Puerto Vallarta Tuna
by Jon Schwartz

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My trip to Puerto Vallarta in began with one simple quest: to hook fight, and land a huge yellow fin tuna from a kayak. Google search….giant yellow fin….. Several spots came up, one of which was Puerto Vallarta. So I contacted several people online through various sport fishing chat boards and found out that this may be just the place, as there are several places offshore to target these goliaths. 

It was hard to get a lot of information from big game tuna fisherman over the net. They seemed to be a tight lipped bunch, and you can bet I didn’t let on that I’d be trying to do it in a yak. I sent out a blanket email to about 10 captains I found on the net from PV, and one lady sent me a recommendation for two fellows who might be up for supporting such a unique trip. One was Tat Tatterson. We struck up a plan right away. He was able to locate a stable yak for me to use. Turns out that indeed, the season for giant yellow fin up to 350 pounds was just beginning, and he recommended I book a trip ASAP since the weather gets less predictable as the summer progresses.

I had thousands of questions about how we would do this, and of course Tat was too busy fishing to answer my emails pestering him about every last detail concerning gear and technique. I was going to a strange place, and we were going to be in the middle of the ocean, 35 miles out, and I wanted to be mentally prepared for it all, so I did my best to learn about the habits of these fish. The more I learned, the more my adrenalin got flowing. Turns out these tuna are warm blooded, and they have a body that is made for speed and strength. I worked extra hard at the gym that week, and didn’t sleep much; I was preparing to match myself against something that had a cardiovascular system that was pretty impressive and efficient, and I figured that it might all come down to a battle that would require every last ounce of strength and stamina I could muster. The night before I left I went to a sports chain to stock up on some gloves, ropes, and the like, and I thought, what will I use to subdue a beast if I have it on the yak? I looked all around the cavernous store and finally found it: a metal baseball bat!!

I hastily booked a flight and a room at a hotel that was near Tat’s dock, and within about 10 days, I was actually there! By this time my mind had blown the whole thing up into some type of modern D-Day event (that was all over the news at the time), and I could barely contain myself. I met Tat at the dock; we talked for a bit, and made arrangements to meet the next morning at 6:00. 

Tat recommended I get a good night’s sleep. Yeah, right!!! I was so worked up! Remember the scene in Apocalypse Now when Martin Sheen goes nuts in his hotel room waiting to be sent on a mission back into the jungle? That’s what that night was like for me!

After a fitful night I could stand it no longer and got ready. It was 5:30, and I could see the lights of Tat’s boat on…. great! He’s early too! As I descended the ramp to his dock, I sensed an eerie stillness.  I approached Tat with a huge grin, but before I could say anything, he gave me a thousand yard stare and said in a ghostly voice, “I’ve…. got some …very ….disappointing… news…… we only have reverse. We ran into some transmission problems, we can’t fix them yet, and we have been working straight through the night. We never even left the dock after you left.”

So I tried to stay optimistic and positive. Obviously Tat had worked his tail off, and this was something that was just beyond his control. Could’ve happened to anyone. First thing that comes to mind is, back to the hotel room to watch CNN!! If I thought last night was a bad case of the nerves, now how am I going to deal with all this pent up adrenalin?!  We talked for about 10 minutes about what a bummer the night was for him and his crew and what the technical problem was with the engine. But Tat called this dude up and actually woke him up. They spoke for about two minutes about what we had planned, and Tat hangs up. But we walked over to the boat and it

had two 70 HP 4 strokes and a center console, and plus, what else am I going to do, pull my teeth and hair out? The guy’s coming!! Tat and I had planned to go out on his cruiser, and this fellow only had a panga.  Didn’t sound like the ideal rig to make a 35-50 mile journey to the fishing grounds. This wasn’t the Sea of Cortez, either. This was an ocean... 

Ten minutes later this guy comes down the dock, walks right by me, grabs two mates from Tat’s boat, walks onto his, turns on the lights, and starts the motors. That’s what I’m talkin’ about! All business!   This guy went from a deep sleep to motors running in about 30 minutes! We basically introduced ourselves on the way out. I had a good feeling about this guy. His name was Kurt Hjort of Esperanza Sportfishing. He was psyched for an adventure, and he seemed like a competent and confident captain, which in turn instilled confidence in me. We came up with our game plan on the way out, and I decided that we would go for a record for tuna on a kayak, hooked, fought, and landed. Obviously that would reduce our chances of hooking up in the first place but that was something I made my peace with. Tuna are usually running all over the place so it would require a lot of good fortune. We were going to be fishing a place 35 miles out called Corbetana. It is unique in that it is a small rock formation in the middle of nowhere. It juts up like a cylinder of rock about the size of a large house, from the surrounding depths of about 1500 feet! Therefore, although tuna are notorious for running all over the place, they would be a bit more stationary than in many other places with no structure. 

We had a gorgeous ride out, which took about 90 minutes. When we got near the rocks, I couldn’t believe where we were. Really in the middle of nowhere. One other boat might have been there. Waves splashing up against the sides of the rocks and birds working feverishly. Before the boat even stopped I could tell it was show time by the way the guys on the 
boat moved and talked. The mates started prepping the gear so I put on my pfd and my heart almost came out of my mouth. We threw the yak over the side, I got in, and took a 40-50 # stick with a Penn Intl. 12LT on it. Baited it up with a goggle eye, which is like a weird looking mac. I trolled right into the birds and there were tons of skipjack jumping and some BIG tuna jumping as well, I’m talking about 50 plus pounders! At one point I saw a huge fish jump straight up. Must have been 150 pounds, easy, and I don’t think there were any porpoise there, so what do you think it was? You gotta figure if 10 pound skippies are the baitfish and they’re jumping to save their lives, what is down there pushing them up? After a couple of missed strikes I was on to a big fish. Yes, this was the fish I came to fight! I had no idea as to the size of it but it was obviously a tuna, as it began to do these weird backwards circles. I’ve landed some large fish on yaks, but this was very different, in that it was a totally vertical battle. In my little experience with marlin, you can lock down on the drag, they’ll initially tow you horizontally, and they tire themselves out doing so. Big roosters and jacks will fight vertically, but they’ll also change directions and tactics and depths and take horizontal runs as well, so you don’t get too exhausted. But this fish had only one plan, and that was to go down! I can tell you that every last curl and minute spent on the cardio machine that I did in the gym paid off.     You’re doing great! Keep it up!!” and I began to make progress after awhile. 

It was one of those fights when you go, You know what? Actually this might not even be fun after all! I am a righty and my left arm was taking all of the punishment. I kept maximum pressure on the fish but we got into a stalemate and I eventually could lift no more, so I just plain held on. Kurt was a blast to be near. He kept shouting, “Take away his will to live, Jon!"

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