Big Fish in Madeira
Katherine B was shipped to Madeira toward the end of the 1996 season, and despite being without a Bimini top and a few other unfinished items, she was seaworthy and slipped straight into the blue marlin action. “I built the Katherine B for the following season, in 1997, but I caught an 800 on the first day’s charter, then a grander the next week. The angler immediately became my best client,” Bristow says. This was his dream come true, and Bristow spent his first off-season finding a home for his family in Funchal and a permanent berth for the boat.
The tiny harbor at Funchal was chock-full of all kinds of weird and wonderful vessels, packed in like sardines in a tin. The tight corner where Bristow moors his boat to this day was the only space available — and if Katherine B had been two inches wider in the beam, she wouldn’t have fit in that spot!
Madeira’s 1998 big-game season couldn’t come quickly enough, and it seemed like half the world’s best big-game fishermen were there in anticipation of an exciting few months. The word of the amazing captures from the previous four years spread like wildfire, and a number of game boats from the United States had been shipped to Madeira in order to fish the season. What greeted all the eager captains and fishermen? Cold water, no baitfish and, consequently, no marlin. All the professional charter boats — booked solid for the season — trolled the grounds off Funchal for three months for just one or two tuna. The problem was attributed to an El Niño weather pattern, which the local fishermen had experienced before. It was, however, a huge disappointment for Bristow, who had put the rest of his fishing life on the line for Madeira!
As it turned out, the following season things picked up again, and by the time I got there to catch up with my old mate in 2004, the fishing was pretty damn good again — maybe not as good as the heyday in the mid-’90s, but a few of the big fish were showing up.
On my first day out on Katherine B, I got a taste of what drew Bristow to Madeira. While trolling a spread of big lures, a real animal showed up in the wake. I nearly fell off the bridge when the enormous head and dorsal fin appeared behind the lure on the short corner. The giant blue inhaled a 16-inch Super Plunger like it was a jelly bean, and the 130 International reel screamed as the marlin tried to empty the spool. In a cloud of smoke from the Perkins, Bristow — true to his nature — spun Katherine B like a top and gave chase.
The beast never jumped, and with nearly 950 yards of line off the reel, the gold on the bottom of the near-bare spool began to show through. The angler did a great job, however, getting most of the line back. When the top shot finally appeared, I thought I was going to get some nice shots of a grander-class blue on the leader. All was looking good until the rod tip bounced a couple of times after a series of violent head shakes, and the bloody hooks fell out!
Bristow plans to spend the rest of his life fishing the beautiful island of Madeira, and his regular clients come from all over Europe, the United Kingdom, the United States and even Australia to fish with him every season. One thing is for sure: If you happen to be on Katherine B when your blue marlin grander climbs on, you’ll have one of the best and most experienced big marlin captains in the world at the helm to help you catch it!
Phone: +35 1 91 7599990