Game Fish Diaries - Chic McSherry
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|The biggest plus, however, was that he was based in Gran Canaria – a direct flight of only four hours from Glasgow. So I booked a week in what Hans recommended was the prime time of August/September and off I went.
He picked me up the first morning at 7.00 am and we went out in his other, smaller boat, the White Marlin. We didn't catch anything but we were shadowed for a while by the biggest school of dolphin I have ever seen. It often amazes me that dolphins don't attack fishing lures. I think it must be because they can detect the metal hooks with their ultrasound. I have heard of the occasional one being caught when fishing with bait, but plastic lures don’t seem to attract them, save out of mischief. These dolphin were very curious, getting right up to the lures and even nosing them.
I got on ok with Hans on that first day and I actually liked that small boat, but it got chucked around a lot in the heavy seas off Gran Canaria so Hans decided we would go out on the Blue Marlin from then on until the end of the week.
Things had started to look wrong even before I saw the Blue Marlin, however. Hans told me that his partner had died six weeks before from septicaemia which took hold after he had his leg gashed by, of all things, a fish as he was unhooking it on the boat. His new skipper was unavailable to come with us because he’d just announced that he was going to mainland Spain in order to take his Masters ticket exam. You can’t fish for marlin without a crew, but Hans assured me that he’d found a stand-in skipper.
The stand-in skipper turned out to be a Spanish guy called Jose. Jose was a very friendly and engaging person and I liked him immediately I was introduced to him on stepping onto the boat.
I looked around the Blue Marlin with mounting dismay; the gear was shabby and ill kept. The fighting chair (which Hans made a big deal of on his website) was broken and the upholstery burst. The cabin was a disgrace to behold with junk and bits of fishing tackle strewn everywhere. My heart sank - no professional game fisherman would leave his gear in this state. I opened the fridge to store the ham, cheese and bread (staple diet of marlin fishers the world over it turns out) and a swarm of cockroaches scuttled from the light.
But, I had paid almost the entire charter fee for the week in advance so I was stuck with it. Anyway, I reasoned, if the lures were in the water and the fish were there, I’d have as much chance as the next guy of getting a fish.
So we set off.
I watched Hans rig the lures and it became clear that he did know a bit about what he was doing. He was pretty careful and thorough in setting the drags and so forth and put out a nice spread behind the boat. Each outrigger had two lines and there was two central lines from the fighting chair plus one from the bridge above the deck – called a shotgun in the trade. It was all heavy gear; 130lbs test bent-butt rods, with big Penn multipliers loaded with up to 1000yds of line and only two small tuna 50s at the rear of the boat in case we found some bonitos. The lures were spaced so that they fished at different wave distances behind the boat and graduated in size from large (furthest away) to small (nearest the boat). I settled down to watch for a strike.
But there was no action on that day either so that was day 2 without any sign of a marlin.
Another boat in the harbour had caught one though, but there appeared to be a great deal of enmity between Hans and most of the other boat owners so we didn’t get any information on the catch. Hans referred to all the other skippers, with few exceptions, as “Baaasturds” in his inimitable Dutch accent.
That day, I also discovered another fact that further depressed my spirits. Jose had never fished before in his life and knew absolutely nothing about what he was doing. I impressed upon him the importance of the boat in the fight and the fact that it was up to him to set the hook by accelerating the boat slightly on hook-up. “Si, si, si” he would say enthusiastically. I was no expert either, but I had read enough to know this to be the way to secure a hook hold on a strike.
Hans liked to drink on board. By mid afternoon he was usually pretty smashed. Stupidly on the first few days, I joined him. On the third day, I was up in the flying bridge having a beer and chatting with Jose when I heard a loud “thwack” like a whipcrack. I involuntarily ducked at the sound. It was the outrigger clip. We had a strike.
Hans shouted “Hoo, hoo, hoo” – which, when translated, meant “Jose, remember to accelerate the boat to set the hook please.” Jose, it seemed, didn’t speak that particular dialect. In this case there was no need because our blue had whacked the small lure very hard indeed and was solidly hooked.
I raced for the steps. Hearing Jose say “Madre de dios” behind me, I looked up and saw a massive splash behind the boat and a hole in the water you could drop a Volkswagen into. This was clearly a serious fish. How I got down without breaking my neck was a miracle. For some crazy reason, I first ran into the cockpit and put on my Team Ferrari skip hat - don’t ask me why because to this day I have no idea.
By then, though, it was complete insanity on the deck so one more foible didn’t hurt. I had no idea what to expect and even less of what to do. I vaguely realised that we had to get the other lines in and started cranking the nearest reel. Then Hans, who was holding the rod with the screaming reel, shouted “Get in the chair, get in the chair” and handed me the rod. The marlin had slowed in its first run. He clipped the bucket harness onto the rod and I felt the raw power of the fish. Hans was bellowing at Jose who hadn’t a clue what was going on or what he should do about it.
The marlin started another determined run.
I felt my backside coming off the seat and I dug in with my legs to hold myself down. The line was pouring off the reel and I could see the metal in the centre of the drum through the fast disappearing line. “Hans!” I said. “HANS!!” I repeated. He rushed over and grasped what was happening immediately. He shouted to Jose in Spanish to reverse the boat, but of course they hadn’t got all the other lines in so Jose backed over them and fouled the prop.
We stopped dead.
Disaster. Hans rushed over to me, cursing, and turned the drag up on the reel to its maximum saying all the while “We must stop him, we must stop him”. Smelling like burning brake lining, smoke poured off the reel with the added friction. Still the fish kept going and the metal of the centre pin was showing clearly through the last strands of monofilament.
We didn’t stop him (technically it would have been a “her” but it was no time for pedantry). It all went slack and the fish was last seen tailwalking into the distance. Hans estimated it at 300-400 kilos. That’s a big marlin.
The radio burst into life and the sound of one of those kiddies laughing toys came over the speaker. Clearly, Hans’ fellow skippers appreciated the disaster that had befallen us.
Hans stomped up and down the deck cursing Jose and shouting that surely three of us should have been able to bring in all of the lines. The fact that he had hired a complete rookie for the most important job on the boat and hadn’t bothered explaining to me that I was part of the crew and what my duties were hadn’t occurred to Hans - it was everyone else’s fault.
I wound in the line and discovered that although the reel was capable of holding 1000mtrs, only about half was loaded. Since we also recovered part of the leader, that meant that Hans hadn’t bothered to load enough line on the reel to handle a big marlin.
I was disappointed, but I was also elated. What power, what adrenalin. We all shrugged, calmed down, said “Big fish, eh?” a lot to each other and got the lures back in the water. What else can you do?
Half an hour later, the outrigger clip exploded again and Hans shouted “Hoo, hoo, hoo!” at Jose but this time it had the opposite effect; Jose stopped the boat dead. This marlin went deep and didn’t run far or fast. I got in the chair and just as I was about to fight it, the line went slack. It was off – possibly (probably) because the hook hadn’t been set properly when the boat was stopped on the strike. I tried to remain cheerful and positive.
Strike number three came shortly after this and “Hoo, hoo, hoo” again brought the boat to a complete standstill. Poor Jose. Although I was getting fed up with missing fish, I had to feel sorry for him as Hans was ragging him really badly by now in Spanish, English and Dutch...with a fair smattering of Anglo Saxon in there too.
“Three strikes in one day! Surely I’d get a fish tomorrow?” I told myself over a glass of wine at dinner.
But I didn’t.
Once again we took a strike and had a run on the line. Yet another shout from Hans of “Hoo, hoo, hoo” and yet again Jose stopped the boat. This time the line went slack before I even touched the rod. I was getting very fed up. Fed up of Hans being drunk, fed up of the state of the boat, fed up with chasing roaches away from my lunch, fed up with Jose not understanding the simplest of things and just plain fed up of marlin fishing. To cheer me up, Hans filled a plastic tube with black soot and tricked me into blowing into it. Of course, the only way the powder could get out was upwards over my face and body where, because I was covered in sun-tan oil and there being no running water on the boat, it proved impossible for me to clean off. Hysterical…
I got back to my hotel and called home, depressed. My depression turned immediately to terror as I was informed that my youngest son, Scott, had vanished. There was a full blown search underway for him and the police had even been called. Words can’t describe how that makes a father feel - thousands of miles away when you’re child needs you. I told them I’d call back in fifteen minutes - the longest 15 minutes of my life.
When I called back, thank God, he’d been found. Where you might ask? He’d crawled under a cardboard box in his bedroom and fallen fast asleep. When asked why, he said that he was hiding and was waiting for someone to find him. Kids.
Later that evening I walked down to the boat dock and had a chat with Sophia, the lady who handled the bookings for Hans. I complained about the drinking and the fact that I had paid a lot of money and wasn’t getting the right attention on board. She had a word with both Hans and his wife about it.
Next day, she had left me a note saying that she had fixed me up with an afternoon’s fishing on another boat (I was only scheduled for a half day on the Blue Marlin that day). Hans went nuts. There was a lot of shouting and squawking on radio and mobile phone and then Hans announced “It’s ok – ve stay out all day. Ve catch you a marlin by god”
Hans had by now taken over the skippering duties from Jose and had started to work for it a bit more. He also stayed off the beer that day, and for the rest of the week for that matter. When we got back to the dock in the evening, I found out that Sophia had quit because Hans had changed her arrangements and lost her some commission from the other boat. What a bunch…
On the last two days of the trip we took two more strikes but they were the smash and grab type; the outrigger clip goes and then…nothing. I stayed out of Hans’ way and blethered to Jose in my schoolboy Spanish. By that time I had grown to dislike Herr Krut’s company and I loathed the Blue Marlin sportfishing boat.
But to be scrupulously fair, Hans was now behaving like a different person and I was struck by the realisation that he actually knew a lot about marlin fishing, but for reasons best known to himself, he had decided not to act on this knowledge on the first few days. By the time he wised up and started doing his job, it was too late – the marlin had moved on. There’s a lesson right there; when the fish are around, fish hard and stay focussed. Tomorrow is another day.
My final day gave up some action at last. We spotted a flock of birds on some bonito tuna and headed for them. A local commercial boat was in our wake and they weren’t at all pleased – commercial boats have priority and if they are already set up on a shoal and fishing, sport boats can’t by law come within 300 metres of them. But we hit the shoal first so that was technically ok, although by the look on the captain’s face he didn’t see it that way. We immediately took a strike from a bonito and Jose, bless him, accelerated the boat. It must have almost pulled the wee bonito’s head off, but he meant well and at least he had the hang of setting the hook now.
As I brought the fish in, the locals set up on the shoal. One of them threw some small baitfish in whilst another sprayed the surface of the water with a hose. The captain (at least I took him to be that as he was the one who made all the rude signs at me – some things translate very well irrespective of language barriers) stood, legs apart, on the bow and swung a long pole with a line and a bare hook into the shoal of now frenzied bonitos. Then he simply flipped the hooked tuna over his head into the arms of the waiting crewmen behind him. It was an astonishing sight.
The week ended with a final insult when I got back to the boat dock with my prized bonito, by far the most expensive game fish I have ever caught. The owner of the converted cruiser moored next to the Blue Marlin was a guy called Rosando and he took regular day trip charters out. They would pull lures on the way out, anchor up and dead-bait for small, juvenile shark for an hour or so and then pull lures on the way back.
One of his anglers, unbelievably, had caught a marlin that day. I spoke to the successful angler who proved to be a holidaymaker from Newcastle complete with a broad Geordie accent. He had never fished before in his life, fancied a day off the beach and so he paid £20 for him and his girlfriend to have a peaceful day on the water. And he gets the marlin. Sometimes, oh Lord, you spread your word in the oddest ways.
Rosando had told me earlier in the week that he’d been fishing for 15 years but Hans told me that he’d only just bought the boat and that this was his first ever marlin; no wonder fishermen are universally thought to be liars.
I was in such a black mood when I packed that evening that I left two of my exposed camera films in my hotel so I have very few pictures of this trip. Maybe it's just as well.
I know from looking at the web that Hans has a new boat called Blue Marlin III – here’s hoping that he looks after that one better. I bear him no malice or ill-will – perhaps it was just a set of bad circumstances for him too.
We all have bad hair days, after all.
As often happens, what started as a hobby website grew arms and
legs until it eventually became a full-blown book. In February 2004
it was published under the slightly enhanced title Game Fishing Diaries: Details from Fishing in Life and is now available from most outlets from as little a $2.99
on Amazon Kindle. In November 2011 Volume 2 made an appearance also
available on Kindle