Tuna Fishing The Way It Used To Be, Del Montes "The Fighting Tuna"

On another discussion @CoastalTrader mentioned a old movie he seen during a field trip to a tuna cannery & it reminded me of this old movie that an old tuna fisherman that I worked with carried around with him. He was from Southern California, of Portugese decent & came from a long line of tuna fisherman. He was near 70 & would talk tuna with anyone who would listen to him. Really cool dude. The guys in this video make tuna fishing seem easy.


In the 1990’s there was still a small store in San Diego where you could buy a tuna pole as depicted in the film, they had a lot of hooks, photos etc there. It was like a trip back in time. The owner told me the arms on those guys were bigger than the leg of a normal man. Old school stuff. I bought one of the poles. Me along with another chief did our best bosun imitation and turned it into a gaff. He took it home with him to the NC Outer Banks and used it on tuna as well as other fish. Sadly he passed away while working on a drillship but I know that gaff is still in use.

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Those old tuna fisherman from that area are/were a special bunch. At least the half a dozen plus that I ran across. They all had cool stories & all the ones I meet were likable guys & good shipmates. I suspect all of them had the means to retire but kept working in other sectors of the maritime industry to be on the water. The one with the Del Monte VHS tape would eat a can a tuna about every day but only ones canned in oil, not water. Another old tuna guy won a Gerber Baby contest when he was an infant. He was elderly, kind of chubby, white hair, balding on top & still looked like a Gerber Baby. Good mariners.


LOL! That could very well be the same film I saw back then.

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Ok, a little quiz for the older folks regarding NE tuna fishery. I have only caught them from charters. There was a different style as told to me by a very salty old school AB “Frank”, way back when, also who taught me how to play cribbage. He referred to me as “His dory mate”. You guys ever hear that term?

I never heard anyone use that expression but think I read it in a book or heard it in a song somewhere? It sounds more like an Old World or old New England expression & probably not fishing lingo.

Or maybe you guys were in the paint boat, rescue boat or launch together once & he considered you the mate?

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Was it the oarsman on a Grand Banks dory?

Dories were piled upside-down on the fishing schooners. When at the right place, the dories were put into the sea and they went to catch cod with fishing lines.
The French did the same, out of Saint Pierre/Miquelon; they call the dory a ‘doris’.

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Pebble, Was fishing lingo, according to “Frank”. The guy had monster hands/arms and was bigger than many men I sailed with. Could pick up a 40-50 ton shackle with one arm. Frigging good on deck, loved sailing with the guys 2 to 3 times my age back then, they knew their shit. Thankful for that. Can only imagine him on an early age dory. He kept himself hydrated with a large Maxwell coffee can filled with cool water while working in the south. Frank was the real deal.

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People still fish tuna like that.

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People still fish tuna like that.

If all did there would be more tuna


Sport fishing or to make a living?

It looks easy in the video, like the guys are flipping pillows or rubber buoys on board but I know its freaking hard. I caught a tuna in semi deep water GoM & that thing put up a fight. A person has to be in shape to land 1 tuna & would need to be hopped up on drugs to do what those old timers were doing. Having mini helicopters for spotting, a chase boat, nets & subfreezing brine that freezes a tuna solid in seconds while staying a liquid sure seems more efficient than whats in the video.

This is commonly referred to as ‘liftpole’ or ‘jackpole’ fishing. There was a big fleet of these larger vessels out of san diego back in the day and yes, primarily crewed by portuguese. This is still done commercially but not on the same scale as this. Much smaller vessels do this now but primarily target albacore off the coast of oregon and washington.

I am not sure if there are any commercial liftpole boats that still target yellowfin. I think that fishery is primarily done by purse seiners and longliners.

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Pole & line tuna fishing is still going on in many parts of the world.
Here from the Maldives;

“Frank” did it for a living as a teenager into his twenties. Am sure they went after many more fish than tuna. The guy was good on the tow winch way back when.

this is a good documentary on the portuguese cod fleet. what i found pretty interesting is that these guys were still using sail power to cross the Atlantic and fish out of dorys on the grand banks well into the 60s.


Get on YouTube or Amazon Prime, watch the film adaptation of Kipling’s “Captains Courageous”…all will be explained by Captain Disco Troop and Manuel (Spencer Tracey).

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Awesome book and an even better movie.

I came across one of the old Portuguese cod fishing schooners in Dutch Harbor back in the late 1980s. I think she was called Sebastiano del Cano. Anyway, she had fallen on hard times. Her glory days of fishing were over. Sails and dories had been removed, and she was just used to process salt cod. American fishing boats would deliver fish to her at anchor, not too far from the Elbow Room.

The Portuguese crew would do the processing by hand and lay down the fish in layers of salt, in a single hold as big as a barn. Once a layer was done they just walked over it, laying down the next, week after week. Health regulations, not so much.

The boat and crew looked like something out of the 19th century. The captain lived in a fancy cabin back aft. The crew were all piled in the fo’c’lse. One thing that struck me was the wooden casks stowed on deck. Seemed like a hundred of them. All of it red wine. They drank it like we drank Coke. The Portuguese were tough as nails and not at all friendly. Very proud. They only warmed up when you spoke in the universal language of seaman: cigarettes.

We delivered salt in one-ton bulk bags to them. We discharged it in the simplest way: we lifted a bag at a time with the cargo gear, until it was suspended over the Cano’s hatch. Then you would see a guy with a knife get under the bag and split it open, and quickly jump aside before he was buried under salt. After that a bunch of guys would shovel it into the corners of the hold.

I remember driving the cargo gear doing this in January. It was well below freezing, blowing thirty, and snowing. You drive cargo gear exposed to the wind, and I was shivering in my Mustang suit, and even then I thought, “Shit, at least I’m not shoveling salt, in a salt blizzard…” Tough guys.

After a few months the operation went bankrupt and the Portuguese were abandoned in Dutch Harbor. The City put them up, until someone flew them home. The boat was seized by the Marshall. Forgot what happened to her.


Good story sir.