I would like to invite you aboard my sleek
fishing machine for the catch of a lifetime. Notice the large
cockpit and superb tackle. There’s none finer. If you
need to use of the head, it is forward on the port side. Your
welcome on the bridge and, if you care to brave the climb,
in the tower as well. Come on up.
The charter today is Mr. Rankin Smith, Jr.
and his buddy Gary Merriman, both of Atlanta, GA. Juniors
father, Rankin Smith. Sr., use to fish with me. He was quite
the man. He would talk investments, insurance and other forms
of high finance with me and I would talk thermoclines, ocean
currents and big fish with him. What a pair we were. Rankin
owned the Life of Georgia Insurance Company and the Atlanta
Falcons football team and he loved big game fishing. I miss
him, as he was one of the characters I’ve met in my
life I was most fond of. But this day I have his offspring,
Rankin Jr., to contend with.
It’s 8:00 o’clock in the morning
on March 16, 1984 and we are headed toward Otech buoy, north
of the harbor. We’re cruising at 25 knots and the run
takes about one hour. The plan is to catch live aku (skipjack)
and put them out for bait, hoping to trade one for a nice
ahi or blue marlin. I chat with Junior along the way as I
did his dad before him. He tells me he just bought a new boat,
a 60-foot Hatteras, and I asked him the name of his new lady.
He smiles and says "POCKET CHANGE". It seems the
apple does not fall far from the tree. Junior’s friend
Gary looked a lot like the movie character Indiana Jones.
A little later in the day Gary would prove just how much he
was like the amazing Mr. Jones.
We approached the buoy and I circled it to
check the current and look for aku on the surface. Several
local skiff fishermen signaled to let me know it was dead
there, so we changed plans.
Junior and Gary said, “do whatever
you feel is best, only make sure the end result is a big Marlin.”
So I put out a team of lures tuned specifically for big ones
and started trolling south. Over the years, lure trolling
had become my favorite game. I had designed each lure in the
pattern for a specific position. I climbed into the tower
to help Dominic, my mate, set them properly on each wake.
After tweaking the lures I returned to the flybridge to check
the depth recorder. Eleven hundred fathoms was a breeze for
this machine and under the best of conditions it would pump
out 1,500 fathoms. I found some nice current slicks in eight
hundred fathoms and I favored this depth for the zone I was
working. In recent days, fishing had been deathly slow and
the radio was quiet. I scanned the horizon with my Zeiss binoculars
looking for birds, dolphin splashes, floating objects, anything
that might indicate fish, but there was nothing to see. When
conditions are like this, it is wise to buckle down to basics,
make yourself comfortable, but always be ready for anything.
Make every effort to stay positive, even if the effort seems
The eight hundred fathom curve kept me away
from the other boats, but they weren't catching anything either.
Once I got even with the grounds, I chose to work the deep
drops in that area; trolling from 500-fathoms to 1,500-fathoms.
It was a gray day with a mild chop the light winds. The lures
were a pleasure to watch, I was relaxed and time was standing
still—a trick captains learn or their nerves would leap
out and bite them.
An Apparition Appears
It was getting on 2 PM and the autopilot
was set on a 160-degree course. The depth was 750 fathoms
and the gray backdrop magnified the white trail jetting off
the back end of each lure. It was a showy, aggressive pattern
tailing down sea at eight knots. It was then I saw something
the likes of which I had never seen before and have not seen
since. She was just there, as if she had magically appeared,
moving perpendicular to my pattern and taking aim at the lure
in the short rigger position. The great marlin was offering
me an incredible view as she literally surfed on her belly
toward the lure that was displayed no fear at her approach.
She looked almost mechanical, more like a fine sculpture in
bronze than an actual living creature. She showed so much
of herself that I was left in awe. Great fish usually sneak
in, attack and disappear and experienced captain’s know
you never get a full side view like this.
My eyes were taking mental photographs as
they traced her sideways, up and down. This was the fish I
had waited a lifetime for. The one anglers and captains worldwide
would die for. My first guess at her weight was computed in
a second at over 1300-pounds. In a flash, I was out of the
helm chair, facing aft with both hands on the throttles behind
me. I was calm and steady, like a marksman taking aim, ready
to squeeze the trigger. I had done all the knee-knocking,
heart-pounding crap years before and those days were long
behind me. Loud and clear I yelled out “right rigger-BIG
FISH!” No sooner did the words leave my lips and she
was gone. She never touched the lure.
My first thoughts were “she will be
back.” The lures kept pumping in the wake doing exactly
what they must to peek the prey drive of a monster like this.
I stayed put, hands on the throttles, waiting, believing that
she would return. I pondered whether I should turn back or
hold course. I held course and the seconds turned into minutes
as my eyes strained along with my belief that she would be
back for a second shot.
Dominic appeared below me in the cockpit
and asked what I was sounding off about. I could not believe
that I was the only one who had witnessed this magnificent
sight. Junior and Gary popped to attention and asked “how
“Well over 1000-pounds!” I remarked,
“The largest marlin I have ever seen.” Every one
settled back as if to say “yeah, sure.” They showed
little concern over my excitement.
I was pissed and could not understand why
the great fish did not attack. I left the grounds and headed
further north and out to sea. This set was called the “Lighthouse-Cinder
Cone” run, one of the favorites of local captains. I
completed the run when the depth recorder indicated we crossed
into 1000-fathoms and turned the bow toward Kaieve point and
the Hilton Hotel. While on this run back in 700-fathoms she
appeared again, a full 40 minutes after the first showing.
This time I got an even better view of her
and I wasn’t alone. Every one on board saw her clearly
was mesmerized! Was this the same fish? It couldn’t
be an another one that big! But it really didn’t matter.
She was back and on the same lure, posing in the same mechanical
manner, only this time coming more from the quarter with greater
speed and authority. This time, she means business.
Gary was ready, as Junior had told him to
take the first fish. Once again the marlin faded away, but
as before I believed in my bones she would return. Damn her
though, why is she doing this to me? Come back and show yourself.
Bite and hook-up! That is what you are supposed to do. I held
the course for another fifteen minutes and she came back again,
this time like a submarine, water pouring off her back, her
mighty sword moving from side to side with each undulation
of her flanks. She was settled deep in the water, approaching
fast and furious from directly behind the very lure she had
declined twice before.
My hands were resting on the throttles as
I enjoyed a calm I had never known before. Her head rolled
to the right, her mouth was open, I saw her jaws shut down
tight on the lure, as she dove and turned with explosive authority.
I pulled the throttles all the way back, shifted into reverse,
and with not a second was wasted began to back down hard sending
the rest of the lures toward the bow and beyond.
I heard Dominic yell “hold on, the
lures need to be reeled in!” but I wasn’t going
to fall for that one. I could have cared less about the other
lures with this fish on. Gary was buckled in the fighting
chair looking like a light-heavyweight prizefighter. The 130-pound
line was being dumped off the powerful Zane Grey reel like
never before and the Stump-puller rod was arched and doing
its damage. All the support systems were ready and I was pushing
the Merritt in reverse, water splashing high over the transom,
flooding the teak cockpit sole. Two hundred yards of line
was gone in a flash and the fish was coming to the surface
to show off, exactly what I wanted her to do. I spun the boat
on a dime, dumping one transmission in reverse and the other
forward, swinging the rudder hard over and then pushing the
throttles to sunset. The wheel was turned back to center,
both gears were pushed ahead and we were parallel to the fish
getting line back on the reel as we paced her. The high capacity
bilge pumps were blowing their load, but we were more than
holding our own against the brute force of this mighty creature.
Keep The Pressure On!
Being only men we don’t know the true
capabilities of these black and silver acrobats. But I knew
this fish was angry and she did not like the pull of the line
on the side of her head or the proximity of her tormentors.
I pressed her even harder because I wanted her up and out
of the water in a great jump, filling her air sacks and tiring
her great muscles. This was how we would defeat her. We were
very close when she decided it was show time. God what a sight
as she powered her way through the choppy sea leaving the
water for the sky. Her initial slow motion posing changed
to a gyration, a blur of vibrating muscles and swatting tail.
She reached heights that I had only seen in much smaller billfish.
Her fury, grace and speed are indescribable yet as vivid as
if the encounter happened yesterday! Her temper flared and
she wanted to crush everything in her path. Jump after jump,
she kept at it as if there would be no end while I back down
on her even harder, closing the distance. The pressure
was getting to Gary, sweating in the chair, but it was obvious
he was not going to give an inch.
Six bilge pumps were set on manual trying
to evacuate the seawater from the boat. We had been backing
down in hot pursuit, taking on water, when she decided to
sound. This is when the fight gets down and dirty. It would
become a power game and we had to let her run against the
drag, which was set at about 45 pounds, as she dove. I wanted
her to slow down, to give in just a little, so that we could
get the drag up to 60-pounds. The increased pressure would
encourage her to surface again.
If you are ever in such a battle, then you
must work hard to redirect a diving blue marlin. You want
to keep a big one as close to the surface as possible. Black
marlin that dive usually return to the surface quickly, but
that is not case with blues. They will dive to incredible
depths, dog it and eventually die there. When this happens
you have a most difficult problem—how to lift that much
dead weight from the depths, along with the worry of getting
shark bit. Therefore, your single-minded goal must be to stay
as close as possible to a big blue. For every inch she takes,
try to get two back. Be decisive and remain resolute. It took
me years to learn how to fight big blue marlin and there are
just no ifs, ands or buts about it. If you lose control, your
chances of winning go with it.
This great blue lady was now taking us on
a journey further out to sea. As she slowed, we were finally
able to increase drag to 70-pounds and, for brief moments,
even higher. She would respond with extra force as if to say,
“you will not tame me, you will never see me die!”
This course of action was working, but I realized we needed
another man in the cockpit. Someone special, a really good
wireman. Dominic would be the gaffman, but he just wasn’t
up to wiring a fish of this size. I got on the radio and asked
for back up and several boats responded.
The NO PROBLEM, a 43-foot Merritt, was near
by and volunteered their gaffman, Fran. I knew him to be one
of the best, so we made the transfer, the two Merritts going
bow to bow. We now had a wireman, gaffman, helmsman, and angler—the
team was complete.
Wasting no time, I pushed the boat closer
and closer to the fish. There was no need to turn and chase
anymore as the fight had changed from moving offshore to the
fish pulling in all directions, including concentric circles,
none of which were difficult for the boat to follow. The fight
was now like a dance and it was up to me to follow and still
keep plenty of heat on the head of this great fish,
Fran was doing an excellent job coaching the angler, telling
him just how much drag to use, when to work, when to pause.
We kept the heat on the fish and Gary was not showing any
signs of collapse. I asked him regularly how he was faring
and he always smiled and said, “I’m fine, thank
The End Game
After two hours of intense give and take
the fish was beginning to show signs of tiring. Fran put on
his hefty gloves, wet them and began performing shoulder and
deep breathing exercises, preparing for the final test. My
job required I keep the boat at just the right distance from
the fish doing everything in my power to give an advantage
to the wireman. We could see the marlin quite clearly now,
her head going away from the stern, her massive body undulating
as we backed down and closed the gap. Every time we applied
more pressure she would swing from port to starboard and back
repeating this motion over and over making it difficult for
me to place her in a set position for the gaff. She was easily
sixteen feet long and snaking from side to side with incredible
The bottoms of my feet were burning from
being planted in one spot for so long, my elbows were stiff
for the same reason, but this was endured as I maintained
total concentration on the fish and the boat. The radio was
ablaze with conversation about the battle, the other captains
in the fleet well aware it was drawing to a close by the way
the boat was being handled.
Fran was still stretching and breathing hard,
looking for all the world like a fighter about to enter the
ring for the first round. The time came as the fish swam within
reach and Fran took a quick aggressive and powerful wrap.
Just as quickly the fish shook its mighty head shaking the
wireman to his bones, causing him to release. The power of
this marlin was enough to rip body parts off if not treated
with great respect.
Things settle down once again and Fran reached
for the leader a second time, but he could not get enough
slack to lay a wrap and I could not get any closer to the
fish to assist him. This was the point in the fight that the
tension was highest because this is when the unexpected is
most likely to occur and I was not about to lose this fish.
Fran signaled that she was coming up to jump
so I pushed the throttles down and gave her everything we
had. Fran grabbed handfuls of wraps and in a flash and the
fish was in reach of the gaffs. It was at that moment I knew
everything was going to coming together. Dominic reached over
the enormous shoulders and placed the first gaff deep in the
big fish. Junior placed the second gaff and Fran reached out
and placed the third, pinning the huge marlin to the port
side of the boat. I came down off the bridge and placed a
fourth gaff in the head, tying a half hitch to secure the
bill that was as big as a man’s leg.
I quickly thanked everyone on board. Gary,
Junior, Fran, Dominic, each did an incredible job as this
was the most difficult fish I had ever fought. It took two
hours and twenty minutes off intense pressure to subdue her
and getting her into the boat took another twenty minutes.
Her tail was seven feet from tip to tip and had to be left
outside of the tuna door for the ride home. The radio was
crackling with congratulations. I was still in shock as I
looked at the massive fish that filled my cockpit. I went
to the tower so that I could be alone and get a better look.
I could not believe my eyes, knowing this was the largest
blue to ever be weighed in Kona. My feelings at the time were
uncomfortable. I wasn’t proud of what I had accomplished;
yet I wasn’t ashamed, either. I was simply and soulfully
sorry that this beautiful creature was no longer alive.
Word spread via the coconut express that
my boat would be coming to Kailua Pier to weigh a very big
marlin. Never had I seen so many people gathered on the pier
or running down the streets. There was a carnival atmosphere
in the air. A long rope was placed around the tail of fish,
the other end went to the pier attendants who tied it off
to a cleat. I then engaged the gear and powered ahead
in order to get her massive body out of the boat for weigh
in. The weighmaster announced that this great Pacific blue
marlin weighed an astonishing 1,656 pounds. At that
moment, another captain and personal friend asked me why I
wasn’t jumping for joy. I assured him that I was very
happy and deeply satisfied, but that if he wanted to see me
do a jig on the dock the fish would then have
to weigh a ton.
May I offer up my congratulations to all
of you anglers, captains, crews and team members for setting
your own personal records, and may your memories never replace