Courtesy Capt. Keith Johnson
After a string of state record trophies for unusual catches, a pattern seems to be emerging. In the past year, rare record catches include king mackerel caught out of New Jersey and Delaware, blueline tilefish and red porgy in Miami, a world record opah in California, another potential world record pomfret landed in North Carolina and now a state record dorado caught off Washington.
Not only are these fish rare in these states, but in each case the fish were unintentional catches. And, in at least three instances, the anglers were new to fishing. The three stories have one thing in common, the angler’s inexperience contributed to their record catch.
Spreader Bar Success
Capt. Keith Johnson considers himself a newbie. After a decade as a river fishing guide, two years ago he switched to the ocean. He admits, “I’m still new out there and this is a really rare catch.”
Part of Johnson’s education in offshore fishing came from time he spent trolling off South Florida. “They were using rudder spreader bars to catch blackfin tuna and dolphin,” he observed.
When he returned to the Pacific Coast, he brought the spreader bar idea on board Tunacious. “I am new so I wanted to try something new,” he explains.
The results have been positive. Some days, the spreader bar catches more fish than the rest of his spread. He’s even caught fish with the bars when the rest of the fleet struggled to get bites.
Johnson uses Strike Point Tackle’s Outbound Rudder Bar. The spreader bar has a 36-inch bar and five drops with eight unrigged lures and a stinger. The lead bird has a plastic rudder, which can be adjusted to make the dredge swim to the starboard or port side.
To target albacore off Washington, crews troll squid chains until they find fish then they stop the boat and switch over to live bait. Johnson says, “The spreader bar causes a lot of commotion to bring the fish to the surface.”
Johnson fishes three spreader bars in his albacore spread. He uses 6-foot trolling rods with 30-pound reels spooled with 60-pound braided line. He connects the braid to the spreader bar with a snap swivel. “I run the spreader bars off the rod tips,” he adds.
That’s how Johnson was fishing when he hooked the Washington State record dolphin. “There was nothing unusual about the day,” he remembers. He was fishing a canyon 40 miles offshore in 68-degree water.
“The weather was rough and we were only able to troll at 5 knots,” he continues. Fishing was slow and, with only an hour left in the day, he was holding onto a handful of albacore.
Surprise Catch Becomes New Washington State Record Dorado
Courtesy Capt. Keith Johnson
When the dolphin hit one of the spreader bars, the fish jumped out of the water. “Everyone screamed and yelled,” Johnson remembers. Angler Wade La Fontaine was on the rod. La Fontaine is a long-time regular and avid angler. Johnson laughs, “Best of all, it was his birthday.”
The fish continued to jump and surge while dragging the spreader bar. Johnson admits, “My heart was in my throat I was so worried the fish would pull the hook.” The crew’s luck held and the fish was gaffed and dropped on the deck. “Everyone was really excited.”
Johnson didn’t know the weight of the current Washington State record, but he realized La Fontaine’s dolphin was exceptionally large. As soon as the captain had cellphone signal, he called his wife. Once he learned the standing record was 16.7 pounds, he was confident the 21-pound dolphin in his fish box would be a new record. He chuckled, “We were screaming our heads off.”
At the scales at Ocean Gold Seafood in Westport, the big catch drew attention. “People came to the boat to see the fish,” he says. To register the fish for the record, Johnson needed two witnesses and a certified scale. Later, he met with a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) biologist to confirm the catch. The next day, Johnson turned in the paperwork and a few days later, WDFW certified the Washington State Record Dorado.
Dolphin are extremely rare in Washington, Johnson estimates fewer than a dozen are caught each year. “Most dolphin are under 10 pounds,” he says. The captain credits this year’s El Nino warm water currents for bringing the big dolphin north. “I got lucky to catch a really rare fish,” Johnson says, “the story is the talk of the town.”