We’d like to celebrate some of the people, places and things (or at least 100 of them) that make the pursuit of billfish such an extraordinary sport. Once we started compiling the list, we found that this could easily have turned into the Marlin 1,000. I’m sure we’ve missed some of the things that mean a lot to you personally, and we’d like to hear about them. But for now, here’s our first-ever Marlin 100. We hope you get a kick out of it! _ _
– Dave Ferrell
1. The Bite
Watching a blue marlin crash a pitch bait 15 feet off the back of the boat or a 900-pound black inhale a 20-pound skipping tuna makes any fisherman’s blood boil with excitement. Besides wiring fish, watching a billfish eat is what keeps most professional crewmen in the game – it certainly isn’t the paycheck or a chance to wind on one.
The boys pulling lures get their fair share of explosions too; finding a giant hole where the left short used to be suddenly makes all those miles spent trolling in a big emptyworthwhile.
2. Blue Marlin
Blue dog, man in the blue suit, blue Martian ? no matter what you call him, the blue marlin reigns supreme in the blue-water jungle. While other fish may pull a little harder, none can match the speed, agility and tenacity of an enraged blue marlin. Along with their spectacular speed comes tremendous jumping ability. A blue marlin’s first greyhounding run after the hookup has left many anglers standing slack-jawed in the cockpit, wondering how in the heck they can get so much line out so quickly.
Blues, the largest of the marlin species – weighed specimens have reached over 1,800 pounds – are the most likely to hit the mythical 2,000-pound mark. Anybody want to catch a tonner?
For some reason, most fishermen’s personalities show a decided weakness for superstitions and other mumbo jumbo. A lot of crews still think it’s bad luck to have a woman on board – pretty crazy if you ask us – while others don’t like cameras or cameramen either for that matter. Those same fellows think their favorite shirt or pair of shorts raises fish or that the old Hawaiian lure in the spread draws in marlin from miles away due to its “spirit.”
The most obvious and enduring superstition that plagues our sport is still the bad-luck banana. Many crews think that bringing a banana on a fishing trip is tantamount to spreading gasoline in the cockpit and setting the boat on fire. Other crews claim to have caught blue marlin on a properly rigged Chiquita. So, is there any truth to the bad-luck banana? Of course not…but you won’t find any on my boat.
Call it a love/hate relationship, but no other tool makes a boat sparkle like a soft chamois. Try telling that to the washdown boy when you pull into the dock with your gleaming, brand-new 60-footer covered in salt and dried fish blood. That’s a lot of real estate to wash and dry, but leaving a dirty boat at the dock is a sin no fisherman should commit.
5. Boat Shows
Whether you’re a serious buyer or just a window shopper, nothing wets a boater’s whistle like walking the docks of a boat show. Each year, boatbuilders, electronics companies and all sorts of aftermarket builders unveil their new innovations, gizmos and must-haves. It’s nearly impossible to get through a big boat show without a bag full of literature and giveaways. It’s also the best place to find a boat bargain or get some face time with an actual person to answer any questions that might be plaguing you about your new radar or anything else marine. For a full list of the many shows put on by the National Marine Manufacturers Association, visit www.boatshows.com.
6. Wiring Gloves
Mates live to wire fish. They fetch your lunch, make your cocktails, clean the head, chamois acres of fiberglass and work unending hours just to get the chance to pull on a big one from time to time. Everything else is just gravy. That’s why they take special pride and care in fashioning a suitable pair of wiring gloves. Gloves come in as many configurations as there are mates, with some heavy-tackle specialists enlisting the help of shoemakers or leather workers to fashion complete custom pairs or leather additions to help alleviate the bone-crushing force of a heavy fish on the end of the wire.
A lot of crews like to layer gloves made out different materials to add cushion or increase grip. One popular style involves cutting the fingers at the second knuckle on a pair of canvas gardening gloves and wearing those over a pair of orange “snot” or glass-handling gloves. When pursuing sails or small striped marlin, a light pair of canvas gloves usually suffices. Gloves shouldn’t totally shield the mate from pain; if they do, he won’t know when to let go and might end up over the side.
7. Two-Speed Reels
It really bites when you hook a 300-pounder on 30-pound stand-up gear and the fish decides to sound on you. Standing up, normal anglers can’t add a whole lot of drag before they begin to wear out – even experienced fishermen probably won’t be able to hold more than 10 pounds for very long before their back starts giving out. This situation usually results in a long, drawn-out stalemate. That’s where the beauty of two-speed reels comes sharply into focus for anglers. If they can’t gain a bit of line in high gear, their face brightens immensely when they switch into low and start to get some back.
In this game every inch counts, so if an angler can shorten his pumps and work the fish in low gear, he may get the fish’s head up. And once the captain determines where the fish is coming up, he can move the boat to the fish and you can easily get your line back in high gear.
8. Battle Scars
The sport of blue-water fishing comes with a healthy dose of danger. Large fish on 600-pound leader, exposed gaff heads, rapidly backing boats and heavy tackle under tension all come together to make your spine tingle just a bit more when reaching for the wire. The vast majority of the time, both man and fish end the battle unscathed, but sometimes, bad things happen. And mates love to tell you about it. Missing finger tips, crushed hands, leader cuts, knocked-out front teeth, swivel mishaps and even terrible bacterial infections from handling nasty baits all become conversation fodder when the bite slows.
During one of the Marlin University sessions in Australia, one of our deckies, Jeremiah Nachtigal, cut his hand when a student fell off the ladder and bumped into him while he was rigging up a bait. The big, razor-sharp 12/0 hook sliced a deep, two-inch gash across the top of Nachtigal’s hand. Capt. Peter Wright volunteered (rather gleefully) to sew up the wound so Nachtigal could continue fishing. Due to the lack of proper anesthetic, Nachtigal downed a quarter of a bottle of Bundaberg Rum, a.k.a. “Bundy.” After a particularly sorry sew job – sorry, Peter – Nachtigal slurred his way into a speech about how proud he was to have been sewn up by the great Peter B. on the Great Barrier Reef. An awkward silence ensued.
9. The Panama Strip
Although Panama gets plenty of press these days for its excellent offshore opportunities, one of the country’s biggest contributions to the sport of big-game fishing always seems to fade away a little over the years, only to come roaring back time and time again. The Panama strip, nothing more than a dolphin or tuna belly cut into a streamlined shape and sewn onto a hook, proves its worth every time some smart fellow puts one out into the spread. The bait’s twin flopping tails, large profile and good taste keep sailfish and marlin coming back for more. By adding a circle hook to the front of the bait instead of rigging it the traditional way, the bait reaches a new level of effectiveness. Since the circle hook doesn’t hurt the fish on a miss, an enraged billfish will come back and continue to attack a strip rigged with a circle hook until the hook finally finds the corner of the jaw.
10. Electrical Tape
Much like a waterborne version of duct tape, electrical tape finds a variety of uses on board a fishing boat. Aside from its obvious use as a way to waterproof electrical connections, most crews used black electrical tape to stiffen and protect hook-sets from bill chafe before the shrink-wrap craze took hold. Once crews discovered that the tape comes in a variety of colors, they cleverly started matching the tape colors to their lure skirts to make them extra stealthy. It can repair wiring gloves, act as a makeshift Band-Aid, make an emergency repair on a leaky hose, etc. You gotta have it.
11. Circle Hooks
The results are in – circle hooks save fish. And when you fish them correctly, your hookup ratio increases as well. Invented decades ago, circle hooks burst onto the scene in recent years because of their ability to snag a fish square in the jaw and lower the chances of gut-hooking. Dr. John Graves, a fisheries scientist at the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences, proved what a lot of fishermen using circle hooks already knew through his studies of circle hooks versus J hooks. In his initial study in 2002-2003, he placed 40 satellite tags on white marlin, 20 of which were caught on circle hooks and 20 on J hooks. Seven of the fish caught on J hooks died after release, but all of the circle-hook-caught fish lived. In a second study conducted over the past two years, Graves and his students tagged fish on three different models of circle hooks and again compared the results with fish caught on J hooks. They found that J hooks were 39 times more likely to hook fish deeply, 32 times more likely to induce trauma and 22 times more likely to cause mortality. If all U.S. anglers used circle hooks exclusively when fishing for marlin in the Atlantic, Graves says it could save up to 2,664 marlin. Now that’s a lot of fish.
12. Bud N’ Mary’s
While much of the Florida Keys has turned into a playground for the rich, with million-dollar homes and condos pushing out many of the true Conch Republic loyalists, Bud N’ Mary’s Marina remains a no-frills, somewhat honky-tonk fishing center. And we thank God for that. Located in Islamorada, the marina is a meeting place for anglers of all sorts. You never know who might pass through the tackle shop’s doors – don’t be surprised to see actor Andy Garcia or fishing great Stu Apte.
The marina first opened for business more than 60 years ago, and it was the well-known guides hailing from these docks who really helped it grow. Captains like Jimmie Albright, Cecil Keith and Don Gurgiolo all ran boats here. Under the watchful eye of owner Richard Stanczyk, the marina hasn’t changed much. You can get ice and bait, talk shop with some of the best in the business, reserve a room for the night and book a charter (inshore or offshore – there’s great access to both). We hope it stays that way for years to come.
13. Costa Rica
Fortunate for big-game anglers, billfish tend to thrive in tropical paradises. For many anglers longing to jump on a plane and fly off to a distant land where billfish show up in thick numbers and the landscape provides gorgeous scenic vistas, Costa Rica is usually the first place they visit. And once you go, odds are you’ll be going back. The country’s lush rainforests creep right down to the calm Pacific waters, and if you time it right, the sailfish and marlin bite will blow your mind.
Los Sueños Resort and Marina opened up Costa Rica to the big-boat crowd, and you’ll find some of the best crews in the world hanging out at the Hook Up Bar after a long day on the water. Down south, on the Osa Peninsula and up north in Guanamar, things are a tad more rustic, providing the perfect place to get away. And Ticos are some of the friendliest people you’ll ever run into. Everywhere you go you’ll hear the locals happily uttering the country’s motto: “pura vida!” The phrase literally translates to the “pure life,” but the saying is synonymous with kicking back and having fun. Combine this philosophy with good fishing and an ice-cold Imperial and Costa Rica will always remain one of sport fishing’s favorite getaways.
14. Napping on the Ride In
Getting up while it’s still dark, six to eight hours of trolling in the hot tropical sun, endless rigging and changing out baits, and hopefully a tough battle with a big blue marlin. What do all these things amount to? One tired-ass angler. With a sense of accomplishment from another successful day on the water, you deserve a reward. How about a nap on the ride in? Nothing recharges the batteries like a good power nap. And you’re going to need your energy for the dockside celebrations about to ensue.
15. Big Game Room
Where can you find Guy Harvey, Bart Miller, Peter Wright, Ron Hamlin, Bill Boyce and many more of fishing’s favorite personalities in one room? The answer is an easy one: the Big Game Room at the Miami International Boat Show.
The Big Game Room debuted in 2004 in the once-quiet third floor of the Miami Beach Convention Center and has become the place to be for the who’s who in the sport-fishing world. St. Thomas-based tournament director Jimmy Loveland spearheaded the idea of creating a meeting place for big-game fishermen complete with seminars, tackle vendors, clothing, tournaments, conservation groups and marine artists, and attendance continues to grow every year. For more information, vist www.miamiboatshow.com/biggameroom/home.aspx.
16. Blue Marlin Bar
If you end up spending a night in San Jose, Costa Rica, while en route to another destination on the coast to do some fishing, plan to grab a drink at the well-known Blue Marlin Bar located in the Hotel Del Ray. It’s a rite of passage of sorts, but it’s not for everybody. You might just end up with a stranger on your lap and a smile on your face. The only rule is: Whatever happens at the Blue Marlin Bar stays at the Blue Marlin Bar.
17. Sportsman’s Release Knife
Originally designed as a way for skydivers to extricate themselves from tangled parachute cord, the Sportsman’s Release Knife became a staple on offshore boats around 1994 when Capt. Dean Adler brought some back from a skydiving trip. Adler immediately saw the tool’s usefulness in cutting heavy monofilament line to release fish at boat-side and started marketing the tool to the sport-fishing community as the Sportsman’s Release Knife.
With a pair of recessed, crossing razor blades placed at the end of a narrow notch, the Release Knife cuts through heavy leader material with one swipe and never exposes the crew to sharp edges. The tool’s lightweight and small size makes it easy to carry at all times in a pocket or on a belt. In addition to its usefulness in releasing fish, most mates reach for the Release Knife as their primary means of cutting themselves free of a tangled leader. To purchase a Release Knife for your crew, visit www.releaseknife.com.
18 – 19. Bait Knife and Manley Pliers
Every serious marlin crewman carries a bait knife and pliers on his belt to perform the wide variety of tasks he completes each day. When dealing with wire and heavy mono, a pair of Manley 6.5-inch Super Pliers equipped with a set of side cutters allows for quick and easy cuts and provides a good grip when twisting heavy wire hook-sets and the like. They also provide a backup for the release knife in case he needs to extricate himself from the wire in an emergency.
18 – 19. Bait Knife and Manley Pliers
For cutting floss and rigging baits, most mates have long turned to the trusty 4-inch paring knife made by either Forschner or Victorinox. These black-handled beauties are razor-sharp and can withstand all sorts of abuse – which makes them the perfect tool for the hardworking mate. You can order your Victorinox knives at www.victorinox.ch, or visit www.meltontackle.com and Tracy Melton will sell you a set of the Manley pliers, a knife and a molded leather sheath as a combo.
20. Fishing Books
When I was just 11 years old, a charter on Johnnie Whitmer’s Miss Jeanne gave me a copy of Phillip Wiley’s The Best of Crunch and Des. I can’t tell you how many times I have read that book. I still reread it every few years along with several more of Wiley’s Crunch & Des stories. I was also still a kid when Ernest Hemingway wrote The Old Man and the Sea. I was fortunate enough to read it when it first came out. When the movie was released, Spencer Tracy played the old man, and I marveled at the action-footage shot of Alfred Glassell’s big black marlin that was featured in the film. I still reread the original book every few years. I’m incredibly proud to have joined Hemingway in the IGFA Hall of Fame, and even if I can’t write the way he did, I still enjoy reading his books – especially the ones about fishing. – Peter Wright
21. Digital Cameras
In the past five years, digital cameras swept past the old-school film versions by leaps and bounds. Nearly all the photos used in Marlin are now taken on digital SLR (single lens reflective) cameras. Carrying digital gear over film has many advantages: You don’t need to fill precious luggage space with hundreds of rolls of film; you don’t need to worry about the film getting ruined in the heat of the day; you won’t lose a precious shot because you had to swap out a roll of film; and well, you don’t need to waste money buying all that film. Manufacturers keep increasing the capacity of memory cards – some hold up to 16 gigabytes of data, which equates to thousands of photos on a piece of plastic about the size of a money clip. If you’re thinking of purchasing a new camera this season, go digital! If you’d like to take magazine-quality photos, shoot your photos in RAW or the highest resolution possible. Thanks to e-mail, you can also share all your digital photos much easier with friends around the world, or post them online at www.marlinmag.com.
22. Ron Hamlin
He’s not a perfect human being and would be less of a man if he were. He’s not the most educated man you’ll ever meet and probably not the brightest. He’s fallen to the temptations of drugs, women and money, and over his lifetime he’s suffered greatly over the abundance of the former and scarcity of the latter._
_ He’s sat on top of his chosen profession and plummeted to the deepest, darkest hole of addiction, eventually overcoming his demons to rise back once again to the top of the offshore fishing game. He’s traveled the world’s oceans, exploring undisturbed waters in search of the best big-game fishing and found it time and again, catching grander blacks, blues and bluefin tuna from Australia to Bimini. He possesses an innate curiosity and sixth sense concerning all things that have to do with the sea and its inhabitants, which more than makes up for any lack of formal education. The oceans have been his schoolroom, his teachers the wily game fish he pursues.
Hell, he’s even been a pro bowler, author and taxidermist._
I wrote those words 10 years ago to describe my good friend Capt. Ronnie Hamlin, and I have to say they still ring true to this day. After hitting rock bottom during the late 1980s and early ’90s, Hamlin brought his career out of the ashes after Tim Choate shepherded him into rehab and hired him on as a captain for Fins n’ Feathers down in Guatemala. This lucky break was all Hamlin needed, and he took full advantage, setting one yearly billfish-catch record after another and ushering in the age of circle hooks. That’s right; Hamlin was one of the first captains to move to all circle hooks and took it on himself to spread the word of their effectiveness and ability to hook fish without injuring them. This one achievement alone should earn Hamlin a spot in the IGFA Hall of Fame._ – Dave Ferrell_
23. IGFA Museum
The IGFA Fishing Hall of Fame and Museum opened in 1999 in Dania Beach, Florida. Not only does this 63,000-square-foot facility serve as the world headquarters for the IGFA, it also offers visitors 10 interactive galleries, two with rotating exhibits, and the Journeys Theater. The E.K. Harry Library on the top floor holds the most comprehensive collection of fishing-related films, photographs and literature in the world. The entire facility celebrates the sport and history of fishing, from the early pioneers to today’s best-known pros.
“Our chairman, George Matthews, once said something I found very profound,” says IGFA president Rob Kramer. “I was having dinner with him and his wife, and he looked over at Betsy and said, ‘You know, of all the friends that we have made over the years through the different things that we have done and places we have been, the ones we hold dearest and have maintained the longest are the ones we have made through fishing.’ I think this is true for all fishermen. I know it is the case with me, and in many ways I feel that the IGFA International Fishing Hall of Fame and Museum is an eternal reminder of the friends we have made through fishing.”
No trip to south Florida would be complete without a visit to the museum. For more information, visit www.igfa.org.
It happens to even the saltiest, most experienced fishermen. The sight of that billfish, lit up like a roman candle, swooping into the spread and swallowing down your bait pushes aside rational thought, and adrenaline takes over. Without thinking you engage the drag too soon, pulling the bait right out of the fish’s mouth. The end result is nothing more than the head of your baitfish dangling on the hook: sancocho!
“In Latin America they make a soup using fish heads and other seafood afterthoughts; they call it a sancocho, hence the name when you come back with just the head of the bait,” says Capt. Brad Philipps who runs Decisive in Guatemala.
25. Sailfish Marina, West Palm Beach
The sport of big-game fishing burst onto the Florida scene during the early 1900s, and West Palm sat right in the middle of the famed “Sailfish Alley” that stretches from Fort Pierce to Miami. Palm Beach boatbuilders like Rybovich designed some of the first true sport-fishing boats, and by the 1940s a sizeable charter fleet operated out of West Palm from a small marina called Roy’s Dock just north of the inlet. It was later known as Bill’s Marina, after longtime owner Bill Bachstedt.
In 1977, Alex Dreyfoos purchased the marina and a large dock to the south called the Bahia Mar, combining the two to form what’s now known as Sailfish Marina. This small resort harbored some of the finest sportfishing yachts and crews of the day, and it still hosts one of the best charter fleets of sport-fishers plying the Gulf. With a nice hotel, a terrific restaurant and a beautiful, historic setting, Sailfish Marina stands out from the crowd.