Friday 4 Sept. 1992
9.00am. We leave with Paul on board. Ricky and Manuel to work the cockpit today. Weather perfect. By 11.30 we are up on Three Fish Ridge and inside of us we see Anguilla hook up. Within minutes I have talked with Jonno, and he tells me that one of his clients is into a fish of maybe 300 kilos. We go outside for an hour and then turn back to Anguilla to check that everything is all right. Jonno says all is under control and the fish is well-behaved. We wander off and steadily head westwards along the dropoff. At 2.45 we see a fibre-glass cistern in the water off Calheta, and under it is a vast shoal of electric-blue dorados. Paul does not need much persuasion and so we stop the boat and break out the spinning outfits. By 3.30 we are back on the troll, and for some reason I cannot raise Anguilla to tell her to come and join the fun. We are still in the same area at 4.30, hoping that a marlin will be somewhere nearby, when the phone rings down below. It is Jonno. I am confused for a moment. The conversation goes somewhat awry. 'Where are you ?' I ask.
'In the marina.'
'Hey? What happened to the clients ?' 'They're here as well.'
'Where the hell are you ?'
'In the cafe, celebrating.'
'Yeah, the fish was, er, slightly bigger than we thought.'
'How big ?'
'Er, a grander at least - she was bigger than the three you've had this
'We've got it all on film; when you come back in you can have a look.'
I speak to Joao, the Madeiran boatman, and he tells me the fish was over five metres long. This puts the fish at a total length of 180 inches. He passes the phone back to Jonno.
'How long ?' I ask.
'Two hours and fifty-five minutes to boatside.'
'Difficult fish ?'
'No, just bloody heavy - took two of us to lift it on the trace.'
'Wow, that's a heavy fish,' I say. 'We'll see you when we get back in. Many congratulations - don't get too pissed !'
Back in at 8.05, I hurry for the cafe. The clients and Jonno are still there, worse for wear. The video camera is on the table and I grab it. Seconds later I am seeing film of a huge marlin lying calmly alongside Anguilla. It is easily the biggest fish we have seen this summer. Jonno mutters that it might have gone 1200 lbs. I remind him of Daniel's fish, which he saw on film and claimed would have gone 1200 lbs. This fish is bigger. The client who caught it, Alan, leans over the table intently, in shock. I offer my unqualified opinion. 'You've released a 1400 pounder,' I mutter, also in shock. Judging by the video, and later - the photographs - the fish was somewhere in the region of 16 feet long. If the girth had been at least as much as the smallest grander we had, then Alan's fish would probably have gone at least 1150 lbs. We discuss this for several minutes before we decide that the fish has been released anyway, and so we turn back to the more important task of celebrating.
Many other memories from that summer spring to mind. There were the 28 days when we saw nothing - not a single fish. Those are the days when you stay out until dark, hoping for something. If the client understands, so much the better. Sometimes this policy works. We had one fish at dusk one night that we landed at 9.15 in the dark amid a rising sea. That was the second fish of the year to give Jonno hand-to-hand alongside the boat. In September, we landed two fish at dusk when MARLIN magazine were with us. Nothing special as such, except that we were trying very hard to find fish when we had seen nothing for a week and assumed the season was over. The next day we released a third fish of 800 pounds, and then the season was over. Such is the luck which rides with you when you put in 14 hour days.
There are bitter memories too, of fish lost, fish raised, and fish seen. One day Jonno came on the VHF to say he had had a fish so big up in the wake that what he thought was a big wide bill turned into a dorsal fin when the fish turned. How big ? Big enough for Jonno to see some three foot of dorsal and the rest of the fish was still so deep that not a ripple marked its interest in a lure. His voice shook as he spoke to me.
Paul, one of my favourite clients, lost two fish one day, one after the other. One we never saw, but we assumed was in the 800 lb class from the way it fought. It came off after 45 minutes. Half an hour later he was into another fish of over 900 lbs - the hooks pulled yet again after an hour. Discouraged, his luck turned and the next day everything went right; he released two fish of 880 and 625.
A trip earlier in the year with him had resulted in more heartbreaks - the least of which was a fish that hit a lure as I was tightening a drag after Jonno had requested I check it. Shouting 'Fish !' I ran to the bridge, and Jonno ran out of the cabin, assumed I had not had enough time to put the drag up, and as the fish surged back on the lure, slipped the lever forward a centimetre. After the strike, we could not understand why Paul could not lift the rod out of the holder. When he did so, and then nearly went over the transom, we still did not click. With the spool nearly empty, the line broke at the double. We assumed that something was wrong with the reel - but there wasn't - the fish at that point had simply been pulling over 90 lbs of drag.
There were also four fish who did the same thing - nearly spool us and then break the double on their first series of jumps. Our leaders are 20 feet long.
As well as fish lost, one is always left with other memories. Of clients, bad and good, some who overcome the odds and do something spectacularly well like a young 25 year old lady who had a screaming 130 thrust at her, took it, reached the chair, and then promptly released her first blue marlin in under 40 minutes. We estimated the fish at 810 on the formula. Or how about an angler who takes an 80 out of a chair, and the drag lever gets caught in his shirt. A marlin pulling away in the first few moments after the strike promptly put the now free-spooling reel into the worst birdnest I have seen in fifteen years of fishing. I put Margarita hard astern, yelling at Paul to grab the line and pull slack into the cockpit. On the deckhead is a half-empty 80 which we have been too busy to fill. I yell at Manuel to grab it. He runs into the cabin and rushes back out with it. I hand the controls to Ricky, who carries on backing down after the fish, which is a 350 pounder jumping in one of those wide 50 yard circles that marlin love to do. I take the 80 off Manuel, and tell him to help Paul. After one false fumbling attempt, I have cut the line from the birdie and tied it to the other 80 with a 2-turn Uni. We stop the boat, the fish takes the slack line out of the cockpit, and we're back attached to it with a rod. By a sheer fluke, the amount of line already out does not exceed the capacity on the half-empty 80. We bring the fish to the boat after thirty minutes, and we manage to put one tag into her before the hooks, quite rightly, fall out !
By way of a thank-you, Paul gives me a present later in the week. It is a sprightly 400 lb fish which he brings to the boat in ten minutes on 130. As I take the leader and wrap, the fish turns bright blue and jams the wraps on both hands with one surge. I am left with little choice but bring the fish closer where he has no room to run, so I continue wrapping the leader round the jammed wraps. Eventually we end up with a very frisky and angry marlin next to the boat, a captain hiding below the gunwale trying not to get pulled over board, and a client sitting in the chair pissing himself. After 10 minutes the fish relaxes enough for us to release it. I cannot hold anything with either hand for thirty minutes - they are blue inside the double-gloves.
Surprisingly, we see little else on the lures last summer. No wahoo, no tuna, and no big dolphin. Even the makos are absent. Anguilla does have two big-eyes, tagging one of maybe 300 lbs, and brings another ashore of 256 lbs. Otherwise, the seas seem to have just marlin and spearfish. Even so, we are well down on spears, and tag just four. None the less, 1992 was a hell of a year for big marlin - memories are definitely made of this !
The Sixty Dollar Swordfish.
A little bit of local angling history was made off Madeira last April Fool's day. On a hot, flat calm morning, the local population of blue shark seemed headed for an eventful day as Capts. Roddy Hays and Jonathan Nicholas headed offshore for a six hour trip with some tourists from one of Madeira's plush hotels. With four neophyte bluewater anglers aboard and Capt. Anibal Fernandes in the cockpit, MARGARITA headed out to sea bristling with shark rods in the rocket launcher and a tank of large live mackerel happy in the corner.
Four miles out to sea, both Nicholas and Hays agreed that it would be a fine day to see a broadbill or spearfish on the surface and within ten seconds a fin obligingly appeared 300 yards away directly on the bow. Neither of these two captains had ever caught a swordfish before, but they both knew what the routine should be. As Hays dropped the boat back to idle and knocked one engine out of gear, Nicholas flew down into the cockpit and picked up the deep-bait shark rod, an 80lb stand-up outfit loaded with fluorescent Stren and a 500lb wire leader. There seemed to be little time to change anything and Nicholas pinned on the largest mackerel he could find and dropped it back into the wake as Hays brought the bait past the fish for the first time.
Both men had tried this routine on several occasions on Madeiran swordfish, but had had no luck in the past. So as the fish slowly sank beneath the surface as the boat neared it, it came as no surprise. Hays brought the boat to a standstill as the broadbill disappeared, and for three minutes waited for it to reappear. Finally he picked up some five hundred yards away with the aid of binoculars and trundled off in pursuit. As they neared the fish for the second time, four happy tourists clicked away with cameras, buzzing with excitement.
As Hays brought MARGARITA round the fish again, he could see that the fish was slowly herding tiny fry into a ba11. As he spoke to Nicholas down in the cockpit, telling him what was going on, the fish accelerated some 30 yards away from the boat and then free-jumped through the small baitball. Hays was sure that the sword would eat that damned mackerel if he could get it nearer, but with the bait still some 200' away, the fish quivered on the surface and slipped quickly under the calm water again. Hays put the one working engine out of gear and everyone waited.
Nearly a minute passed, and seven pairs of eyes started to lose their interest in scanning the surface. Nicholas, who was sitting on the transom with the outfit across his lap in freespool, suddenly felt the tugging of the mackerel increase and then a distinct thud travelled up the line. A metre of line pulled off the reel, and he choked with excitement. He called softly up to Hays what was happening, and Hays looked at him in disbelief. 'Probably a shark,' he whispered down, but Nicholas pointed to the slowly revolving spool. Even as they watched, the spool really started to move, and Nicholas mentioned it could be a good time to set the hook. Like now.
As Hays floored the throttles, Nicholas put the reel in gear, wound down tight and started to yell with excitement as he felt the weight of the fish. On the bridge, Hays started yelling too, and both men looked to a tourist to grab the rod. As the smoke cleared, the youngest of the anglers was strapping on a belt and took over the rod.
Nicholas Taylor, a Volvo design engineer working in Sweden, had never caught a fish of any size before, but within half an hour he had the swordfish alongside after a steady but unspectacular fight and Nicholas took the trace. Within seconds Fernandes had put the tags in and then the fish started to really struggle beside the boat. For a full three minutes Nicholas held on as tight as he dared, unable to let the fish go as a loose strand of wire had worked its way into a glove. The hook seemed to be in the scissors and although the stomach had been regurgitated, the sword looked in fine health. Hays had joined the men in the cockpit by this time, and as they prepared themselves to try and measure the fish and take the hook out, it suddenly flew out on its own accord, only to catch in the tip of the stomach. It held there for a few seconds and then slowly ripped out. Despite all this, the fish swam off rapidly and strongly downwards and did not reappear. It appeared to have been a fat fish of about 400 lbs.
As the boat ran home that afternoon, after tagging two blue shark and three green turtles, MARGARITA's broadbill flag was run up for the first time. After four years of waiting and several hundred fruitless hours of night-fishing, Hays and Nicholas had finally got their broadbill, on a day ideally suited for a foolish fish, April 1st.
As for the angler, he'd spent sixty dollars on his first swordfish and needless to say, three captains and one angler celebrated in style that night. Rumour even has it that two of them were seen on a Karaoke stage at four in the morning - but that's another story.