Expectations were high heading into the 2015 Bamfield Tuna Shootout. Previous weeks had seen fantastic fishing out of Bamfield with short runs, big numbers and big fish. In the days leading up to the start of the derby the satellite shots continued to look great. The water hadn’t moved in weeks and there was a large temperature break from Nitinat Canyon to the top edge of Barkley Canyon and then another strong break to the north in Clayoquot Canyon. Unfortunately the weather forecast did not bring the same optimism. Like clockwork, the first big NW blow in weeks was scheduled to start on the opening day of the derby. Gale warnings were in place and the swell was forecast to build to 4 meters. It was clear the opening weekend would be a blowout and that meant crews would be stuck inshore chasing Salmon and bottomfish while daydreaming about Tuna.
The 2015 Bamfield Tuna Shootout kicked off on Friday night with an amazing dinner spread put on by Seabeam Lodge. Owners Brad and Seaton spent the day roasting a whole pig for the hungry crews that were just rolling into town. A keg supplied by the Longwood Brewery was cracked and cider from Tod Creek Cider was distributed to wash the meal down and assist in forging battle plans. Everyone enjoyed catching up with familiar faces from previous years to discuss the prospects of the week that lay ahead. We all knew that the weather was not something that can be forced and we simply had to be patient for an opportunity. The consensus was that the weekend was a definite no go but a weather window mid week was looking promising.
Luckily salmon fishing was still strong with Chinook and Coho just a stone’s throw from the harbour mouth. It was quite the sight on the Wall that morning as 25 fully rigged tuna machines tacked back and forth with one eye on their rods and one eye on the offshore weather. Everyone enjoyed some action including some quality mid 20s fish hitting the deck. As the bite slowed in the late morning a few boats switched over to bottom fish and laid the boots to them. The highlights were DAK bringing in a 70 lb 132cm Halibut and the crew of Captain Kidd with a full pull of Lingcod into the 30s. While it was not quite the start we had hoped for, everyone understood the weather is not a controllable factor.
Like day one, Sunday was another blowout. The majority of the wind and swell was again in the offshore region which didn’t help the Tuna prospects but still allowed everyone to fish inshore. Chinook, Coho, Halibut and Lingcod continued to hit the decks but
Finally the wind and swell had begun to subside albeit slightly. Offshore the weather was still far from ideal with 2.5-3m swell and a stiff wind on top. A number of boats headed offshore with most deciding it was too rough at the halfway mark. They dropped salmon gear on Big Bank and were rewarded with Coho, Chinooks into the 20s and Halibut. DAK, Why Knot and Jesse’s Rig continued to pound out and eventually found themselves in the canyons. They worked Barkley and Nitinat Canyons through very challenging conditions that made it tough to keep gear in the water. Why Knot was into decent numbers of fish in Nitinat Canyon but reported a small grade. Jesse’s Rig to the north was fishing Barkley Canyon and reported scratch fishing but a much better quality in the green water on the south canyon wall.
Eventually all 3 boats had enough of the beating and pulled the pin for the long run home. The majority of crews that stayed tied to the dock waited with anticipation on the reports from offshore. Radio relays from the boats in the Canyons and on the banks had confirmed everyone found Tuna but the details were scarce. No sporties had fished offshore in the last week and the commercial fleet had been forced into port by the weekend winds so it was anyone’s guess what was out there. Eventually the battered crews returned and shared the stories of big water and tough fishing. Why Knot had managed a dozen fish but all of them were in the low teens, DAK had a half dozen of the same grade but Jesse’s Rig had found a much better grade with a half dozen in the 20s. He had taken over the derby with a solid but far from unbeatable aggregate of 101. and 28.
Spirits were high as the swell was forecast to die the following day. Everyone knew that with 25+ boats out there we would find whatever was out there and with some quality fish already hitting the deck the excitement was evident.
All forecasts showed the swell settling to a comfortable 1 meter but a 15-25 knot SE was forecast to build in the afternoon. Anyone with offshore experience in this area knows that SE winds can make for a very uncomfortable ride home. While they do sit down the NW swell, they also stack up whatever remains and create a confused sloppy sea state. 15-25 knots SE is not dangerous in an offshore designed boat, it is something that everyone needed to keep an eye. The fleet woke well before daylight with everyone checking the latest weather buoy report and making final preparations. As forecast the swell had settled to a reasonable 1.5m and the wind had died as it began to switch from NW to SE.
Almost every boat in the derby began the long run offshore. The excitement was evident as the radios began the steady stream of chatter that is typical of Tuna fishing. Water temperatures were continually compared and reported as boats headed to predetermined locations along the canyons. As had been discussed the previous evening around the campfire at Mills Landing, the game plan was to spread the fleet out and try to hone in on the areas that were fishing well. Satellite shots had only shown partial SST’s and chlorophylls but what they showed was enough to put together the picture. Like the last 2 weeks there was a steady temperature break from the American border to the north edge of Barkley Canyon. This was confirmed when everyone began arriving to the Tuna grounds and reporting a big break from 57 to 61 degrees.
This was a classic temperature break that any Albacore fisherman would hone in on. A 4 degree change in less than a mile and a huge boom of life in the often deserted offshore waters. Even as bait and birds boiled all around, it became apparent that this large break was not holding a large biomass of Tuna. The water was slightly green to gin clear and only a few small fish had been reported. In the week previous to the derby we had found a similar scenario while fishing aboard the Trophy Hunter. On that day we had scratched around the break with no luck but found huge numbers of big Albacore 10 miles further out in very warm 63 to 64 degree water that had very little obvious sea life.
It was not long before reports of steady fishing came in approximately 5-8 miles past the break. The fleet began to lay the smack down with doubles, triples and quads being reported from every boat. As the fishing heated up, the forecasted SE began to heat up as well. By noon a steady 20+ knot wind had kicked up chop that made fishing difficult but didn’t stop the bite. By early afternoon, some boats reported they were heading for the barn with their fish boxes plugged. Through all of the fun and excitement there was still an undertone of disappointment on the grade of fish. While bigger than the peanuts that were seen at the start of last years derby, they were much smaller than the 30 lbers seen the week before. Most fish were of the cookie cutter 13-14lbs with the odd fish in the 20s being reported.
Even with a small grade of fish there was no complaints. Everyone had managed to catch fish including a number of new boats who popped their Tuna cherries! The 2015 Shootout was officially on after a rough start.
The SE continued to blow and the forecast was for 30 + knots offshore. With such strong fishing the day before, most were happy to clean their fish and take the day to regroup. Some boats headed back out to the inshore waters to chase salmon and bottomfish.
Weather forecasts showed the SE blowing itself out and the swell dropping to a comfortable 1m. It was clear this was the best day of an unusually rough week of weather. Crews were ready to put on some miles in search of a bigger grade than day 4 and the plan was for the fleet to spread out between the American border and Clayoquot Canyon. Similar to the previous days, there was a large temperature break from 57 to 61 degrees and a huge biomass of sea life on the edge of the canyon drop offs. Soon radio chatter confirmed that unfortunately like previous trips this seemingly ideal water was largely void of Tuna. The first reports of action came from further out 5 miles past the break but the grade of fish was again on the small side with most in the teens.
As the morning progressed a number of crews headed away from the fleet in a gamble to find a larger grade of fish. To the south off Nitinat Canyon reports came in of a few fish here and there until a massive pod of dolphins moved into the area and completely turned things off. The pod went on for miles and made spotting jumping tuna nearly impossible. Elsewhere, crews were also scratching with sporadic fishing. Reports of fish in the mid 20s kept everyone’s hopes alive but nobody could put together a solid 4 fish aggregate that challenged the current 100.6 lbs leaders.
As afternoon set in, the water settled down into oil slick conditions with a low swell which made spotting surface activity much easier. Freedom 22 announced large schools busting bait and a hot bite on the north edge of Barkley Canyon. A few boats picked up and ran that direction to find acres of boiling Saurey and Albacore, it was what Tuna fisherman dream of. The clear flat calm water allowed us to watch fish swim under the boat and savagely hammer the short gear only 10 feet behind the boat. Freedom 22 and Rodzilla were both into almost two dozen fish in less than an hour as the fleet began to join the action.
The bite slowly died off as the day went on and soon it was time to pull the pin for the long run home. With 30+ boats making the run back it turned into quite the drag race with some of the faster boats cruising in at 35+ knots
As we had seen for the majority of the derby so far, day 7 was a complete blow out. Big seas kept most tied to the docks where they enjoyed a relaxing day in town and as the evening progressed, most made their way over to Mills to enjoy the fire and socialize.
The swell dropped slightly for the last day but the unrelenting winds continued. Two boats poked their noses out and found ugly but doable conditions. DAK and Rodzilla both pounded out to Barkley Canyon and were able to find fish in the same area as the previous days. After a few hours it became clear that the same small grade was all that remained. Without any derby contenders in the mix they both gave in to the conditions and headed back for the barn.
As they entered the Harbour, it brought a close to the 2015 Bamfield Tuna Shootout. Entrants headed over to the Bamfield Fire Hall to enjoy dinner, drinks and wide range of prizes. With the now famous Pai Lolo crew not able to make the derby things were slightly subdued but everyone enjoyed catching up and recounting the weeks events. A huge thanks goes out to our prize sponsors and volunteers that make this event possible. It is through their donations and support that this special event continues to grow year after year, introducing many fisherman to this exciting fishery. Jesse’s Rig had held on for the official win, bringing home a $7500 pay day. The 100.50 aggregate was the smallest winner in derby history but impressive considering the conditions and grade of fish. Below are the rest of the winners in each category. Thanks again to everyone involved and see you next year!
- Jesse’s Rig- 100.50Port Renfrew
- Trophy Hunter- 70.00 Bamfied
- Charlie’s Cat- 66.40 Port Renfrew
Biggest fish- 28.65 Jesse’s Rig
Smallest fish- 7.2 Finatic
In addition promoting British Columbia’s emerging Albacore fishery, the derby was also able to raise $5000 for the Pacific Salmon Foundation (PSF). This is a non-profit organization that has worked for nearly two decades on the restoration of wild Pacific Salmon. Be sure to check out their website for more information and to find out how you can get involved. https://www.psf.ca/about