The Great Debate

Where’s an old saying suggesting multiple methods for skinning a cat. I have no idea how this grotesque adage originated, or more importantly why anyone would want to skin a cat. But apparently, several options exist.


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Illustration: David Goldstein

Although I am not privy to any cat carving techniques, like every offshore fisherman I am well aware of the fact that there’s more than one way to hook live bait.

Through the nose, under the dorsal, above the anal fin, bridled, with a stinger…and the list goes on with the possibilities as varied as the opinions associated with the subject. It was during a recent fishing trip that I found myself in a friendly debate with my buddy Rick. We were targeting blackfin that afternoon and I was feeling rather confident, admittedly boastful after a trophy 37-pounder three days earlier.

Unfortunately, this outing began with a failed bait-catching endeavor. After 90 minutes of what seemed like a cross between chicken and bumper boats, Rick and I jockeyed our way out of the inlet with four. Don’t be mistaken. Not four-dozen, rather four single pilchard.

We fished with cut bait for the first few hours, saving our prized livies for the blackfin-bewitching hour. Soon enough the sun slipped behind the beachfront condos, casting long shadows over the once glimmering ocean—and hopefully ringing the dinner bell for our target. I made the first move, netting a frisky bait and carefully threading the small hook through its nose. I pitched the bait with all of my might. I watched in despair as the hook landed softly mere feet from the boat and the pilchard raced to freedom.

“Crap! I need another bait,” I muttered to Rick.

“Ugh. We only have three left. Hook it through the dorsal so you don’t lose it,” he instructed me.

“No, no, no. You hook them through the nostrils,” I countered.

And so it began…

If you hook it in the back and we have to retrieve and reset the baits it will surely die,” I said.

“If a fish bites short, at least I’ll have a chance,” Rick argued.

“Tuna don’t strike short,” I stammered. And so it continued…

“If you hook it in the dorsal, it will swim away from the boat,” Rick persisted.

“I want the bait to swim down a bit,” I retaliated.

And finally it ended…

“Fine, hook it however you want. I hope you don’t catch anything,” Rick said.

So one baitfish cruised the ocean impaled through the dorsal, while its counterpart flaunted a pierced nose. The pair swam for only moments before Rick’s reel buzzed with the drag resembling a high-pitched alarm and the rod bending in a dramatic arch. Just as suddenly, the rod snapped back. Tuna one, Rick zero.

Moments later, it was my turn. I cupped the spool of my spinner to add more pressure as line melted at an alarming rate. A mighty battle ensued, with neither fish nor foe willing to concede. With it’s thumping tail and narrowing circular routes I knew I was connected to a hefty blackfin. After an arduous battle the shimmering gold hue came into focus and eventually within range. Rick sunk the gaff and hoisted a monstrous blackfin over the gunnel. This was a big fish that may give the 49lb. 6oz. record a run for its money. As excited as we were, the fishermen within us couldn’t help but ponder the one that got away.

“I probably lost a nice blackfin, too,” Rick lamented as we docked at the weigh station. At 40-pounds the tuna proved to be a trophy, but not a record. After a few photos, I laid the fish across the fillet table and began to divvy up our prized steaks. Before tossing the carcass I investigated the stomach contents of the large tuna.

As expected, it was well fed, with a belly full of decomposed fish. Among the remnants were two intact pilchards. I removed them for a closer look. One had proved to be its final meal, my pilchard, with a torn nasal cavity from the hook placement. As I investigated the second baitfish, I said “Hey Rick, I caught your fish,” smiling and pointing to the tear in the pilchard’s back.

“I’m sure you will say it’s because of my hook placement,” he laughed. “Nope. It’s because I’m a better fisherman,” I jokingly countered. And so the great debate continues.