Reflecting sunlight, the cobweb of monofilament line stretching back from the giant sportfishing boat was enough to make any spider feel inadequate in its construction skills.
All that was visible from a boat trolling nearby was trouble waiting in the wings. The myriad lines and poles, extending from outriggers, were spread across the bridge like traffic cones and appeared to completely ring the cockpit. As long as the boat was moving the setup looked graceful, but what happened when a fish hit?
All I could think of was a 50-pound yellowfin tuna nailing a bait being pulled from the left outrigger and then cutting right like one of Steve Spurrier's Gamecock halfbacks. Add an inexperienced angler on the rod, which is not uncommon on charter boats, and I pitied the mate who would have to clear that mess while trying to land a hyperactive tuna.
This spread was the legendary setup of Capt. Reid Bost and mate Michael Runey, a team that fished out of Mount Pleasant and was known for its tuna-catching abilities. Bost and Runey made boat names, such as Aut-Top-Sea and, more recently, Aggressor, famed names at the Charleston waterfront.
I was fortunate to fish with the two on several occasions. Watching them handle nearly a dozen lines was a perfect example of communication and teamwork that led to fishing success.
Runey currently captains the Aggressor (www.shemcreekcharters.com or 843-856-4090) with mate Ben Polk, while Bost spends less time on the water but still looks over the shoulder of his successor.
"Working that many rods, sometimes as many as 11, can be a pain," Runey admitted. "You get tangles, and you have to rig a lot of baits, I mean a lot, but it's worth it in the long run. Tuna like action, and with that many rods in the water, you have a lot more chances to catch fish."
How does the Aggressor manage such a plethora of lines in the water and still catch fish? Well, Runey does some things differently than other boats trolling offshore.
The first is the number of rods.
"We run four rods off of the bridge," Runey said. "The two outside rods go to each outrigger and are run the farthest back. They're about three-quarters of a spool back, which is 350 to 400 yards of line.
"The two center rods are dragged at two different distances," he said. "One rod is way back with the rods on the outriggers. The other rod is the short center, and we run it only back about 200 feet. If you run it too far back, it'll tangle with the other center rod."
Runey said a downside of running lines so far back is cutoffs. Recreational offshore anglers have a tendency to follow the charter boats when leaving in the morning or if they find the big boats during a day of fishing. A lot of these small boats don't realize lines are running that far back, and cut them with their props. At the very least, they hang the Aggressor's lines with their own trolled lines if they don't cut them.
Inside the cockpit is where things really get busy.
"There's a lot to keep up with," Runey said. "Two rods are run off each outrigger. In addition, there's one flat line and one or two rods attached to planers. Sometimes, we'll even have someone sit in the chair and hold a rod."
As if that many lines weren't enough, Runey's crew pulls two teasers - usually blue or purple daisy chains.
"The advantage of being able to fish this many rods is when the bite comes," Runey said. "If you're fishing four or five rods, and two or three go down when you find a school of tuna, you feel good. But think how you would feel if eight or 10 rods went down.
"If that's the only bite you get that day, you already have had a better day than the majority of boats that only pick up one, two or three fish."
Another trait that differentiates the Aggressor crew is actually a combination of factors.
"People trolling offshore routinely stop the boat when a fish hits," Runey said. "They do this because they fear the fish will spool the rod. In seven years of fishing, we have only had one fish spool a rod.
"The other problem with throwing the boat into neutral when a fish hits is you instantly lost any chance of catching more fish. As soon as that boat stops, all of sudden your whole spread stops too. All of those baits go limp in the water.
"Remember, tuna are schooling fish, and if you hook one, there's a very good chance there are some other fish with that one. It's very rare a fish is going to hit a bait that has stopped and is slowly sinking toward the bottom.
"Keep the boat moving when a fish hits, and that single hookup will likely become a multiple hookup."
Just as using multiple rods, this strategy can turn a ho-hum, two- or three-fish day into that six-tuna (or more) day.
Keeping the boat moving when a fish hits puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the tackle. To combat obvious problems, the Aggressor crew fishes slightly heavier tackle than normal so anglers can get fish to the boat against the boat's forward speed. By quickly getting a tuna to the boat, it's less likely to tangle in the multitude of rods splayed out across the ocean.
"We use custom-made poles and Penn 50s loaded with 80-pound-test monofilament line," Runey said. "Occasionally we'll size up to Penn 80s with 130-pound line, but that's usually more for tournament fishing.
"The main line is connected to Size 8 S-Pro 130-pound-test swivels. These are wind-on swivels, which accomplishes two purposes - wind-on swivels won't bubble like larger swivels, which can lead to finicky tuna.
"Also, with wind-on swivels, an angler can reel the leader right into the rod, and he doesn't have to wait for the mate to wire the leader. He can get the fish right to the boat, and the mate can gaff it.
"When you have multiple hookups, this frees up the mate and allows the fish to get in the box quicker, which means less time for the fish to be in the water and possibly tangling with the other lines."
Following the swivel, Runey starts out with an 80-foot leader of 100- to 130-pound-test line. Another mate-saving tactic is to have several fishing poles waiting in the wings with 80-foot leaders. Once leaders get short from retying baits or cutoffs, rather than re-rig with a new leader Runey has the mate put the rod aside and grab one with the appropriate length leader. There's time to rig new leaders during runs between fishing areas or during down moments.
"We run Sea Witches about 98 percent of the time," Runey said. "We might run some Hawaiian Eyes at times, but at $15 versus $1, it's primarily the Sea Witches. We also use medium(-size), naked (no Sea Witch skirts) ballyhoo."
Ballyhoos are rigged with a 3/4-ounce egg sinker and a 9/0 No. 7766 Mustad hook.
If the tuna get finicky, cockpit poles are dropped farther back, and leaders get scaled down to 60- or 80-pound fluorocarbon. Small ballyhoo are used with 6/0 No. 9175 Mustad hooks, a typical sailfish or white-marlin combination.
"A key to successful tuna fishing is having good baits," Runey said. "We order our baits in December to ensure we're in line to get premium baits. If you're not pulling good baits you're wasting your time."
During a good day, the Aggressor might go through 10 dozen baits. Runey said even during a slow day, he'll use a minimum of three dozen baits.
Speaking of baits, Runey will seize any chance to use flying fish.
"A tuna will take a flying fish every time over a ballyhoo, if given the choice," he said. "When some of the long-line boats spend the night offshore, flying fish get disoriented by their lights and end up on their decks. These guys usually save them for us.
"Another way we sometimes can get usable fliers is back at the docks. When we are cleaning fish, we check the stomachs of every tuna. If they've just eaten, the flying fish is usually fresh enough to use for bait the next day. We just put it on ice until in the morning."
Even having a slew of rods overboard, trolling at 5 1/2 knots and fresh baits, Runey still has to find the fish.
"About 90 percent of the time we're going to be near the Georgetown Hole," Runey said. "In this area, you want to look for warm water and temperature breaks. I prefer to find water near 70 degrees and above structure.
"The structure creates upwellings that push the bait towards the surface. You want to fish temperatures unless you mark bait. If you see bait, then the fish are normally there.
"The bait might anywhere from 30- to 200-feet deep. Keep working the area and eventually the bait will move up. If the bait are deep, usually the planer will be the first to get hit."
Runey said many people make a mistake once tuna have pushed baitfish to the top and the yellowfins begin busting them at the surface.
"If you see fish busting, you want to pull the baits through the commotion - not the boat," he said. "Stay to the outside and work the edges and let the baits swing into the fish.
"If there are a lot of boats working the school, then eventually fish are going to sound (go deep). This is where having a planer becomes very important.
"We run a No. 6 planer, and once those tuna go deep, you can still pick up a few fish while everyone else is dragging hopelessly on top. Again, it's those one or two extra fish that turn an average day into a great day."
Runey said most of the fish anglers can expect this month will average between 25 and 40 pounds, with larger fish, up to 60 pounds, mixed in at any time. Near Memorial Day is when the larger fish, the 80- and 100-pounders, pass through.
By following some of the Aggressor's tips, anglers can expect to tangle with yellowfin tuna during April.
However, if anglers compromise any of Runey's tips, they'll likely spend more time untangling lines rather fishing.