Michelle Bancewicz knows how to catch big tuna, period. In the fall of 2021, Field & Stream reported on a viral video showing Bancewicz catching a 9-foot tuna solo aboard her boat, aptly named the “No Limits.” Bancewicz is an accomplished angler—and she’s also one of the only female commercial fishing captains plying the waters of New England’s famed bluefin tuna grounds. So, it’s no surprise she will be featured in the next season of Wicked Tuna. She will be the first female captain on the show. Below is an exclusive clip showing Bancewicz and first mate Lea Pinaud battling a massive tuna for 12 hours. See it for yourself.
The clip is from episode two, “Push It to the Limit,” of the next season of Wicked Tuna, which will air on Sunday, February 26 with back-to-back episodes. We recently sat down with Bancewicz to talk about the biggest tuna she’s ever caught, what it’s like to be a female bluefin tuna captain, her favorite food on the water, and more. Here’s what she had to say.
I don’t remember my first fish. I started fishing at a very young age. My father was a recreational fisherman. We had a family boat we used to spend every weekend or vacation on. We’d catch primarily cod or striped bass.
In my teenage years, my brother and I would wake up on our boat on the weekends and go up the street and jump on the party boats and work on those. It was my first job. I started when I was 14 years old. I just loved fishing. After that, I worked at a car garage. Then, I was a waitress at a bar for a couple of years. Other than that, all my jobs have been on a boat.
The first tuna I caught was in 2015. At the time, I was working on a 70-foot party boat as a deckhand. I was invited out with a friend, and we ended up hooking up to a fish that was at least 100 inches. The power really hooked me. And the challenge of it. The fight lasted an hour. My friend had caught many tuna and it was just another fish to him. But to me, there was nothing like it. I just wanted to go out and catch more.
To be a captain, you need certain qualifications. I had the sea time that I needed. My father and brother both had their captains’ licenses. When I went for my captain license, I never thought I was going to do charters. I just wanted to be able to look at my father and brother and say hey, I got mine too. It was for bragging rights.
After I caught my first tuna, I started jumping on whatever tuna boat I could to go fishing. I did that for a few years. I had one friend who let me take his boat out when he wasn’t fishing. I started bringing in fish as a captain. When I was taking his boat out and bringing in fish, oftentimes there was a guy on the boat. People would look at the fish and assume the guy caught it. I didn’t like that. I wanted to get an all-female crew and get out there. And that’s what I did when I bought my own boat in 2019.
I don’t give up. I go out there and put my all into it. I’m determined.
Fighting a big tuna is stressful. At any point, the line could just snap and you lose it. You’re on edge the whole time. Once you tail-wrap that fish, it’s totally different—the relief that you have.
The biggest tuna I ever caught was in October of 2021. Lea and I hooked up to a monster. The fight was about 5 hours. The fish was 109 inches and at least 800 pounds. It had a dressed weight of 643 pounds.
I like being a little different. I like being one of the only women out in the water. I feel like I’m out there keeping up with the guys. It makes me feel good.
I usually eat better on the water than on land for some reason. We usually bring steaks, chicken, veggies, whatever. We’ve got a grill, skillet, and microwave on the boat. We’re out there eating good.
Competing on Wicked Tuna was a blast. It was a lot of fun and also stressful. You have to produce. There’s no choice. When you don’t, your stress level goes way up, especially on days when you don’t catch anything.
What’s special about fishing in New England is that we get the big bluefin tuna up here. I never want to leave this fishery. I think about going down to Florida or out to California, but you don’t have the same kind of fish.
Besides tuna fishing, I love spending time with my two teenage daughters. Other than that, I probably wouldn’t even come in to land. I just love being on the water. My younger daughter has been on the boat when I’ve caught fish. She’s usually not too interested in it. She’ll be doing her own thing, and I’ll be fighting a fish by myself out on the deck. My older daughter recently started wanting to come out fishing. In the beginning, she just thought it was gross. Now that I’m on Wicked Tuna, they’ve seemed to start showing an interest. There’s nothing I would like more than having my daughters on the water with me every day.