game fishing in the North Sea? Yes, in the 1930's Scarborough was the centre of the pursuit
of the blue fin Tuna (Thunnus Thynnus) and a group of wealthy
aristocrats and military men -
Lieutenant Colonel Henry Stapleton-Cotton, E Horesfall-Turner, Major
G S Rowley, Colonel E T Peel and Mr L Mitchell Henry were associated
with the record breaking catches of these large fish. In 1934,
the sport attracted such as Baron Henri de Rothschild in his 1000
ton yacht "Eros".
Scarborough also became the headquarters of the British Tunny Club,
a gentlemen's club that has long since closed down when the Tunny
departed or were fished out.
was definitely for those with adequate financial resources and although
the sport on this coast has now passed into history and partial obscurity, Tunny are reported to be on the West Coast of
Scotland and there are rumours that they may make a comeback in some way. As
such fileybay takes a look at this
unique sport through the eyes of another hardy salt water big game fisherman,
Fred Taylor. While other participants are recorded by their names, Fred produced an excellent insight
into the sport for posterity in his small book Tunny Fishing for Beginners.
The book has been out of print for some time now but it stands testimony to the
enthusiasm and commitment Fred and those early anglers. Although
Fred stayed in Scarborough while he was fishing, some of his family had Filey
connections and stayed there for at least a part of the time.
The Tunny is a giant member of the mackerel
family, a powerful streamlined fish and a good sized fish would measure six feet
in girth, the primary source of food for the Tunny appears to be herring and
mackerel and these fish were hunted using rods and lines to the standard of the
day using the herring and mackerel for bait on five inch hooks on wire traces.
The lines were made from natural fibre and the American Ashaway lines were
considered the best for some time. For hunting these large fish there were
several excellent rods on the market six foot six inches long made of hickory,
lancewood, greenheart and bamboo built in sections. A combination rod was
made in half hickory and half bamboo with the hickory on the outside of
the rod and the bamboo in the underside of the rod. An example of the
heavy duty reels in use can be seen in the picture below of Mr H J Hardy striking into a fish.
The Tunny were often seen beside herring
drifters who followed the herring shoals down the coast on their annual
migration and also near to steam trawlers when
they hauled their nets feeding on the fish that came out of the nets, so
one of the requirements of the sport was to hire a boat to get out to the
offshore fishing grounds where the commercial fishermen earned their living.
The actual angling was done from a small boat, either a rowing
boat or a Yorkshire Coble (which was an open boat of about thirty feet long) usually towed
to the grounds behind a motor boat or a larger keel boat. The hiring of these
was expensive and costs could be shared by more than one angler. Herring
drifters fished at night when the herring rose off the seabed and hauled their
nets to come to port in the morning while trawlers could fish at all times of
the day, weather permitting of course.
The coble Geoffrey
used by Fred
Up to 1929 the nearest places where they
had been taken by rod and line were Norway and Denmark but in 1929 Henry
Stapleton-Cotton and a couple or so others went late in the season to try their
luck, but the weather was bad. Henry Stapleton-Cotton was credited as being the
first person to fish for the Tunny and although he hooked two, they both got
away. The real start to the big game fishing started on August 27 in 1930 when
Mr Mitchell–Henry made history by landing the first Tunny ever caught on rod and
line weighing 560 lb. He made this catch some fifty miles out to sea and
this give an idea of how far the anglers were prepared to go to find the
The methodology was to find the drifters
and trawlers out at sea and ask if Tunny were about, or to ask when the boat was hauling
their nets and to either wait for this to occur or move on to another boat, often a trawler would
give the anglers a blast on its whistle to let the anglers know if Tunny were
about. In the case of Fred Taylor, once the fish were there, he would
leave the coble and get into the rowing boat which was fitted with a seat and
harness for the purpose. the ideal bait was mackerel, but herring was also used and
herrings either whole or cut up were put into the water as a "rubby dubby" to attract the fish.
Once a fish took the bait then all hell
broke loose, the fish would “run” up to 300 yards and must be allowed to do so
with a reel that was slightly braked to prevent it over running. When he
considered the fish had run far enough, Fred would tighten the line and “strike”
the fish to pull the hook in and then the fight started, which was a gruelling
business. The fish would tow the boat as it was being played and with each
rush, he would get as much line back as possible until the fish either “sounded”
(went to the bottom stone dead) or came alongside exhausted to be gaffed aboard.
Fighting a Tunny was exhausting and required stamina, in the 1932 season it was
recorded that a Mr Harold Hardy of Cloughton Hall fought a Tunny for over seven
hours only to lose the fish about 16 feet long at the last moment when his line
below give a flavour of the action and show Fred Taylor at work. The seasonable
Tunny fishing also gave local fishermen additional employment prospects and from the
photographs it is seen that whole crews of vessels could become involved in
servicing the sport.
Waiting for the fish to
Mr H J Hardy striking a fish, note the
Harness on, Fred Taylor is
battling with a Tunny
In 1931, only
one fish was landed by Mr Mitchell-Henry weighing 560 lb (again).
1931 was a bad season and many hours were wasted searching for the elusive fish.
1932 however was a glorious season, England made angling history during the
first few weeks as twenty one fish were landed with an average weight of just
under 600 lb and Colonel E T Peel landed an excellent fish of 798 lb. A
certain Mrs Sparrow, not to be outdone landed her own fish weighing 469 lb, that
showed that ladies could hold their own in what was then a largely male
dominated environment, we have only seen one other account of a lady angler in
|Mr Mitchell-Henry with
his World Record Tunny of 851 lb
||Fred Taylor with his
"Little 'un" (707 lb!)
As with all
sports, Tunny fishing was very competitive, it was recorded that when one large
fish caught by Mr Mitchell Henry was beaten by another by just one pound, he
lodged a complaint that the weight
of the rope holding the tail of the winning fish was too heavy as it was wet!
Apparently a bitter argument broke out that continued for some time, but Mr
Mitchell Henry was beaten - and that was that!
has been sourced from Fred Taylor's book and the Webmaster freely acknowledges
his copyright to his own work. This page pays small tribute to a dedicated
angler and to a very good handbook on big game fishing off the Yorkshire
Coast. It is not possible to cover all of Fred's experiences here
and my own copy in
its faded jacket sits pride of place on my bookshelf.
Since publishing this article
on the website, Mr Ridley Nelson had been in contact with me, Fred Taylor is his
grandfather on his mother's side of the family. He has kindly provided
some pictures from his own collection and these are in the gallery on this link.
And now to
To Mr L
Mitchell-Henry and his publishers, Messers. Rich & Cowan for the photograph of
Mr Mitchell-Henry and his World Record Tunny, which has already appeared in his
own book titled Tunny Fishing. To Mr Crobert Mackenzie and
the News Chronicle; and to Mr F Stanley Cheer for the photograph of the
Yorkshire Coble Geoffrey.
To that which is not in anyone
else's copyright, copyright is in the possession of Anthony Green of the Filey
Bay Research Group 2009 who asserts his rights