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Big catch: 738-pound tuna from a 21-footer

New Zealander Nathan Adams was fishing for black marlin when he caught what might be a world-record 738-pound Pacific bluefin tuna — from his 21-foot aluminum boat.

Nathan Adams landed the Pacific bluefin tuna off New Zealand's North Island.

“It was totally unexpected that we caught that tuna,” says Adams, 42, who spoke with Soundings from New Zealand. “We were expecting a marlin. I had wanted to catch one of these tuna, but they’re very rare in this part of New Zealand. We didn’t even know it was a tuna until we got it up to the boat.”

The tuna, which Adams caught while fishing with two friends in February, has made news around the world, not only because of its weight and length — 8 feet, 2 inches — but also because it was hooked from a small, open, dory-style boat with twin 135-hp Honda outboards. “I’ve only got a 6.6-meter aluminum boat,” says Adams, a commercial fisherman from the beach community of Muriwai on New Zealand’s North Island. “The three of us couldn’t get it in the boat. We called another boat to give us a hand, but it was just so round that we couldn’t even get the head over the side. We had to tow it back to the weigh station, which luckily was only seven miles away.”

Adams caught the fish off North Island during an 11-day recreational fishing trip for black marlin during the one month each year that he unregisters his boat as a commercial vessel so he can fish for the protected marlin. As a recreational angler, however, he says he is not allowed to profit from the sale of the tuna.

Adams was using 80-pound test, and the monster fish made a strong run for it. “We hooked up and it was really running fast,” he says. “It was shallow water [for a bluefin] — only 40 meters deep — when we hooked it, which is unusual. It just absolutely emptied the reel. We had to back up on it as fast as we could. But [the fight] only lasted about 15 or 20 minutes before it died and sunk to the bottom.”

Adams was waiting for the International Game Fish Association in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to confirm it as a world record — specifically, the men’s 80-pound line class record for Pacific bluefin tuna. “I can’t see why it wouldn’t be,” says Adams, who also makes black marlin lures — Red Gill Lures — as a side business. “It was IGFA-rated line. I fish within the IGFA rules, so I can’t see why it wouldn’t be.”

Jack Vitek, world records coordinator for the IGFA, had received Adams’ application when he spoke with Soundings in mid-April. “It’s a hell of a catch, for sure, and certainly is heavy enough to be a world record,” Vitek says, adding that the current record is 526 pounds, set in 2010 with a fish caught off Japan. “It’s being reviewed. It usually takes about two to three months.”

Adams plans to hang the tuna in the Muriwai Sport Fishing Club when the taxidermist is done with it. However, the club is having a new facility built, so it’ll temporarily hang on a wall in Adams’ house. “My wife’s not so happy because it’s huge. It’ll take up the whole wall,” he says. “For me, it’s a milestone and something that will probably never happen again, so it is going on the wall. It’s going to cost me lots of money [for the taxidermy], but I am doing it anyway.”

The tuna didn't fit into Adams' boat. He towed it to a weigh station.

Adams has been fishing since he was old enough to hold a rod. “My passion is marlin fishing — that’s all I do in the marlin season here,” he says. “I stop working for a couple of months and go marlin fishing.” In addition to the tuna, Adams and his crew caught a dozen marlin. The tuna turned out to be the second-largest fish caught during the outing. “The largest fish was a black marlin we caught a few days later that was 800 pounds,” Adams says. “That was the biggest fish we have ever had in the boat. We also caught a swordfish, which is not that common in New Zealand — 280 pounds, a small one.”

This article originally appeared in the June 2012 issue,