You Never Know lands big bluefin

Tina Harbuck
Angler Rick Whitley poses for a few photos on the back deck of the You Never Know, a 72-foot boat based out of Baytowne Marina in Sandestin. It took about three hours to land the tuna. [FOR REEL PHOTOS/SPECIAL TO THE LOG]

The crew aboard the You Never Know lived up to its billing this weekend when they hooked a humongous bluefin tuna while fishing for blue marlin, proving again that you never know what’s going to take the bait.

“We were on a pre-tournament trip,” said Capt. Joey Birbeck of the F&S 72-foot private boat based out of Baytowne Marina at Sandestin.

In the next few months the crew aboard the You Never Know will be fishing in several blue marlin tournaments with the first on the agenda, the Orange Beach Billfish Classic, scheduled from May 17-21.

However, on Sunday they hooked up with a massive bluefin that tilted the scales at Destin Fishing Fleet Marina at 827 pounds.

“We were blessed to catch this beast,” Birbeck said of the fish that will feed many friends and family. “I believe you get what you give … so we sacrificed a day of fishing to do the right thing.”

And the right thing was to get the big fish back to the docks where it could feed many.

The crew had left Saturday and headed to the oil rigs about 160 miles out, according to deckhand Josh Goodson.

It was about 6 a.m. Sunday when the bluefin latched on to the bait.

“We didn’t see it … didn’t know what it was,” Goodson said, noting the sun had just broken the horizon. “It grabbed the bait and was running like a freight train.”

Goodson said the tuna took out about 400 yards of line on the initial bite. They were using a live blackfin tuna for bait and Rick Whitley was the angler on the 80-wide.

Goodson said the fish was acting a little strange and they still didn’t know what it was.

Capt. Birbeck said it made a second long run taking out about half a spool.

After about an hour of pulling and reeling, the fish settled down and then it started sinking. The fish had died, Goodson said.

“It was a straight up and down crank for about two hours,” Goodson said. “It was like pulling up a Volkswagen. We were kind of surprised it died because it was hooked in the mouth.”

When the fish came out from under the boat, they were able to gaff it and pull it through the tuna door.

“We had four or five gaffs in it with five of us pulling it in,” Birbeck said.

After a few “high-fives, hugs and handshakes,” Birbeck said they iced it down and made the decision to cut the trip short and bring in the bluefin.

All-in-all, it took about three hours from the time the bluefin was hooked until they got it aboard the boat.

The tuna measured 114 inches in length and measured 80 inches around the girth.

“It was healthy,” Birbeck said.

Prior to this bluefin, Birbeck said they caught a 647-pounder last year.

According to the International Game Fish Association, the All-Tackle World Record for bluefin tuna is 1,496 pounds, caught in October 1979. However, there is no bluefin tuna on the books for the state of Florida.

Jim Roberson, IGFA representative for this area, said the average size of a bluefin is between 800 to 1,000 pounds.

Roberson said the bluefin tuna move into the area in November and are here until late May to early June.

“This is a spawning ground between here and the rigs,” he said.

“And as soon as we get warm water, they move out,” he said, noting they migrate and go up the Atlantic Coast.

Roberson said the bluefin tuna is “unbelievably fast … amazing to see.”

He told of a time when he and local angler Andy Block were fishing about 100 miles out when they hooked up with four bluefin.

“We had four come out and take us to the knot … we had four smoking reels and no string left,” Roberson said, noting they had to come and reload. “They were like trying to stop a freight train.”

However, if you are fortunate to land one he saidthey are good eating.

“That first piece of toro, belly meat out of a tuna, the premiere cut, is so rich … like a pound of butter.”

• The All-Tackle World Record for bluefin tuna is 1,496 pounds caught in October 1979.

• There is no bluefin tuna on the record books for the state of Florida.

• The bluefin tuna caught by the You Never Know weighed in at 827 pounds, measured 114 inches in length, and 80 inches around the girth.