Never Give Up

March 27, 2012

Sammy and I weren’t all that enthusiastic about going out for marlin today, our last day. It seemed like a waste of time. In fact, last night Sammy went as far as to suggest not going out at all. The snorkeling is great inshore and he considered enjoying that again instead. But we are both fisherman. We know one day to another can be completely different. So this morning we found ourselves on the long ride back to Bank 88.

Braden felt like those eight or so marlin that we saw yesterday that weren’t feeding might be feeding today. He’s always optimistic. And, Sammy was back on marlin duty so we hoped him holding the heavy weight fly rod would change our luck. Me, being way behind on my blog report, I opted to bring along my computer for the long ride. Yes, a computer on a boat is a little risky, but hey, it’s been running a bit slow so a little saltwater might kill those viruses.

Sure enough, Braden’s hunch was right and Sammy’s luck was better than mine. Ten minutes into our teaser dragging we had not one, but two striped marlin in a frenzy. As Braden whizzed out his Spanish instructions to mates Ronnie and Philippe, the aggressive marlin followed the teasers towards the boat. Then one of them came very close and Braden cut the engines and in English hollered, “Sammy cast!”

Sammy’s cast was perfect. The teaser left the water 25 feet from behind the boat and crashed onto our deck and almost simultaneously Sammy’s large pink and white bird size fly landed where the teaser left. I had a perfect view of the scenario unfolding from up on the bridge. Sammy popped his fly twice and the striped marlin turned turquoise blue, swung around behind his fly and came up and ate it. But Sammy got excited and lifted the rod to set the hook. A method of hook setting common for trout but doesn’t jab hard enough to sink a large hook into the hard mouth of most saltwater fish. The marlin spit the fly and was gone.

It’s just about impossible to remember the best technique to hook a billfish on the fly when the actual event is taking place. Unless you get to do it all the time, seeing a 7 foot long fish swirling behind the fly causes the brain to go whacko. But for what it’s worth, here’s what has worked for me in the past:

When any billfish eats your fly don’t set the hook until he turns away. In my experience with sailfish I like to give them a little line. Once they start to swim away all happy with my fly in between their jaws I strip set with vengeance then jab the rod to the opposite side of the way the huge fish turns. This angle pulls the hook to the corner of the mouth rather than out of the mouth. With a little luck you’ll drive the razor sharp hook into the rubbery lips. If all goes well to this point get ready for the moment of terror as the billfish explodes line and backing off the reel at over 50 MPH.

For doing fly rod battle with a marlin you better have a big rod (14 or 15-weight), a reel with a solid smooth drag and ¼ mile of line and backing. And you must have the stamina and skill to tire and land the grizzly bear sized fish. Depending on the species of marlin, be prepared to battle for some time. White marlin and striped marlin are the easiest, but if you’re new to this sport be ready for a 45 minute battle or more. If your marlin dives deep the fight may take hours. But if you have experience and confidence in your knots and leader strength, you can put the heat on them and land these species of marlin in 20 minutes. If you hook up to a blue marlin or a black, get ready for a much longer and more difficult battle. And don’t expect to land him, just hope for a miracle. I’ve never cast to a blue or a black myself but I’ve been on board to witness a Pacific blue marlin eat a fly in Costa Rica and an Atlantic blue marlin eat a fly in Venezuela. All I can say is neither time was pretty. Ask me for the stories in a bar some time and put your seatbelt on. You won’t believe how nuts these monsters can be.

Sammy spent the next hour concentrating on what to do on his next opportunity. He knows you don’t raise the rod to set the hook. His mind simply went blank like it does for most Rocky Mountain anglers when a monster eats your fly. But it wasn’t going to happen again. He made a few practice casts behind the boat and enacted his next hook set. He was ready.

Everyone was confident more opportunities would arise. I expected Sammy to hook and land his next fish and visualized myself getting another crack at the marlin before this day was over. Sure enough, we teased several more marlin up to the teasers, but unfortunately none of these teased close enough for a cast.

Before we knew it we were back in the marlin fishing doldrums. Once noon hour hit there were no more marlin to be found. Sammy’s missed marlin started to drive him crazy. To take his mind off it he mixed napping with reading – hoping to wake up to the excitement of a marlin in the teasers.

I continued to sit up on the bridge with Braden and take in my surroundings. This was a long awaited trip and in a few hours it was over. I felt like I didn’t want to miss a second of anything exciting that might happen. I enjoyed watching some dolphins, sea lions, and plenty of the famous blue footed boobies. Then as I worked my way up on the bow I found an unfortunate mishap, a flying fish that must of flew up on deck and died – bummer but pretty neat to check him out.

We’ve been heading in at 3:30 each day. However today being the last and with a little action in the morning, Braden kept on dragging the teasers. The anticipation after 3:30 was killing me. I just knew in an instant Braden was going to tell Ronnie and Philippe to reel in the teasers. At one minute before 4 we were still dragging the teasers. I was certain he’d made a decision to pack it up at 4. Then with thirty seconds to spare all hell broke lose. We had a striped marlin in the teasers!

Sammy was like me. He too knew we were fishing on bonus time and that the trip could end at any minute. But here we were, 4 PM and one last marlin in the teasers. Ronnie and Philippe worked the teasers like the pros they are and that hot marlin was in range before you knew it. Braden cut the engine and shouted cast. Once again Sammy laid out a perfect one. What took place next was one of the most memorable eats of a fly in history. That marlin of about 175lbs came half way out of the water with his mouth wide open and landed so that Sammy’s fly went right into his mouth. He was going away with velocity and Sammy was hooked up and hooked up good!

I was ready for photography but after only two snaps of the shutter Braden and Ronnie yelled at me to get the other fly rod from in the cabin. Another marlin was swimming around the boat. I dropped my camera and ripped line off the other big rod and reel so fast I have line burns. Once ready I quickly learned there was no where to launch a cast from. There were obstacles in the way everywhere you looked. Sammy was in the middle of the back of the boat doing all he could not to get yanked overboard as his backing crackled off the reel. Teaser rigs were flopped in the air in every direction. And Ronnie and Philippe were in there too. There was truly no where to put a fly line and 10 inch long fly through the air. Then in desperation, I flipped the fly like I was flipping a jig to a bass. The fly went a mere 12-feet if I was lucky. I popped it. Amazingly, the marlin ripped out from under the boat beneath where I was standing and went right up to my fly like he was going to eat it. But something was wrong. Perhaps it was the blue and white color or in this case I may have popped it too hard. My marlin was gone.

Meanwhile, Sammy was getting worked. His marlin took off like no fish I’d ever seen and jumped madly far behind the boat. Then on his last jump he spun like a figure skater and I saw Sammy’s leader wrap up in the marlins bill. I had a gut feeling this fight would end quickly and unfortunately it did. On the next run Sammy’s leader broke in the 20lb class tippet above the shock.

Our trip was over, but not without a bang. If only Sammy could have landed his fish. Imagine if I hooked mine. Imagine if we doubled up and both landed them. Oh man, I’m dreaming. But it could have happened and our brutally slow week would have been completely forgotten. Interesting how fishing works.

Our Galapagos marlin trip will go down as one of the most difficult of all trips I’ve been on. Two of us, and we got less than five casts and we didn’t land what we flew 8,000 miles to catch. But that’s fishing and that’s life. Marlin are wild animals and to think we can predict them perfectly is a joke. If I look back on 30 years of traveling and fishing, and if I look at five trips in a row, you get a poor one (Galapagos), three average ones (Baja, Norway, Madagascar) and a magnificent one (Tanzania). That’s the way it goes so you keep on going. For Sammy and I our next trip together is Baja. . . and we are due!

3 Responses to “Never Give Up”

  1. Erik Moncada April 2, 2012 at 11:45 pm #

    It makes me very happy to see some Marlin pics on your blog… how intense ! Now all you want to do is go back! Thanks for the blog!

  2. pedro April 3, 2012 at 1:39 am #

    It being Easter time I realize you put all your eggs in one basket ie marlin fishing. I admire your patience and determination. I would have bridled a bait after day 1. Or gone tuna fishing!!! Great report- you may not have captured a marlin but you did capture the angst that is offshore flyfishing.

  3. Mike Schmidt April 3, 2012 at 12:38 pm #

    Not for the faint of heart to be sure but definitely on my list. Glad Sammy got hooked up and can almost taste the excitement in your writing about it!

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