What happened next still baffles me.
Bruno leadered the fish with help from Michel, the skipper, but instead of gaffing it, Jean Francois asked me to take a photo. They then tried to unhook the fish and this time I saw the hook in the fish’s mouth – right in the scissors where it should be. Bruno was shouting “Look, look – he will die!” and I was wondering what was going on since I had already agreed to a humanitarian kill, but still could see no hooks in its eye. Suddenly the marlin jumped and I saw Bruno’s glove torn off on a hook point. He stepped back and I could see the blood. His hand was badly torn. At last, they gaffed the poor creature and delivered the coup de grace.
I felt awful. My first marlin kill and the mate badly injured to boot. I didn’t feel as if I had been responsible though - I’ve fished with enough crews to know that it is possible for one skilled, confident man to leader, tag and then release even big fish unhurt and well. This was a display of inexperience leading to the death of a perfectly good fish and the severe injury of a crewman. “Lets go back” I said. It was only half way through the day, but I had had enough and Bruno needed a doctor.
He got three stitches in his hand and a course of anti-biotics to take for a week. He was lucky; a couple of inches further up and he could have had an artery severed. Or, if the point of the hook had gone forward into his hand, he’d have been dragged overboard, impaled, like the crewman in the movie “A Perfect Storm”.
On the day of The Big One, up until we saw the bonito school, there had been no activity and the crew had been quiet, with Bruno taking the skippering duties because of his injury. The school of tuna was vast. The water shivered and flashed with the numbers of fish beneath it. Huge flocks of birds swooped to pick off the tiny baitfish driven to the surface by the feeding frenzy below. They were small bonitos – just the right size for predators to eat so it was worth sticking with them, even though we were catching them too often and having to stop the boat just to wind them in. Eventually, we didn’t even bother to use the rods and just hand-lined them aboard.
That was when she decided to make her move. That little bonito flashing so close, clearly acting like an injured fish triggered her predatory instinct and she charged it, probably whacking it with her bill to stun it and then swallowing it whole.
I had just hand-lined a small tuna aboard when the right side 50 bucked over and the reel screamed. “Mahlin!” said Michel and grabbed the rod. There was at least 500 mtrs of 50lb test on that reel and it was disappearing into the depths now at a frantic pace. We were all working to get the lines aboard when we saw that the centre pin of the spool was becoming visible. I had a case of déjà vu - Gran Canaria was happening all over again and we were running out of line fast. But these guys knew of the ways of marlin better than Herr Krut, especially big marlin.
Michel ran for the cabin and gunned the engine, turning the boat on a coin to chase after her. The extra pressure on the line was clear to see as it sliced audibly through the waves and we all waited for the line break to occur. Sickeningly, inevitably, it all went slack.
We shrugged and Jean Francois, who had been holding the rod, started to recover the line. Suddenly he shouted as the rod went over again. She was still on.
I got in the fighting chair and he handed the rod to me. The reel was too small to allow the harness to be attached, so they clipped the rod to a safety line and I was on my own.
“We fight her slow” said Bruno “The line will break so don’t pull too hard” he said, stating the bloody obvious. I started to wind on the fish and she immediately tore off again. Michel backed the boat into the waves with a roar of diesel engines, chasing her down as fast as he could and I started to gain line again.
Recovering 500mtrs of line pulling against a near 50lb weight without a harness puts real demands on the arms and lower back, not to mention the fishing gear. This was a set-up best suited to small bonito tuna and dorados. The Penn reel couldn’t take the pressure. As I wound, I could feel the handle wobbling dangerously. Eventually, it came right off leaving me with no way of recovering the line. I felt the despair of impending disaster descend upon me.
Bruno and Jean Francois had a conversation in Creole whilst I did what I could to recover line, pressing the broken handle onto the drive stump of the Penn reel. It was working, but it wouldn’t last much longer. Frantically, they got another reel from the cabin.
Whilst Jean Francois stripped the spare down, Bruno unscrewed the handle on the reel I was using. When both were done, Jean Francois fitted the salvaged part. During this operation, Michel backed the boat down on the fish as it took line or accelerated away as it charged to keep the line tight. Like a Formula 1 pitstop, the repair was completed in a matter of seconds, although it felt like forever, and battle was rejoined.
After 45 minutes of backing down on the fish and cranking the reel, she finally came to the boat. The doubled leader was inside the rod rings when we finally saw her. Michel came out of the cockpit and looked down at the huge green and blue striped shape, glowing like a neon sign in the clear blue water. “Beeg Feesh!” he said. There was some discussion in Creole and Bruno said “She is maybe not 600, but she is well over 500. She is green, what do you want to do?” First, I wanted a photo so sent him for the camera. “We cannot unhook her!” said Bruno, clearly nervous after his injury, and who was I to blame him.
Just then, the marlin decided she’d had enough of waiting around and she just took off. She rose to the surface behind the boat, her great bulk climbing out of the water in slow motion and crashing back in foaming spray. Not like the small marlin that leap and thrash around energetically. She was more like a great whale deliberately breaching. Shamu with attitude. I was yelling at Bruno to take a photo “Just point and click, just point and click!” but he couldn’t understand and I knew in my heart that he’d missed the shot.
As I started to recover the line she had taken, Bruno began his theme again. “She will die, she will die.” They wanted to kill her. I could sympathise. These guys get paid around 1000 rupees per week, but they also get 2 or 3 rupees per pound of fish landed. This fish was worth more than a week’s wages to them, but I could afford to pay them for her and she wasn’t going to die by my hand. This wasn’t the time to think about the money, and besides, I knew that the charter company would pay them a release fee also.
How to release her safely was all that I was thinking of – the crew were becoming more agitated and it was crystal clear that the more I fought her, the more tired she would become and the more they’d demand her death. Also, they were not going to even attempt to unhook her for fear of personal injury. I worked the line furiously and recovered enough line so that we could see the doubled leader again in the water. “Cut it now.” I said.
Jean Francois looked at Bruno who shrugged resignedly.
He cut the line.
She cruised off.
When she had jumped earlier, I could see that the tuna had been disgorged, so she wouldn’t choke. The hook that was in her was tiny in comparison to her bulk, like a size 20 midge hook in a 14lb salmon, and would be no more than an irritation until it worked its way out. As for the line, 20 yards of 50lb test wasn’t going to hold back a near 600lb blue marlin and her abrasive jaws would soon cut through it.
I did the right thing.
My friend Stoo Williamson fished at the same time as me that year too and stayed to fish through the week after I left. He caught a very large fish in that second week which was estimated by the crew at 500lbs when she was caught. They killed her, and when weighed later she topped out at 440lbs. So maybe my fish wasn't as big as we all thought. But she was still bloody BIG and at least, god willing, she lived on. For at least a while...
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
Game Fishing Diaries - Volume 1
Game Fishing Diaries - Volume 2