3. Madeira, Portugal
During its heyday from the mid- to late 1990s, Madeira took the cake as the top spot for big Atlantic blues. An El Niño and the ebb and flow of weather patterns seemed to take a toll on the number of big fish, but that appears to be changing. Capt. Peter Bristow, who has fished here for 13 years, says that on average, one in every 10 blue marlin caught in Madeira tops the 1,000-pound mark.
"The best months are June, July and August," Bristow says. "Some years the bite has run into September, but not lately. Some years June was the best by far, but last year, 2009, they just kept coming, and there was no peak."
In Madeira, luck sometimes strikes twice. Capt. Kevin Nakamaru, who ran Tracy Melton's Pesca Grossa from 1995 to 1999 and went back in 2007, has a special affinity for June 26. Angler Ken Corday caught a grander with Nakamaru on June 26, 1996. He returned the following year and caught another grander on June 26, 1997.
"In the good years there were tons of bait," Nakamaru says. "The fish would spit out 20 or more mackerel while we were fighting them. For sure the currents that brought them had something to do with it, but the bait helped us find them and keep them there once they found the island. We only saw big fish."
While the abundance of bait has waned in recent years, pulling lures still accounts for a hefty catch. "I enjoy lure fishing in Madeira and believe it is the most humane and sporting way to fish for any marlin," Bristow says. "I think live bait has its place and its application in locations such as Panama. It is relative to where you are and the fish you are dealing with. It does not work in Madeira. The fish are too spread out, and basically, there is no bait available."
It's a good idea to keep the big guns handy when you pull lures here because the blue ones get huge in Madeira. "The biggest fish I hooked so far was well over 1,400," Bristow says. "The chap in the chair was just not up to it. It was a sad day for us all, but just one of those things. No use crying about it, but I hope that next time I have a lot more in my favor."
When to Go: Late May through August
Where to Stay: Funchal, Madeira's main town, has a great selection of hotels and is home to various charter operations. Some severe flooding and mudslides devastated areas of Funchal earlier this year, but the marinas survived mostly untouched, and the captains are predicting a banner season. Visit www.madeira-portugal.com for an extensive list of hotels.