When Wyatt Morse of Auburn named his new boat Fat 2na, it was a bold statement for the 17-year-old who has spent the past four years learning about fishing for tuna off the Maine coast.
On July 1, the boat’s name was appropriate, as Morse and friends Martin Scanlan, 16, of Aspen, Colorado, and Griffin Buckwalter, 16, of Scarborough, ended up in a battle worthy of a Hemingway novel.
Over the course of seven hours, a monstrous bluefin tuna — it measured 109 inches from its nose to the fork of its tail — hauled the teens more than 10 miles in the 24-foot lobster boat as they attempted to tire it out and land it.
It was Fat 2na’s first tuna-fishing trip, and provided an adventure the boys won’t soon forget.
“It was the most hectic and crazy fish I’ve ever caught,” Morse said. “It was insane.”
Warning: This video contains some adult language and may not be suitable for all audiences.
The three friends had motored about 30 miles offshore and had anchored when the tuna took the bait at about 9:45 a.m.
Buckwalter, who was on his first tuna-fishing trip, had tagged along to film the action he hoped they’d have.
“I was groundfishing [for haddock] in 190 feet, 200 feet of water. Just for fun, catch and release,” Buckwalter said.
Then the tuna hit, and chaos ensued.
Scanlan pointed at a rod that had bent toward the sea, and Buckwalter hopped up and tended it. Then they started yelling for Morse, who had just lay down for a quick nap, to come help.
“It feels like everything went crazy. I was fighting a fish, Wyatt was actually sleeping, and we started screaming, yelling and flipping out,” Buckwalter said.
And for the next seven and a half hours, Morse and Scanlan took turns fighting the fish as Buckwalter took photos and video.
Everyone knew the fish was big, and Morse said he was afraid they might lose the battle.
“Wyatt was saying, there’s a million ways to lose it, but only one way to land it.” Buckwalter said.
Morse’s chief concern: The fish might prove to be too strong.
“It ripped one of the rod holders out of the gunwale, so we had to tie the rod holder to the boat so the whole thing wouldn’t rip out of the side,” Morse said. “It’s rare to catch these big fish. It’s like you’re catching a different species. Their power is crazy. We had the motor up and the fish was pulling a 24-foot boat sideways at 2 mph. That’s a strong fish.”
And the tackle they were using was challenged. The line was 150-pound test, while the fish was about 750 pounds, live weight.
The battle lasted so long, Buckwalter said he had time to tend to other tasks rather than shoot 7 1/2 hours of video.
“It was brutal. I had time to take a nap during the fight, woke up, and they were still fighting it,” Buckwalter said. “I ate some food, had some lunch, and I’m just hanging out, watching these guys work their butts off.”
The fish’s tactic was to take long runs away from the boat, then to swim back at it, trying to create slack in the line, Buckwalter said. Several times, it swam directly under the boat and the anglers feared the line might be cut by the propeller.
That didn’t happen. And eventually, the fish tired enough to be reeled close to the boat.
“On like its 15th or 20th lap around the boat, it flopped onto its side. Wyatt put the harpoon shot into him,” Buckwalter said. “Then we got the tail rope on it.”
Then, they found they had another problem. To borrow from a popular fish movie, they kind of needed a bigger boat.
The tuna was nine feet long, and they couldn’t haul it aboard. And they realized that if they tried to “swim” it beside the boat, keeping water running through it in order to keep the fish cool, they’d run out of gas before they got back to Harpswell.
They called Scanlan’s dad, who arrived in a bigger boat, Whiskey Business, and hauled the tuna aboard. Then it was off to Portland, where the boys sold their catch to a dealer.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t get as much as we were intending to get [for the fish], thanks to COVID and everything,” Buckwalter said. “We only ended up getting around two grand for the fish.”
That sounds like a nice payday, but fans of the TV show “Wicked Tuna” have learned that tuna can sell for $30 a pound or more. In January, a bluefin tuna set a record when it was sold for $1.8 million at auction in Japan.
The teens did end up with a story they’ll tell for years.
And what’s next for the group? Morse said it’ll be tough to top that adventure.
“You can’t pick what’s gonna bite your hook. If you hook a big one, you hook a big one,” Morse said. “But it’ll be hard to top that one.”
John Holyoke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org