After fighting the giant tuna for more than two hours, and following it around the deck of the 92-foot boat more than a dozen times, Liz Franzino finally reeled the behemoth to where it could be seen shimmering below the surface.
Or so the crew told her. She personally could not see the great fish because the marathon struggle ended at the bow, where the rail stood too tall for the diminutive angler to peer overboard.
"At my height, I couldn't see the fish until they brought it down the rail [using tall gaffs] and through the gate," Franzino said of a catch that was hauled through the stern gate of the Royal Star, then caused jaws to drop.
After Capt. Randy Toussiant docked the vessel in San Diego late this week, following a 12-day adventure in Mexican waters, Franzino's tuna tipped the Fisherman's Landing scale at 315 pounds, making it the largest of the trip and what is believed to be the second-heaviest yellowfin tuna ever boated by a female angler.
"I'm just a normal person, and a lucky fisherman," the 4-foot-11 Franzino, a school teacher from Hemet, Calif., said as she stood amid those gathered to witness the weigh-in.
Only four women in the decades-long history of San Diego's long-range fleet, which plies waters known to harbor the world's largest yellowfin tuna, have caught yellowfin weighing more than 300 pounds.
The largest, according to fleet records, was a 353.7-pounder boated by Judith Montague in 2008 aboard the Red Rooster III. Previously, Joyce Corrigan had landed yellowfin weighing 310 and 304 pounds on separate voyages aboard the Royal Polaris, and June Pierce caught a 305-pounder aboard the Red Rooster III.
It should also be noted that Candace Meyer caught a 314-pound yellowfin aboard a smaller sportfishing yacht in 2003 off Ghana, West Africa.
How strong and powerful is a large yellowfin? Valene Garrison, after battling a 180-pounder for three hours last February aboard the Intrepid, said of her ordeal: "It was harder than childbirth. It was the hardest thing I've ever done."
San Diego is the only place that sends large, luxury sportfishers on tuna-specific trips that generally last between 10-16 days, targeting what are referred to as cows (over 200 pounds) and the much rarer super cows (300-plus pounds.)
In early December, in what was arguably the top saltwater angling story of 2010, long-ranger Mike Livingston weighed in a 405.2-pound specimen caught aboard the Vagabond, and became the first angler to break the 400-pound mark. The details of his catch is still being reviewed by the International Game Fish Assn., but it's expected to replace an all-tackle world record (388 pounds, by Curt Wiesenhutter) that has stood for 33 years.
Perhaps the next time a record fish is caught, a woman will be behind the rod and reel.
-- Image of Liz Franzino and her 315-pound yellowfin tuna is courtesy of Paul Sweeney / FishingVideos.com
-- Editor's note: This post also appears on the GrindTv.com outdoors blog