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The Magic of Marlin

As a young boy obsessed with all things angling, I read of the marlin. An ocean wanderer, apex predator, and to most anglers the most coveted fish, bar for the broadbill swordfish, an angler can catch. I’ve fished marlin twice in Mexico and caught stripers, plus was lucky enough to get a blue marlin about 225lbs. When I was that boy, I never thought I’d ever get to fish for them.

In my last blog we talked about fishing for the roosterfish in Crocodile Bay, Costa Rica. Part of a three day trip I made with PENN for the introduction of the PENN Clash fixed spool reels. I fished the first and last day of that trip inshore, but on the second day, I took a gamble along with two Dutch friends, Robert Valkeneer, a PENN Brand Manager, and Dutch magazine editor Toine van Lerland, choosing to fish offshore in the hope of a marlin.

It was a gamble because the fishing had not been good due to the El Nino weather patterns resulting in a warmer than usual sea temperature, and limited numbers of baitfish being present. In fact things were so odd that the run of dorado expected at this time had not appeared at all. The day before marlin had been raised by other boats, but marlin numbers were well down and overall confidence was low.

It was already hot and very humid when we left the pontoon. We hit the throttles and pushed out past the land punching 50-miles out in to the open Pacific. Here the sun beat down, the sea was flat and lazy, but with a rolling swell. I watched frigate birds effortlessly glide above us scanning the ocean for signs of baitfish. Two other boats had made the trip with us and each fanned out to cover its own water.

We needed bait, so were handed light outfits with slim jigs on and worked these at 100-feet looking for bonito. The bonito were all 4lbs or more in size. A bit big ideally for bait, but it is what we had. These were bridle rigged by the crew and trolled off the flat line rods in the gunnels, the other two set in the long outriggers.

A bridal rigged bonito bait for Marlin.
A bridal rigged bonito bait for Marlin.

Almost immediately we had hits from marlin. These were just hits. We tried giving the marlin time to take the baits by freelining to them, but they spat the big baits out as soon as they felt any resistance. I’m not sure how many we missed, maybe four or five.

Bait was low, so I sent a jig back down and hit a small yellowfin tuna and a smaller bonito between 2 and 3lbs. This was a better sized bait, and yellowfin is always a great marlin bait.

I watched the crewman rig the bonito on my rod and we sent it out about 40-yards, then clipped the line in to the outrigger. I could see the bonito occasionally show on the surface scittering water in front of it.

15 minutes or so had elapsed when I noticed the bonito show on the surface. I saw a small splash just rear of the bait, and a split second later heard the line ping out of the outrigger clip. I was on the rod in a flash, letting line run off freely, giving the fish plenty of time to eat the bait. I counted to ten, then lifted the rod and slid the drag lever forward. The rod pulled steadily over and I felt a heavy weight far away power through the water column.

I was waiting for the marlin to leap, they usually do, but it did not. It stayed deep, pulling hard, but slowly circling. Now it went down, down and down, taking line, but felt unstoppable. It was very deep now, just circling, and we stayed, linked together by a fine connection of line for more than 30-minutes. Then I felt the fish start to rise through the water column, up she came, then she fired through the surface, water pouring down her blue, purple and silver flanks, head thrashing side to side, and the bonito clearly seen wedged in her mouth. She smashed down on the surface making the ocean turn to foam.

A shot taken from French journalist Julien Lajournade from Voyages de Pêche of my marlin fight from another boat.
A shot taken by French journalist Julien Lajournade from Voyages de Pêche of my marlin.

She instantly poured line off the reel going deep, deeper, and deeper again. Then she hung and refused to come up as marlin usually do. The captain, one of the best locally, said, “Strange fight, this marlin, Senor!”

The fish was deep, but I was gaining line. Sweat was pouring off me now. But I felt good and worked the fish hard, gaining inches at first, then feet by feet more and more line using short pumps of the rods.

The awesome sight of my marlin jumping at the back of the boat.
The awesome sight of my marlin jumping at the back of the boat.

The fish was close now, but still quite deep. Suddenly I felt the fish start to rise in the water and watched the angle of the line shallow. In an instant this leviathan was airborne, thrashing her head and tail side to side and whipping the water white. Three times she came vertically out, then crashed down on the surface on her side. I pressured the fish and watched the leader knot come through the rings. The crewman grabbed the leader, and as he did so, piling pressure on the fish, I watched the hook flip free from her jaw. She rolled, came upright, and disappeared forever. I felt numb, but then the captain congratulated me as the fish was caught because the leader knot was through the rod rings and the crewman touched the leader. The captain said the fish was 300lbs, and she did look big, but I settled for 250lbs.

My second blue marlin! A fish I never expected to fish for after my Mexican blue, but here I was having had the privilege to fight another.

Our day was not over. We missed another couple of strikes, then Toine hit a marlin that also went deep after just a couple of surface leaps. This seemed a bigger fish, taking a lot of line, but then hanging deep refusing to budge. Hard work got the line coming back on to the reel. After 50-minutes or so the fish was close and suddenly broke surface porpoising as it did so. It came up again, then tried to go deeper. Toine fought the fish hard to tire it quickly. It came across the stern of the boat. I looked at the fish in the clear water. Its tail swayed side to side, a big eye, and fearsome looking bill pointed straight me.  I could clearly see the fish’s brown flanks etched with silver and blue with light and dark vertical bars almost within touching distance. The crewman grabbed the leader and again the hook just popped out. But the fish was caught and the crew felt this was a fish between 300 and 400lbs. It looked it!

Magical leap of the blue marlin on the end of Toine van Lerlands line.
Magical leap of the blue marlin on the end of Toine van Lerlands line.

The instant Toine’s fish was freed, the captain hit the throttles for the long haul home. Two blue marlin to the boat, with another fish caught and released by another boat. We’d been exceptionally lucky on a very tough day. The next day, based on our catches, more boats came out, but no marlin were caught.

I’m still in the year of my 60th birthday. At the outset I wanted it to be a special year with some memorable moments. This opportunity was totally unexpected, but along with other events, it’s made my 60th birthday year something very special with memories I shall never forget.

Door to door I was away from the UK 152 hours in total and travelled 52 of those hours. The 100 hours in Costa Rica I had were amazing! Marlin are just magic!