Stan's Labor Day Marlin Adventure
Let me crack a fresh Shiner Bock and regale you with tales of the sea. It's not exactly The Old Man and the Sea, but at least this one has a happy ending ...
"The weather started getting rough ..."
OK, it wasn't that bad. But there was a serious concern about weather heading into Labor Day weekend. It had been nasty offshore for better than a month, and Hurricane Ignacio had just broken up over Central Baja, meaning anything could happen.
Against this background, the crew of HOOKER (my father and his wife, my brother and I) left San Pedro Friday afternoon for Catalina. The plan was to spend the night there, then select the fishing ground based on the latest info available. There was basically two choices: head over to San Clemente Island, where marlin had been caught relatively well in the lee of the island; or head down to a spot between the 181 and 182 (now referred to as the "138"), where a swordfish boat had reported seeing marlin on Wednesday.
The problem with fishing the 138, though, is that it's a long way from any shelter. You're at least 30 miles from land in any of four directions, and with uncertain weather that can make any captain nervous. We decided to get up at 4 AM Saturday and head south towards the 138, with the option of changing course if the weather collapsed.
What is it they say about best laid plans? As I rolled over in my bunk Saturday morning and slowly realized that 1) sunlight was streaming in the porthole and 2) the engines had not yet started, it was apparent that things were not going as planned. Once the alarm clock was summarily executed and the crew rousted we headed south.
"... the tiny ship was tossed."
One benefit of our late start was that we were able to glean two important pieces of information. The first was that the seas were flat and appeared to remain so all the way to the fishing grounds. The second was even more pleasing - several boats were already hooked up. Since the route to the 138 runs through productive fishing grounds, we opted to troll down rather than run. Good call.
We run five jig lines on HOOKER - two outriggers, two flat lines and a stinger long down the middle. Since all four of us want to fish, we go through a series of coin flips to determine fishing positions, which rotate each day of the trip. One down side to this is that you have to try and predict which day will be the best and try to have your preferred position on that day. Another is that each angler tends to run the lure they want without any regard to what the others are using, which precludes any sort of organized "pattern" of lures. In spite of this, we've been quite successful over the years.
On Saturday, the rotation dictated that I would be fishing the stinger. During the run to Catalina, I had been fishing both starboard lines and was running a Big Reidee and one of Bart's new Mini 1656 Flatheads. Not wanting to discriminate against any of my friends (and having completely forgotten the comment I'd made earlier about having one in my pattern), I put out a fresh Pakula Lumo Medium Sprocket I'd just rigged a few days earlier. Being a hardhead, I decided to not consult Pete's CD and rigged the lure as I do all my lures - fifteen feet of 150-lb mono, an 8/0 Mustad 7732SS hook and enough tribeads to space the point of the hook so it was just even with the end of the skirt.
Rigged and ready, the lure hit the water to join a pattern that included two Zuker SM-3.5 Bleeding Mackerals, one Sevenstrand KonaClone in the old #71 dorado pattern, and a black and purple Sevenstrand EAL. As we headed south, we were getting reports of boats finding yellowfin tuna running under the schools of porpoise, and we could see schools of skipjack breezing on the surface.
Shortly after the 10:00 weed patrol (there was a lot of kelp and eel grass in the water, and we had to check the lures hourly for crap), the clicker went off on the stinger. I was on the bridge looking for fins (sort of *smile*), and barely heard it - it was that weak a strike. At first, I figured it was a kelp strike, so I assisted in clearling the remaining lines before dealing with my rod. Once I held the rod, however, it was clear that this was a fish. It still wasn't running as you might expect, however, so I figured it might be one of the yellowfin, which are known to hit marlin lures. The line continued to run out, however, and after about a minute a marlin broke the surface 200 yards out and started it's tailwalk.
"If not for the courage of the fearless crew ... "
Let me say right here that I appreciate more than most that marlin fishing is a team sport. The angler might be the one who gets the glory, but it is the crew that insures that he will be successful - and he should never lose sight of that. For Team HOOKER, the success of the individual angler represents success for the team, no matter who is on the rod. If you succeed you do so as a team, but if you fail as an individual, you let the team down.
I had that last point firmly in mind as I watched the marlin dance on the horizon. Last season, on my first trip of the year, I lost a marlin just before it was to be leadered. I took comfort in the knowledge that it was not because of my actions and was just one of those things. But it ended up being the closest anyone on HOOKER got to catching a marlin in what was one of the worst seasons in recent memory. I was determined to not let that happen again.
I survived the initial greyhounding of the fish and silently congratulated myself for taking the time to sharpen the hook when I rigged the lure. Confident that I had a solid hookup rather than a billwrap, I settled in for the fight. Compared to most, this wasn't the strongest or most acrobatic fish - he was just solid. The line went out at a slow, but constant, rate and there was little I could do to make a difference. Even though there was a lot of 30-lb line left on the reel, we decided to back towards the fish and regain some lost ground.
Fortunately, the calm weather held up as we began to manuever the boat. Waves and other boats are the two biggest headaches you can face when fighting a big fish, and since we'd hooked ours before reaching the fleet, we faced neither. After about ten minutes, I was able to gain ground without backing on the fish. Slowly he came to the boat - 20 yards in, 10 out; 10 yards in, 5 out. As he approached, he sounded somewhat such that my line entered the water at a 45-degree angle. Suddenly, as the fish was about 30 yards off the stern, the angle shallowed rapidly. "He's coming up," I yelled as the fish exploded out of the water.
"... the Minnow would be lost."
This was the moment I feared - the point in the battle at which I lost the fish last season, and I couldn't help but wonder if I was repeating my own personal history. Fortunately, this fish was much smaller and had tired quickly, so his attempts to jump only resulted in part of his body rising out of the water.
He wasn't so tired he couldn't make another run, though, and he set off to take the line I had so stubbornly retrieved. I wasn't interested in repeating the process that had taken the last 20 minutes, so I bumped the drag lever up onto the strike button and leaned back far to make life as difficult as I could for my blue striped friend. As the partyboat skippers love to yell, "If you're not sweating, he's not sweating!" I was clearly sweating, and cursing my lack of diligence to my offseason training program.
The combination of a litle more drag, a little more lean, and a deftly applied thumb allowed me to keep him from running too far. I winched him back to the boat, then winced as he tried for one last sprint. He was whipped after the half-hour battle, though, and rolled on his side about 50 feet out. I was whipped, too, but managed to get the last few feet in where the fish could be leadered. I stepped back and set the rod down as the crew prepared to tag the marlin. Only then could I afford to take a deep breath and enjoy the achievement. I went to the rail to get a look at my fish. He ran about 150-lbs, about average for our local stripes. Considering how tired he had looked only a minute earlier, I was amazed to see he was lit up and wanted very much to leave. We got the tag in his shoulder and removed the hook from the roof of his mouth, and with a flick of his tail, he was gone.
It always amazes me how everything feels just after releasing a marlin. It's so quiet, so peaceful - so much in contrast with the noise and action of the fight. I took a moment to enjoy the feeling, snapped the smiling picture you see in the Fishing News, and prepared to get another.
The rest of the trip was relatively anticlimactic. There were probably 20 marlin caught within the fleet on the 138 - one of the best days in years. WILD BILL released 6 to lead the way, naturally. Sunday we worked the area off the Dome at San Clemente since the 138 bite had petered out. We got one quick zip on another Pakula lumo, but it didn't stick . After an unsuccessful troll over to Catalina on Monday morning, we headed home.
A couple of interesting things come to mind as I think back on the trip. While I only use them a fraction of the time, this is the second straight marlin I've caught on a Pakula lure (the last was on a Stripey Cockroach). You might want to considering adding them to your collection. Also of interest is the fact that this fish took a standard lure, bypassing the vaunted EAL. Upon closer inspection, though, we found that the EAL had stopped beeping sometime prior to the hookup. The lesson here? Don't try to stretch an EAL battery for more than one day :+
Running this site, sometimes I get so wrapped up in the details that I forget what it's all really about. My thanks go out to the Man in the Blue Striped Suit for reminding me why it is that I feel the way I do about marlin and preserving them for the future. :7
You cannot be a sportsman and not care about the fish. You can be a fisherman, but not a sportsman, and no self-respecting angler should settle for being just a fisherman.