Large Blue Marlin Hooked in Norfolk Canyon

They don't get big by accident

fishing boat on the water at sunset
Walcott is no stranger to big marlin; he’s seen a few, including a 1,030-pounder in West Africa and a 991 in Hawaii.Chris Rabil Photography

After fishing the 2018 White Marlin Open and MidAtlantic tournaments, the 76-foot Spencer Bad Daddy was ready to head back to Palm Beach, Florida, for the winter. Departing from Ocean City, Maryland, on September 4, 2018, with captains Rob Olive and Tucker Ersek on board, Capt. Jason "Tiny" Walcott encountered the blue marlin of a lifetime. He was ready for it, or so he thought.

We departed at noon, with a plan to fish our way home. We arrived at the Norfolk Canyon at around 5 p.m. and put out a simple traveling spread: two bridge teasers and four Andy Moyes lures on heavy tackle. The water was cloudy and green, with sulfur lines and rips in 320 feet of water, just southwest of the canyon wall. Trolling along at 10 knots, the spread looked remarkably good for going that fast, so I set a course along the edge just offshore of Hatteras, North Carolina, and sat back for the long ride.

Around 5:30 in the afternoon, the right long came down with a pretty solid bite. The Shimano 130 was slowly losing line with 20 pounds of drag. Olive and Ersek quickly cleared the other long rigger, then the flat lines, and Ersek got in the chair. Gradually, I started coming backward. We were gaining on the fish when I got a glimpse of it paddling off the port side. What had originally caught my eye was the 10- to 12-pound remora latched on near the tail. Focused on that huge tail and purple back, I could clearly see the hi-vis Dacron of the wind-on cutting through the water. This fish was a beast.

The marlin made a turn behind the boat approximately a short rigger length away, never jumping or breaking the surface. It was then, with the sun just right, that we all had a clear view of the sheer mass and width of this fish. The lure was pinned inside-out to its back, just behind the dorsal fin. The fish was huge, although the actual size was not computing to any of us.

I asked Ersek to push the drag to 45 pounds. It was only then that the fish took notice. Making a 100-yard run, Ersek hung on. We crossed the chains on the bucket harness and bumped up the drag again, this time to 65 pounds. Still, not a single jump.

The line was crackling off the 130, and the fish wasn’t at all fazed, even with 65 pounds of drag. We all had big blue marlin experience, but not one of us had witnessed such a display of power for such a long period of time. The fish was having its way with us and did not appear to be tiring. The line continued to crackle off the reel and the sun was getting low, so we loaded the two titanium 10-inch flying gaffs and a meat hook. The Maryland state record is 1,062 pounds, and from what we had just witnessed, this fish was in a class of its own. The fish of a lifetime always shows up when you least expect it.

Changing directions and heading offshore, the marlin was still on the surface. For the first time in my career, I felt outgunned with a 130 — even with a great boat and a professional in the chair.

The fish countered every move we made, staying deep and turning under the boat each time we got close, making no mistakes. I felt as if this fish was learning as the fight continued, changing direction again and again. The rod tip began to bounce as if the leader was rolling off its pectoral fin.

The big marlin was so close, but fearing it would sound, and practically unable to gain on the fish on low gear, I told Ersek to keep the drag tight until the leader was in Olive’s hands.

two fisherman holding marlin trophy
Walcott, right, with Bad Daddy owner Bob Berg during the 2018 Abaco Beach Blue Marlin Tournament in the Bahamas.Courtesy Bad Daddy Sportfishing

We were ready. The fish was giving us our first shot, and we were going to take it. We inched closer to the behemoth, and it changed direction yet again, but this time coming straight toward the boat. With one single head shake, the 10/0 hook pulled. The fish was gone.

We were in shock at what had just happened: losing it so close to the leader. We immediately inspected the single-hook rig, as if that would explain something, tell us anything to take the sting away.

The cable of the hook-set was intact, but it had started to splinter just above the hook, probably due to the heavy drag and the angle at which we were pulling, in addition to the long fight time. None of us could come up with an estimated weight, but I can tell you we didn’t sleep much for the rest of the trip.

The only consolation is that the fish likely shook off our encounter and is still swimming in the North Atlantic. Until we meet again, big girl. —By Capt. Jason “Tiny” Walcott, as told to Capt. Jen Copeland