Australia Produces Near-Record Black Marlin

The catch puts Lady Musgrave Island on the map

fisherman standing next to large black marlin
Rob Crane's huge black marlin ate a homemade pink super plunger fished on the second wave in the left flat position.Courtesy Capt. Russell Gage

At the end of November 2018, social-media feeds around the world were jammed with rumors of a 1,400-pound-plus black marlin caught by Rob Crane and Capt. Russell Gage aboard Crane's 56-foot Viking, Too Easy II. This is Gage's firsthand account of that amazing encounter.

On Thursday, Nov. 29, 2018, we were fishing 20 nautical miles east of Lady Musgrave Island on the southern Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, Australia.

Crane and I have been fishing together for 22 years, and it was just another day on the south end of the reef, putting our time in like we had done for the past three years. We’d caught a good number of fish here, most of them blue marlin, with a couple in the 600-pound-class range. But I had a suspicion that large female blacks travel to this area to spawn, just like they do off the upper part of the reef.

Hervey Bay was just 50 nautical miles south of us, where the juvenile black marlin play on the flats.

We were close to the end of our season, and at 3 p.m. she appeared. We were pulling a homemade pink super plunger on the second wave in the left flat position, so we all saw this massive fish rise up and make three attempts to eat the lure. The first time was outside-in, swing and a miss; the second time, inside-out: strike two. It wasn’t until the third at-bat that we could really see just how huge this fish was.

The distance between the dorsal fin and her sickle-shaped tail seemed never-ending, and she finally succeeded on her last attempt with an outside-in bite again. She was hooked.

Crane jumped on it, and the fish immediately peeled off 300 yards of line from our Penn 130 — with 50 pounds of drag. The marlin paused for a brief moment, then proceeded to jump 20 times over a period of 20 minutes. For the next hour and 40 minutes, we chased her all over the ocean toward the east.

Two hours later, we had the marlin on the leader; she was tail-wrapped. With the help of my crew, Terry Parker and Elliott Muller, we hauled her aboard then immediately calculated the weight formula at around 1,450 pounds. The next day, we landed in Urangan on Hervey Bay to weigh her on the Game Fishing Club’s registered scale. Some 23 hours later, the fish still weighed 1,431 pounds.

We knew it wouldn’t be an Australian record for us, but are still very happy our fish was in the same class as Capt. Peter B. Wright’s 1,442-pounder — he’s been a hero of mine for 30 years. I watched him hook, catch and release a 1,000-pound black in five minutes on the second corner of the No. 10 Ribbon Reef in 1988 when I was a deckhand. That memory is burned into my brain forever.

Since 1966, the North Great Barrier Reef — from Lizard Island to Cairns — has hosted thousands of anglers looking for their grander black. I hope over the next few seasons more professional marlin boats put in some fishing days at the South GBR/Lady Musgrave area. I'll be interested to see just how many sea monsters are here. —By Capt. Russell Gage, as told to Capt. Jen Copeland