Thomas Nini, 12, poses with his 88.6-pound yellowfin tuna that nearly placed in the Grand Isle Tarpon Rodeo. (Submitted Photo/Courtesy of Catherine Nini)
Youngster's yellowfin tuna nearly places at Grand Isle Tarpon Rodeo
Twelve-year-old Thomas Nini is like a lot of boys his age. He plays organized baseball in the spring, football in the fall, goes tubing in the summer and loves to fish. In fact, his mother, Catherine Nini, says he caught his first fish – a perch – when he was just three.
Catherine Nini said, “He used to get off the school bus, drop his school bag in the garage and put on his lifejacket. We live on the bayou in Berwick and he would go out there perch fishing after school.”
Unlike other boys his age, he came doggone close to placing in the money at this year’s Grand Isle Tarpon Rodeo, when he caught a huge 88-pound yellowfin tuna. Yellowfin tuna can weigh upwards of 200-pounds and the current Louisiana state record is 251-pounds caught by Elliot Sale in 2012.
Thomas’s 88.6lbs yellowfin held third place on the rodeo’s leaderboard the final day of the tournament until Tyler Smith of Dehnam Springs, weighed in a 108lbs – 14oz fish. Smith’s yellowfin dropped Harahan angler, Jack Bryant’s 94lbs – 12oz catch to third, ultimately bumping Nini’s off the board. Charles Higgins from Baton Rouge ultimately had the distinction of winning the Big Game Division’s yellowfin category with a huge 154lbs – 12oz tuna.
Even though Thomas Nini’s yellowfin was a few pounds shy of placing in the nationally recognized rodeo, it doesn’t diminish the accomplishment of landing a fish this size – particularly by a youth. What’s more, a youth using lightweight tackle designed for smaller saltwater fish like red snapper, the fish he and his crew members were targeting on the final day of the rodeo.
As fish stories go, Thomas’s is a good one. His crew of six anglers left the landing at 6:30 A.M. His father, Mark Nini, wasn’t feeling well that morning and decided not to go, instead opting to buy Thomas a rodeo ticket in case he caught something he could enter.
When they got to the rig, Catherine Nini says her brother, Michael Patterson, had looked at the fish-finder and it was full of fish. He didn’t mention it to any of the crew at the time, but later told his sister he knew everyone was going to have a good day.
Because Thomas plays baseball, his family doesn’t get to go fishing as often as they like. They typically fish Easter weekend, fishing sheepshead off of Grand Isle.
“He was excited about going, because the only other fishing he did offshore was for sheepshead. The first thing he asked us that day was, ‘Are we gonna catch some different fish?’ I said, ‘Yeah, we should catch some different fish at this rig,’” Catherine Nini said.
Using a lightweight saltwater rod and reel loaded with 65-pound braided line Thomas says he was fishing about 10 feet down trying to catch some smaller fish when his reel started to scream. For the next 30-minutes, youth angler and yellowfin tuna battled each other.
“It would just take off and then I’d reel in. And, then it would take off again. Even though I play sports and am athletic and stuff, it still wore me out. My arms felt like noodles. I did actually feel like giving up once, but they told me to keep on trying,” said Thomas.
In spite of how he felt, throughout the fight Thomas was calm according to Catherine Nini. When the yellowfin initially took the bait and started peeling line off she says he placed the rod back in the rod holder and told everyone he needed a belt.
Once Thomas, who stands just shy of 5-feet tall and weighs 114 pounds put his belt on, his Uncle Mike said, “Pick up that fishing pole boy!”
Catherine Nini said, “My brother was a really good cheerleader. He’d say, ‘Come on Thomas you can do it.’ We knew we weren’t supposed to help him, so we’d cheer him on.”
Unable to see the fish initially, the way the line was peeling off the reel, guesses as to what the fish was by crew members ranged from a shark to king mackerel. When Catherine’s brother thought it might be a yellowfin tuna, everyone got excited.
As the fight drew to a close, the one thing that Thomas became anxious about was the fish getting away.
Thomas said, “The motor of the boat made the water white. You really couldn’t see anything until the fish was on top of the water. I was kind of thinking of the videos I watched of people getting the fish right up close to the boat and they got off. I was kind of worried.”
In the end the yellowfin was boated and now is part of Nini family folklore.
Catherine Nini said, “It was perfect weather and Thomas ended up catching that tuna. Fishing is family time and bonding time. It’s when memories are being made.”
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