Once upon a time, soon after the turn of the 20th century, smelly, crunchy sardines gave way to the tasty, tender white meat of canned tuna.  Suddenly, fisherman catching tuna around San Diego Bay found that their waters were the tuna capital of the world. The docks along the Embarcadero waterfront were teaming with stevedores unloading the frozen catch and transporting it to the nearby canneries where hundreds of women cleaned and packed cans of what they called the “chicken of the sea.”


Large bronze sculpture and granite marker

Location:  32°42’38.1N 117°13’47.9W

Artist:  Franco Vianello

Learn: Back in the early 1900s, fisherman around San Diego Bay using long poles to catch tuna which could weigh in excess of 400 pounds. The Tunaman’s Memorial sculpture honors the men of many nationalities who united to man the tuna fleets that were based in San Diego Bay.  Notice that the Tunaman’s Memorial statue represents fishermen of different ethnic backgrounds – Japanese, Portuguese, and Slavic – as interpreted by an Italian artist. The Portuguese Historical Center in conjunction with members of the local fishing communities sponsored this memorial, which was dedicated in October 1988. The bronze sculpture weighs 9,000 pounds and stands 21-feet to the tip of the fishing pole. The Port of San Diego contributed the granite base and installation. One polished side of the sculpture contains names of fishermen who were pioneers in our region as well as and those who were lost at sea. The inscription reads: Tunaman’s Memorial honoring those that built an industry and remembering those that departed this harbor in the sun and did not return.

Didja ever think about the logistics of reeling in a fish that’s 5x your size?  how fishermen balanced on a boat while reeling in a fish that was several times their body weight. Ponder the physics that allow a fisherman haul in a fish at can be up to 5 times his weight or more.

Author and fisherman Patrick Avelino understands the physics of fishing as well as anyone: he’s been big game fishing more than 30 years. He notes on Quora.com that tuna has become extremely expensive at nearly $5,000 a trip, so he targets over-sized white sturgeon instead.  These fish can achieve weights up to 1,500lbs at 16ft in length.  His current, top three fish have been two fish at 12ft, and one fish at 14ft.  Each of the 12ft fish were estimated at 1,000lbs. This is how Avelino maximizes the physics of big catch fishing:

To target these giant fish requires gear to maximize the physics of safely landing these colossal creatures.  Everything from the length of the boat, size of the motors, seat configuration, anchor system, rods & reels, and terminal tackle are best customized to apply direct pressure at 90° as quickly and safely as possible.

Four major points concerning the physics of landing large fish:

  1. Leverage
  2. Drag
  3. Caloric Output
  4. Torque
  1. Leverage

Leverage is the ultimate key in fighting large fish.  Anchoring is extremely important regardless of the size of the targeted fish.  With anchoring, your boat becomes a stationary platform.  Specialized rod holders can “balance” the rod. Balancing the rods can detect the minutest of bite from the largest of fish. A titanic tuna will easily spool & break your line within minutes.  An anchor break-away & retrieval system allows your boat to drift while you pursue the fish.  The lightness, length, and seating configuration of the boat should allow for safe & quick anchor release the anchor and maneuvering.  During the chase, maintain positive pressure at, or close to, the desired angle.  Experts emphasize that the boat and body position should allow for maximum leverage. Leverage is crucial in landing large fish.

  1. Drag

Leverage gets you in position to fight the fish.  The drag system on the fishing reel actually gets the job done.  Experienced fishermen may use a dual-speed conventional reel with a maximum drag value of 31lbs and over 600 yards of 80lb braided line and run the reels at 25lbs of drag, or something similar to such. As a fish pulls the line from the reel, the spool diameter shrinks. Drag increases as the spool diameter decreases = more work for the fisherman.  The golden rule in fishing concerning drag to line class is maintaining a ratio of (about) 3:1. Even while at a controlled drift, a 1,000-pound fish can out swim human pursuit.

  1. Caloric Output

A quick fight with a 1,000-pound fish is relative term.  Four-hour fights are not uncommon.  If you become tired and completely fatigued, there’s no way to successfully land the fish.  Therefore, conserving energy while applying pressure at the optimal angle is the only way to succeed.   Again, getting to the optimal angle is only part of the fight. You want the majority of the fight in an Up/Down motion.  It applies the most pressure, and above all, it’s easier!  How? By using the gunnel of the boat as a fulcrum.

A successful fisherman will calculate the pull of the fish, lightness of the boat, strength of the line, and parabolic bend of the rod and maneuver the boat while maintaining pressure on the fish. As soon as the fish attempts to rest, put the rod back on the gunnel and apply optimum pressure with a fulcrum again.  By doing so, the fish never gets a chance to rest.

  1. Torque

To reel in big fish, use reels that have a special feature called two-speed.  In high-speed mode, the gear ratio is 6.4:1.  The torque is such that every complete turn of the handle will rotate the spool 6.4 times.  In low-gear, the gear ratio drops to 2:1.  It doesn’t recover the line as fast, but it’s so easy to turn the handle, the reel become a wench and you expend less energy in retrieving your line.

Fishing tuna in the 150lb class, you might use a technique called short-stroking.  Using rod, real, and the movement of the fish, you maintain positive pressure to tire the fish while gaining line as you reel.


It’s a combination of physics, technique, and experience allows an angler to land fish 5 times (or more) their weight!


  1. When was the San Diego Embarcadero the tuna capital of the world?
  2. Name the four major points concerning the physics of landing large fish.
  3. What is crucial in landing large fish?
  4. What motion is the most efficient for tiring out a big fish?
  5. Why is torque important?

10 Ways to Enjoy:

  1. Try and figure out the nationality of the Tunamen on the memorial.
  2. Imagine what San Diego Bay looked like in 1920, when it was the tuna capital of the world.
  3. Skip stones on the water. How many skips can you get?
  4. Play Go Fish
  5. Eat a tunafish sandwich.
  6. Take in the view.
  7. Play frisbee.
  8. Throw the ball for your pet.
  9. Ponder the last time you were on a boat in the San Diego Bay.
  10. Flip a coin.

Share your fun:  #SanDiBAT


A fisherman’s advice on boots: Wear rubber knee- or hip-boots, but never all the way up. Go overboard in full-length boots and water seeping will tug you down. Keep the top open, rolled over like a movie pirate or with slits cut down the sides. Then you can kick them off fast. Some boots come with holes punched around the ankles to help them drain.

Today, all that’s left of San Diego’s Tuna Harbor is a marina at the foot of G Street, where the American Tunaboat Association is headquartered.







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