TEAM TUNA – In search of Tunny

            The North Devon Coast faded into the distance as the sun climbed above the familiar rugged coastline. A spectacular and dramatic seascape illuminated by golden light. The unfamiliar tackle strewn across the deck told of an exciting foray into a new world of big game angling out of Ilfracombe.

            I was fortunate to have secured a trip armed with my camera to join a party of anglers searching for tunny off the North Devon coast. If they succeeded this would be the first intentionally caught blue fin tuna off North Devon ( Unless you know different?)

            The party of anglers consisted of Stuart Cox, Nick Cox, Liam Waters and Jacques Roux. Skipper Dan Hawkins has worked hard to get this chance to target the tunny enrolling on the CHART22 program that aims to gather scientific data increasing knowledge of tunny migrations and populations across the world oceans. Dan was assisted by deck hand Jerry Day. We were also privileged to have CHART observer Ruth Hicks on board to verify correct procedures were adhered to at all times.

            More Information on CHART  ( CatcH And Release Tag) can be found via my previous articles. The CHART program is commissioned by ICCAT ( International Commission for Conservation of Atlantic Tuna )

            Reel Deal bounced across the waters of the Bristol Channel and we watched as the land’s contours disappeared into the morning haze. The occasional gannet could be seen soaring majestically above the calm sea. We passed the  granite outcrop of Lundy Island in the mouth of the Bristol Channel and watched as this too faded out of sight. After a couple of hours, we were around sixty miles West of Ilfracombe on the edge of the Celtic deeps. Far out here we were close to the Gulf Stream and the water temperature was recorded at 19.5 degrees.

            Pods of dolphins sidled up to the boat  appearing to play at the bow of the boat as we slowed in ready-ness. An excited cry of “Tuna !” erupted from Dan who was scanning the ocean from the cabin. Large splashes erupted a few hundred yards from the boat. Our target species were there.

            Dan and Jerry worked to set up the Tuna trolling rigs. Four rods were employed, two fished on outriggers, two fished directly behind the boat. Nine to fifteen teasers were attached to spreader bars, behind this was a stinger that hid a 10/0 Bristo Big Game Hook.

The set up mimicked a shoal of fish these were trolled behind the boat at various distances at a speed of 4 to 6 knots.

            The tuna would investigate and hopefully seize the stinger, the large Penn International loaded with 150lb b.s mono would then scream its warning and a lucky angler would be locked into battle. Battle harnesses were at the ready, lots drawn.

            The conditions were perfect and what breeze there was eased to nothing. The boat chugged slowly across a vast ocean the lures streaming out behind.  Expectation hung in the air as we chatted between ourselves. Ruth talked of the CHART program and the great sense of team working between the participants.

            The morning clouds parted and warm sunshine shone upon the boat as we searched. Dolphins cruised at the bow of the boat, twisting and turning as if frolicking with joy. There is something enchanting and mesmerising about dolphins. Graceful swimmers that seem to have a deep intelligence.

            The hours passed and a sense of anticipation hung in the air as we all wished for a screaming reel. I chatted with Jacques who had fished waters off his homeland in South Africa where he had enjoyed success with large game fish.

            We all chatted about life and fishing. Jerry kept us supplied with regular cups of tea and coffee. Once again I realized the bond that is so quickly formed between a group of anglers on a boat chasing fish. In this instance the team consisted of four anglers, a charter skipper, Deck hand, angling journalist and a Scientist that formed Team Tuna.

            We scanned the ocean around us as gannets, gulls and shearwaters glided above the waves. The tuna remained elusive as the hours ticked into afternoon. Dan’s enthusiasm never waned throughout the day there were just two obstacles to Dan’s mission. Time and money.

            Late in the afternoon we noted an increase in bird life and once again something broke the surface in a savage manner that could have been tuna. Expectation again lifted and we gazed at the lures bouncing through the waves in the wake of the boat. We all wished for that screaming reel.

            As the sun slowly began to lower in the sky it would soon be time to leave and head back to Ilfracombe. Dan reluctantly called time but insisted that two rods should be kept rigged and ready just in case we sighted tuna on the long return journey.


            The boat bounced across the calm waters and we watched more dolphins playing in the wake of the boat. Eventually Lundy came into view and close to the island we watched gannets diving into the water. Dan paused our journey and we watched for signs of tuna.

            We arrived at Ilfracombe as the light faded from the day. Dan will resume his tuna mission off Plymouth in October. Where tuna are being caught in encouraging numbers already.