Tony Pena (Peña) interview

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Tony Pena (Peña), is the autor of the Tony Pena Knot, the best knot to link spectra with nylon. He has wrote in many important fishing magazines: Marlin, Saltwater Sportsman, Sport Fishing, Pacific Coast Sportfishing, Western Outdoors. He lives in San Diego, California (Valley Center) and his fishing techniques are Popping, Jigging, Trolling lures/live bait.

Watchword / witty remark (about fishing or lifestyle): The Roving Angler

- Tony do you remember how and when you have started to fishing? How did you love fishing?

I started fishing at an early age (around five years old) with my father and six older brothers (no sisters in my family). My family was not wealthy so I didn't have opportunities to fish in good, productive locations. My fishing was usually experienced alone or with a friend or brother within walking distance from home. This meant it was south San Diego Bay which wasn't very productive with a hand line baited with clams dug along the shore or at small farm ponds and lakes using worms dug from the garden. I spent many years not catching very much which just made me more intent on getting to new places where the fishing was better and learning how to catch them. I dreamed of exotic, foreign locations and read fishing magazines and colorful brochures from fishing lodges and that motivated me to travel. By the late 1960's while in college I worked and saved some money to fish Mexico where I caught my first billfish (136 lb. sailfish) and that was a big start for me. I have since traveled extensively and have fished in 18 countries. I am still trying to find the best place in the world to catch fish although some places have come pretty close.

- Have you any hobbies over the fishing? - Hiking, wildlife viewing, photography, sports.

- For your fishing reportages you had to travel around the world…How did you find time for your family?

I don't have kids. I grew up in a large family with six older brothers and I have many nieces and nephews. That was enough.

- How did born the Tony Pena Knot ? - I learned a similar knot from Captain Roddy Hays while fishing at Midway Atoll in Hawaii (now closed to fishing). The knot was called an old "English surf casting knot" but it did not work with Spectra braid until I modified it by adding more twists. I then referred to it as the "Tony Peña Knot".

- How many IGFA records you have set? In which countries? Which of these is your favorite IGFA record? - I have set 18 IGFA world records in Australia, Mexico and the United States. My favorite record was a 24-pound (I forgot the exact weight) cubera snapper caught with six-pound Trilene monofilament in Zihuatanejo, Mexico. The reason it is special is because it was hooked on a plug around a rocky reef and it took all of my skill and my guide who was running the panga to stay right on top of it in 40-feet of water so it wouldn't cut me off on the sharp rocks. In 1984 the fish was accepted as an "All Tackle" record but when the species became eligible as a "Line Class" species the record did not automatically carry over to that category so is no longer listed.

- Among fishing types, which is your favorite technique? Do you prefer coast fishing (surfcasting, spinning, rockfishing…) or offshore fishing (trolling, vertical jigging, deep sea fishing, drifting…) ?

My favorite fishing technique is casting surface poppers using conventional reels along coastal habitat and islands as well as the open ocean for yellowfin tuna, etc...

I do however, spend a lot of time with other methods such as trolling offshore for pelagics such as marlin, deep jigging, drifting with live bait for halibut here off San Diego, California, and casting a variety of small lures in the mangroves, tidal flats and rivers.

- Among techniques that you have never practiced, which fishing technique do you would like to try?

I would like to fly fish on the flats for bonefish and tarpon.

- For your work and your passion, you have visited many countries and many fishing "hot spots"...Which is your favorite Hot Spot in the World? Have you ever fished in Italy?

I have fished in 18 countries and I would say my overall favorite is the Republic of Panama. Panama has such a wide variety of inshore and offshore habitat containing an immense number of gamefish that it is hard to beat. However, that is not all. The majority of these gamefish aggressively attack surface poppers like no other Western Hemisphere country. I have not fished in Italy nor Europe. I did have two Italian guests who fished with me on the old "Coiba Explorer" mothership in Panama several years ago. I still remember them yelling in amazement when I caught a 45-pound amberjack on a popper close to Coiba Island. They said that in Italy amberjack are caught but down deep with live bait and would never rise for a popper.

- Tony please tell about your “best fishing day”... - I have had too many "best fishing days" to single out just one. In Panama I had a 300-pound yellowfin tuna, 350 and 600-pound black marlin, several dorado and sailfish caught on the Hannibal Bank and then while returning before dark a 50-pound roosterfish hit a popper close to the anchorage to end the spectacular day.

At Tropic Star Lodge, Piñas Bay, Panama, I had a grand slam of blue, black and striped marlin only to lose a super grand slam when a sailfish threw the hook. Drift fishing from my boat in San Diego we caught over 100-pounds of California halibut (not the larger Pacific halibut) including a 42-pound'er that received a lot of news attention for the big catch. In Sitka, Alaska, I didn't want to use cut bait down deep (440 feet) with heavy tackle for Pacific halibut like the other fishermen and chose to deep jig. I caught 22 big halibut (all but two released) between 40 and 125-pounds in one afternoon with a Shimano Trinidad 20 compared to only four fish that my companions caught with dead bait. At Piñas Bay, Panama, I caught a 45-pound tarpon which is extremely rare since tarpon are indigenous to the Atlantic not the Pacific Ocean.

The same day I hooked another tarpon on a popper but it threw the hook while jumping close to the boat. My captain and mate with many years of experience had never seen a tarpon before. While fishing with Captain Jim Wiese on his 47-foot Buddy Davis yacht near Jicaron Island, Panama, we decided to fish the deep reefs for 30 minutes before heading to the Hannibal Bank for black marlin. The guests were fishing with live and cut bait but catching only small fish. Finally Jim yelled down from the bridge and told me to start fishing and "do my thing". I dropped down a pink Shimano Butterfly Jig and started whipping it through the water column.

Within 20 minutes I had a 45-pound cubera snapper, 50-pound amberjack and a 100-pound broomtail grouper onboard at the amazement of everyone onboard-except maybe Capt. Wiese whom I have fished with before and is owner of the Cebaco Bay Sportfishing Club ( There are too many other experiences to list.

- …And please tell about your “worst fishing day”…!!! Which is biggest fish that you have lost?

My worst fishing "days" usually involve some sort of accident. I ran aground on a coral "bommie" on the Great Barrier Reef, Australia and survived only because the 32-foot boat was made with aluminum and was able to get bounced by waves off the reef without sinking.

Off Coiba Island, Panama, my boat sank after being swamped by a large rogue wave and we had to swim to the island as sharks were attacking our live bait supply that was spilling out of the boat. We made it to shore close to large crocodiles at the river mouth that we avoided. We were rescued the next day by the mothership. While fishing along the Tuna Coast, Panama, our panga guide was late in seeing a large wave about 200-feet from us building up to near a breaking crest.

I used to surf so I know how to read waves and we had to get away from the shallow beach and fast. We wound up punching through the top of the 15-foot crest and free-falling off the backside. My friend was in the front and he sustained broken ribs. It could have been worse. I stowed a rusty, iron rebar anchor (made from reinforcement steel rods used for construction, cut, bent and welded together to make an efficient and inexpensive bottom grabber) under the seat which may have been lethal to have fallen on. Regarding fishing, one beautiful April day in Panama I fished with the Martinelli family (one son is now president of Panama) on their fast Grady White twin outboard from Coiba, Hannibal Bank, Montuosa Island, Jicaron Island, down the backside of Coiba all the way back to their home anchorage at Bahia Ballena and never caught a thing, not even a baitfish was showing.

We trolled lures, popped and deep jigged in glassy smooth, deep blue water and didn't catch a thing. Now THAT is hard to do in Panama. I've lost several fish from 850 to over 1,000-pounds, including a black marlin estimated at 850-pounds near the leader, a tiger shark that ate my 30-pound dorado off Loreto, Baja California, Mexico, that was over 1,000-pounds and towed our 28-foot boat backwards.

- Tony the interview is ending; have you any good tips for new young fishermen?

I would say PERSISTENCE (never giving up); creating your own OPPORTUNITIES (not letting other people decide or determine what you do); developing a strong SENSE of the natural world (how the water habitats work including where fish congregate, tides, moon phases, birds and other wildlife such as dolphins that give clues, sea conditions, etc.); learning to use your TACKLE (rods, reels, line, lures) so they become "part of you"; PUSH yourself to catch bigger fish on small tackle-you will learn a lot more that way; SAVE enough to travel-you will learn a lot more that way! Be wary of dangers and be SAFE.

Tony thank you very much for your time and your patience, we think that Italian fishermen are happy to have known you better. In the future, if you come in Italy, please call us...We would like to fish with you.

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