To say catching a 200-pound bluefin in local waters is special is an understatement. To say that it was caught on a 10-foot rod on a popper on 50-pound line is staggering. A rarity that occurred due to opportunity and preparation coming together for good fortune. Or luck, if you will. But little Rockcod Rick Maxa, now 34 years old and tackle manager and part owner of Fisherman’s Landing Tackle, is no longer that little kid who worked the switchboard, screening callers for Let’s Talk Hookup, Pete Gray’s radio show that airs Saturdays and Sundays.
RICK MAXA WITH his 205-pound bluefin caught Monday, May 30 near the 302 spot 25 miles from Mission Bay on his 25-foot Parker Center Console. He used just 50-pound line over a 90-minute battle. It is a personal best bluefin.
He’s now the show’s long-time co-host, stepping in seamlessly when actor Marty Milner left the show due to health issues, and Maxa’s tackle knowledge gained over the years on the water as he was growing up and his immersion of big game fishing at the tackle shop has benefitted him on the two-hour radio shows as callers scour him for tackle advice.
And, of course, he’s a fishin’ fool on sportfishers, especially long range sportfishers, and now more than ever at the helm of his own boat, a 25-foot Parker center console he and fishing buddy Neil Barbour own together. Neil went out Sunday on the boat about 25 miles from Mission Bay’s Dana Landing while Rick was on the air and caught a 225-pound bluefin by casting a Halco Roosta popper. It was the first 200-pound bluefin of the season in SoCal. He was using 80 spectra to a 3-foot top shot of 100-pound Seaguar mono line on a Tallica 12 two-speed reel.
Maxa met him ion the dock at Mission Bay, and there was no way Maxa was going to ignore that intel, the challenge, and the unique opportunity to battle a 200-pound bluefin in local waters, just 20 to 25 miles away.
“For whatever reason that bigger fish had been biting early, so we left Dana Landing at 5:30 Monday morning and were in that general area, about 25 miles from Mission Bay,” said Maxa. “It looked fishy with birds and so we just stopped the boat and started looking.” Also aboard were Barbour, looking for another cow bluefin, Brandon Buono, who also works at Fisherman’s Landing , and friend Jesse McNeet of San Diego.
NEIL BARBOURS’S 225 pounder from the day before on the Parker 25 center console. He used a Talica 12, with 80-pound spectra and a 3-foot Seaguar 100-pound top shot.
They pulled out the gyro binoculars and quickly spotted a bird school ¾ of mile away.
“When we saw the foamers we thought it was porpoise at first, but it was straight cow tuna, and we slid up on it,” said Maxa. “ Then we realized, ‘Oh boy, the shit is about to go down.’ There was a full sheerwater tornado, and I am not kidding, there were 150- to 250-pound tuna crashing into that big bait ball.”
Casting surface iron and Roosta poppers, all four anglers aboard the Parker hung four tuna at the same time. Two got spooled instantly, and two were going for about 30 minutes when one of the two got chewed off. The last man standing with a fish on was Maxa.
He was on the fish for 1½ hours before we sunk a gaff into it,” said Maxa. “There were spots of cows under the birds all in the area the whole time and I felt bad for the other guys, just watching me because the fish were breaking around us, and they all 200 to 250 pounders, and just out of range.”
Now, Maxa and the guys were amazed at how the tuna were so focused crushing the bait ball that they stayed feeding on it even after all four aboard got hooked up.
“You know how bluefin are always thought of as being skittish. But, they didn’t care one bit,” said Maxa. “ They were practically bumping the side of the boat.”
Maxa said he felt bad pulling on the fish for 90 minutes as tuna crashed around them, just out of casting distance, but in the end, “Everybody was attached to one at some point; the gear was just not having it.”
The real story is that the tackle Maxa was using was fine for yellowtail fishing, but cow bluefin? No way. He went over the 200-pound mark – 205 pounds to be exact, by fishing a Shimano Talica 12, filled with 60-pound Power Pro with a top shot of 50-pound Izorline XXX line. The rod was a 10-foot Ulua 93H.
THE GROUP TAKES a picture at Dana Landing on the return from the battleground near the 302. The fuel dock in Mission Bay has a digital scale. The 205 pounder was the second 200-pound fish over two days, the first was the 225 by Neil Barbour, standing next to fish at right, then Maxa’s fish the next day.
The choice of rod and reel, and how it was spooled up, was planned ahead. You have to balance the ability to cast a surface popper like the 1¾-ounce Halco 135 Roosta popper, getting the lure out to the boiling fish, and then having the outfit that could handle the torque and hold enough line to stop such a fish.
“I have been spending quite a bit of time trying to make that combo work right, to be able to cast and have a reel capable of a big bluefin,” he said. He doesn’t like casting straight braid to a short leader. Too many breakoffs on casts. Mono is more forgiving on casts. One kink and a jerk, he said, and a 7-ounce jig will keep flying. So, he rigged it up with more than enough 50-pound top shot, cast it out from the Fisherman’s Landing dock at San Diego Bay and marked the amount of top shot at the reel, and reconnected it so the connection to the Power Pro was still a few spool turns away.
When they stuck the fish and brought it back to home base at Dana Landing Fuel Dock and weighed it, the group guessed the weight.
“No one wanted to say it would be over 200,” he said. “Both Neil and I said it was about 190 pounds. We may have thought it was close to being over 200 pounds, but no way were gonna say it. ” It was close but it registered 205 on digital scale, and the second 200 pounder was officially on the board for the season.
Then came Facebook, and texts. The phone has been ringing off the hook. Congratulations, of course. But….
“Every fishing buddy I didn’t know that I had has called me to find out what area we were in,” he said. “It really doesn’t matter. Those bird school fish move around.”
I did have a question, though, about that 1½ hours on the fish, on a 10-foot rod. How did he do it?
“We had the high bow rail installed by West Coast Marine for just that purpose,” said Maxa. “Neil and I are both long range fisherman, and we both fish that way (using the rail for leverage). But it was still a little crazy to catch a 80-pound tuna on that rod much less a 200 pounder. “
But of course, the guys had a choice when they saw the birds tornadoing and cow tuna crashing on the surface. But no way the lures were not flying into that mass of big bluefin.
“Come on, we’re fishermen. You are going to cast to that foamer no matter what.
It was absolutely wild. I can’t believe we caught the fish, such a beast.”
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Pat McDonell is editor of WON. Patm@wonews.com
THE 205 POUNDER was personal best for Rick Maxa, Let’s Talk Hookup radio show co-host, tackle manager and part owner of Fisherman’s Tackle. He caught it last Monday, May 30 on a trip out of Mission Bay.