ripping off the reel and I waited until it slowed down and under instruction from Adrian i started to reel. 

It was now or never

The power of these fish is just unbelievable. I reeled as hard as i could or the fish would allow. 15 mins into the fight Adrian informs me that I was still not in direct contact with the fish and that i was still getting the bow out of line. I thought he must be mistaken as it was very heavy, about 10 minutes later as i got the fish closer to the boat the line went straight to the fish and i realised that Adrian was not mistaken and I nearly got lifted out of the chair. I’ve never felt anything like this in my life. 

All the while I was coached loudly by Adrian on the left, I had the fish battering me in front and Adrian`s mate Micheal Mcviegh on my right taking the proverbial out of me and the distinct shade of red my head had gone, terracotta was mentioned on more than one occasion, much to the amusement of Mark. I wasn`t sure what to make of the experience.

The fish was close to the boat now, not having any experience with tuna or how they fight I was not sure how much fight was left in the fish or how much longer I could keep this up, finally Adrian instructed me to turn the rod to him to grab the line, once the line was grabbed my job was over and I remained in the chair till the hook was removed. 

That took a few minutes and then mark called me to get out of the chair. By the time i got out of the chair and over to the side of the boat the fish had slipped the gaff and i just got to see it swim away, so I never got a photo of myself with the fish. but i was happy that it swam away and there was plenty of video footage of the fight. the fight lasted about 45 minsutes.

 I’ve had longer fights from fish but nothing as intense and physically draining as this fight. these fish are a force to be reckoned with and not to be taken lightly. This one was estimated at 500 to 550 pounds, it could easily pull me over board. 

With the organised chaos over the rods were replaced and we were fishing again. The sea was alive with tuna now every few minutes someone would spot a bust somewhere, but that was all they seemed to be interested in now. It was like the feeding was done for the day and now they were just playing. 

We did not get any more action but it did not matter we had both had a fish and to be honest one of these a day is enough for anybody. All in all it was a great day I think you’ve got to experience this to really comprehend it. But it was an unbelievable experience and i would like to thank Adrian and the crew on the boat that day for the experience and the knowledge he shared with us. It’s amazing to think this spectacle is going on just off our shores, long may it continue. 


About paddykeogh20

We are three anglers who enjoy all aspects of fishing. Whether we are blanking or catching were happiest on the bank or shore. If you like your fishing join us by watching our many trips and as we interview some top anglers along the way.....
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1 Response to Donegal Tuna by Dan O’Kelly

  1. fishydreams says:

    That was a great article. Congratulations on catching those mighty fish and particularly on releasing them again.

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