Illuminated by winter sun – A Cornish Tunny Adventure

The moon was still shining brightly at the cold light of dawn as I climbed aboard the charter boat Sowenna with four fellow anglers. I had met with James Coggan on a previous trip back in the heat of the summer and James and I had conspired to organise a trip after tuna before the seasons end. Previous trips booked in November had been blown off and this trip just three days before the end of season was a last gasp chance.

It was well below freezing and ice lay upon the deck of the boat. James was accompanied by a fellow Fowey chap called Craig and we were joined by Mark and Richard two anglers from the Bristol area both of whom I had met in the Jolly sailor the previous night.

Dan Margetts the Skipper of Sowenna and his deck hand for the day John McMaster greeted us warmly as we all chatted excitedly about the prospects for the day ahead.

The boat was slipped from its moorings and we set off into the bay passing the Banjo Pier as the glow of the morning sun slowly welcomed the day. We had all dressed warmly with only our faces exposed to the bitter cold North East breeze.

As we glided across the calm waters the tuna gear was prepared by John with military precision. Dan and John were undoubtedly well rehearsed and their calm confidence added to our expectations. The sight of big game gear on a UK charter boat is certainly a welcome dimension to UK angling. The CHART program has undoubtedly been a major success and should be appreciated by anglers who have been given a unique opportunity.

In less than an hour the five sets of spreader bars lures and stingers were being trolled across a calm sea. The horizon was scanned with binoculars Dan and John were determined to find any signs of activity that could lead us to our quarry the mighty bluefin tuna.

Flocks of sea birds were seen gathering excitedly with gannets diving frequently into the cold clear water. Dan steered the boat towards promising areas and a tense anticipation hung in the air. We had drawn lots on the way out and I had drawn number five meaning that I was likely to be a spectator for the day. Craig had drawn number one and was undoubtedly slightly apprehensive of what might lay ahead.

This type of fishing is very much a team event with all on board sharing the experience. The vast seascape, the colours as the morning sun illuminates the coast, dolphins breaking the surface a privilege that we all shared over frequent hot drinks supplied by Dan and John.

We noted other boats tuna fishing close-by and expectation grew when a tuna was hooked in close proximity. I had enjoyed a day earlier in the year aboard Reel Deal off the North Devon Coast when we had spent a long and fruitless day searching the waters at the mouth of the Bristol Channel. I had come out today stating that I would be delighted; to just see a tuna caught. My turn will hopefully come one day if I persist.

At close to 11:00 pandemonium broke out as a reel screeched a harsh rasping cry. Craig took his place behind the rod as line disappeared from the reel at an alarming pace.

We all grabbed rods and frantically reeled the remaining lines clear to allow Craig to battle with the denizen of the deep.

            John carefully passed the rod to Craig and ensured all was correctly in place with harness and padding. And so, a brutal battle began as Craig applied pressure and began the task of putting line back on the large capacity reel inch by inch.

            John offered constant advice and assurance. I hovered around with my camera, James Coggan held onto Craigs harness just in case he slipped. Everyone else offered good humoured advice and banter. This banter and encouragement gathered pace as the battle went on and it became obvious that this was a big fish. Line was slowly gained to be lost as the fish made powerful runs testing both tackle and angler to the limit. Eventually the line indicated that the fish was deep below the boat and Craig was heartened when the leader eventually showed above the water. Tension hung in the air for the hook hold could give way at any moment denying us all the view of one of the oceans most magnificent fish.

            The final moments were filled with tension as Craig hung grimly on determined to get his prize to the side of the boat. Sweat covered his brow despite the icy air. We all peered into the sea as the line drew our eyes into the mysterious waters.

            Then it slowly appeared; massive flanks glimpsed in the cold clear waters. The mighty tuna materialised, aqua, sapphire, silver plated jewelled sides illuminated by the bright winter sunshine. The magnificent tuna was carefully gaffed in the lower jaw and held in the water whilst it was tagged. We all admired the massive fish boat side gathering a few images on our cameras none of which could truly capture its awesome beauty. When the fish had fully recovered it was released and disappeared with a powerful flick of its mighty tail. We all watched in awe sharing in one of anglings rich moments. It was after all very much a team effort headed by Captain Dan and John Mc Master.

The fish was carefully measured and estimated at between 450lb and 475lb

            It was soon back to business with Mark ready and waiting for his turn in the pain locker. Hot teas and coffees were keenly devoured as the lures went back out and the quest resumed.


            Flocks of bird wheeled above the sea, dolphins rolled and leapt from the water. Mark watched the lures intently hoping for contact. We looked far out towards the Eddystone and watched a pod of dolphins as they gracefully leapt into the air.

            The day ebbed slowly away, the sun eventually descending beneath the distant western horizon painting the sky in  deep orange glow. Shortly after the sun had set the moon rose to the east peeping out above the hills that had taken on a cold and icy hue.

            The lines were slowly wound back onto the big reels and rods racked before the steam back to port. We enjoyed a last hot drink as we came close to Looe to be greeted by the bright lights of Christmas twinkling in the icy cold air.

            We climbed onto the quay our steamy breath hanging in the air as we said our cheerful goodbyes before heading home across an icy moonlit landscape.

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.


Tunny History

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I am always on the look out interesting angling stories and thought this old film footage a fascinating glimpse into times gone by its all a bit barbaric by today’s standards but don’t judge past generations on today’s perceptions. This was remember a time when people had little perception of the vulnerability of the oceans believing that its wonders were inexhaustible.