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OTC Deep Canyon Challenge: A Yellow Tailed Hero

A sense of purpose is the feeling felt when helping people and individual talent is combined. The Oregon Tuna Classic has a long-standing record of taking the talent and passion of many individuals, and their desire to do good for our fellow man, and turning that into an event many look forward to every year. Del Stephens, chairman of the OTC, addressed the tournament members with a message that could be summed up as we can’t help everyone, but we can all help someone. Immediately after, Navy Petty Officer 1st class Generald Wilson sang the National Anthem (if you’ve watched a superbowl, you’ve seen him sing it too). The Oregon Tuna Classic since 2005, has donated over 1,000,000 pounds of food to the Oregon food bank. Ilwaco, Washington is the location of the OTC- Deep Canyon Challenge. This is a competition of who can get the five largest albacore tuna, and includes a few side pots such as largest fish and pelagic fish.

I joined Bret Dickerson’s all-star team sponsored by WestlieFord. The team that you have for tuna fishing can make or break your day and becomes even more important when a trophy is on the line. I was only bitten by the blue water bug a year ago, and this was my first tournament. Joining us was Kiley Brehm, Dave Anderson, John Childs, Zack Shirley, Chad, our camera guy Rene Wagner, and myself. All side pots are entered, the boat outfitted, and we went into the Friday evening watching Captain Bret Dickerson scan weather, fishing reports, and other ocean information to try and make the best call for what fishing grounds we would head to. As a fishing guide, I could immediately identify with the red-eyed decision making process written all over Bret’s face. I looked over at him on his phone, and noticed 42 awaiting text messages. Clearly other captains were concerned as well. Tuna fishing had been quite slow out of Ilwaco during the week leading up to the tournament, and it was obvious that simply getting enough fish in the boat to be eligible for weigh in could be a struggle.

We woke the next morning, and were among the first to line up for our live bait. We accepted 10 scoops of anchovies from the bait dock, and proceeded to line up along side 54 other teams on their boats. A countdown by Del Stephens and a flare from the coast guard would signal the beginning of the tournament. We ran 65nms out, found some signs of life, then began trolling to see if we could pick anything up. During the troll, we were marking a mass of tuna about 40-100 ft under the boat but couldn’t get any to pick up a trolled bait. We stopped over a mass of fish and dropped Shimano Butterfly Jigs and Flatfalls downs to the appropriate depth to try and convert a fish- to no avail. Finally, we started letting out live bait. This decision earned me the first albacore on the boat moments after. The rest of the team tossed more live bait out, and before long Chad was hooked up on a Tuna as well.  We continued to convert a few more fish, then decided to move on after a swarm of sharks took our bait before tuna had a chance to see it.

The next few hours would be a grind, picking up a few fish here and there on live bait. The formula that got the decks bloody, was marking fish on the fish finder, long lining a live bait, letting it hang for a few moments, then reeling in an albacore. Each member of the crew capitalized on the few opportunities we had, totaling 10 tuna for our boat. The run back to the docks was about 2 hours for us, as our 5pm tournament deadline approached, we needed to make a game plan. We could try another area that showed some promise, or continue as we had for the day and maybe pick up another fish. The team meeting resulted in running to new grounds. Captain Bret sat atop his custom 40’ boat, and searched for color breaks in the water, for groups of birds, and for floating debris that can sometimes shelter fish. As I stood searching next to him, he suddenly ripped the wheel straight toward a floating log and hollered at the team to cast at it. John Childs tossed a swim bait by it, and then someone hollered, “YELLOWTAIL!” You can’t mistake the bright yellow forked tail of this fish.  Childs tossed a swim bait to it, eliciting a few follows without commitment. A host of lures were pitched at the fish, with follows that never converted to a grab.

Childs walked away, and returned with the largest live anchovy in the bait tank. He carefully tossed it to the log, slid the bait down to the fish, and the line went tight. The team was roaring with excitement as Childs skillfully fought the fish to the boat, where Zach was waiting with the net. Once the fish was onboard, our celebration time was cut short by the urgency of returning to the docks before it was too late to enter our fish. We arrived at the docks and sent our tuna to be weighed. We ended up with a total of 127.6lbs for the five fish we entered (placing us 11th out of 55 teams). Our team was the only entry into the Pelagic side pot. It was the only entry that day, and the only pelagic entry since 2012. Childs’ heroic yellow tale capture earned us a spot on the podium. Here were the rest of the results as follows:

  1. Fat Cat Larry Johnson 140.6
  2. Team Katie Lu Richard Trownsell 139.55
  3. Epic Mike West 136.1
  4. Team Duckworth Keith Navidi 134.75
  5. Swallow This Aaron Kelly 134.4
  6. Team Allure James Frohnmayer 134
  7. Team Tailwalker Charters Patrick Walker 132.45
  8. Team Allied Bo Palmer 130.35
  9. Team Bucket List Mitchelle Johnson 129.75
  10. Eat Me Lures John Boyer 129.05
  11. Westlie Ford Bret Dickerson 127.45
  12. Mark Youngblood Sportsfishing / Wishermen Mark Youngblood 126.15
  13. Rip N Lips Lincoln Boomars 124.75
  14. Key West Casey Bushnell 124.2
  15. No Quarter Given Luke Erickson 123.35
  16. SeaWorthy Nathan Kaiser 122.6
  17. Team Rebel Sean Kuni 113.1
  18. Team Bad to the Bone- Garmin Del Stephens 112.45 1
  19. Tre-fin Young Guns Nate Domeyer 100.75
  20. Team Defiance All In Gus Forster 98.2
  21. GangfishKhan / Smak Plastic Naeem Khan 75.75
  22. Thunder Down Under Jason Ludwig 74.1
  23. Uitlander Jason Noorlander 72.8
  24. Go Deep Ray Gannon 29.35
  25. Team Tombo Pete Parks 28
  26. Team Garmin - Flying Iron Chass Thuresson 17.9

The ceremony raised a whopping $58,000 to donate to local food banks, and fed those in need approximately 2,700 pounds of fresh wild caught Albacore Tuna. You can join the fun as a participant, volunteer, or attend the ceremony for the chance to purchase auction items with profits going to Oregon Food Bank. Visit oregontunaclassic.org to find out how you can contribute. My hat is off to the men and women that work so hard to keep this charitable cause going, and to my team mates on Bret Dickerson’s (oregontunacharters.com) team for making our day the best slow day of fishing I have ever experienced. The Oregon Tuna Classic’s second event will be held in Garibaldi, OR on September 1st and 2nd. I look forward to the memories made, and the benefits to those who need a fish most.