June 19, 2015
Florida anglers eye big bluefin in crystal Bahamian waters.
Dimitris Kollias and John Cooper, two of the best spearos in Florida for sure, planning their dive while on the camera boat. Contender Boats supplied boat support and camera boats for the entire four days of fishing in Cat Cay.
Walking the Docks in the A.M. Researchers explain to the crew of Miss Britt the process of tagging a bluefin with a satellite tag.
The history of bluefin tuna fishing at Cat Cay goes way back—back to the start of big game fishing in Florida. In fact Cat Cay—a tiny, one-by-two-mile island about 60 miles east of Miami—is closely linked with all American big game fishing, because the pursuit of the giant bluefin there and off Bimini just a few miles to the north in the spring and early summer shaped the early development of big game tackle, boats and angling in the country. First American visitors included Papa himself, Zane Grey, Michael Lerner and S. Kip Farrington.
Leaving Cat Cay in the Morning. It's only a few minutes run from the docks to tuna alley off Cat Cay.
If you don't know the background behind those angling names, look ‘em up. They give good leads on the history of bluewater sport.
In the spring, the big bluefin—600- to 1,000 pound-fish—race from their breeding grounds in the Gulf of Mexico, around South Florida, and north with the Gulf Stream past Cat Cay and Bimini. Currents can push them up against the wall, over the white sands of tuna alley in only 100 feet, or even, sometimes, into the shallows of 20 and 30 feet, where they can be easily spotted in the crystal blue waters. Then they are baited with precise timing and maybe, or maybe not, hooked and caught.
Hanging with the Divers. One day, Dimitris Kollias spotted a bluefin passing by while diving and called to the boats. Everybody jumped in with masks, and a few were lucky enough to see the giant passing by below them.
These days, the bluefin stocks in the Western Atlantic are not what they were 100 years ago, or even 50 years ago (to the year) when The Cat Cay Tuna Tournament first started. Commercial interests hammered the bluefin tuna stocks in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and today the species is tightly managed and regulated—and still just as much of a mystery to the scientists who are trying to learn as much as they can about this amazing species. It's not uncommon to find a bluefin in the Gulf of Mexico in the springtime, off Canada in the summer and then in the Mediterranean Sea later in the year.
Twenty-three years ago, the Cat Cay Tuna Tournament ceased.
Two years ago, Costa del Mar Sunglasses revived the event, and with it, the legend of bluefin tuna fishing for Florida anglers. This time around, the aim was to tag and release the bluefin. No fish were caught.
This year, scientists were on hand from the Large Pelagics Research Institute with 8 satellite tags for big bluefin. The tournament, from May 27 to May 31, drew six boats from Florida. Some captains, like Bill Harrison of Miami, have extensive experience catching bluefin off Cat Cay. Ray Rosher, another pretty well-known Miami captain of the Miss Britt, is intent on learning the ways of the giant bluefin.
You can read the story of this year's Cat Cay Tuna Tournament in the August issue of Florida Sportsman. Look for “Bluefin, the Long Game” by managing editor David Conway.