THE PATH TO TROSSET’S WORLD-RECORD DOGTOOTH TUNA
“R.T.! Left flat! R.T.! Left flat!” The voice was distant at first, cutting through the fog of sleep. I finally realized© CAPT. ROBERT TROSSET my fishing partner, Buddy Sowers, was yelling at me to grab the rod. I had been daydreaming about the 30-pound yellowfin and 40-pound doggie (dogtooth tuna) that had just been caught. It was only our third day of three weeks of mothership fishing around Willis Island, 290 miles east of Cairns, Australia, and already things were going beautifully. The reel sang tenor. It was a big fish. We didn’t know what it was, but we were fishing along a rugged ledge that plunged from 90 to 2,000 feet – perfect doggie territory.
I saw a photo about 20 years ago of a big 120-pound dogtooth tuna caught off Vietnam. It looked so vicious and powerful. “Man, I want to catch that fish before I die,” I thought. Ever since then I’ve dreamt of making a trip to catch one. Doggies live in tropical seas from the east coast of Africa to the Fijian Islands. Unlike other tuna, they are structure-oriented. They like to hunt around the high edges of steep, deep drop offs. Diver friends of mine have spotted them patrolling these areas. North America’s closest equivalent, in terms of behavior, would be an amberjack. Dogtooth are also delicious. Fish in the 30-pound range seem best for the galley. When filleted, the color of their meat is halfway between bluefin and yellowfin tuna, and when cooked, it turns white.
© CAPT. ROBERT TROSSETMy dogtooth journey started over a year earlier when longtime friend Hal Chittum suggested planning a trip to Australia to pursue doggies on fly. It took only two phone calls and I had two anglers in place: Michael Schwartz from Los Angeles, Calif. and Buddy Sowers from Richmond, Va. They were longtime fishing clients of mine who were prime for the trip of a lifetime. Ted Lund from Fly Fishing in Salt Waters magazine would also join us.
I left Tampa International Airport with my passport, visa and all the fishing gear I could carry. Buddy was waiting for me in Houston, Texas. From there it was a series of seven-hour legs through Honolulu, Guam and finally Cairns, Australia. Though it sounds tedious, the seven-hour legs offered a nice little chunk of sleep without too much recycled air. We planned a few days in Cairns to get acclimated to the time change, and made the best of it in the town’s many restaurants, bars and tackle shops. We already had 80 spinning, fly and standup outfits between us, but for some reason we found it necessary to buy even more tackle. There are two major tackle shops in Cairns: Jack Erskine’s and Tackle World. I suggest ordering tackle ahead of time and saving the $600 baggage overcharge that Buddy and I suffered. Ordering tackle sounds expensive, but with the exchange rate and the advantage of not bringing the wrong stuff, you’re better off in the long run. Your outfitter and tackle shop can guide you on what to buy. © CAPT. ROBERT TROSSET
On the third day we boarded the Boss, a huge 78-foot custom mothership that would be our home for the next 21 days. We met the captains of the Don’t Ask Me, the Wild Turkey and the boat from which we would fish, the Pirate. We also met the six other anglers we would be fishing with on our mothership adventure. As far as anyone knew, Willis Island, our destination, had never been sportfished before. It was a wild frontier. The island itself is small and sparse, and supports a meteorological station that monitors typhoons and earthquakes. It has a crew of five people who ended up helping us weigh our potential world-record fish. The only tree on the island (appropriately dubbed “the weighing tree”) was the sole means of certifying International Game Fish Association (IGFA) world records. There are also tens of thousands of nesting sea birds that don’t fear people. It’s a photographer’s dream.
There are a lot of big, strong predators swimming in the waters around Willis Island. Dogtooth tuna, wahoo, black marlin, sailfish, blue trevally, giant trevally, coral trout, red bass (snapper), jobfish and a bunch of other species all thrive there. With this many types of fish, you need to be versatile with your methods. We trolled, bait-and-switched, jigged vertically and did a lot of casting with plugs and swimbaits.
© CAPT. ROBERT TROSSETFor bait-and-switch tactics, we trolled hookless Mold Craft Wide Range lures at five to 10 knots. When the doggies or wahoos rushed in we would tease the fish to within 20 feet of the boat, then toss out flies or lures. We were careful to make sure the boat was out of gear before we cast. Sometimes we would get three to five dogs on one teaser, allowing for multiple hookups. If the fish lost interest, we would cast out a hookless popper, work it back in and get the fish fired up. The dogs weighed anywhere between 20 and 150 pounds. The biggest I managed to land on fly was a little over 55 pounds, but I lost plenty of big ones, including a 150-pound monster. It still brings a tear to my eye. © CAPT. ROBERT TROSSET
To break up the trolling, we used skiffs provided by the mothership, and ventured out over an underwater wonderland. Imagine a wide patch reef made up of 40-foot tall coral heads and drop offs. We cast seven- to nine-inch Tsunami pencil poppers and swimbaits over the coral heads and caught dozens of doggies, blue trevally, red bass, giant trevally, jobfish and coral trout. The coral trout were spectacular as they rushed from the bottom to destroy surface lures. The vertical jigging was also dynamite. We dropped four- to 10-ounce Braid and Williamson jigs in 50 to 300 feet of water. The dogs were very aggressive. For trolling, some of the top lures we used were Braid plugs and Halco Lazer Pro plugs.
There was a spot northwest of the island that had smaller fish and not as much structure. We decided it might be a nice place to attempt some light tackle world records. After losing four or five fish, Buddy Sowers landed a 16-pound, 10-ounce dogtooth on four-pound test, an IGFA world record. His son, Casey then set an IGFA fly fishing world record with a 20-pound, 9-ounce dogtooth on an eight-pound tippet.
© CAPT. ROBERT TROSSETAs for gear, almost any good spinning reels can be used. I prefer the© CAPT. ROBERT TROSSET new Fin-Nor offshore series for their durability and line capacities. Reels should hold 250 to 350 yards of 20- to 30-pound test. The spinning rods we used were 6½- and 7-foot medium-heavy to heavy action rods. The shorter rods were for jigging and the seven-foot models were for casting over the massive 40-foot coral heads. Good choices for conventional tackle are the new Fin-Nor Santiagos for trolling in the 30- and 50-pound class. Various Penn and Shimano reels in the same range will also work well.
On all our reels we opted to top-shot with 20-, 30- or 50-pound Tuff Line braid. The braid withstood coral reefs better than mono and we almost never had to change it. We also were able to put two-thirds more line on the reels. We used 20- to 30-pound mono for backing and joined the two lines with a double uni-knot. In order to attach leaders, we doubled the braid with a spider hitch and attached 40-, 50-, 80- or 100-pound Seaguar fluorocarbon with the same double uni-knot. We used #6 to #10 wire when the need arose. It was crucial for doggies and wahoos.
© CAPT. ROBERT TROSSETBut back to my doggie. “It’s your turn!” yelled Buddy. I was coming out of my stupor. I grabbed the rod and held on. The fish went deep immediately, so we figured it wasn’t a wahoo. Whatever it was, it was big. I had traveled 11,000 miles and was finally hooked up to the fish I had dreamt about for 20 years. I was using a 30-pound trolling outfit, but I didn’t care — it was a doggie and it was my first one. The fish ripped off 250 yards straight down, then shot laterally at that depth. It had incredible power. Doggies are dirty fighter and will angle your line over ledges, but somehow he missed all the coral. Our captain expertly maneuvered the boat to the deep side of the drop to keep the line clear. After the big run the fish was still attached. I was so stunned I almost forgot to wind when it stopped. I managed to earn back 150 of the lost yards, then the fish ran off another 100. We set in for quite a bit of work. I won back 100 yards, then 50. Finally the air bladder went and the fish pin-wheeled to the surface. Everyone on the boat was speechless. After a 40-minute battle, we were able to drag the 162-pound, 1-ounce dogtooth tuna into the boat. A trip to the weighing tree confirmed our hopes: We had ourselves a new 30-pound class IGFA world-record dogtooth tuna. It was the fish of my dreams.