About the Wild Pacific and Unreachable Tuna

Last weekend – Labor Day Weekend – was Ilwaco Tuna Adventure-Seventh Edition for Hucklings, family, homeys and former homeys. Planning started when I again booked all ten tuna rods on Captain Rob’s Katie Marie right after he returned us and our fish to port a year ago.

This has become a habit, this chasing of albacore tuna with Captain Rob Gudgell on the Katie Marie (named after his daughter). In February 2012, I met Milt and Sarah Gudgell (Rob’s folks) at their Pacific Salmon Charters booth at the Central Washington Sportsman Show in Yakima. How do you explain that instant sense of meeting an old friend for the first time? I don’t know, either, but we were immediately into tuna talk, and within a few minutes, I’d signed on for several family albacore tuna fishing spots aboard the Katie Marie. That first year was so much fun, I have reserved the whole boat each Labor Day Sunday since.

Every year is different, but our faith in Captain Rob, the Tuna Whisperer, never wavers. If we get out to the tuna grounds, Cap will find fish. That first year, we brought 88 tuna aboard, filling the boat. The next year, we ran out of time at 50 fish – but all bigger than the first year. The following year, we worked hard to get three nice big fish apiece. In year four (2015) family and friends descended on Ilwaco from as far away as Los Angeles and Denver, but exceptionally stormy weather kept us from reaching the tuna schools – we turned back about 12 miserable miles out. 2016 was rainy, but manageable, and 70 25- to 33-pounders filled the boat. Last year looked like a shipwreck – for a little while – but an available Monday trip for which a few of us could stay over yielded a good many 35 to 40 pound tuna (our biggest yet).

This was a pretty special year for our gathering. While two of our fishers were kept at home because of serious family or personal health issues, the other eight (and folks who came for the campground play and cameraderie) made it in Saturday afternoon to prep for Sunday’s cruise out to tuna-rich waters. Last-Two-of-the-Hucklings stuntman Edward and actress-model Anna drove up from Los Angeles; adopted Huckling Jonathan (Edward’s kid brother) flew in from Colorado; former homeys and fishing nuts Brandon Rogers and Margo Aye drove from the Tri Cities area; Cousins Debbie and David Yount arrived from Tacoma; and daughters Katie and Arcelia, with grandson Jonas in tow, made it from Renton and Ellensburg. Diane and I worked our way down from Paradise.

We figured on a great tuna catching adventure, as our Sunday trip looked better and better. On most of the days leading up to our day, the weather had been near perfect: sunny, comfortable and mostly calm. Regularly, Captain Rob brought the Katie Marie back to port early, full to the gills with fat tuna up to 40 pounds. What a year it would be!

Sunday morning, we rolled out of the campground at 2:45. Under calm and lightly overcast skies, the morning promised perfection. After a couple late office check-ins we were all aboard the Katie Marie by 3:30. We met Tony and Gregorios, the two guys who filled our vacant fisher spots, and Cap gave us his morning safety and rules chat. He loaded live anchovies for the big fat tuna awaiting us, crossed the bar into the Pacific and pointed the boat west.

No rain and not much wind, but the ocean was restless. By the time we were 12 or 13 choppy miles out, a couple of our ten fishers were chumming the ocean with whatever they had eaten over the previous 24 hours. I was relaxing, enjoying the rhythm of the bumpy ride and thinking about big tuna, when Captain Rob came into the cabin. “This is a lot rougher than forecast,” he said. “Look,” he said, “it’s not better out ahead. In these pitching seas, it’s just too dangerous. I’m not willing to get someone hurt or overboard for any fish, so we’re turning back. Pacific Salmon Charters will refund your money, of course, and there are some closer-in salmon and bottom fishing spots available – but they will be pretty rough, too. There are also tuna spots available later this week. I’m sorry folks.” That was that.

So, now what? We got back in the office by 7 a.m. and collected our refunds. After rounding up coffee, we convened at the campground for a confab. Bottom line was that none of us came for salmon fishing, nor could we stay around for a days-later tuna trip. We settled on the number of ttuna filets we might buy for canning, smoking and searing (Well, we were there, weren’t we?). After a collective prayer of thanks for a captain keeping us safe, I went back to Pacific Salmon’s office and ordered a dozen or so sets of four filets.

As I finished ordering, Cap walked up and said, “Jim, I’m so sorry we couldn’t get out there.” “Stop that Cap,” I smiled. “While I expect you to walk on water, I don’t expect you to control it!” Then I booked the boat for Sunday of Labor Day Weekend, 2019. (After all, what could possibly go wrong?)

Great food, laughter, walking beaches, a helmeted 3 ½ year old racing his tiny bike, and catch-up time with family and good friends… Maybe that is the highest purpose of our annual Ilwaco Tuna Adventure.

See you 7 p.m. Monday evening at Hal Holmes. I am now ready to learn more about the status and value of our I-90 Snoqualmie Pass wildlife crossings.

Happy almost-fall.

Written by Jim Huckabay. Posted in Uncategorized

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