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Catching a 405-pound yellowfin tuna: Achieving fishing's 'holy grail'

December 8, 2010 | 10:17 am

Mike Livingston, right, poses with Capt. Mike Lackey and the 405.2-pound yellowtail tuna Livingston caught. Veteran angler and writer Steve Carson, whose Irvine Lake fishing reports appear on Outposts, caught up with Mike Livingston, the angler who landed a 405.2-pound yellowfin tuna which will likely shatter the longstanding all-tackle world record for the species, as well as Vagabond Capt. Mike Lackey, aboard whose vessel Livingston was fishing. Both men shared details about catching fishing's "holy grail":

A huge 405.2-pound yellowfin tuna, caught aboard Capt. Mike Lackey’s 80-foot sportfishing vessel, Vagabond, that strained the scales Monday at Point Loma Sportfishing in San Diego may indeed break the 33-year-old International Game Fish Assn. world record of 388 pounds for the species. Mike Livingston of Sunland is the lucky angler who landed the behemoth.

Even more significantly, the big fish is the first-ever yellowfin to top the mythical 400-pound barrier, topping a non-IGFA legal 399.5 pounder caught more than a decade ago. Often referred to as long-range fishing’s "holy grail," the quest to top the 400-pound mark has been going on for over 40 years.

Legendary names like Capts. Bill Poole and Frank LoPreste, along with legions of determined anglers like Ralph "The Long Ranger" Mikkelson, and especially tackle innovators like Ray Lemme, Cal Sheets, Russ Izor and Jerry Morris all contributed to attaining the goal. Almost every angler who climbed aboard a San Diego long-range boat dreamed of battling the 'big one."  

The beast was finally subdued by a Penn International 30SW reel blueprinted by Cal Sheets, a custom rod made by Livingston himself, and a 100-foot topshot of 100-pound test monofilament over more than 700 yards of 100-pound test superbraid line, with a live sardine pinned on a 9/0 Owner Ringed Super Mutu hook. Penn Fishing Tackle plans to reward Livingston with a custom engraved 30VSW reel commemorating the catch.

"I got bit on a medium sardine pretty close to the boat," explained Livingston. "The fish stayed near the port corner for about 30 minutes. I started with the drag set at 16 pounds, and then eventually had it all the way up to 26-28 pounds on a Penn International 30SW that my buddy gave me. The reel handled it perfectly. The fish finally popped up off the port corner and everyone said 'Wow.' I have been fishing regularly with Mike on the Vagabond for about 19 years, but my biggest tuna before this one was a 100-pounder."

Capt. Lackey observed: "When the fish was first hooked, it kind of went back and forth for a few minutes, and then just cleaned the reel off. We built a backup outfit, but never used it. The fish only went up to the bow one time, and stayed up and over the anchor rope. The angler fought the fish in the harness for 2 hours and 40 minutes, but everything went right. Our biggest on the Vagabond before this was a 327-pounder."

The IGFA rules are often sticky, and the organization can be expected to take three months or more to make a final decision. However, many of the typical bugaboos of San Diego-style fishing look to be covered.

Most important, as outlined by Lackey, the angler fought the fish in the harness the whole time, bypassing any issues of the crew handling a fish wrapped around the anchor rope. The 100-foot mono topshot should test out far less than 130 pounds, bypassing the IGFA’s 30-foot leader length rule. The possibility does exist that the superbraid may test over 130 pounds, but this appears fairly unlikely.   
Long-range anglers have long called yellowfin tuna over 200 pounds "cows" and the even bigger ones over 300 pounds "super cows"; the new terminology for 400-pounders is now "Cowzilla."

(Note: An earlier photo that ran with this post was not of the 405.2-pound fish landed by Livingston.)

Photo: Mike Livingston, right, poses with Capt. Mike Lackey and the 405.2-pound yellowtail tuna Livingston caught. Credit: Jim Grant / scenicsandiegophotos.com