I recently returned from our second Marlin University trip to the always amazing Tropic Star Lodge. I get to travel to some pretty neat spots, but few can compare to the natural beauty and prolific waters found off Piñas Bay, Panama. But, as with all fishing holes, sometimes the fish just aren’t biting – or at least the ones you’re looking to catch aren’t. Such was the case on this past trip to the lodge. A red tide had moved in, and the billfish were nowhere to be found. I saw a free-jumping striped marlin the first day, but didn’t see another one until three days later. Luckily, there were plenty of tuna around (and a few nice dorado) to break up the long days with no billfish.
I ended up fishing with a group of young men dubbed the “Alabama boys” on the last day, which is normally our “tournament” day, when all the Marlin University boats compete against each other. With the slow fishing we were experiencing, I decided to just forget about it on this trip. We didn’t need to add any pressure to our already frustrated anglers and crew. I was glad to be fishing with the young guys, since I knew that whether we got one that day or not, a good time would be had by all!
The day started out like the three before: mostly flat calm, without any signs of life. We had moved down south, to the area where Peter B. had raised a couple the day before, but we had no luck there. Around 10 o’clock or so, I got the stupid idea for all of us to shotgun a beer for good luck and to break the boredom! Of course the boys jumped on it, and we all promised to do another shotgun if we caught a marlin. OK, sure. Down they went.
Like most good-luck charms, the shotgunned beers didn’t seem to be bringing us any magic, and the day got hotter and the seas lay down to glass. By this time we were pulling lures to cover ground, and the captain had moved us quite a bit offshore. At 1:30, about two hours before the trip came to an end, the left rigger came down and the reel started to scream.
“That’s the one, boys,” I yelled as I came out from under the overhang on the 31 Bertram. Thomas Gross jumped in the chair to fight the fish while Wylie Parks climbed up to get photos and Drew Mouron started helping us clear the lines. The fish came up jumping right at the boat, and our captain, in what I think was an effort to keep the line tight, slammed the throttles forward. He stopped, and then slammed them forward again when the fish kept coming.
That second push threw Mouron clear out of the cockpit and into the water. He surfaced immediately with the rod still in his hand and gave us the thumbs up. When the captain saw the signal, he took off again! He left Mouron bobbing in the water some 50 yards away with the enraged blue marlin spinning circles about 20 yards behind him. As he floated with the rod sticking up in the air, it looked like he was trying to have a sword fight with the still-spinning blue.
The fish finally picked a direction and sped off, and I told the captain, “Go get the boy!” so we motored over and picked him up. We caught the fish to save the trip, but it sure scared the crap out of me. And, of course, we had to shotgun another beer!