All photos Marc Montocchio / www.occhioinc.com.
The taxi plummeted down the dark, steep drive and came to an abrupt halt in front of the entrance to C dock. I paid the fare, collected my mountain of gear and stood for a moment in the orange glow of the light over the gate, its vertical post tattooed with boat stickers. As I looked down the hallowed, weathered boards of the protruding pier, I thought, "So this is it." If you have the blue fever coursing through your veins, this is the place to be - Red Hook, St. Thomas, under a late-summer moon.
Capt. Matt Mauldwin met me at the gate and we walked back down the dock toward Click Through, a 68-foot Wanchese custom Carolina boat tugging at her lines in the right corner pocket of C dock at American Yacht Harbor. We passed transom after transom plastered with some of the most recognizable names in blue-marlin fishing - names like Uno Mas, The Big O and Tyson's Pride. They were all here. Looking east to A and B docks, through the endless aluminum forest of stowed outriggers, I could see a snowstorm of upside-down white pennants registering the day's releases. That's what brought me here - the blue marlin that arrive in droves each summer and fall. What had begun in my imagination a few years back was now becoming a focused mission. I wanted to photograph a free-swimming, feeding blue marlin.
With the help of Keith English, the owner of Click Through, and his very able crew of Capt. Mauldwin and mate Courtney Stanley, I began this seemingly impossible task a few months earlier at another epic marlin destination - Bermuda. And since there's no book entitled Photographing Free-Swimming Blue Marlin for Dummies to be found on Amazon.com, we started on a trial-and-error basis. We took away some encouragement from our lackluster early shots, but they were far from successful. The early technique consisted of me jumping off the back of Click Through as soon as we raised a fish, while the boat cruised along at 8 knots. The mate would drag the teaser lure over my head in the hope that there would be a billfish behind it.
Jumping off a 68-foot boat at 8 knots is not as simple as it sounds. As soon as you hit the water, the violent vortices created by the spinning propellers instantly suck you into what feels like a slinky spring that's been tossed down the side of a cliff. In a matter of seconds, what looks like a foot-long silver arrow, produced by the swivel, comes straight at you, followed by a bull-nosed, silver mass about 4 inches in diameter and 2 feet long. The lure is inside that silver mass!
Now, this is where I have to tread lightly to avoid getting bogged down by the age-old argument about lure color. From what I've witnessed bobbing around in the spread, at 8 knots, there is no color at all! The lure is encased in a sparkling shroud of cavitations tapering off like the tail of a comet. Ever so slight flecks of subtle color can be seen as tips of the skirt try to escape the back of the bubble trail, but nothing more than a mere hint of color on the head or skirt is detectable.
And it was this fleeting aspect of the operation that dictated that I didn't need to see big fish; I needed to see lots of fish. If I was lucky, the hookless teaser comet trail would be followed, a fraction of a second later, by the bill of a fish pointed straight at me. The entire encounter typically ends as quickly as it begins.
As luck would have it, after winning the Bermuda Triple Crown, English decided to move his boat south to St. Thomas for the August moon and the start of the Boy Scout Tournament. Fishing around the fall moons in St. Thomas presented a great opportunity to continue our quest, and English invited me to join the boat for the September moon. Armed with new ideas and some great advice, I boarded Click Through a few days before the moon, intending to spend seven days zigzagging along the world-famous North Drop, in pursuit of the shot.