Lloyd Hann: Tuna & Swordfishing, SW Coat and Bonne Bay 1938 (Lee Wulff Charter)

By Lloyd G. Hann

Lee Wulff and a party of two chartered the Miss Red Wing for a salmon fishing expedition along the southwest coast of Newfoundland.  Ammon Wicks was my mate, cook and seaman.  He was quite capable of handling anything relating to the operation of boats.

We spent several days in St. John’s adding extra equipment.  We had a refrigeration unit installed that would be used for fresh meat and bait.  It was built on the roof of the after cabin and was driven by an air-cooled gasoline engine.

Outriggers of 30 feet long were installed for use in trolling baited hooks when fishing for tuna.  They were fastened to the centre of the wheelhouse roof and were adjustable to any angle.  When fishing for tuna or swordfish the hooks would be baited with mackerel or squid, and a loop of the line would be fastened to a clip at the outer end of the outrigger.  The hook would be about 200 feet from the clip, and the line would lead to the reel on the tuna rod.

Miss Red Wing Tuna Fishing, Bonne Bay, 1938

The boat would steam along slowly, towing the baited hooks.  If a tuna or other large fish took the bait, the sudden pull on the line would snap it from the outrigger, and the line would lead directly to the rod and reel mounted on a swivel fishing chair on the stern of the boat.  The angler, usually Mr. Wulff or one of his assistants, would then sit in the chair and fight the fish and try to land it.  This would sometimes take hours, depending on size, etc.

The Miss Red Wing was fitted with dual engine controls and a steering wheel mounted on top of the wheelhouse.  When a tuna or swordfish was hooked the excitement began.  The angler would fight to gain control of the fish, and the wheelsman would have to watch every movement carefully and prevent the boat from crossing over the line if the fish should turn.

Before we started fishing, Mr. Wulff explained to us how the fish might act and what action we should take.  He said, “I’m going to demonstrate by using the rodney with the outboard motor.”  He said, “Peter, you’re going to be the tuna on the hook.  You take the rodney.  We’ll steam around, towing the baited hook about 200 feet astern, and maneuver it so as the hook will pass close enough for you to catch it with the boat hook and fasten it.  You will then be the hooked tuna, and immediately you will take off as fast as possible.  The operator of the Miss Red Wing won’t know how you/the tuna is going to act and will try to prevent you from sweeping the line around the boat.  The angler handling the rod and reel will do his best to bring you alongside.”

Peter proved to be a very lively and strong tuna, but Lee Wulff demonstrated the professional tuna fishing champion that he was by bringing Peter and the rodney alongside in less than an hour.  There were 1200 feet of line on the tuna fishing reel, and there were times when it would be practically all out.  The boat would then pick up speed and follow the line, and the angler would reel it in as fast as possible.  It had gearing for reeling the line at different speeds.

We practiced several times and figured we were ready for the big ones.  When we finally got a strike we had no problem in bringing the tuna alongside.  It was really exciting to see schools of tuna swimming around and usually ignoring the baited hook as it was slowly trolled along.

To attract them we had a trail of bait behind the boat.  We had a meat grinder mounted on the rail, where pieces of mackerel would be cut and ground by hand.  The ground-up fish would fall overboard and leave a trail of bait as we steamed along.  When mackerel or squid was not available we would drag for bait.  We had two specially made doors to keep the mouth of the drag net open.  When using it we would usually get flatfish, connors and tomcods.  Our trip was mostly experimental, and we tried many methods of fishing.

Lloyd Hann, Tuna fishing – Red Wing

We did most of our fishing in the Bay of Islands area, Norris Point and Lomond and surrounding areas, where the scenery was breathtaking.  Lee Wulff and his photographer spent much time filming and observing the habits of the tuna and other wildlife.  We would wait for hours, following schools of tuna, to get pictures of the giant fish in action.  Many scenes were captured on movie film.

I remember one time in particular seeing a giant bluefin tuna jumping about two feet out of the water after a small mackerel.  It was about 800 pounds and had its mouth open to grab the mackerel, which was also in the air just about a foot or so ahead of the bluefin.  l can picture now both fish completely out of the water.  It happened so quickly that I don’t know if the mackerel was swallowed or not.  It was all very exciting.

After spending three weeks around the Bay of Islands we headed back towards the southwest coast to fish for giant swordfish, using the same rod and reel as for tuna.  As we were steaming along, a good lookout was kept for any kind of fish that might be schooling along the coast. 

Before leaving for the trip we had had a crow’s nest built on the mast of the Miss Red Wing, where one or two people would spend hours looking out for anything of interest.  The crow’s nest consisted of a platform about a foot wide and three feet long, securely fastened around the mast about 20 feet above the deck.  There were ratlines on the rigging for climbing and a strong belt to fasten around one’s waist.  One would swing through quite an arc in a heavy roll of the boat.  It was an exhilarating experience.  Sometimes the boat would be heading into the wind and waves, causing a head pitch; and sometimes the wind and waves would be on the beam, causing a side roll.

In Crow’s nest

Once, while cruising off Cape St. George, a pod of dolphins was spotted headed across the Gulf of St. Lawrence.  They were jumping several feet out of the water.  Mr. Wulff gave orders to follow them in hopes of getting some good film.  It wasn’t long before we were surrounded by dolphins jumping and diving and putting on a spectacular show.  Mr. Wulff and his assistant

were each using a 16 mm movie camera.  I had the wheel and the engine control from the flying bridge and maneuvered the Miss Red Wing to best advantage.  During the changing of film one of the cameras was lost overboard, which was very disappointing.  However, we continued on as long as the dolphins were jumping.

About ten miles out in the Gulf we turned and headed for Codroy, where we spent the night.  We left for Port aux Basques the next day, where we refueled and then proceeded along the southwest coast, fishing various rivers and also trolling for swordfish on the Burgeo Banks.

Miss Red Wing, Burgeo Bank, 1935

While there we harpooned a large pothead whale.  We had a ten gallon galvanized can fastened to the end of a 60 fathom nine-thread harpoon rope.  As soon as the whale was harpooned it dived, pulling the line out to the end, and the galvanized marker can was thrown over.  The boat then followed in the direction the marker was pulled.  The can was painted white and was clearly visible in the water.  After following it for some time and getting near enough to try to pick it up, it went under.  We watched that white can go down and down until it disappeared from sight.  We didn’t see it again until five minutes later, when we saw what looked like a shark fin skimming along the surface.  We followed it and came close enough to see that it was the white can on the harpoon line.  It was just on the point of sinking again when we managed to retrieve it.  The can, which was sturdily made, had its side crushed in as if it had been run over by a truck.  The top and bottom were also crushed and leaking.  It had been pulled to such a depth that the water pressure had ruptured it.  We never saw the whale or the line after. 

We did not catch any whale or swordfish on the Burgeo Banks area, but there were codfish and other species.  After a couple of days we returned to Ramea and took on fuel, and from there we headed for the Grey River, where Lee Wulff planned to do salmon fishing and research.  We passed several small boats fishing for cod.  We had with us a friend of Mr. Wulff’s from the US who had joined us for a few days’ fishing and sightseeing.  He said he would like to stop alongside a boat and talk with a fisherman and get some pictures, so we stopped by a man fishing in a dory about a mile from shore.

It was a fine, sunny day, moderately calm.  The man was using hook and line, and he continued fishing as we came alongside.  I started talking with him and said we had a gentleman on board from the US who would like to have his picture taken fishing in a Newfoundland dory.  He answered, “Well, Skipper, if ‘e idden feared of getting’ een a dory ‘e kin come aboard an’ welcome.”

I said, “Okay, he’s not afraid,” and with that Mr. X got aboard the dory and sat on the “dawt”, a term used by Newfoundland fishermen for a seat in a dory or punt.  The fisherman fitted him out with a line and jigger and showed him how to jig.  In the meantime I moved the Miss Red Wing away from the dory and stood by watching and taking pictures.  It wasn’t long before Mr. X was lucky and had a strike, and a very excited and proud man hauled in a 25 inch cod.  We went alongside of the dory, and Mr. X, with the fish, was taken back aboard the Miss Red Wing.

When he was safely on board he thanked the fisherman again and again, and then reached over the rail and passed him a crisp $20 bill.  The fisherman at first hesitated to take it, and couldn’t believe his eyes, because that amount of money in 1938 meant a fortune to some.  He took the $20 bill and looked at it as if to make sure it was real.  Then he carefully put it in his inside pocket and, without further hesitation, shipped a pair of oars and began rowing towards land.  We proceeded on to the Grey River – Bay de Vieux.


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