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THE LADY AND THE TUNA
“VEXED WITH THE PUNY FOE THE
FLOUNCE ON THE STREAM AND TOSS THE MANTLING DEEP,
RIDE ON THE FOAMING SEAS, WITH TORTURE RAVE,
BOUND INTO AIR, AND DASH THE SMOKING WAVE.”
Halieutica, OPPIAN, A.D. 180
I WAS sitting on the hotel piazza at Avalon one summer afternoon, smoking and thinking of my morning’s sport. My experience that morning had been a strange one. I had started out fishing before daybreak, much to my discomfort, for I am not a willing early riser; but it pays at Catalina, for the sun rising over the mountains is a sight never to be forgotten. About half an hour after daylight I had hooked a tuna which bolted with the flying-fish bait at express-train speed and was only checked, after taking six hundred feet of line, by the spreading of my reel. I was fishing with a tarpon reel of large size but not strong enough for so fast and heavy a fish. The reel handle would not turn either way, and my boatman whispered, “Stung!” in my ear. “Not on your life,” had been my ready reply. Luckily, I had two rods in the boat but they were not of the same make nor were the butt sockets of the same diameter. I called to the boatman to follow the fish which was only too glad to travel slowly, being much exhausted after his great run. I then told my man Gibbons, who was also in the launch, to strip three-quarters of the line from off the spare reel, and cut it, then to pass the line through the eyes of the rod and let me know when he was ready. In the meantime I wound the line a dozen times around my left, gloved, hand from off the reel I was fishing with. When my man said that he was ready I told him to cut my line close to the reel and to tie it to the line at the tip end of the rod he held. I then told him to reel the knotted line home as I unwound the line from my left hand. When he told me that this had been done, I removed the tip from the butt I held and allowed it to shoot six hundred feet down the line to the fish. I then grasped the second rod and fought the fish to a finish in half an hour.
When the dying fish came to the surface, having handed my rod to the boatman, I brought the victim alongside to be gaffed on the original tip which had been for thirty minutes in the depths of the sea.
As I said, I was thinking over this experience and wondering what would have happened had I not had a second rod with me, when a fellow sportsman came to me and asked if he might present me to Miss C. of Los Angeles. Miss C. was a buxom young woman who complimented me on my success in taking tuna, and informed me that she had been fishing for a month for yellowtail with light tackle but was most keen to land a tuna, a feat no woman had ever succeeded in accomplishing. I told her she had better go fishing with me that afternoon, never thinking for a moment that we should find fish at that hour of the day, but knowing that the next best thing to catching fish is to fish for them without catching them. I having supplied Miss C. with a rod and a newly purchased tarpon reel, we started, sitting side by side in chair seats in the stern of the fishing launch — a very pleasant scheme for gentle conversation but not for fishing; for it is customary that, if one of the party hooks a fish, the other shall reel in and patiently watch the sport.
We had been out on the ocean about half an hour when I hooked a tuna. At the same moment I heard my companion shout, “I have one too, and our lines are crossed.” I stood up in the boat, passed my rod under and over hers, and luckily cleared the lines, My fish traveled fast to the north, the other fish going south. Then the fun began in earnest. I told the boatman to sit tight as there was nothing he could do to help us, and, having taken the seat in the stern facing the bow of the boat, I began to fight my fish with all my strength, for I knew that the harder I fought it the more it would distress the other fish.
THE LADY AND THE TUNA
I kept hearing “Ohs!” and “Ahs!” and “Great Heavens!” from my fair companion, but was too busy myself to pay much attention to what she was doing. In forty-five minutes I had my fish alongside and gaffed —104 pounds. Then I looked to see what was going on to the southward. I found the lady’s tuna had luckily been hooked in the top of the mouth, that it had practically drowned itself on its first long run, and had since then been flopping about on the surface of the water. I also saw that Miss C.’s reel had blocked, so that the line would not run out, and that she had but fifty feet of line left. She was holding on to the rod for dear life but looked very pale. I told the boatman to back the boat slowly toward the flopping fish, and was pleased to find that the reel would take the line. We soon had the tuna gaffed and in the boat—118 pounds. Miss C. collapsed at once; her hat was off, her hair was streaming down her back, and she was utterly exhausted, so we hastened back to Avalon with the Tuna Club flag proudly flying at the mast.
There was consternation at the Tuna Club that evening. We supposed that anyone was eligible to membership in the Club who had killed a tuna of one hundred pounds unaided; but the women did not have the vote in California then and no provision had been made for lady members, for it had not been supposed that a lady could possibly take a tuna. Miss C., sad to relate, was refused membership but was awarded the much-prized tuna button, which no doubt is still her most valued possession.
I often think of that day’s fishing with pleasure as it was a day full of new sensations and many thrills, for the tuna were leaping about everywhere, chasing the flying fish.
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