Marlin Magazine records
Big-Game Fishing's Most Amazing Feats
A first-ever collection of the world's most incredible catches in sport-fishing history.
Feb 8, 2000
By Jan Fogt (More articles by this author)
Blue-water fishing as we know it recently celebrated its 100th birthday. The first 30 years of the sport saw some great accomplishments, including the capture of the first 1,000-pound fish on rod and reel. In the past three decades, offshore anglers have accomplished what early pioneers in the sport would have thought impossible, thanks to unflagging enthusiasm, improved technology, experimentation and shared techniques.
Yet nowhere in this great sport of ours is a record of these great feats. The International Game Fish Association keeps track of the world records, but no compendium exists of those first-ever, most unusual and amazing fishing feats that keep hopeful anglers returning to the sea year after year.
Until now. Listed below is what we believe to be the largest, most comprehensive gathering of outstanding angling highlights from the past few decades of sport fishing.
Thousand-pound Atlantic blue marlin were unheard of until June 26, 1974, when Jack Harrington steamed out of Oregon Inlet, North Carolina, aboard the Jo Boy with Capt. Harry Baum. Later that morning, he hooked that ocean's first giant blue, a 1,142-pounder. The next Atlantic grander was caught the following year, also off Hatteras. It weighed 1,128 pounds. Over the next 20 years, fewer than 25 granders were caught in the Atlantic, but that was before Capt. Roddy Hays started mining 1,000-pound blues with regularity out of the flat-calm waters of Madeira.
"During the full moon at Madeira between August and September, 1994, we saw more firsts for 1,000-pound Atlantic blue marlin than we'd seen in a hundred years of fishing," says IGFA president Mike Leech. Among the myriad records set during those 40 days:
* First angler to land a grander on standup tackle - Tracy Melton of California. Melton made the 1,083-pound catch on 80-pound tackle while fishing with Hays aboard the Margarita.
* Only captain ever to weigh two 1,000-plus-pound Atlantic blue marlin in a day - Capt. James Roberts aboard the French Look. The two fish weighed 1,028 and 1,046 pounds.
* Only anglers to weigh more than one 1,000-plus-pound Atlantic blue marlin - Stewart Campbell on the Chunda with Capt. Barkey Garnsey did it first, catching a 1,141-pounder and 1,038-pounder three days later. Three weeks later, Jean-Paul Richard matched the feat aboard his French Look with 1,028- and 1,157-pound fish.
* Youngest angler to catch a 1,000-plus-pound Atlantic blue marlin - Laurent Richard, age 15, caught a 1,046-pounder aboard the French Look.
Other grander firsts, outside of those set in Madeira during that magical season, include the following:
* First angler to catch a grander solo - 67-year-old Herman Huber of Grand Canary Island became the first fisherman in history to land a 1,000-plus-pound marlin fishing alone. He fought his 1,023-pounder for six hours aboard a 22-foot boat after experiencing open-heart surgery only five months earlier.
* Oldest angler to land a grander blue marlin - Mannetjies Thalwitzer, 77, while fishing the 14th annual International Marlin Open Club Championship at Mauritius, is believed to be the oldest person ever to catch a 1,000-pound blue. The fish weighed 1,003 pounds.
* Angler with highest two-day grander total - Within a two-day period in 1978 with Capt. Peter B. Wright, Englishman Robert Douwma boated six black marlin weighing 950, 998, 1,012, 1,051, 1,068 and 1,181 pounds.
* Captain with most marlin granders - Capt. Peter B. Wright. Wright has 75 grander blacks from Australia and one grander blue taken off Madeira. The majority of these catches was made from the 20-year-old, 40-foot Duyfkin. That boat is one of the few in the world to catch every species of Atlantic and Pacific billfish.
* Heaviest marlin ever caught by a woman - Now Mrs. Charles E. Hughes, she was Kimblerly Wiss when she fought and landed the 1,525-pound black marlin in 1954 off Cabo Blanco, Peru.
* Angler with most granders of varying species - John C. Johnston of Adelaide, Australia, has caught four species of fish weighing more than a thousand pounds: white shark, black marlin, bluefin tuna and tiger shark. No one has ever caught granders of all three marlin species that grow to 1,000 pounds.
* Smallest person to land a grander - 86-pound Jeannette Shi caught a 1,076-pound black marlin while fishing on the Kiahlua with Capt. John Donaldson out of Lizard Island, Australia, in 1985.
* Only light-tackle grander ever caught - 1,051-pound black marlin taken on 20-pound test by Peter Mahood in 1976.
Quantity Is Quality
There are many achievements an angler can strive for. For captains, though, it's simpler. It's all about being the first and catching the most.
The race for the most billfish in a single year has been hotly contested over the years, and began with Capt. Mike Aman and anglers Hank and Gretchen Manley in 1984. They wondered if it was possible for one boat to catch 1,000 billfish in 12 months. The trio, along with a handful of guest anglers, beat their goal by 111 fish, catching 752 sailfish, 333 white marlin, 24 blue marlin and two swordfish. It all happened aboard the Escapade, fishing off the east coast of Florida, the Bahamas, the Yucatan Peninsula, St. Thomas and La Guaira, Venezuela.
Inspired by the Escapade's success, Capt. Brenden Burke eclipsed the record aboard Magic off Costa Rica in 1991, catching and releasing 1,414 billfish. Capt. Bubba Carter on the Tijereta, also in Costa Rica, responded with 1,443 releases two years later. Realizing that if he was going to set a record that would stand, he'd have to do it in a big way, Capt. John LeGrone established 2,000 fish as a goal in 1995. Fishing off Costa Rica and Guatemala with anglers using both conventional and fly tackle, LeGrone almost doubled the Escapade's record with 2,140 fish for Artmarina's Magic. His catch average: 11.2 billfish releases per day.
Other notable mosts:
* Boat with most blue marlin in a day - 20 Atlantic blue marlin by Capt. Trevor Cockle on the Hooker. The date was June 6, 1997. The place was Sao Vicente Island in the Cape Verdes off the north coast of Africa. Here, Cockle and first mate Randy Baker managed 20 out of 28 bites for an unheard-of one-day marlin-fishing binge. Another one for the record books: In 19 days that June, they caught and released 146 blue marlin.
* Angler with most blue marlin in a day - Ralph Gilster caught nine aboard One Bull with Capt. Jack Morrow, fishing St. Thomas in 1976. That record stood for close to 13 years until Ralph Christensen and Capt. Bill Harrison on the Pescador matched it while also fishing off St. Thomas.
* Boat with most blue marlin in one year - Capt. Dave Noling's Courtesan, which produced 287 blues in 1996. The fish were all caught off Venezuela and St. Thomas, with Noling nosing out the Freedom, Final Fantasy and Revenge, all of whom were also in the hunt for most marlin honors that magical season. In the Pacific, as best as we can tell, the high numbers to beat come from Kona, Hawaii. Capt. Bart Miller broke the 100-fish mark in 1968 and did so again in 1972 with 111 fish. The first to beat his record was Capt. Bobby Brown, who in 1979 posted 126 blue marlin catches on the No Problem. Of those, more than 70 percent were released.
* Angler with the most blue marlin in one year - Damon Chouest of Louisiana, who in 1996 caught 168 blue marlin fishing on his own boat, the Freedom, and aboard the Courtesan. Of special note, Chouest tagged and released 129 of the 168.
* Most career marlin by a man - 452, caught between 1964 and 1998 by Ralph Christensen of Puerto Rico. Most of the fish were released. On May 15, 1994, Christensen logged the capture of his 300th marlin after having caught 11 blacks in Australia and 289 blue marlin off St. Thomas. He has since eclipsed that mark by more than 150 and is well on his way to his next goal of catching 1,000 marlin in his lifetime. Runners-up include Jerry Dunaway, who on June 24, 1994, at Cocos Island, recorded his 300th marlin capture. Dunaway has caught more than 200 Atlantic blue marlin, 31 Pacific blue marlin, 82 black marlin and 10 swordfish.
* Most career blue marlin by a woman - In October 1998, Marsha Bierman recorded the catch and release of her 300th blue marlin. Bierman's log shows that from 1971 to 1998, she caught and released more than 2,000 billfish.
* Most broadbill swordfish in a day - Venezuela's Ruben Jaen, with five swordfish caught between 10 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. on July 27, 1996. The most ever caught by conventional surface-baiting techniques is three. These were caught off Block Island, Rhode Island, on July 21, 1980 by Craig Mallen, John Jennings and Bobby Melocarro aboard Melocarro's boat Sujo.
* Most career surface-baited swordfish - 48 by Californian Ted Naftzger, who caught all his fish sight-casting them on the surface during daylight hours. Naftzger, who fought an estimated 500-pounder to the swivel in 1998 before losing it, has a goal of becoming the only angler ever to capture 50 surface swordfish in his lifetime.
* Most Atlantic sailfish in one day - 83, aboard the Elbo 7 with Capt. Albert Johnston. Three fishermen combined for the tally by pitching live baits to sailfish balling bait off Palm Beach Inlet in January 1981.
* Most Pacific sailfish in one day - 71, by Capt. Ron Hamlin on the Captain Hook. Three novice anglers set this record using dead bait on December 9, 1998, while fishing out of Artmarina's Fin & Feathers Resort at Iztapa, Guatemala.
* Most white marlin in a day - 59, on October 10, 1983, off La Guaira, Venezuela. The anglers credited with the catch aboard Ship's Cafe were Pete Boinis of the U.S. and Venezuelans Aquiles Garcia and Raphael Arnel. Witness Tim Choate said they actually caught 60 whites during the 12-hour fishing day, but because one fish ate two baits they did not count it. The captain was Mike Aman.
* Most striped marlin in a day - 75, off Cabo San Lucas by Capt. Mike "The Beak" Hurt and company. The date was December 1, 1979. Waiting for his boss to arrive after bringing the boat south, Hurt invited seven other captains and deckhands to go fishing. Included in the crew was Bill Miyagawa of Zuker Lures and his son, Capt. Billy, only 8 years old at the time. Billy caught more than eight of the 75 striped marlin using a 12-pound bass fishing outfit.
* Most black marlin in a day - Although Jim Dalling of Australia is believed to have caught between 38 and 40 juveniles in a day for the most, Capt. Peter Bristow, now of Madeira, holds the record for adult fish. Fishing off Cairns in the early '70s aboard the Avalon, Bristow caught, tagged and released 16 blacks averaging 500 to 800 pounds, and boated another marlin over 1,100 pounds. He also had three more on the wire. Depending on your description of a release, that's 17 or 20 giant black marlin in a day.
* Most giant bluefin tuna in a day - 73, by Stewart Campbell, during the winter of 1995 off Hatteras, North Carolina. Campbell was fishing as the single angler with Capt. Peter B. Wright and mates Charles Perry, John Rafter, Capt. Gary Stuve and Charles Hayden. The crew smashed the previous one-day fishing record of 16 giants first set off Newfoundland in 1960 by anglers Elwood Harry, Gil Keech and George Matthews. On that trip, Stuve and Hayden were mates, making them the only crewmen ever to set two all-time one-day fishing records for the same species.
The first fisherman ever to capture three billfish species in a single day did so fishing off Chub Cay in the Bahamas. That's where the term grand slam was coined, and that is where Capt. Chip Shafer of Fort Pierce, Florida, caught one of the first double grand slams in 1984.
For many years, hardly anyone ever even considered a feat greater than catching a grand slam. But that was before the summer of 1972, when Capt. Robert Jansenius, mate Dietmar Kossmann and several anglers aboard the Captain Bob caught a white, a blue, a sailfish - and a 239-pound swordfish. The action all happened within a 24-hour period at the 100-Fathom Curve off Panama City, Florida, making this the first documented super grand slam.
In 1981, Janice Ebarb became the first individual ever to capture a super slam while fishing with Capt. Skip Smith aboard the Hooker off Cozumel, Mexico. Owner Jerry Dunaway repeated the feat days later, and the pair's catches set off a flurry of activity by captains hoping not just to match, but to exceed her achievement. The first to do so was Capt. Mike Aman on the Escapade. Fishing with anglers Bob Herder and Terry Detrich and mates Chester Jenkins and Tim Choate off Venezuela in 1984, the team became the first to land two super grand slams in a day. That's two blue marlin, two sailfish, two white marlin and two swordfish.
Many people have since gone on to catch a super grand slam, but only two crews have ever caught a double super grand slam, and both of them were fishing the Escapade. The first time was on Hank Manley's 48-foot Monterey with Aman at the helm. The second was Manley's 58-foot Tribute, run by Capt. Rob Moore, on which they caught their second double super grand slam in 1994. Even more amazingly, in 1997 Manley caught the world's first and only "fantasy slam" consisting of five billfish in a 24-hour period: a swordfish, blue marlin, white marlin, sailfish and spearfish on the La Guaira Bank.
We're still waiting for the first triple super grand slam, but four more slams of merit bear mentioning:
* First quadruple grand slam - Capt. Trevor Cockle on the Hooker, who did so fishing Cocos Island off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica three years ago. The total catch: four blue marlin, four sails and 11 striped marlin.
* First quadruple grand slam during a tournament - Capt. Jim Martin led his Rookie crew to this feat during the inaugural Venezuelan International Grand Slam Billfish Tournament in 1997. During that event, participants also set a record for most grand slams during a tournament: 33.
* Only simultaneously hooked grand slam - Capt. Gary Chouest, along with anglers Dino Chouest, Damon Chouest and Terry Hunter, get credit for being the only team ever to successfully land a triple-header grand slam (blue marlin, striped marlin and sailfish, all hooked and caught at the same time). They caught the trio in 1991 off the Cocos Islands.
* First fly fishing grand slam - South Florida fisherman Sam Cutler became the first angler in history to catch a grand slam on fly in June of 1997. He did so while fishing off Cozumel aboard Hank and Judy Simmons' Miramar, catching two sailfish, a blue and a white marlin.
Fantastic Fly Fishing
The development of heavier reels and rods and improved teasing techniques has helped saltwater fly fishermen set a number of new records in recent years, not the least of which are for blue marlin - the toughest quarry of all.
For big-game saltwater fly fishermen, 200 pounds has always been the deciding line when it comes to blue marlin. Try as they might, not until 1991 did anyone cross that line. The first to achieve that milestone was Jim Gray, who in 1991 boated a 203-pound 8-ounce Pacific blue on 16-pound tippet while fishing off Guanamar, Costa Rica. With the new 20-pound tippet class in place, Gray exceeded that mark with a 260-pounder off Flamingo. Not until 1994 did a fisherman catch an Atlantic blue marlin over 200 pounds. The guy who did it was Charles Tombras of Tennessee, whose 208-pound Atlantic blue marlin on 20-pound tippet stands as one of only a handful of blue marlin ever caught on fly.
Other outstanding big-game fly-fishing feats:
* First swordfish on fly- 54-pounds 10-ounces on 20-pound tippet by Jeremy Block. The fish was caught April 5, 1998, off Watamu, Kenya, following a 35-minute fight. This is the first and only swordfish ever taken on fly-fishing tackle.
* First blue marlin on fly - Billy Pate with Capt. Skip Nielsen in 1978. It weighed 96 pounds.
* First woman to land a blue marlin on fly - Dianne Harbaugh of Tavernier, Florida, is not only the first but so far the only woman ever to catch a blue marlin on fly. The 93-pound Atlantic blue marlin was caught on 20-pound tippet in the Turks and Caicos Islands in July 1994.
* First 100-pound Atlantic sailfish on fly - Hugh Vincent Jr. of West Palm Beach, Florida, is the only fisherman ever to catch an Atlantic sailfish weighing more than 100 pounds on fly. The fish weighed 102 pounds and was caught off Bom Bom Island.
* Most fly-caught billfish in a year - 200 in 1997, by Capt. Bud Gramer on Pelagian out of Artmarina's Fin & Feathers Resort in Guatemala.
* First spearfish on fly - a 56-pound, 6-ounce fish caught by Charles Owen
Jr. in 1997 off Cozumel.
* Most black marlin on fly in a day - seven, with five out of the seven being tagged. They were caught by anglers Raymond White, Peter Campbell and Peter Mammino of North Queensland, Australia, fishing on Capt. Kim Andersen's New Moon II in 1998.
The Longest Battles
Few of us can understand the sheer guts, determination and courage it takes to fight a fish 10 or 20 hours, much less 30. In writing about just such a heroic effort, Ernest Hemingway won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1954 for The Old Man and the Sea. No doubt captain Jamie Berzanskis and anglers Jerry Shaughnessy and Lincoln Ahlo Jr. were thinking of Santiago when in 1983 they established the mark for longest battle with a billfish: 34-1/2 hours.
Estimated at well over 1,200 pounds, the fish hit around 10 a.m. on Wednesday, September 26, and won freedom at 8:30 p.m. the next day. Hooked off Kona on 130-pound test, the fish wore out Berzanskis after 10 hours, and the rod was passed to Ahlo, who had jumped aboard Berzanskis' 31-foot Bertram, Da Warrior, to lend a hand. The seesaw battle was nearly won a half-dozen times as the anglers worked the fish within 10 yards of the boat. The fish rallied every time. Late in the fight, sharks had begun to circle the fatigued fish. The fishermen believe the threat of sharks is what caused the fish to summon one last burst of energy. As it jumped free of the water, the frayed line parted.
Another epic battle even more remarkable involves American Dennis Dunn and an estimated 1,200-pound blue marlin off New Zealand's Bay of Plenty. The fight began on February 18, 1983, and ended 32 hours later. During the first 30 hours, Dunn never relinquished the rod. He survived on hand-fed oranges, water and sandwiches, standing his ground in sometimes-rough seas, working the 50-pound gear. Toward the end, a doctor jumped aboard to treat the angler's blistered hands and body. At 3:35 p.m., February 19, the near-spent Dunn agreed to pass the rod to a crew member, who fought the fish two more hours before giving up and breaking the line. Dunn's 30 hours of IGFA-approved angling makes this the longest marlin fight on record by a single angler.
Headly Weir gets credit for the longest battle with the most rods and reels. Fishing on the Spritzer off Montego Bay, Jamaica, during that city's 26th annual Marlin Fishing Tournament in 1986, Weir hooked the fish on a red-and-black Softhead and fought it for more than 12 hours. Four times, the fish nearly spooled the reel. Each time it happened, he snapped the line onto a new rod. Tightening the drag down to 38 pounds after the fourth such instance, the line snapped. Weir watched the fish escape towing four 50- to 80-pound Penn International outfits and 4,000 yards of line.
Lesson learned from these epic battles: The fish almost always wins.
Incredible Tournament Records
The first Ocean City Swordfish Tournament in 1978 was one for the record books. With an eye on beating Miami fishermen, who in 1977 on 27 boats recorded the capture of 60 swordfish over five nights of fishing, the 56-boat fleet fished 23 hours between August 18 and 19, catching 42 broadbill swordfish and 68 white marlin once the sun came up. Of special note, the top boat, Serena, had three swords totaling 450 pounds.
Other tournament records:
* Most billfish in a tournament - 1,692 by anglers fishing the Costa Rica International Billfish Tournament at Flamingo Beach in 1992.
* Most Atlantic blue marlin in a tournament - 190, caught in the 1988 Club Nautico de San Juan International Billfish Tournament.
* Highest blue marlin catch-per-unit-of-effort (CPUE) in a tournament - 9.7 marlin per boat per day, set in the 1988 Biras Creek International Team Billfish Tournament, in the British Virgin Islands. Nine boats caught and released 88 blue marlin. The winning boat was the Escape with Capt. Dennis Steele and mate Mike Everly, whose anglers Charlie Campbell and Doc Stewart tallied 19 releases in four days.
* Highest billfish CPUE in a tournament - the 45.4 fish per angler registered during the Hell's Anglers Tournament in 1994 at Piqas Bay. Fishing out of Tropic Star Lodge on five boats, 11 anglers caught and released 498 billfish, averaging 45.4 fish per angler over six days. A majority of the billfish were sailfish but mixed in were plenty of blacks and stripes.
* Largest tournament payoff - $1.7 million in cash prizes, awarded in the 1997 Bisbee's Black & Blue Jackpot Tournament at Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. The event was a tournament history breaker, with 181 boats and 728 anglers. Thanks to El Niqo, only two fish were weighed. A 372-pounder by Gene Price earned a payout of $757,055 for the anglers and crew on Gene's Machine. Second place went to Tim Hazelwood on Achiever, who earned a record payout of $917,263 for a 355-pound blue marlin. (Hazelwood had entered more levels of the jackpot).
* Largest blue marlin caught in a tournament - a 1,201.8-pound blue marlin by Doug Jorgensen in the 1993 17th annual Lahaina Jackpot Fishing Tournament Maui.
* Oldest to win a major international tournament - At 86, Charles Johnson of Port St. Lucie swept the individual standings of the Stuart Sailfish Club Invitational Sailfish Release Tournament, becoming the oldest person to win a major billfish tournament.
* Youngest Angler to win an international billfish tournament - Jonathan Curin was eight years old when he won the Bay of Islands Billfish Tournament in 1991. He beat a field of anglers from Fiji, Japan, Hawaii, Holland, as well as his native New Zealand. Fishing on his godfather Capt. Bill Hall's Te Ariki Nui, he boated a 438-pound blue marlin on 30-pound test to win the tournament. Marlin contributors David Finkelstein and Evelyn Letfuss witnessed the catch.
* Most white marlin in a tournament - 348 white marlin in the second Brazilian Open Tournament of Deep Sea Fishing in January, 1976, remains one of the all-time best white marlin scores.
* Most outstanding solo tournament feat - tagging four out of five white marlin releases, including two double-headers. Carlos Bentos caught the fish while fishing alone aboard Caribena in the 1996 Ocean City White Marlin Open. He finished the event as one of the top three anglers (among 1,200 fishermen aboard 237 boats), but was the only person fishing with no crew.