© Mary MacKay
Captain Carl Gallant of North Rustico releases a kite, which is used as a fishing technique in conjunction with live bait, a fishing rod and line during opening day of the Tuna Cup Challenge Wednesday off North Lake.
All eyes are on the clock as the 8 a.m. start time of the 2013 Canada International Tuna Challenge edges closer.
Attention perks each time someone makes a move in the tightly packed crowd at the wharf at North Lake.
Then finally, the moment anglers and boat captains and crew have all be waiting for — the go-head to get out of the gate or, in this case, into open water, where hopefully scores of rotund and rambunctious tuna await.
“Gone fishing!” exclaims John Cavanaugh of Orillia, Ont., who along with fellow retired police officers and friends Floyd Stewart of Murray Harbour, Bob Wild and jeweler Phillip Murphy, also of Orillia, make up Team Huronia.
The crew of the boat Just Crackin 07 includes Capt. Carl Gallant and his son, Brandon Gallant, and first mate Rob Doiron, all from North Rustico.
This is not the first time this crew and team have worked together for the Tuna Cup Challenge. Last year, in fact, they were just one fish short of an almost sure win, so they’re keen to give it a go again.
But first it’s a stopover to catch some live mackerel that will be the piece de resistance to the herring chum that is dribbled in drabs overboard, like a wakeup call for tuna taste buds.
People observing the tuna fishing from the shore might think the anglers have a passion for flying kites when they’re not reeling in their prized pursuit.
It is, however, an actual kite-fishing technique because the kite is attached to the fishing line with live bait.
“You put the kite out at a height and adjust the rod so the mackerel is right on the surface of the water swimming . . . ,” Doiron says.
“When the tuna comes up and grabs that, it’s just amazing. It can come right up out of the water.”
An hour into the Tuna Cup Challenge, all is unusually quiet on the water.
“Nobody has hooked up yet, that’s unusual,” Cavanaugh says.
“It’s funny though, you could be waiting and waiting and waiting and then all of a sudden someone will hook up and then there will be another and another,” Wild says of the unpredictability of this or any other angling challenge.
Pretty much at the moment, Stewart, who is chair of this year’s Tuna Cup Challenge, announces that he’s spied a tuna with the onboard equipment at a depth of 60 feet.
The crew and team springs into action, dolling out more chum and a hearty helping of other tidbits for the tuna.
These are also mouth-watering morsels for the gaggles of gannets. First in for the feed, they torpedo down to remarkable depths with an eagerness akin to gulls in a fast food parking lot in search of tossed French fries.
After all this, still not a nibble on any of the multiple lines, which are equipped with rounded hooks for this catch and release competition.
“What’s in the lunch box? Bananas are bad luck,” Cavanaugh says.
“Yesterday, we had a guy who had a banana in his lunch box. We threw it overboard and we had a tuna hooked in a half an hour,” Gallant adds.
Once it is determined no one is wearing gray socks, which is also not good for fishing fortunes, the team and crew moves into telling tales of fishing days before, such as last year when they hooked their first tuna less than a minute into the competition.
“This time last year we were on the wharf eating mussels,” Gallant remembers of that amazingly quick first-thing-in-the-morning landing.
“We were feeding them at the surface, sticking (a fish) on a gaff,” Wild says.
The morning passes as everyone keeps an eye on the kite with its tethered mackerel and a series of bobbing balloons that are tied in a specific way to baited lines so that they let go when a tuna nabs it.
Shortly before noon, the captain decides to make a move to what is hopefully more fertile fishing ground.
The gannets, which by then have gathered in Alfred Hitchcock movie proportions, are left behind for the moment.
The clock is ticking. The cut-off time for today’s competition is four o’clock.
“If you hook up before four, you’re alright, you can keep fishing,” Wild adds, which of course is what they all hope will happen.
“We’re not used to this. (This season) it’s usually been bang, bang, bang,” Gallant says.
They move to another location.
Then just before two o’clock, one of the teams hooks and lands six-foot-plus tuna.
Shortly before three o’clock, the sky looks ominous and so is the severe thunderstorm warning but they muster on.
“I guess we’re going to do the Benjamin Franklin thing and put the kite up,” Doiron quips in his typical lightning quick humour.
With the lines in place, everyone moves into the boat cabin as the rain turns torrential and the view of the land fades to fog.
The storm is fast-moving and so is the time as the countdown to the competition day closes in.
“Attention all tuna boats, hooks out of the water in one minute,” comes the call over the radio.
All onboard look to the lines with bated breath to see if this will be the day when they instead hook a tuna in the last minute. But it is not to be.
But for Cavanaugh, any day on the water is a good day.
“As the adage says, ‘That’s why it’s called fishing, not catching’.”