We have a nice fish on, and it’s gone down on us. We have over half a spool of line out and can’t seem to lift our fish. We’re afraid it may be dead. On a normal charter, we’d just hand-line it up, but we know that’s against IGFA rules. What’s the deal in this tournament? Our angler has just about worn himself out and is talking about quitting.”
Sadly, this kind of call could be heard on the tournament channel during almost any big-money event in the world. A more experienced team would know that there is a much easier way to get the fish up than hand-lining several hundred yards of line, and it’s a technique that’s compliant with the rules of all clubs and record-keeping bodies. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for amateur big-game crews to find themselves making a call like the one described.
Even some professional crews — mainly those who only fish in a few large marlin or big-money events — can run into this situation. Many are superb boatmen and great fishermen; however, most of the marlin they get are incidental catches, captured while chasing “meat fish” to fill their charter’s coolers and freezers. The bread-and-butter species for these charter boats are bottomfish and medium-size pelagic game fish like wahoo, dolphin, king mackerel, cobia, amberjacks and the smaller tunas, usually weighing less than 100 pounds.
Some of these professional anglers and crew commonly catch the smaller species of billfish, including striped marlin, white marlin and sailfish. However, you don’t learn the techniques and tactics used to subdue the biggest and toughest of all the game fish in those fisheries.
On light tackle, up to and including 30-pound-test line, most reasonably healthy adult anglers can pull hard enough to use the full breaking strain of the line, and they will be able to either muscle the fish up or increase the drag until the line breaks and the fish is lost.
Many charter boats excel at getting multiple hookups, and sometimes fish six, eight or even more rods. Besides releasing big numbers of small billfish, these teams excel at catching large numbers of small tuna, including blackfin, albacore, skipjack, and juvenile yellowfin or bluefin. On medium-weight tackle, with line testing at 50 or 80 pounds at most, the fights are not long and the fish are easily overpowered.
These professional crews deftly avoid tangles by having several anglers fight fish at the same time and by getting new baits out quickly once a fish hits the box. They learn these skills in order to take advantage of a hot bite. The best charter-boat mates in these fisheries serve a long, hard apprenticeship! These highly skilled deckhands may land jobs with the best teams and wind up traveling the world’s oceans chasing the biggest game fish, often in prestigious tournaments that pay huge monetary prizes for the most fish released, the biggest fish brought to the scales, or a combination of the two.