“Then he began to pity the great fish he had hooked. He is wonderful and strange and who knows how old he is, he thought. Never have I had such a strong fish nor one who acted so strangely… But perhaps he has been hooked many times before and he knows that this is how he should make his fight. He cannot know that it is only one man against him, nor that it is an old man. But what a great fish he is and what will he bring in the market if the flesh is good… I wonder if he has any plans or if he is just as desperate as I am?”
–The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway
Even in this modern age of technology and advancement, the time-honored act of fighting a formidable fish on the end of a line evokes strong feelings in anyone lucky enough to experience the struggle.
Although recreational fisheries employ simple rod and reel fishing in regions throughout the world for virtually every species of fish, those who have made a livelihood out of this time-honored method of commercial fishing understand the amount of skill, endurance, and patience needed to successfully outwit and outfight a giant of the deep. Commercial fisheries for key species like bluefin and yellowfin tuna, marlin, billfish and sailfish provide for some of the last vestiges of this primal and exhilarating fishing technique.
The fight described above in Ernest Hemingway’s timeless tale of the fight of a lifetime between a man and a fish involved only a simple line and hook for gear. While technological advancements in reels, line, rods and bait have given fishermen an edge, many commercial rod and reel fishermen will tell you that success lies in having the right timing, patience, and understanding fish behavior. Many of the pelagic species targeted in these fisheries can reach ages of over thirty years before they are of legal size for harvest. At such sizes and ages, these fish have some tricks up their sleeves and are by no means an easy catch.
Here in the northwest Atlantic, a robust bluefin tuna rod and reel fishery is opens in June each year. Recently made famous by the Discovery Channel’s Wicked Tuna, this fishery is comprised of small boats that employ short rods with strong line and industrial reels. Normally each boat has a small crew of a single captain and one backhand, although some choose to fish solo while others bring more along for a crew. Pound for pound, bluefin is one of the most prized and expensive fish in the world. Almost every bluefin caught here is immediately packaged and shipped to Japan for sale on the premiere fish markets in the world.
Bluefin can exceed weights of 1,000 pounds and grow to be over 10 feet long. They are one of the most highly evolved ocean creatures, designed like sleek torpedoes and capable of immense bursts of speed. Swimming north each spring from the Gulf of Mexico and west from the Mediterranean, bluefin arrive off the coast of New England and points north and south to feast on the rich schools of bait fish that congregate on the great banks off our shores. Closely related to bluefin tuna, yellowfin tuna are also commercially harvested off our shores via rod and reel fisheries, although larger numbers are found and fished off the U.S.’s west coast.
Other pelagic species commercially fished via rod and reel include marlin, swordfish, sail fish and billfish. Fishing charters for big game rod and reel fishing as well as groundfish like cod and haddock are a popular recreational industry for many boats operating out of ports in New England and points south. Additionally, bluefish and striped bass are fished via rod and reel both recreationally and commercially off the coast of New England.