By Gene Kira, March 15, 2002, as published in Western Outdoors Magazine:
Tuna are one of the world's best tasting fish, fried, smoked, baked, canned, creamed, barbecued, broiled, raw... and even still alive.
It happened one June day, while fishing off the north end of Isla San Marcos, Baja California Sur, Mexico, in the Sea of Cortez, while trolling along the drop-off between a placed called "Haystack" and the island, and yanking little, 15-pound yellowfin tuna like spark plugs out of a Ferrari V-12.
It wasn't what you'd call "finesse fishing." The flying footballs that day were so dense, you'd unhook a fish, throw the motor into gear, and before you got back to trolling speed, you'd have another hook-up. It was just plain tuna, nothing but tuna, all the way down.
My spur-of-the-moment boat companions (ol' Kira takes whatever rides he can get) were a couple of dedicated Baja meat fishermen with roller guide rods, 80-pound line, and lever drag reels the size of washing machines.
I, of course, was using spinning tackle, with 25-pound line, and the "Hula Skirt & Pink Panties" hoochies invented by Neil Kelly and Frank Ahuna, and described so lovingly in The Baja Catch.
The humble, $2 Baja Hula Skirt & Pink Panties was out-fishing my companions' expensive pattern of trolling heads, Rapalas, Marauders, and Lord-knows-what-else, even though they had four lures out, and I only one. I was going long over the top with my itty-bitty little feather, and catching maybe four fish to every one they could muster.
When they did get hooked up, they dropped into low gear, and horsed their fish to the boat. Within seconds, it was all over, and they were left with a kind of emptied out feeling, you know, like the morning after an encounter with a bad taco stand.
I, on the other hand, was having a heck of a good time. At each hook-up, my tuna would streak down and away from the boat, with the drag washers on my ancient spinning reel chattering, screeching, and chirping like a squirrel caught in a pair of Vise-Grips.
"Whee-ooo! Listen to that drag! Amigos! Talk about melt-down! Scr-e-e-e-ch! Chirp! Chirp! Chirp!"
Figuring my reel was a goner anyway, I purposely set the drag super light, giving each fish at least three or four long runs. I was probably getting about 95 percent of the action on the boat, fishing with my little fingers held way out, and having a humongous time of it.
After maybe two hours of this, my companions were completely fed up. During one really long fight, one of them reached over and tightened my drag.
"Hey! Don't touch my rod!"
"Stop foolin' around! Bring the damned thing in!"
Dumb kid that I'll always be, I decided to show these guys a thing or two about tuna.
Knowing that neither of them had ever eaten sushi or sashimi (that's raw fish, sensei, preferably yellowfin tuna), I decided to play a trick on them adapted from my old Bart Simpson days of fishing on the Oceanside Pier. Back then, before many people knew what wasabi was for, about the best gross-out possible was to slice up a freshly-caught bonito and pop a couple of pieces into your mouth--just like Santiago in Hemingway's novella, The Old Man And The Sea.
The next yellowfin I caught was going to become instant sashimi. Without even unhooking it, I was going to grab it by the head and tail, take a bite out of its side, throw it back into the water, and keep on fighting it, all without saying a word.
Everything went according to plan. On the next hook-up, the tuna made its classic dive away from the boat, and I started to bring it in.
About halfway in, though, I felt the characteristic sharp, throbbing head shake, not of a yellowfin tuna, but a damned black skipjack tuna, the first one we'd caught all morning.
Tuna, you know, are actually warm-blooded animals, and they have lots of very rich, red blood. When you fillet one, you see a flat layer of extremely dark red meat coming out from both sides of the spine. When it gets to the fish's sides, this redness spreads out in a Y-shaped pattern, making a thin layer of blood-charged meat right under the skin. The purpose of this bloody layer is to help cool the fish, as hot blood is pumped to the surface from deep inside. This is how tuna can fight so long and hard for their size, and it's why they are such bloody fish.
The black skipjack is the bloodiest of the tunas. Its meat is so dark and bloody, in fact, that it cooks up like liver or beef jerky, and as my fish came close to the boat, my heart sank when I saw the silvery belly and black spots. It was a black skipjack all right. A dinky little 5-pounder.
Fully committed to my dastardly plan, I lifted the quivering fish up high in the air, let out a growl, and tried to gnaw a huge bite into its belly, right behind the gills.
But, I discovered, live fish skin is incredibly tough and resistant to human teeth. Not wanting to look like a complete idiot (just a 99.9 percent idiot), I persevered, and gnawed and gnawed, trying to put on a show, like a dog working a bone. Well, I guess I must have hit an artery or something, because, suddenly, I was blinded by blood all over my glasses, shirt, arms, pants, blood splattering everywhere in the boat. It was like a scene from The Simpson's "Itchy and Scratchy Show."
The fish, drained as if a vampire had hit it, died quickly, and I threw it into my ice chest, to the amazement of my wide-eyed Baja fishing companions.
"You gonna keep that thing?"
"Of course," I said, wiping my mouth. "Black skipjack is one of my favorite fish."
I did keep it. And, honoring an old habit of making full use of every fish I keep--even such gruesome fare as black skipjack--I took it home, filleted it out, and ate every, delicious, bloody bite.
(Related Baja California, Mexico, articles and reports may be found at Mexfish.com's main Baja California information page. See weekly fishing news, photos, and reports from the major sportfishing vacation areas of Mexico including the Baja California area in "Mexico Fishing News.")