I had the back of the boat to myself as we trolled to the spot. Henry was sleeping in but happened to wake up at the right time. The rain had slowed and the skies were clearing just as he stepped into the cockpit. Lines of sleep were still imprinted on his face from the drool dripped cushion he was crashed out on when the right long, a Laceration Lures "Bill Job" was attacked by a blue marlin.
My goal on this trip was to improve my skills on fighting marlin. I busted one off in Guatemala last year that costs us a tournament and I wanted to get better at it, both learning how to hook them and learning the patience needed when fighting blue marlin. My plan was to pitch horse ballyhoo and small bonito to fish that came up on the short teasers or were shadowing the lures a little further back. Rigged on circle hooks and 20 pound class conventional tackle (shimano tallus/Talica 25 with 20# Diamond), the idea was to get better at switch-baiting and learning what I could do with the lighter lines than we typically use when marlin fishing.
After catching a few, Henry wanted to fly fish and I wanted to try and catch one on 20# fly, a goal that has eluded me for 20 years of doing this stuff. At 9:05 Henry released his first blue marlin of the day. We put 'em back out and immediately another marlin exploded on the left short teaser, giving me my shot with the pitch bait which I perfectly deployed. The marlin crashed it and I got excited, locked it up and "sancochoed" my first marlin of the day. No worries, she swallowed the free lunch and attacked the left long on the way out the spread. Big mistake, another Laceration Lures single hook rig had her locked up tight and the 50 Tyrnos screaming. Crank her in Henry......
When the spread goes back out, it's all teasers and no hooks, from here on out we're going to try and get Henry one for on the fly. If it's a lazy fish, I'm going to get some practice with the 20 pound conventional or cast at the fish with a spinning rod, trying to tease it back up.
Unfortunately the bite slowed. We raised a couple of lazy fish that wouldn't tease up, then for the next two hours we didn't see a fish. James decided to make the move to another seamount about 30 miles inshore so we started chugging that way in order to conserve fuel. Another sportfishing boat was already at the spot and reported a great morning but things had also slowed for him. That afternoon we raised a couple more and finally caught one before sunset while live baiting, abandoning the fly until tomorrow.
After fishing 12 hours of daylight it's grueling to keep fishing into the night, but reports of other boats on recent similar trips catching swordfish had me determined to give it a good effort. We've never previously had success soaking baits at night other than small, less than 3 foot, large eyed deep water sharks and once a nocturnal bull dolphin which gave us a good tug.
The lights of the boat had attracted all kinds of life, minnows, squid, flying fish and bonito which were the perfect size to be bridled up on a big hook that was lit up by a green glow stick rubber banded to the leader. Thirty feet away a snap swivel attached a small green strobe light and above the snap another 30 feet of crank on leader. Before the connection to the main line a pound and a half of weight was clipped to the leader via a small longline clip.
One bait would be set at 150 feet down, on another rod around 500 feet. The depths are set by attaching a balloon to the line, then they are set adrift and their distance from the boat adjusted by releasing or retrieving line off of the 50 Tyrnos Shimano reel.
Results had been the same, nothing. Everyone was asleep and it was around midnight when the current seemed to shift and the two baits were coming together. I retrieved the shallow line to check the bait and moved the deep line to the other side of the boat. This line was now almost up and down with the balloon within 10 feet of the stern. I quickly caught a bonito and was not-so-quickly bridling him on the hook when I heard something that made me turn around. I was just in time to see the rod with the deep bait almost doubled over in the rod holder and the line that was around the tip snap, followed by the balloon exploding and just like that it was all over. We had a bite and it was a big one and it was all over.
After that second of excitement, I was up till dawn and was going to give it a try again the next night. Night two, baits were deployed, checked and changed until I just couldn't stay awake any longer. At midnight James and Berto both were there to take my shift and promised to keep the baits fresh. Within 20 minutes of me crashing out down below the shallow line popped out the rigger clip which was helping keep it drifting clear of the sea anchor. This time all was tight and Berto was on the rod which was again doubled over under a heavy drag that was not slowing line from peeling off the 50, straight down.
After about 20 seconds the line goes slack and the long crank of shame refills the empty half of the reel with line. The leader is retrieved, the bonito is still attached albeit a bit mashed and just like the leader, scraped and chafed by the tell tail scratches of a billfish bite. The broken line from the night before left no evidence. Perhaps marlin feed at 500 feet at night, but our guess was that this bite was from a swordfish.
Maybe this will help those others who give it a try on future trips......now back to the marlin.
Day 2 we woke up to bacon and eggs, recovering the few miles we lost during the previous night's drift. The private sportfishing boat from the day before was also there, mixing it up with the lures and live bait whereas the rest of our trip was going to have emphasis on the fly. They only had 4 bites all morning and we only raised two fish, neither had an interest in the fly, so when they faded off I took a shot at them with bait. The first I hooked on a spinning rod, later to jump it off, the second I caught on 20 pound conventional and really learned a lot from that fight.
Due to the "slow" fishing, James decided to return to the offshore spot for the afternoon. That was a good move. Although we did not raise any on the way there, as soon as we came up on the break a marlin crashed the left long teaser and followed it all the way to the boat, but wouldn't hit the fly. This marlin stayed with us for as long as a minute, following teasers and hookless baits that we cast to it on spinning tackle, but it wanted nothing to do with those feathers. Finally I gave it a hook on a spinning rod, got the bite and missed it.
Same program with the next 3 fish, they'd raise, but just wouldn't eat the fly, so I broke down and threw another hook at one with the spinning rod. This time I connected and watched 30 pound line peel off of the Saragosa 20,000 . I've caught a lot of fish on spinning tackle and this was the best run that I ever have seen. I really thought that I was going to get dumped, but before I saw metal at the bottom of the spool, she slowed down and I started to manage the bow in the line and stop the bleeding of mono.
I am pretty proud about releasing this blue marlin on a spinning rod.
I've checked a couple off of my list and am now content to concentrate on getting Henry's marlin on the fly. We take off the hooks and give the drag on the spinning reel a break. Three more lazy fish up to the back up the boat until we get the right one:
At sunset and while catching baits for the night's swordfishing, we caught another marlin on a livey.
Our last day at the sea mounts, we started the day with no bites from where we put them to bed, but we were able to raise 10 blue marlin on the way home and get a couple of them to eat the flies, now all rigged with 20 pound tippet.
My fish of the day was one that I am proud to have been able to talk into eating my fly. She came up on the right long and as the boat stopped and the teaser came out of the water I made the cast and she faded off only to come back to Berto's teaser on the spinning rod. She was well behind his teaser when I replaced it with the fly, she came up to it with bill out of the water, just testing it. I dragged the fly away, just inches away from her open mouth, preventing her from touching it, which only made her want it more. Her tail lit up neon light blue and when I stopped the fly. She no longer wanted to taste it, she wanted to catch it. She was coming straight ahead with mouth open; less preferred than a going away bite which usually results in a good hook up. When she ate the fly I jumped to the left side of the transom, changing the angle and hoping for a better hook set.
Jake Jordan has overcome the biggest problem that fly fishermen have had when trying to catch blue marlin on the fly. The weight of the fly line being dragged behind a 100+ pound fish going through the water at more than 70 miles/hour breaks the line class tippet. Jake's leader system results in less line dragging in the water and his hand machined Mako reels allow for the consistent precision drags needed to keep connected.
Usually, the bite is ferocious, the marlin knows she's hooked and the initial run will secure the hook into her mouth, but this fish was different. Satisfied that she had caught whatever it was trying to get away from her, she just closed her mouth on the fly and slowly swam down and away...and away...and away.
After at least 200 yards of a slow steady pull, she woke up, came up to the top and put on the show of a fly fisherman's lifetime. When she broke water she stayed in the air leaving a trail of white water and was charging straight at the boat. Although line was now peeling off the fly reel going the other direction, she was coming straight at me, I mean she was coming straight at ME. I could literally see the whites of her eyes when she stopped, shook her head and the fly fell from her mouth and she was gone.
Maybe I should have put some heat on her during that initial run to more secure the steel, but if I had, I may have not been able to enjoy the ride that she gave me....or have had the opportunity to crank in over 300 yards of empty line dragging a lonely fly.
this is what she looked like: