It had been a really good fishing trip for us in the Gulf, with two blue marlin weighing over 300 pounds already released. Standing on the flying bridge, I happened to look down and right behind the boat swam a mammoth sized marlin, speeding effortlessly along like a large submarine.
As soon as it hit the center rigger, I grabbed the rod and scrambled for the fighting chair, with line peeling off the reel at an alarming rate. As I settled in for the fight I knew two things for sure: it was a blue marlin and it was big–really big.
The marlin jumped, greyhounding away from the boat.
“Back down! Back down!” Stephen Kuljis yelled to our captain Eric Gill, “It’s gonna’ spool us!” As Eric gunned the big diesels in reverse, I reeled frantically to maintain tension as we regained line.
No sooner were we backing down than the fish did an about-face and headed back toward us. “Go forward! Go forward! She’s coming back at us!” we yelled at Eric who was no doubt wishing we’d all make up our minds. He jammed the throttles forward, and Vixen leapt ahead before slack in the line could cause us to lose the fish.
After a few rounds of this, the fish began to settle down into a serious fight. I worked hard to maintain pressure on the fish. Despite the bucket harness, which hooks to the reel to help take the load off your arms, my back ached from the constant 16 pounds of tension on the rod.
Then things went from bad to worse as the marlin headed straight down.
Unable to stop her from sounding without risk of breaking the 50 pound line, there was little I could do except hold the rod as she steadily took line. This continued for a while then suddenly—it stopped! My sigh of relief was short-lived when I realized the marlin remained motionless. It quickly became clear that she had not been sounding but rather had died.
While there is no way to know for sure why she died, we surmised she had probably become tail wrapped during one of her jumps. Getting a fish that weighs some 650-700 pounds off the bottom with 80 or even 130 pound test without breaking it off is difficult. Doing it with 50 pound test is nearly impossible.
We had just about exhausted our bag of tricks when in a last ditch effort, I placed my thumbs on the spool and held it as hard as I could, with the drag set to maximum. Eric maneuvered the boat, searching desperately for the right angle. On what seemed like our hundredth try, as the boat eased forward, I yelled to Eric,” Hey, we gained a couple feet.”
That was the good news. The bad news was we had 698 feet left to go before she finally popped to the surface.
What an awesome sight! She measured nearly ten feet long from her lower jaw to the fork of her tail (13 feet overall in length) and nearly seven feet in girth! As I rose from the fighting chair on trembling legs for the first time in over 3 hours, I was filled with a mixture of emotions.
Bone tired and aching all over, I was still thrilled to have caught the fish. I was also struck with awe at the outstanding team effort of all involved. But the glow of the moment was also tinged with sadness at the sight of the huge dead fish. Our intention had been to release her alive but, alas, that was not to be.