Friday July 17th 58 teams rolled into Newport for the first leg of the Allstate Oregon Tuna Classic. Teams from California, Idaho, Washington and Oregon were in town competing for the top prizes and the satisfaction of knowing that their efforts will help feed the hungry in Lincoln County.
A first for this port since it’s been cancelled three previous years due to bad weather and ocean conditions leaving many to wonder if this would be another year of no fishing.
The Thursday announcement to fish came after the afternoon update from NOAA for the offshore forecast for Saturday’s event. A marginal forecast at best but many of the teams had fished in the projected conditions before and knew they would have a bumpy ride out at daybreak.
Saturday morning Port Captain Walter Chuck went through the roll call while 56 teams sat patiently a mile offshore in a thick blanket of fog with only a half mile of visibility. At precisely 6:00am a mass of boats bolted through the fog and sloppy seas. Without a current SST (Sea Surface temperature)most boat headed for their favorite fishing spots many going west or northwest to traditional spots such as Tuna Town or the 61 spot. Team Pro Sports Center from northern California took the gamble and went south to Heceta Bank, some 65 miles to the south, knowing they would be bucking a nasty north wind coming back. The gamble was a gutsy move and yielded a dozen fish but nothing worthy of making the podium.
It was scratch fishing at best and many of the experienced fishermen were struggling just to get the required 5 fish needed to get on the board. Quite a few teams came back frustrated with no fish. The north winds blowing for the past week had the fish scattered and experience didn’t play as much a role as being in the right spot at the right time with a fish willing to bite. By the opening of the 2:00pm weigh-in it became obvious many boats were staying out longer trying to catch fish. Many of the best tuna fishermen were lucky if they landed 8-10 fish. A huge contrast to the ODFW reporting of Oregon anglers landing over 10,000 tuna in the previous week when the winds and seas were out of the south but that’s tuna fishing off the Oregon coast in July. It can change dramatically in just one week to the next.
The first boat eventually arrived at 2:40pm and slowly others started making their way back into port. By the 4:00pm cut off for the weigh in there was more than 20 boats backed up waiting for their chance to weigh in their 5 heaviest fish and a chance at the top prize of $3,000.
By the end of the day a large crowd had gathered to watch as 41 exhausted teams turned in fish and slowly put their boats away for the evening.
Team Albacore Section from Hillsboro took the top honors with a 5 fish total of 126.8 lbs. Second place went to Charleston Oregon Tuna Classic Port Captain Jim Pex and his team Offshore Adventure Charters with 126.8 lbs. Team Secret Island rounded up the top three spots with 120.1 lbs.
The Biggest fish, at 35 1/8”, was turned in by Team Seelicious and the exotics pot was won by Team Reel Song with their 14.2 lb Yellowtail. A Blue Fin tuna was landed but the team failed to enter the exotics side pot leaving Team Reel Song as the easy winner. The odds of landing a Blue Fin were pretty good considering in the last 2 weeks more than 40 Blue Fin had been landed off Oregon, an unusually high statistic for this early in the summer.
At the end of the evening, more than 400 participants watched as the Oregon Tuna Classic handed over 4,105 pounds of tuna to Nancy Smith from the Lincoln County Food Share.
The weather was not nice but “Reelin In Hunger” as it’s appropriately phrased for this year’s derbies was not slowed down as the Oregon Tuna Classic kicked off its 5th season with a huge success. The next leg of the four event season will be in two weeks when the teams roll into Ilwaco Washington on August 1st.
For more information on these events log onto www.oregontunaclassic.com or contact Oregon Tuna Classic Chairman Del Stephens at 503-539-0006.