WHILE long-range trips exploring remote areas are what I live for, to get a shot at our target species this sortie – the mighty dogtooth tuna – we would have to push further than ever before. These fearsome predatory fish have been on my bucket list for a long time, both on line and spear. Dogtooth tuna
Their brutal fighting abilities and the fact that they can be caught using a range of methods – particularly topwater – makes them a premier sport fish. Finding these fish is one thing, but actually stopping them is a challenge in itself.
If they don’t brick you on the reef, the packs of hungry sharks make short work of them. Usually this sort of fishing is limited to live-aboard charter operators, so I was certainly excited by the opportunity to have a crack at a few serious fish from my own trailer boat.Dogtooth tuna
We would need to upgrade a lot of our gear to give us a decent chance at stopping these fish on line and spear. I hit up a couple of experienced fishing and spearing friends Matt and Ritchie, who were just as keen to chase the elusive dogtooth tuna as I was.
A month or so prior to the trip, the planning and gear prep began, first with purchases of new fishing tackle that would be up to the task. Between the crew, the gear for stopping these brutes included two Daiwa Saltiga 20000s matched to Shimano TCurve Deep Jig 300 rods, a Shimano Talica 50 matched to a Shimano Tiagra Ultra A and a Maxel Rage 90/Jigstar Twisted Sista Overhead Jig combo.Dogtooth tuna
Apart from the Talica 50, all setups were spooled with 100lb-120lb Nomad Panderra 8X braid and an assortment of leader from 150lb to 250lb. A few dollars were certainly spent but there was no point travelling to our dream destination without the gear to catch our dream fish, and it was significantly cheaper than a charter operation.
Now the lures… we had an assortment of Nomad lures for topwater and trolling including the Chug Norris Popper, Riptide Sinking Stickbait, Madscad Stickbait, Maverick Roughwater and DTX Minnow lures. We also had a mix of jigs including Nomad Gypsy and Streaker. I have to say the lure boxes came back somewhat lighter.
For the spearing side of the things, we had our usual gear including Rob Allen 1.3m Railguns, but Matt bit the bullet and bought ‘a cannon’ specifically for stopping doggies, which we would take turns in using. It was a Riffe 1.7m Midwater with a break-away setup, 30m foam float line and two OH 3 Atmosphere floats.
With the gear rigged and ready, the boat serviced, packed and fuelled-up – 980L – the weather smiled on us and we set off in my 7m Fisher on a glassy ocean. After a solid 6.5 hours of steaming, we finally reached our first destination. We watched the sounder drop off the reef from 5m to 55m to 300m and then stop reading altogether.Dogtooth tuna
Not really knowing where to start, I worked out which way the current was pushing and then started trolling the pressure point of an isolated reef that rose from the depths. It didn’t take long for the action to start with bluefin trevally, giant trevally and red bass coming aboard. As this was a sportfishing trip and due to the risk of ciguatera in this area, most of the fish would be released.
We then switched to casting stickbaits across the reef top, which got the heart pumping with great surface strikes from red bass, bluespot coral trout, GTs and a couple of solid spanish mackerel that were unfortunately vaporised by the plague of sharks, which seemed to be on every reef system.
As the day went on we worked further afield picking up more of the same species, but still no doggies. With crystal-clear water, we jumped in to check out the reef and it was like an aquarium with huge varieties of fish and plenty of sharks. Teamwork is important in this sort of country when diving and we took it in turns diving down and keeping an eye on each other.
Apart from a couple of coral trout we didn’t spear much and jumped back in for an afternoon of fishing. We decided to again explore further and hit a couple of isolated reefs, and this is when things escalated on the fishing front. Ritchie had mentioned that early morning and late afternoon were when doggies would fire up and feed closer to the surface, and he was on the money.Dogtooth tuna
I won’t forget the sound of Matt’s drag screaming as the call was made, “That’s definitely a dogtooth.” There was no chance of turning this fish… within 30 seconds it was all over and he was busted off on the reef. This happened again and I was beginning to think we were under gunned. Ritchie managed to get a smaller doggie of about 12kg past the sharks and after a few pictures sent it back in.
The next troll run both DTX Minnows got smashed, Ritchie and I did the over and under dance trying to pass rods before realising we had the same fish on. We both had our drags locked up and we were still losing line. A couple of minutes later a big dogtooth hit the surface with a pack of hungry whalers chomping on it.
We skull dragged it aboard and, despite it missing a few pieces, celebrated what was an epic fish it was. Even though I positioned the boat on the pressure point and gunned it to deeper water, we were still bricked by a couple more unstoppables.Dogtooth tuna
The tackle supply was diminishing quickly. We decided to have a crack on topwater and had dogtooth taking stickbaits at the side of the boat only to again bury us in the reef. I’ve never experienced such power on a line – awesome and equally frustrating. As the sun dropped below the horizon, we anchored up in a shallow lagoon, cooked a feed, re-rigged gear, refuelled and reflected on an epic day.
The weather had been magnificent and thankfully, it stayed that way for the next two days. After a reasonably decent sleep, we woke up at first light, cooked bacon and eggs and were on our way, pushing even wider. We put on the dive gear and jumped in at a seamount that rose from 700m to just a few metres below the surface.
We were hoping to spear a doggie or even a wahoo. This place was wild and somewhat daunting, as the edge dropped away to a sheer cliff into the deep blue abyss. As we were loading the guns, several dogtooth tuna of about 10-15kg came in to check out the flasher – a device used to attract fish – but by the time we were ready they had disappeared.
In hindsight we should have been ready before throwing in the flasher. With no more doggies sighted and the local population of oceanic whitetip sharks getting seemingly more curious, we jumped back in and pushed on. It wasn’t long before we came across a school of yellowfin tuna busting up on the surface.Dogtooth tuna
Out came the smaller Nomad stickbaits and we had a frantic session with a triple hook-up on yellowfin tuna. Unfortunately, both Ritchie and I got sharked, but Matt managed to land a solid yellowfin that was released into the Esky. Ritchie managed to get another yellowfin in before the oceanic whitetips became too much – even chasing down our lures – so we pushed on again.
I must say yellowfin sashimi is the best I have eaten! We fished a series of small reefs casting stickbaits. I decided to jump in for another spear and shot a very solid spanish mackerel, which hit the afterburners and took off into the depths with a dozen or more sharks in pursuit. I passed the gun to Ritchie in the boat and jumped in.
The line was ripping off my reel at a rate of knots as Ritchie tried to put the hurt on the sharks that had my fish. Within seconds, 150m of line from the reel on my speargun had been spooled and it was time to move on again. We jumped in on another isolated reef. Matt had the gun for the first three drifts and we continued to see dogtooth tuna come in, but they were just out of range.
With his sinuses playing up, I took the 1.7m Riffe from Matt, jumped in and watched several sharks as they bit the flasher. Matt called out “big dog” and I turned to see a solid dogtooth tuna rise up to the flasher. I dove down following the fish and as it was headed deeper, I opted for a long shot. The shot hit the fish mid-body and it powered off.
As I turned to swim back to the surface, the two floats were heading down straight past me, which was a sight to behold. The floats popped back to the surface 30 seconds later and Matt passed them to Ritchie in the boat, who proceeded to pull the fish up. Matt and I stayed in the water to defend our catch but surprisingly there were only a couple of small sharks following it up, so we boated another awesome fish.
I was elated and as the saying goes ‘teamwork makes the dream work!’ With this sort of diving, everyone has a part to play in order to safely land fish. Late that afternoon we went trolling in the hope of a wahoo or possibly more yellowfin. We landed small yellowfin around the 5kg mark before trolling a reef edge, which produced a huge bluespot coral trout and a couple of GTs on the homemade butterknife lures.
To see these fish chase the lure down 20m plus with their mouths open and shoot out of the water was something else. We headed back to where we had caught the dogtooth the day before and it was on again. We seriously could not stop the bigger fish but still managed a couple of smaller doggies. It was another wild day with several firsts.Dogtooth tuna
We anchored up for the evening and I must admit, the body was aching. We were all feeling very sore but satisfied. For the final day, the plan was to fish until lunch and then steam home. We were trolling at 6am and the day started with a double hook-up on dogtooth tuna. While Ritchie managed to bag his fish, Matt’s was much bigger and absolutely destroyed him on the Saltiga, nearly spooling him in the process.
I don’t think I’ve ever heard a reel sing like that and, what was even more remarkable, it was completely locked – 30kg. The reel was burning hot afterwards – we couldn’t even touch it… another first. We pushed on further and what followed were a couple of hours of madness I will never forget.
We started jigging in 50m of water because I’d noticed a lot of bait and solid fish on the sounder. Matt was stoked to finally land a nice 15kg doggie, as he had been busted off all trip. After that, he was on fire and landed another two of similar size. Ritchie also bagged a nice green jobfish while jigging.Dogtooth tuna
As per usual, the sharks became too thick and we couldn’t get a fish past them. We hit one more spot and this is where we experienced the best fishing of the trip. We pulled up and were looking at all the sharks in the water, when I noticed the distinct white dot on the tail of a dogtooth tuna under the boat swimming among the sharks. Within seconds everyone was grabbing their rod out of the rocket launchers and casting stickbaits.
This would be a topwater session to remember, with epic surface strikes from solid doggies. Ritchie had a dogtooth hit the lure only to spit it, and another doggie quickly followed to smash the same lure. I had a dogtooth hit my Nomad Madscad metres from the boat and within 20 seconds it’d bricked me while I tried to stay inside the boat.
Matt had a bow wave trailing his lure as a monster doggie chased it to the boat before turning away. The excitement on the boat was hard to contain. Matt had a great surface strike we initially called a doggie but within 30 seconds he had a 25kg spanish mackerel at the boat that narrowly escaped the sharks.Dogtooth tuna
It goes to show the drag setting we were fishing and how powerful the doggies were. The action continued for about 30 minutes – we boated a couple of smaller doggies, but more battles were lost than won. This topwater session had certainly exceeded all of our expectations.
It was hard to leave such an epic location with incredibly good weather, but we headed home on glassy water having achieved our goal of bagging dogtooth tuna.