Granders on the Reef

Australia's legendary black marlin season continues

giant black marlin leaping from the water
Fishing the Great Barrier Reef from mid-September to early December is the best time to target giant black marlin.John Ashley

On his first day fishing aboard Hot Shot in October, 2018, veteran charter captain Craig "Sparra" Denham and Capt. Robert "Fly" Navarro were trolling out of the pass between No. 9 and No. 10 Ribbon Reefs. Out of nowhere, Denham looked at Navarro and said, "Mate, this place is just like being in Jurassic Park: There are some true sea monsters out here and they can show up at any time." Navarro had no clue how true those words would be. This is his recap of the season.

My first week on the Great Barrier Reef coincided with the 32nd annual Iron Jack Lizard Island Black Marlin Classic, with 13 boats participating in the historic six-day event. The tournament teams were able to tag and release 94 black marlin; nine of those fish were estimated to weigh more than 800 pounds.

The second week of October, Capt. Christian Chapman on Reel Cross, with mates Shane Roger and Todd Goodwin, weighed the season's first grander out of Port Douglas, a 1,058-pound black caught by Mathew Bergamo.

Capt. Tim Richardson and his charter boat, Tradition, had an incredible run of fish at the middle Ribbon Reefs Oct. 14-24, releasing 14 black marlin; but the last week of October proved to be an outstanding stretch of fishing for the fleet. Calypso's Capt. Tim Dean weighed a historically significant 1,254-pound black marlin — the last one weighing over 1,200 pounds from the GBR was caught on Richardson's Tradition in 2012.

Just three days later, Capt. Darren "Biggs" Haydon and the team on Adventum, with Nicholas Bovell, Dean Comberbach and Kevin Hodgson weighed a 1,260-pounder, the second black marlin over 1,200 pounds for the season. Not to be outdone, Capt. Ross Finlayson and his team aboard Bounty Hunter weighed in a 1,144-pound black, making his one of three over 1,100 pounds caught in less than a week. Sea monsters indeed.

During Halloween week, the black marlin flood gates opened. At the Ribbon Reefs, Capt. Luke Fallon's Kekoa was able to go seven for 10 on blacks, with one fish estimated at 850 pounds, and a second they called 750. Capt. Adam Jordan on Iona II went six for 10, with a couple of nice ones at 800 and 900 pounds.

I was lucky enough to watch Denham and his Hot Shot team go 10 for 16 in one day of incredible fishing. Overall, from Oct. 31 through Nov. 4, they caught 16 black marlin, four of them weighing more than 800 pounds.

Even with those numbers, there were still plenty of big fish lurking around. Little Audrey hooked, fought and boated a black marlin right next to us that weighed 1,012 pounds; one week later, Capt. Steve Ahlers, Tony Carpenter and Murray Teasdale on Hellraiser II weighed one that was 1,098 pounds.

Even with the exceptional number of thousand-pound blacks weighed this season, just as many were called granders and released by the most experienced crews in Australia. Finlayson released an estimated 1,050-pounder; Amokura released one estimated to weigh more than 1,000 pounds; and in the first hour of his first day of the season, Capt. Daniel McCarthy on Moana III released a black marlin he called over the 1,000-pound mark. The team on Zulu also released a black marlin they estimated at more than 1,000 pounds, and Richardson, with deckhands Garrett Penley and Thompson Brown, released not just one, but two fish they called over 1,000 — one estimated at more than 1,100 pounds.

The biggest fish of the season, caught aboard Capt. Russell Gage's Too Easy II, belonged to owner/angler Rob Crane: a 1,431-pound behemoth that measured out with a short length — lower jaw to tail fork — of 153 inches. The hefty girth was 88 inches, the tail measured 22.5 inches, and the magical fish fell just 11 pounds short of the current Australian black marlin record of 1,442 pounds. I'm not sure when I'll make it back to Australia, but this season was certainly one not to be missed. —By Capt. Robert "Fly" Navarro, as told to Capt. Jen Copeland