© Mary MacKay
This tuna fisher’s throne sat empty as Mitch Lattof, who is part of Tony MacDonald’s L’il Miss Maddy crew, puts out a baited line for tuna on the third day of the 2013 Canada International Tuna Cup Challenge.
Some people’s dream of big game hunting usually involves a safari to an exotic land-based locale.
For Thomas Petersen of Denmark, his quest is for big game of the sea, namely blue fin tuna.
“My dream is to catch a grander (a 1,000-pound-plus tuna) and to actually be able to hang it, get pictures and the exact weight. That’s pretty high on my list,” says this longtime angler who, with fishing friend Jorgen Larsson of Sweden, is at North Lake this week competing in the 2013 Canada International Tuna Cup Challenge.
High on the luck list was winning the challenge’s raffle ticket draw to be the only team to land a tuna in this catch-and-release competition. The fish will be harvested and sold, the profits of which will be donated to Hospice Palliative Care Association of P.E.I.
As Team Westin, the two Scandinavian men are aboard the L’il Miss Maddy, which is captained by Tony MacDonald of Tony’s Tuna Fishing in North Lake and crewed by Mitch Lattof and Stephen Flynn.
“There is some action, the tuna are back,” Larsson says as the boats in the tuna cup challenge hit the water for some angling action that was almost non-existent Wednesday on the first day of the fishing event.
“The water temperature dropped three degrees (Celsius) yesterday (because of a weather system),” Petersen says of the likely cause of that day’s tuna disappearing act from its prime feeding ground off North Lake.
Petersen happened upon what has been dubbed the Tuna Capital of the World a few years ago when he was on a tuna fishing excursion in Nova Scotia where they caught only a single fish after days of trying.
“Then we went up here with the boat — it was a four-hour boat ride – and we saw all the tuna here,” he says.
Their tuna tally from that side trip was five, so on the final day in Canada Petersen and his travel companions drove to North Lake and met with MacDonald who agreed to take him on a tour when he returned three weeks later.
This Tuna Cup Challenge marks Petersen’s fourth time to P.E.I. Last year he returned with a bevy of buddies from Norway, Sweden, Italy and Denmark, the latter being the team that won the 2012 Canada International Tuna Cup Challenge.
“I’ve been fascinated with blue fin tuna since I was a kid,” Petersen says.
“My first what you would call ‘big game fish’ was an 800-pound tuna in the Azores back in 1996. That was many years ago and since them I’ve been fishing tuna and marlin in places like Panama, Canary Islands and Kenya, but I have to say Prince Edward Island is the best place I’ve been. The average size of fish and the amount of fish is incredible compared to other places in the world.”
At midday the tuna start coming topside from the water depths, but are as disinterested in the bait as an overstuffed patron exiting a buffet bar.
“Tuna can be so smart. They can pick every piece of chum, except the one with the hook and the line. Thomas has underwater video of them doing that,” says Larsson, who is a freelance writer for fishing publications and also product development and marketing for Petersen’s company, which is an international fishing tackle designer and wholesaler.
“So you need to get them into a feeding frenzy so they will not be so careful.”
So far the frenzy of feeding has been confined to the gannets, which have been flocking in record numbers to the tuna boats to feed on the chum and live bait that are used to attract the tuna.
Some boat crews use paintball guns to deter the determined birds from chowing down, which would explain why some gannets sport a brilliant plumage of paintball orange and other vibrant hues.
Sports fishers from around the world have been flocking to North Lake in greater numbers as word spreads of the unique tuna fishing experience available here. Evidence of more lucrative times can be seen in the abundance of tuna charter company signs that are prevalent in this small rural village.
“Five years ago there were only two of us and now in North Lake alone there must be eight (or more),” says Capt. MacDonald, who has as many as eight boats running through the summer for his business.
“I’ve been in the business for 14 years now and it used to be if you got one or two charters for the week it would be a good week ... About four years ago I was doing a lot ... and we were catching fish every day. They’re a lot tougher to catch now but that’s not a bad thing. You’ve got to work a little harder to get them but there’s still a lot of fish around.”
Today there definitely are but not a nibble on this boat. Overall, a total of five were landed. There’s one day left to go.
“People always want to know when peak season is ... but we don’t know from year to year,” MacDonald says.
“We try to tell our charters of the honest history of when the peak weeks are but in 2011 we started on July 11 and it was peak probably for the first three weeks of the season and then it stayed good all year ... I encourage people that they don’t have to come in a specific one week window (for overall tuna excursions). There is a variation there from year to year and anytime in that two-month period you have a good chance of catching a blue fin. There are peaks and valleys right from the beginning to end.”