by Betty Bezzerides
Special to The Pilot
It's albacore tuna season and Jim Moore is likely to be fishing anywhere between 50 and 500 miles out to sea, "looking for the edges."
"Tuna feed along the inside edge of the warm water," he said. "That's how we find 'em."
Moore, owner and captain of the Ina Ruth, has been finding fish most of his life.
"I can remember sitting in the sand holding onto a fishing pole when I was about 3. It was at a lake and I had a carp on. It felt like it was going to pull me into the lake."
Born and raised in Napa, Calif., by the time he was in his teens Moore had fished out of San Francisco, Bodega Bay and Fort Bragg.
Between them, he and his father owned several boats, including the Eagle, Eagle II, Black Eagle and Eagle III.
"They called us Eagle Jim and Eagle Bob," Moore said.
At 17, Moore ran the Eagle up the coast from Fort Bragg, looking for salmon. He came as far as Gold Beach, where he settled for a few years before moving to Brookings' deeper harbor.
Nearly 20 years ago, an experience aboard the Eagle III, which was 40 feet long with a plywood hull, convinced Moore he needed a bigger, stronger boat.
"I was in a bad storm," he said. "We were 200 miles off shore in 60-knot winds and 40-foot seas. It took two days to get into port. Six boats went down. That storm was one of the reasons I bought the Ina Ruth."
Built in a Tacoma, Wash., shipyard in 1948, the Ina Ruth is a 48-foot wood plank vessel. Moore thinks he's the third owner.
"It's built extra strong for its size, with bigger ribs," he explained. "There's a story that the builder waited two years just to get the right piece of wood to make the keel."
Moore said he doesn't know the origin of the boat's name.
Aware of fishermens' superstitions, he added, "The boat was one of the big producers in Washington. It's always had a good reputation for catching a lot of product. I figured I'd better not change the name."
Moore limits his harvest to crab and tuna on the Ina Ruth.
"I crab later than most people, right up 'til it's time to go tuna fishing," he said.
The transition from one season to the next is a busy time for the fisherman.
Retrieving 400 crabpots is the first job on his list.
"After that we take off the hydraulic crab block and the boom (equipment used to haul pots in and out of the water) and put on the outrigger poles." Once skinny fir trees, the poles tower 45 feet.
"Next we take off the crab storage tank and add more fuel tanks." Two tanks on deck and two below hold a combined total of 1,500 gallons of diesel fuel, enough for about 14 days at sea.
Last aboard is the tuna storage system.
"We put on a chill tank and a refrigerated fish hold," Moore said. "Then we run the system for a couple of days to test it."
"Everything's got to be perfect before you leave on a tuna trip," he emphasized. "It's too dangerous. You're too far out for the Coast Guard. You have to depend on other fishermen."
Moore admitted weather is his biggest challenge.
"It blows real hard from the northwest a lot in the summer. The poles start banging around and you worry about things coming loose. Nighttime can be dangerous. It seems like that's when boats go down."
"I've run with another boat since I've been tuna fishing. We stay in radio contact. Sometimes we even stay in sight if it's real rough."
Moore said the tuna appear "about like clockwork" each year. "They come across the Pacific following the feed different types of bait fish, squid and sauries."
"I get a satellite picture off the Internet to see where the warm water starts. You look for subtle signs too birds, whales, the way the water ripples."
Moore typically leaves on a fishing trip around 4 a.m.
"We take off due west and run for 10-20 hours, however long it takes to where we think the spot is."
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"I take one other guy besides myself. His job is to pull fish all day. I run the boat and the chromoscope (a color depth finder that shows bait fish and tuna under water)." When tuna are plentiful, Moore sets the boat on autopilot so he can also pull fish.
When tuna fishing, the Ina Ruth runs at 6 knots per hour, dragging 12 lines of varying lengths on top of the water. Three lines are attached to each outrigger pole and six to the back of the boat. Moore attaches a jig (a large, colorful lure) with a barbless double hook to each line.
"You don't need barbs because you're going so fast, once you hook 'em, they won't come off. They just start following the boat. They see the bubbles and they think it's a school of bait fish."
Like most fishermen, Moore has his favorite lures.
"There are colors that give me confidence," he said. "You've got to think you're going to get 'em. If you go out with a bad attitude, you won't get 'em."
Moore said each school might contain thousands of tuna.
"I've seen schools jumping as far as you can see," he said. "We might catch eight or nine in a school 100 pounds before they get spooked and go down."
"The deck hand yells up Tuna!' when there are fish on and pulls 'em up as fast as he can."
"We pull them mostly by hand the short lines close to the boat first and then the long lines off the back. We have a couple of hydraulic pullers we can use if the fish are really big. You throw the jig right back in as soon as you pull the tuna."
Moore bleeds the fish on board and fresh freezes them to insure premium quality. "We run the tuna through the chill tank and stack em in the hold like cordwood."
"It keeps you busy, figuring out the puzzle pieces and putting it all together. Sometimes we take breaks and cook a meal or listen to music or an audiotape. If I ever lay down to take a nap, that's when the fish bite. They like to mess with me," Moore said.
When Moore heads for port with a boatload of fish, his wife Ann shifts into high gear. She contacts customers who've placed orders ahead of time, helps Jim sell tuna from the boat at P Dock and keeps recipes in her back pocket.
The Moore children, Marcus and Michelle, also help with the family business, weighing and hauling fish for customers.
After a few days in port it's time to stock up on fuel and groceries, put everything shipshape and run the Ina Ruth out to sea again.
"She's a pretty tough old boat," Moore said. "I really think she'll be around a long time after I'm gone."
To order albacore tuna, call Jim or Ann Moore at (541) 469-3249.