Some days, the fish gods just tap you on the shoulder and say "This is your day" ...
I've always said that I'm a chronicler of marlin first, a catcher of marlin second. But that doesn't mean I'm not going to take my shots. Besides, the best way for me to keep up with the local marlin action is to be on the water with a radio in one hand and my PDA in the other. During the local season, I fish every weekend I can. Most weekends it's just a long boat ride (not the worst thing in the world). One fall weekend, however, it was much more.
My brother Rick and I took the Catalina Express over to Avalon Friday afternoon to catch up with HOOKER for a weekend of marlin fishing. After a couple of games of pool (OK, and a couple of beers) at the Marlin Club, HOOKER arrived to pick us up.
The boat, which had left port on Wednesday with my father and stepmother Kathy, had already had a pretty good trip before we got there. Kathy got a jigfish Thursday while running into Cat Harbor from Wilson Cove on San Clemente, and they found a lot of marlin off Church Rock on Friday, of which they had each released one. So the boat was easy to find with three marlin flags flying.
After spending the night at Long Point, we headed back to the Church Rock spot, about three miles off the island. As you might imagine, we were no longer alone, and boats from three different tournaments were pounding the area with us. No one was seeming to have much early luck, though.
One of the things I like about fishing on HOOKER is that it is basically a democracy. Everyone gets a rod, and whatever happens on that rod is yours. On Saturday, the luck of the draw meant I had the starboard outrigger. Normally, I'd put out my #1 black and purple EAL, which has gotten a lot of hits (but no fish) earlier in the season. But I had forgotten to pack any batteries, and didn't want to hit my father up for one. So I decided to go "old school" and put out a Zuker ZM 3.5 Mean Joe Green flathead - certainly not a bad choice - just after greylight.
We'd barely reached the numbers from the day before when - BAM! Jigstrike - starboard rigger! It's only 7:35 - I've barely gotten my coffee down, but I'm on a fish. Fortunately, it was quite cooperative - important when you're half awake. It made one nice run and got the jumping part out of the way. We played tug o' war for a couple of minutes, then I nudged the drag up on him and brought him to leader after 23 minutes.
To me, the most important thing you as an angler can do with a marlin caught on a lure is maintain pressure on the fish at all costs. Too many things can happen if you don't, and this was a good example. Once we got him up to the boat and I finally let up on the pressure, the lure simply slipped off his nose - he was billwrapped and the hook never bit into the fish. We got the tag into him and I nose-walked him from the swimstep for a little while to insure he was good to go. Fortuntely, the water was warm and the fish was hot, so off he went!
I checked out the lure and decided it needed to be re-rigged before any more use. I found another MJG to put out and set the first one aside to look for breakfast. I'd barely caught my breath and had just settled in on the bridge when the starboard corner goes off at 8:30. Before I could get to the bottom of the bridge steps, the starboard rigger snaps - me again! I go for the rod as the fish on the corner drops the lure. Mine is still on, though - and he was an acrobatic one. This one was a bigger fish and he got a lot of line on me before we had things squared away on deck. But it was a smooth, warm day and we backed after him to get line back.
This guy was much more of a jumper, which is one of those good/bad things. Good because he's going to tire out quicker; bad because he's working really hard to throw your lure, and there's a distinct possibility he'll be successful. Fortunately for me, the fish gods were smiling and I had him at the boat by 8:45. We leadered him and got the tag in his side, but he was still pretty green. He demonstrated this by quickly slashing the leader with his bill and breaking it above the hook. Happily, the lure had slid up near the swivel and was not lost.
>So it's a couple of minutes before 9 in the morning, and I already have two fish under my belt - equaling my previous best day's output. Things are really looking good. A lot of boats had arrives soon after our second fish hit the radio, and some were having success. But, as so often happens, the bite quieted down as the morning progressed. There was a steady pick of marlin throughout the day, but nothing like we'd seen in the early morning.
By 5:30 in the early evening, the area had snotted up and most boats had slid around the corner into the lee of Catalina. Several boats had caught fish on the Avalon Bank, so there was reason for optimism. We skirted in tight to the island as we turned the corner and headed for Long Point. This is a particularly kelpy area, and we had several kelp strikes on the lures. I'd just shook a piece off the starboard rigger when the port rigger was knocked down. I was about to make a wisecrack about it when Kathy yelled and ran for the dropback. I thought she was kidding, frankly, until I saw a fin slicing towards the Pakula Lumo Medium Sprocket we always have on the stinger.
I headed down the ladder to help my brother clear the jiglines as the boat slid to a stop. Kathy yelled again and I could see the marlin was heading for a point where the lines for the dropback and the stinger seemed to converge. She was winding the dropback in, since the fish had overrun the bait, so I grabbed the stinger rod to get it out of her way. As I wound, I could feel a tapping on the line - it felt as if it was across the dropback. Fearing Kathy was bit and the stinger was tangled with her, I threw the reel in freespool to give her as much slack as I could.
Almost immediately, though, she said the fish was not on her line. At the same time, the tapping remained on mine. It certainly didn't feel like a marlin - the closest thing I can compare it to is the mooching feeling a halibut gives when it gums the bait. I always hate that, because I never know when to swing on it - and I always swing too soon!
The line started to go out ever so slightly, much like when a marlin picks up a live bait. So, not knowing what else to do, I treated it like a mackerel. I gave it a three count (and a long one at that!) and swung.
BAM - a marlin goes airborne not 50 feet off the stern. I'm not sure who was more shocked - the fish or the HOOKER crew, but both reacted quickly. My father gunned the boat to try and put some line in the water, and I pushed up the drag to try and sink the hook into the fish. The whole time, I'm thinking "I'm so screwed." It was the worst of both worlds - the benign hookup pressure of a baitfish with the big fat hook of a lure. But, as I said, the whole idea is to keep as much pressure on the fish as possible, and that I did. Not sure just how well he could be hooked, I short-pumped him to the boat in 12 minutes. Rick got the leader, Kathy inserted the tag, and I headed to the swimstep to remove the hook.
Looking at the hook, I could see that the scenario had gone down just as I thought. The leader passed through his mouth from right to left, and the hook was partially imbedded into the outside of his lower jaw on the left side. When I wound in the stinger line, the lure had attracted his attention from the mackerel, but he'd just grabbed the lure sideways in his mouth and started to move off. When I swung, it pulled the line taught through the lure in his mouth and pinned the hook to the outside. Again, once the pressure was off, the hook fell away. I guess you can call this the first recorded case of a reverse bait and switch ...
Three chances - three conversions, including one of the strangest jigfish you'll ever see. Needless to say, I was a pretty happy camper on the anchor Saturday night.
The next day we headed back to the same spot, but the bait had moved off, and so did the marlin. There was some action on the Avalon Bank, but nothing like the bite off Church Rock. I suppose that's probably a good thing, since with a money tourney starting the next, if the bite was still going they'd have stacked dead marlin up like cordwood in front of Rosie's.
The Ecklund family has been fishing for marlin from three different HOOKERs for the last thirty years, but this trip broke a couple of Team HOOKER records. For the 5-day trip (3 days fishing and two half-days), we set a record with 6 released fish (previous high - 4). Saturday set a record for a single day with 3 releases (previous - 2) and, obviously also the most for a single angler in one day.
For me personally, it was my first three-fish day (I had a two fish day back in '92). With four fish for the season (I had caught one the weekend before), it was already my most successful season. I'm damned fortunate to be able to be part of such a successful fishing team. This was just my time to shine.