Lucky angler lands dorado

Lucky angler lands dorado

BROOKINGS — Deckhand George Freitas was about to pull friend Jim Fuller's first tiny tuna onto the deck of the Summer Marie, when he inexplicably let go of the leader and started going berserk.

"George started jumping up and down all excited, yelling to get the gaff because we didn't want to lose it," Fuller says. "To be quite honest with you, I didn't know what it was."

It turned out to be a dorado, a warm-water denizen more likely to be found off Baja, Mexico, than Brookings.

The bright blue and yellow, flat-faced fish made it onto the deck to cheers carried across the flat ocean Aug. 9 about 33 miles west of Brookings, where boat owner John Hardey, a Medford civil engineer, moors the 34-foot Summer Marie.

Capturing one of these carpetbagging dolphin-fish amid the cold-water environs of the Pacific Northwest is akin to discovering a Picasso at a garage sale.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife records reveal that only one other confirmed dorado has ever been landed from an Oregon port. That came in July 2007, when an ODFW creel checker identified one landed among the recreational tuna fleet at Garibaldi.

"John said it was like shooting a 400-class bull elk in the middle of Medford, so I realized then just how rare it was," says Fuller, 48, of Medford.

"But it wasn't just me. I just happened to be the lucky rod-holder."

Fuller wasn't just lucky to catch the fish, he was lucky Freitas and Hardey didn't know ahead of time what he was fighting.

"If we would have known there was a dorado on the line, we would have taken the rod away from him," Hardey laughs.

Known also as dolphin-fish and mahi mahi, dorado are a brilliantly colored and flat-faced fish of the Pacific, roaming the open ocean in a constant search for food.

Males are called bulls and females are called cows. Bulls can occasionally reach 50 pounds, but 20-pounders are considered pretty standard.

They are regular targets for anglers fishing off Baja, Mexico, and occasionally are found off the Southern California coast, but rarely do they venture farther north.

Occasionally, as warm currents draw tuna north toward Oregon, other southern species follow.

Last year, albacore anglers counted bluefin tuna, thresher sharks, yellowtail jacks — and that lone dorado — among their catch, says Brandon Ford from the ODFW's Marine Program in Newport.

Why these fish are showing up now is anybody's guess, Ford says.

The reasoning could be as simple as more Oregonians are targeting tuna than ever before, so perhaps these weird by-catches are just a factor of more lines in the warm far-offshore waters.

In a good tuna year, rumors tend to circulate of one or two dorado found by tuna anglers, Ford says. So perhaps there are more dorado off the Oregon coast than conventional wisdom suggests.

"I won't say the words global warming or climate change, because it's been cold here on the coast this summer," Ford says.

Fuller's freaky fish, which bit a black/purple tuna clone bait, measured 33 inches and weighed nearly 10 pounds, barely big enough to divvy among the three Rogue Valley men on the Summer Marie that day.

Make no mistake thinking these guys are the blind-squirrel types who stumbled into this aquatic anomaly.

Hardey and Freitas are serious tuna anglers who recently brought Fuller into their salty fold through, a serious-anglers' Web site where the men are regular posters.

They keep regular tabs on warm-water currents that drag tuna with them as winds shove them close enough to shore to warrant burning a tank of $4 gas in an effort to find them.

Hardey always carries a taste of the great payoff when he heads to the deep blue.

"I'd love to get a marlin out there," says Fuller, 57, of Sams Valley. "They're out there, but they're few and far between. But I usually drag a marlin line or a skip bait, just in case."

That fateful Saturday should have been a tuna bonanza.

The flat and glassy sea appeared more like the surface of Crater Lake than the Pacific, and the currents carried 60.3-degree water — warm enough for tuna's liking.

But the only bite that day was the only one that counted.

"I still haven't gotten my tuna," Fuller says. "But I guess I've gotten my 15 minutes of fame."

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