The high in Montana was 81 degrees Tuesday with 45 percent humidity under a clear sky. Maybe that’s why Steve Belinda’s home state is “Big Sky Country.”
But Belinda wasn’t there. He was watching the sun rise over the Gulf of Mexico, chewing south Louisiana’s 92 percent humidified air shortly after stepping on “Peachkeeper,” charter skipper’s Peace Marvel catamaran at Venice Marina.
Three hours later, after the crew stopped to catch bait — Marvel has taken to catching threadfins for his live-bait well — Belinda was sweating in a near 30-minute battle with a bruising 75-pound yellowfin tuna.
In Montana, few folks sweat out catching fish. Except this year.
Belinda said rain and a heavy snowpack lingering from an extra-cold winter often have left his beloved trout streams too high to produce much on the end of a fly rod.
Thursday, he headed back to Red Lodge, Montana, with enough fresh tuna and red snapper to keep his wife happy. The snapper were taken from a spot within Pass a Loutre near the mouth of the Mississippi River well within state waters.
“She doesn’t mind how far I travel to fish as long as there’s fish in the freezer,” Belinda said. “Besides, it was a chance to come fish with the guys I work with almost on a daily basis.”
Belinda is a senior policy advisor for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, and he joined three fellow TRCP folks aboard Peachkeeper.
Like Belinda, Tim Kizer headed back to Arkansas, and Steve Kline went back to Maryland’s Eastern Shore, with tuna and snapper, and sweated their way through minutes-long mano-a-peces duels with yellowfin bruisers.
After stepping back on the Venice Marina dock, Belinda took a second look at their take: “That’s the biggest snapper I’ve ever caught. I’ve caught snapper on three continents, and that’s the biggest. What a great day.”
Maybe the visiting anglers, but not for Marvel, who admits catching the “tuna bug” when he was a boy growing up in Baton Rouge.
“I saw a yellowfin jump out of the water when I was 10 years old and have wanted to catch them ever since then,” Marvel said.
On a normal day, Marvel is all over tuna. Why not? He’s been on the water 65 of the past 70 days, and tuna, as usual, have been his main target.
Tuesday wasn’t normal.
Belinda brought in the first tuna, then the crew lost two near-surface strikes minutes later. Then nothing.
Fish-finding sonar let Marvel see yellowfins 200 to 300 feet under his boat, and try as he might, he just couldn’t get them to come closer to the surface.
Maybe, Marvel explained, it was because there were so many small mouthful-sized bonita working in the area, and the threadfins couldn’t tempt the yellowfins passion for eating in the bait-rich waters in 800-foot depths.
It was time for Plan B: Instead of trying to coax the tuna to move up in the water column, send the threadfins to where they’re living.
“Tuna will come to the top (of the water) to feed, but they need to cool down after they eat, and that’s why they go deep because the water there is cooler,” Marvel said. “We had to try something different, and I really like that, because it’s a challenge.
“You learn something new every day you spend out here, and today was a learning day.”
The solution was a “snood” line, a rig that put a sinker (the ones he used weighed 12 ounces), then about 10 feet of 80-pound fluorocarbon line on a swivel behind the sinker. The rig allows the bait to swim more naturally and attract more interest from predator fish.
He patiently counted out 250 yards of line off the deep-water reel, marked the line at that spot, then payed out the line.
It worked on a 50- and a 65-pounder, both fat fish, and worthy of a king’s table.
A solid finish
Dillon King and Kody Kelly representing the Livingston Parish Bassmasters High School Fishing Team finished eighth in the first Bassmaster High School Championship last weekend in Paris, Tennessee.
King and Kelly earned their way to the fourth and final day after making two cut-down days. A total of 60 high school-aged teams started out last Wednesday on Kentucky Lake. Only the top 30 made it to Friday’s third round. That’s when all weighed fish were zeroed and the teams started anew on Carroll County Recreational Lake.
Only top 10 teams survived to Saturday’s finale.
King and Kelly had 27 pounds, 3 ounces on a 10-fish limit the first two days, while Chris Chandler and Gab Jones from South Beauregard High were also in the top 10 after Thursday’s second round with a 22-11 total.
After Friday’s third round, King and Kelly were fourth at 6-6 with a five-bass limit. In 25th place, Chandler and Jones didn’t make the cut.
The Livingston Parish team came in with 1-14 Saturday for a “finals” total of 8-6 and earned scholarship money.
Garrett Enders and Nick Osman from Susquehanna Valley, Pennsylvania, won $2,000 each in scholarships for their 11-15 winning weight over the tournament’s last two days.