Dave "Tut" Tuhill of the 33-foot Hydra Sport ,Warbird, was leaving Hong Kong in a few weeks. His crew - Brad Ainslie, Greg Moore, Andrew Bazarian, Dan Shepherd and Carl Vine, knew this was going to be the last big fishing trip offshore in China.
Warbird left the docks at 4 a.m. out of Aberdeen, Hong Kong. They cruised past old fishing junk boats and weaved through dozens of fully-loaded shipping containers en route to the US. It was a perfect morning to head offshore: no wind and flat calm with a 3-foot ground swell. They caught the perfect window, just ahead of a typhoon due to hit the next morning. They cleared Stanley and Po Toi island and got up to 35 knots for the long journey out to the oil rigs and blue water, 75 miles southeast of Hong Kong Island.
The polluted waters of Hong Kong and the Pearl River Delta are called the dead zone because little survives in the greenish-brown water. On a normal day, the green water line around Hong Kong shifts into the pacific blue of the South China Sea at about 40 miles - that day was different. The team didn’t hit the blue water line until 65 miles and when they did, around 6:00 AM, there was an immediate shift in visibility from 5 feet to well over 100 feet. This is the strong Western Boundary Current that comes in thru the Luzon Strait between Taiwan and the Philippines.
“This always reminds us of how many species of marine life should be living in and around our waters of Hong Kong,” Ainslie says. “We’ve seen manta rays, bottlenose and spinnaker dolphin, green turtles, loggerhead turtles, huge schools of tuna and mahi mahi, and always tons of flying fish out there in the blue water.”
The day, according to the Warbird crew, was out of the ordinary. There were more birds than normal working the waters, small dolphin and tuna jumping everywhere, and flying fish all around. They got the lines in the water, some of the crew quickly hooked a few dolphin and got them in the boat. Bazarian noticed a big group of birds working hard, where the green water line hits the blue water line, so they put a few dolphin lures on and started chasing the birds. Not long after that -- at about 6:45 AM -- it happened.
The marlin attacked the blue dolphin lure on the right outrigger. The marlin came half way out of the water when it hit - its bill fully out of the water and the huge tail splashing away. The fish went ballistic, jumping 20-30 times off the back of the boat. Tuthill jumped on the rod, Ainslie grabbed the steering wheel, the rest of the crew quickly cleared the back of the boat of rods, lures, and beer cans, and the battle began. Moore jumped on the rooftop and began filming.
The marlin dragged the boat all over the place. No one remembers exactly how far, but they estimated around six or seven miles of water fighting. Three and a half hours of sweating, swearing, and fighting went by and this fish was not going to give up easily.
"Tut decided to try something that I have never seen on the open water or have ever heard of anyone doing before,” Ainslie says. "He threw on a mask, snorkel, and fins, grabbed a gaff, and dove down to the fish. He must have been down there for what seemed like two minutes before he surfaced.”
As Tut dragged the blue beast to the surface, the crew quickly grabbed the gaff from Tut and got him back on board as quickly as possible. It took all six crew members to get the marlin over the side of the boat and into the cockpit; three gaffs and a massive rope tied to the tail, six grown men heaving and straining. It was a beautiful blue marlin, the stripes already fading from her fate as she lay in the boat. All six stared at it - speechless. They each had mixed emotions about such fish-beast leaving the ocean, but it was meant to be. This fish was theirs.
“The fishing gods wanted us to catch this marlin, bring her home, show everybody in Hong Kong what was out there, and then have her for dinner,” Tut says. "“None of us will ever forget this amazing day and the experiences we have had fishing the blue waters of the South China Sea."
Seven hours later, the Warbird Fishing Team was back at the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club with a massive blue marlin, a few yellow fin tuna, a bunch of mahi mahi, and celebratory rum drinks in hand. They measured her length (12 feet) and girth around the body (6 feet); based on the IGFA equations the fish was somewhere between 500-560 lbs.
Tuthill says he hopes those reading about this catch back in Hong Kong, will realize how amazing the marine ecosystem can be in the South China Sea.
"If we clean these waters up, the marine life will come back,” Tuthill says. "Maybe, in 10 years the marlin will only be 10 miles offshore."
The marlin was caught on a 50W Shimano Tiagra reel (a 50lb class rod), 100 lb mono leader on a black & blue R&S #44 made in Fort Lauderdale lure, 8/0 Mustad Hook.
Check out our recent Travel Briefs story, "Fishing for Marlin in Hong Kong," from David Finkelstein and Evelyn Letfuss.