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November 22, 2013

Catching Big Blue Marlin in the Amazing Azores

Big Blues and relatively calm seas — what more could you ask for?

One thing’s for sure, you didn’t need to check the depth recorder or the GPS to know we had reached Condor Bank. Fifteen nautical miles to the south of Horta harbor flocks of shearwaters glided over the calm blue ocean surface, dipping occasionally to pick up a tasty morsel left by schools of spotted dolphins carving up the baitfish. With a warm 79-degree current pushing to the southeast, the place looked fishier than I had ever imagined.

Capt. Olaf Grimkowski, who runs the 36-foot Hatteras Xacara, suddenly pulled the throttles back and called to his mate Marty Bates, “bait ball right under the boat.” The experienced Bates quickly dropped a string of sabiki jigs over the transom, which resulted in a full house of big, slimy mackerel. Just two drops loaded up the baitwell with the perfect size baits to switch with once a big blue marlin came up on the teasers.

Bates rigged up two mackerel on circle hooks in just minutes and put them in specially made bait tubes, ready for action. After trolling for just 20 minutes, a small white marlin tried to eat the long rigger and escaped. Immediately after, a nice size blue appeared on the short teaser and began piling all over the big green Super Plunger.

Grimkowski hit the button on the bridge reel, and the marlin chased the teaser closer to the boat. Bates quickly made the switch with a live bait, and it barely kicked its tail before the blue exploded on it, delivering a classic bite on the 80-pound chair rod. “It’s a no-brainer using these big livies,” Bates says. “They smash them every time.”

As the angler increased the drag pressure, a magnificent 650-pounder felt the hook and came barreling out of the water, showering spray in all directions. The tail-walking sprint led to a long, blistering run, like only blue marlin know how to do, turning the Penn’s gold spool into an absolute blur. Angler Rhett Spencer enjoyed the rampaging fight and had the trace in reach in just 20 minutes. The still-lively blue gave Bates a bit of a stretch as it jumped away, but safe hands hung on, and the fish came to the boat rather quickly. Bates removed the hook, and the nice, solid marlin swam free. What a start to a three-week stint, I thought to myself. Welcome to the Azores.

My plans to visit the Azores, Portugal, started last year in Cape Verde when I met up with Capt. Zak Conde and he invited me to come visit. Conde makes his home in the Azores, and although he fishes all over the Atlantic, he loves to get back home for the short, but prolific, blue marlin season.

The weather out in the middle of the Atlantic settles down a bit throughout the summer months, and from August to early October, the waters are relatively calm, even though you might fish 20 to 25 miles offshore. Over the past two decades, the Faial Island has become very popular for sport fishermen, and Horta harbor is now home to dozens of serious charter and private game boats.