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Nova Scotia Fishing - Bluefin Tuna Edition

Fishing for giant bluefin tuna is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that fisherman across the world hope to experience. Nova Scotia, Canada, is one of the best places to catch these giant fish, and it's not for the faint of heart - between the cold weather, rough seas, and the fight of a lifetime with a 900+ pound fish.

We fished with The Jacquards and Anthony Mendillo out of Liverpool, Nova Scotia in pursuit of giant bluefin tuna - and we found them.

Our Bluefin Trip

We fished with Eric and Joel Jaquard, Anthony Mendillo, and Kenny. Pretty salty crew!

We were using two weights of rods - one being a longer 130 lb to go over the lobster boat's rails and a longer Unlimited that bends a lot less. We built these rods for Anthony decades ago, and they are still fighting giants today - very cool to get in the chair with them.

The stiffer rod will get the fish to the boat faster with less lactic acid (better quality meat), but the lighter rod lets the rod do some of the lifting as the angler sits back down in the chair. It's up to the captain’s and anglers’s preference. We gave Maya the heavy tackle.

Maya's Fight

We set the chair up for Maya with the bucket closer to her and a piece of wood taped to the foot rest so she could have more leverage. She got comfortable in the bucket and sat back with her feet on the foot rest, ready to go!

We marked fish at 18 fathoms and Anthony put a bait down. Within a few minutes we had a bite and it was on!

It was sort of easy at first with a few runs from the fish, but then the tuna figured out he was hooked and started lifting her out of the chair. This definitely got her attention, but we assured her that we would keep her in the boat. The fish was pin wheeling, and on one turn, it decided to race to the other side of the boat spinning her and the chair at a high rate of speed. Both she and the fish were tired at this point.

Maya’s legs were trembling and her arms were exhausted from reeling. It had been about 25 minutes at this point, but seemed like an eternity. With upwards of 50 pounds of drag with a 100 lb leader, Maya gave a few more lifts out of the chair leaning back, and Ant grabbed the leader.

Eric was able to snap swivel the leader to the Tuna Walker and we cut Maya’s leader so she could finally get out of the chair and see her fish. She was weak in the knees, but was able to wobble to the gunnel to see her 750 lb bluefin tuna. We took pictures and video, revived it, tagged it for research, and let it go!

While chumming, a ton of bluefin show up to take advantage of the buffet. Pretty impressive to see 700 to 1100 pound tunas swimming and jumping around the boat. Take a look at this underwater footage of them.

Maya was done for the night and it was my turn.

Drew's Fight

We didn’t mark a lot until 9 to 9:30 PM. And no herring. The herring boats were coming out to do their sweep evaluation to determine the amount of herring and their whereabouts. 20 boats get in a line going one way on the rectangle grid and 20 boats go the other way. All the boats' sounders are monitored by a central computer to determine the quantity of the herring.

Once that information is processed by the powers that be, it is determined how much they can harvest sustainably. Hopefully with that info, the boats will know where to go the next day.

Anyway, we moved again and started to mark some. Ant put a bait down at 8 fathoms and we were on again!

We changed the bucket harness and switched to a “light tackle” rod.

Again, it was easy at first until the fish knew it was hooked. The fish lifted me out of the chair with ease as it took drag, but as I sat down and let the tip do some of the work for me, I started to make headway. After a couple of long runs, it started to pin wheel and I could get the leader to Ant, but the fish was still not ready and And had to let the leader go. I backed off the drag as the fish made its run.

When the fish finally slowed down, I pushed the drag back up. It had been over a half hour and I was worried it would chafe the two hundred pound leader off and we would lose the fish. I was super tired but was able to get Ant the leader again. This time, Eric was able to snap swivel the leader to the tuna Walker. After 40 minutes, I got out of the chair to see my fish and take pics. It was a little bigger than Maya’s, but not much. Maybe an 800 pounder.

"We didn’t have to cut the leader to let this one go, one shake of that 800 lb tuna's head and the 200 pound leader snapped like it was nothing - and he was free!"

As I was reeling in my tuna, the boys - Eric and Kenny - kept chumming. They managed to get the fish right to the boat to tag and release it.

Harpooning Tuna

Since Maya and I were done catching them on rod and reel, it was time to try the harpoon off the bow. This technique is used when keeping fish for food because the fish does not have the lactic acid in the muscle - resulting in a better quality fish.

The harpooner went out on the bow of the boat with the harpoon while we all stood on the bridge to watch the tuna eat the chum.

The theory is that you can be more selective with your choice of tuna when using a harpoon. The smaller, fatter ones are more money per pound than a 900 pounder with a bad shape and little fat. Since they have a pound quota - not a number of fish quota - they want the small, valuable fish over the big, less valuable fish.

We chummed for a while watching the huge ones go by - trying to be selective as to not stick a big one. An hour went by and Joel took a shot and harpooned a tuna.

They used a pulley system to haul it in the boat and processed the fish for the iced fish box - a watery slush of ice water with pumps that recirculate the frigid water around the fish, chilling it in half the time of just covering it with ice. Again, the fish has better quality by getting it to a cold temperature faster. By 7 AM the next day, they can ship the fish instead of waiting for it to chill.

Nova Scotia fishing is a must-do experience - we had an amazing time fishing with the crew for a few days, and we will be back!

The Fishery

The tunas' main source of food, herring, lay eggs over a 12 day cycle and stay above the rocks. When the herring eggs start to rot, the Pollux and the mackerel eat them - in turn attracting tuna. The herring fleet surveys the fish with the depth finder to evaluate how many herring are there for next year. The boats are allowed to take a small portion to ensure a sustainable fishery. It is an impressive, and well-managed fishery.

Chinese markets have been buying a lot of lobster boats and herring boats to take control of the Nova Scotia fishing market - processing plants, too - driving the price down to get rid of the competition, then raising prices back up.

Research with the Bluefin Coalition

Over 30 tuna were tagged this Nova Scotia fishing season. The satellite tags help track migratory patterns. These vials contain DNA samples taken on the boat for the research team.

Thank You:

Joel Jacquard

Eric Jacquard

Kenny Jacquard

Molly Lutcavage with the Bluefin Coalition

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