More than anything Mel Immergut hopes to become the first angler to catch three species weighing more than 1,000 pounds. He became one of a select few to land a 1,000-pound giant bluefin tuna when he was a 22-year-old law student vacationing on Prince Edward Island off Canada's east coast. He caught a 1,040-pound bluefin, shattering an all-tackle record that had been on the books since World War II. Three months later he saw a story in the New York Times about an unprecedented bite in Nova Scotia and Ken Fraser's capture of the all-tackle 1,496-pound bluefin record.
"I called up my father and said 'I gotta go back and catch a bigger one,' " he says. Days later father and son went tuna fishing in a snowstorm and Mel hooked an "enormous" fish that towed them 19 miles in rough seas before breaking off. Fast forward to 1982 and Immergut is on top of the world after catching a 1,204-pound black marlin off Australia's Great Barrier Reef. Thus began his quest to become the first angler to land three granders of three separate species. Yet finding that 1,000-pound Atlantic blue is proving very difficult, he admits. Recently, he reviewed a video of he and his wife Barbara fishing the Azores with Capt. Don Merten on Double Header. "We fished 30 days there in 1986 and '87," he says, "catching yellowfin as big as 200 pounds, a 792-pound giant tuna that's an Azorian record for Barbara and the second biggest caught in Europe. We caught swordfish and yes, blue marlin. It's just a phenomenal fishery where they've easily caught more than 20 granders to 1,400 pounds. And I had one on that was close to that size." But he didn't get that grander to the boat.
What Immergut calls his most memorable and disappointing fishing trip happened in August 1986. Fishing in 78-degree slick-calm water, the team elicited a ferocious strike, followed by a series of spectacular jumps. "I knew this was the one," he says. An hour into the fight the fish sounded but Immergut continued to make good progress and felt optimistic - then everything went sour.
"The 12/0 reel failed," he says. "When the fish sounded, I switched to one-to-one gear ratio. After that the gear went kaput and I couldn't retrieve line." He tried to guide line on the reel with his hand but the mono was too slippery. So he put on a glove but after getting back 15 yards, the frayed line broke.
"Loosing a fish generally doesn't bother me," Immergut says, "but loosing like that was hard to accept."
Figuring it would be years before he got another shot, no one was more shocked than Immergut when he hooked another giant marlin the very next day. The consensus on the boat estimated the big blue at 1,200 pounds, which would have meant an all-tackle record at the time.
Dusk kicked up a stiff wind and a full moon started to rise. During the seesaw battle Immergut worked the double line onto the reel every few hours but the fish kept on pulling away. As the clock ticked onwards, his grit started to flag. "Around 11 p.m. I dialed up the drag considerably," he says. "In hindsight I should've done it before."
The strategy seemed to work. The fish appeared boatside at 11:30 p.m. and with 80 feet of line out, went ballistic, rushing side to side. Then, his worst fear materialized - the line snapped. Immergut believes to this day that the marlin was reacting to a shark.