This fish was mean. He was strong, he was mean, and he was clearly unhappy that he had been hooked. I took the helm while Paul lost the majority of his backing. Finally it became apparent that I would have to back down on the fish. We spent the next half hour with me in reverse as Paul slowly gained back his line. About the time the mono was nearing site, Paul got nervous. You see he too, was feeling pressure to get a fish on his new boat, and he wanted a professional on the reel. And who better to fulfill this need for a professional angler than Sleepy Clark Winchell?
With OO Steele on the rod, the fight commenced anew, only now we weren't backing down on the fish, and the silver leviathan found a new reserve of energy. With drag up to full, the fish refused to budge.
Clark "My Dreams Become Reality" Winchell, giving it every bit of Bates Soccer quad strength. The fish matching his every pump with a run of its own.
Deep slow circles, Winchell sweating like a fat kid on a StairMaster. Finally color under the boat, but sensing impending death, the fish made a final move. An 80 yard run directly under the boat, line rubbing against the hull, Clark made the smart move and lowered the drag to prevent a break off. Finally we were able to spin the boat and resume the battle, this time the line returning to the reel frayed and covered with bottom paint. Lucky break #2.
The drag again pushed up to full, the fish is beating OO Steele. His hands are bloody and his legs ache, the fish is circling 60 feet under the boat refusing to budge. We are an hour and a half into the battle and I realize that the fight has to end now, or it will end in defeat. I implore Clark to give it everything he has and turn the fishes head. "LIFT THIS FISH! LIFT THIS FISH!" Clark utters a painful guttural sound reminiscent of mating deer and leans back with everything he has. Again he pumps, now screaming. With each crank we gain a foot of line. I implore him to continue. He reminds me of a marathon runner giving it everything he's got during the final mile and then crapping all over himself as he crosses the finish line... Finally the double line is in sight. I grab hold of it, then get the 400 pound main line. Paul sinks the gaff in the fish.
A heave-ho over the side and the 81 inch 300+ pound bluefin is in the boat. Paul and the boys are elated, having tasted tuna victory on their own boat, I am relieved, having found a fish, and OO Steele is beaten and wasted lying on the deck like a rape victim.
When most people refer to a fish that gave an epic battle, they're usually referring to the number of times the fish jumped or how far it ran, or maybe that it got wrapped around a rock and needed some crafty angling to free it.
When I say that I witnessed an epic battle, I'm referring to brute physicality, a man with a rod, 30 pounds of drag, and a good set of balls, going toe to toe with 300 pounds of aerodynamic water pumping muscle.
I witnessed an epic battle that day, and the winner was Clark Winchell.