BioBait change and lunch at 1.45. Nothing to report. Client happy to steer where I tell him as I work cockpit etc. Feel more assured as time goes by without a touch. Water still cold, 70 - 71°, and stiff breeze comes up at 4.00. Head back from the west at 5.10 after another BioBait change, little chop from astern. See three terns hovering over tiny bait-ball at 6.40 and Paul takes boat closer as I try to figure out what the tiny fish are.
We are looking at the birds, 30' off the starboard bow when a reel screams in the cockpit below us. It pauses and then screams again. We both turn amazed as a large fish lunges across the wake, turns sharply and starts to greyhound astern. Paul flies down ladder yelling 'S**t' as I gun the boat a touch to clear the other lines. Throttle back to idle and fall down ladder after him. Paul has one flat-line in already, the fish has the other. Quick look at spool, half-empty, and start to jibber. Fish is now 500 yards away and still going astern.
Paul cannot take rod out of holder. Decide we have a serious problem and check the outrigger lures - both are well down below the surface. Yell at Paul that I am going to go astern. Back straight down between the two rigger lures and finally Paul is able to take rod out of holder and get into chair. Maybe 200 yards on spool, but fish is slowing. Undo chair so weight of fish will turn it and carry on idling astern. Paul puts reel in low gear and steadily winds for ten minutes as we slowly gain on the fish. Decide all is relatively under control and stop boat. Bring in the other lures and clear cockpit of everything. Arm both tag sticks and dampen the gloves. Big butterflies. Paul happy in chair, grunting over half-full spool. To help matters I bump the boat into astern again as fish is still heading away from us.
At 7.25 fish is within 50 yards and we manage to turn her so we lead her for the first time. I put gloves on. Paul and I have discussed how we are going to do this. As soon as I have leader and shout, he will race for cockpit controls. Slow circle as fish steadily comes to boat, looking big but tired. Two small lumps in throat - either butterflies or testicles.
Leader comes up and I wrap slowly, trying not to scare fish. Scream at Paul as fish comes easily to boatside. Boat still idling ahead on opposite engine as fish lies tired on surface. She looks to be a good 700, maybe bigger. Both tags in, Paul runs for camera, falls over the 130 in the chair. Two quick pictures and I brace myself for the difficult part, getting the hooks out. Fish decides to help and shakes head slowly. Hooks fall out and fish sinks slowly astern, turns upright, and shoots off into the dusk. Paul and I look at each other, open-mouthed.
Much later, I am called a 'Jammy git' by Jonno, Anguilla's skipper, quite correctly.
Thursday, 6th August.
New client on board - Daniel. Experienced fisherman, but yet to catch first marlin. Nothing to report for most of the day. Deckie falls asleep at wheel. Weather calm, and late afternoon way up east for the first time this year. North-easterly breeze has finally ceased. 5.00 head for home, two hours troll away. Client quiet but watchful as I bring lures in for final BioBait change.
A big flat-line lure pops loudly as I wind it in - client leaps out of chair screaming 'Marlin !'. I explain it was the lure he had seen. No, he is insistent. I put lure on deck. Daniel subsides back into chair and apologises. I tell him not to worry, anyone can make a mistake. Look up to see huge boil and thick bill slash at the right rigger lure. Scream 'FISH !' and fly across cockpit to ladder. Ricky bolts upright at the helm. Rigger pin snaps open as I reach top of ladder and Ricky guns boat. 10 yards and fish is off. Reach controls as Ricky reaches cockpit. Throttle back as we are now on the plane at 18 knots. Yell at Ricky to put lure back up on the rigger. Wait thirty seconds. Nothing.
Fish has hit two lures and is now probably scratching its bill. Yell at the two in the cockpit that we'll try a circle back. BOING goes the centre-rigger on the cabin roof and instantly the 50 stand-up in the corner flattens into a dreadful curve, the little 30/50 Beastmaster shrieking. For two seconds I think we have a spearfish on the little 6" tuna lure. Realise that no spearfish on earth pulls line off a reel like that and stop the boat instantly. Run cursing down the ladder. Ricky and Daniel are frantically winding a lure in each. I get started on the other, gibbering softly. Two lures drop into the boat and I hear breaking water above the sound of the idling diesels. Look up and realise I am hearing a fish jump. It is 50 yards away on the port quarter, heading straight for the boat on its tail, the lure flying around its head like a wasp on a piece of string. She sounds within 30 feet of the boat, but reappears instantly, greyhounding directly across our wake OVER the lure I am still pulling in. She is so close that I swear spray reaches the cockpit.
By this time Daniel, inexperienced though he is, has strapped on the butt pad, and is ALREADY winding in the 400 yards of slack that is doubling back towards the boat, hissing with a little roostertail. I cannot start backing down to help as the fish has pulled away to one side and is still jumping away from us. There is too much line on the surface. Amazingly, when everything comes tight, we have reel half-full, 300 yards of 50 to play with. Big panic, go full astern with much cavitation, line peeling off reel steadily. Fish now tired though after 800 yards on its tail, and settles down. Steadily go astern on fish, which stays just below surface. Daniel, now with harness, winds for 45 minutes, muttering 'This is f*****g brilliant'.
I touch leader after 46 minutes, but cannot bear to take too much pressure on the trace - it is only 150 lb mono. Fish just swims along away from us until 7.45, when I take the boat over the fish and we lead her for the first time. At 7.50, the 10' of wind-on 130 lb leader is on the reel, and Daniel is told to hold tight. The line underneath is white for 200 yards. I tell Daniel that if the leader comes to hand I will wrap tight and not let go again. I feel it is better to leave a short length of leader with her than the 50. Suddenly, the fish gives up and comes straight to the boat, and without having to take wraps, she is there for tagging. Look up for Ricky and the tag-stick, but unbelievably he has Daniel's video camera in his hands. The fish drifts away from the boat, and I wrap to try and hold her. She lunges once, the trace pops and she swims off rapidly. I scream at Ricky, but as Daniel says, a release is a release. We measure the trace. The fish has less than six inches of mono and a single 6/0 in her jaw.
Back at the marina, Jonno calls me a 'jammy git' for the second time in a week. The fish goes in the book at 750 lbs.
Thursday, 13th August.
Have two SCBI members on board - Paul and Chris. With them is Paul's daughter, Lucy. This is their fifth day and we have yet to hook a fish, despite two half-hearted strikes. Jonno has no clients, so I have an ace deckie for the day. Head out, feeling confident - last night was a full moon.
11.55, amongst a cloud of bait and birds, a fish comes straight upwards out of the water with the short middle lure firmly embedded somewhere in its jaw. There is no time for anyone to shout and the fish is away astern of us, jumping in slow circles. Jonno yells for me to stay up top as the others bring the lures in. The fish does relatively nothing, and by the time I tumble down the ladder, less than 300 yards have been taken off the reel. Chris is in the chair, finally tied up to his first marlin after many years of trying.
Jonno and I look at each other. We have learnt to be very wary of Madeiran fish that take little line. A short six foot chop makes life unpleasant, and the fish stays near the boat, surging and jumping at will. It does not look big, maybe 500 lbs. Chris is a competent angler though, and brings the fish to boatside for tags at 12.30. As I lean over to measure her, she takes off rapidly, jumping just under a rigger and slipping the wraps off Jonno's hands. Later he shows me the burns. Within ten minutes she is back alongside, and we try to take the hooks out. The fish is still violent, and has a determined go at the rigger again. This time I have stayed at the controls, but I still cannot equal the speed of the fish, so Jonno wraps hard and pulls low against the gunwale. The leader pops (600 lb Jinkai) and the fish is gone: tagged, but with two hooks in her. Jonno is optimistic though, saying one hook is out and the other is tucked up in the bill. We put the fish down as 550 lbs.
1.30 and I am down below talking to the UK on the phone when Jonno thumps on the roof - fish in the spread. I drop the phone and halfway up the ladder feel the left rigger go. A reel starts to scream, but the fish is gone within ten yards. Jonno is round-eyed when I reach him. Maybe a fish of 9OO lbs, he says. Maybe more.
Time for a BioBait change at 4.10. Jonno is down below about to start, when he screams at me to gun the boat. I hear nothing and simply stand up. A fish has taken the left rigger lure, but it is on a client's rod which is loaded with a FinNor. It's ratchet is barely audible and I simply could not hear it. Finally I realise that a fish is jumping back in the spread and gun the boat. As I do so, another fish puts its head and shoulders out of the water astern of the centre-rigger lure, and I scream to Jonno that we are about to have a double-header. Later he tells me that he thought I was joking, until the reel in the chair went into overdrive behind him. With two fish on at once, I do not know what to do. This is a first for me, so I take the cowards way out - I stop the boat and join the melee in the cockpit.
By this time the first fish has jumped off, but the second is still going strong, heading away from us and quickly emptying the Penn 130. Paul eases into the chair and for 40 minutes attempts to take some line back. We have the same horrible chop from the east, and the boat pitches and rolls heavily. After 50 minutes the line starts to sink slowly, and it trickles off the spool at even rate. The fish has died, jumping just once very far away - we have no good idea of its size, although it seems to be large. Paul's back gives out, so Chris tries to raise the fish. After ten minutes, both Jonno and myself have also been in the chair, and despite the unlimited rod and the 130 dacron, we can make no headway. I do not believe in cutting fish off, so Chris re-seats himself, and Jonno and I don gloves.
Inch by aching inch we lift the fish in tandem. At 6.35, with the leader in hand, we have the fish vertical beside the boat. It has not been tailwrapped, so we assume it is one of those old fish which simply give up in the cold water 2000 feet down. As it comes nearer, we realise why it has taken us so long to bring up - it is very big. We turn slowly for home, sad that the fish has died, but grateful that it has not gone to waste in the depths. Since the fish is dead, we are able to measure it carefully back in the marina, and since our electronic scales have been lodged in customs for two months, it goes in the log under a formula weight. Girth (78.54)squared, multiplied by Forklength (135) over 800 equals - 1048 lbs.
We work until nearly midnight filleting the fish and giving it away in great slabs to the 200 strong flotilla of visiting yachts that crowd the marina in summer. Small inflatables jostle alongside under the cockpit lights, and Jonno and I drown our sorrows in a bottle of whiskey as we discover the great fish is also full of roe. A small crowd watches as we work, and several video-cameras appear. We realise that the memory of the fish is being shared by hundreds of people, not just the crew, and it gives us some satisfaction. As the last piece of meat is born away across the marina and the crowd slowly disperses, we wash the boat and ourselves down and then tow the filleted carcass out to sea, the little outboard burbling happily on whiskey fumes in the darkness.