Words by JD Filmalter
Images by Fabien Forget and JD Filmalter
The prospect of targeting the mighty Atlantic Bluefin tuna on fly didn’t allow for much sleep the night before, so it was a somewhat weary trip down the coast from Séte to Perpignan, just north of the Spanish boarder on the French Mediterranean coast. We had heard rumours of increasing abundance of juvenile Bluefin in this area of the Med over the past few years, but neither of us really knew what to expect. We hooked up with our guide, Samuel Elgrishi, who runs Roussillon Fishing, in the seaside town of Canais-en-Rousillion, as the sun cracked over the horizon.
Conditions were perfect, almost no wind. The sea was a lake. After a quick prep session we were up and running with all three of us scanning the horizon for signs of feeding tuna. It didn’t take long to find them. Just ten minutes out and Samuel gunned us right into the middle of a school of 20-30kg Bluefin erupting from the water sending tiny anchovies flying in all directions. As I stripped line in anticipation of the first cast I realised I had made a schoolboy error. My flyline was back-to-front! So Fab stepped up and took a couple of shots at the first school while I reset. Inevitably they sounded within seconds of our arrival and without a bite, but the rush of adrenalin set the stage for the day ahead.
We continued on, heading a little further offshore and not long after, found the next school ravaging an anchovy baitball. Again the action stopped as soon as we approached. We quickly realised that we would have to be lucky to get close enough to a feeding school to have a decent shot.
We spent the next couple of hours charging between schools as they appeared and disappeared all around us. Casting our 12wts and stripping frantically – we figured we had to come right at some point! However, after what seemed like countless heart-stopping incursions into these frothing stews of Bluefin and baitfish, we started to doubt whether this might ever work. But finally, around midday, our luck changed. A fish engulfed my surf candy-style anchovy pattern and made for the horizon. If ever there was a time to time to test the limits of our gear, this was it. I was using my trusty TFO TiCr-X, and Shilton SL7. Both had stood the test of Seychelles GTs on the flats, but lifting a tuna from the depths and managing it when close to the boat, was a different kettle of fish! After about 20 minutes I had the fish alongside. This was epic! My first Bluefin ever, and on fly, to say I was stoked was an understatement! After a couple of trophy shots we sent the beauty back to join its mates and harass more anchovies.
From this point on things seemed to go our way. I hooked several more fish on my surf candy pattern, but they were not as keen to eat Fabien’s profile pattern. As the fly I was using was the only one of its kind we had, after landing my fourth fish I gave it on to Fab and he hooked a tank in the next school we came to. This fish gave him some serious stick! After a good forty minute battle and much palming of his new Wade Caranx reel, he got the fish to leader. Measuring 119cm this puppy really pushed the TFO BVK he was using to the maximum, and ultimately it’s lightweight casting-oriented design meant that the butt-section lacked the backbone needed to lift this class of fish. Nonetheless, he eventually managed to get it up and in hand. It was a great fish, and with it we ended our day on an absolute high. The days final tally was 6 Bluefin between us.
The season when Bluefin can be found feeding at the surface like this is quite short, lasting only a couple of months during autumn. So, when Samuel told us he had an opening the following week we didn’t hesitate to book it.
And so, one week later we found ourselves back on the water. Samuel told us he had struggled the day before, with the end of the season rapidly approaching, the schools were fewer and the wind was stronger. His clients, fishing with spinning tackle, had landed two fish for the day. With wind predicted again, Fab and I knew we would have our work cut out for us.
We were pleasantly surprised to find a school of fish feeding vigorously just a few miles out of the harbour. However, they were determined not to eat our flies and disappeared within a minute. Again we headed on out, edging our way towards the Spanish boarder. By the time midday arrived we had seen little more than a few solitary jumpers, with no chance of reaching them with a fly. Moving further offshore we found a current line, strewn with bits of wood and debris. Here we found big fish herding schools of sauries against the flotsam and then exploding through them and cartwheeling through the air. And when I say big, I mean big in comparison to our 12 weights! These boys were easily 100 – 150 pounds. Knowing full well what I was getting myself into, I proceeded to have a few breathless casts at the boil left behind where the fish had just crashed back into the water. I guess in the end I was lucky I didn’t hook up…
From then on the action started to pick up a bit, but so too did the wind. This meant that both sighting and casting to the schools quickly became very challenging. Fabien managed to hook into a solid fish, but this one proved a little too violent for his BVK, and just as Samuel was about to leader it, it darted under the boat and turned his four-piece into and eight-piece. The man from Mauritius however demonstrated some good problem solving skills and managed to land his fish.
Over the next couple of hours we succeeded in landing three more exquisite Bluefin tuna, but finally as the wind reached about 20 knots, we had to call it a day.
In our two days out with Samuel we managed to land 10 Bluefin. Just seeing those frenzied packs smashing hapless clouds of anchovies and sprats was something to behold. Casting a fly into the middle of this mayhem was some of the most exciting fishing I have ever experienced!