26. Heavy-Tackle Fishing
Fishing in a properly adjusted fighting chair with a well-designed harness (no seat), a big Penn International 130 filled with 130-pound line and a heavy, bent-butt rod with AFTCO roller guides, you can now battle the biggest marlin or tuna in the sea. Using heavy tackle doesn’t have to hurt or turn into endless torture for the unlucky angler trying to fight a big fish in a chair that hasn’t been adjusted for his height. Once you position the footrest the proper distance away from the chair and at the correct angle to allow the angler to fight the fish with a stiff-legged technique, anglers can’t believe how much drag they can comfortably put on a fish.
If your skipper knows how to run the boat – not just back up – it becomes the ultimate angling thrill when you find a fish equal to the tackle. When the fish is so big that your heavy tackle suddenly turns into light tackle – that’s the best! – Peter Wright
27. Nights on the Water
After a great morning of diving followed by fishing for big black marlin the rest of the afternoon, dinner gives us a chance to relax and rehash the day’s action. After we eat I like to get everyone on the bow and turn off every single electric light, even the masthead light – since no boat big enough to hurt us could get to where we are anchored. When no other boats are around, the total lack of artificial light makes a dark-moon night look spectacular. We lie back with an after-dinner drink and gaze straight up at more stars than you could ever hope to see in places where “light pollution” spoils our view of stars, planets, meteorites and satellites. The tiny cries of seabirds and the low roar of surf on the reef complete the package, lulling you to sleep better than any recorded music ever could. – Peter Wright
28. Kite-Fishing for Sails
While the first person to fly a kite to catch a fish did so in California during the 1930s, kite-fishing for billfish didn’t take off until the mid-1980s when the boys in south Florida, armed with kites made by Bob Lewis, started hammering the sails off Fort Lauderdale and Miami.
Crews flying one or two kites can deploy up to six live baits without fear of tangles, each one dancing just at the water’s surface anywhere from 75 to 300 feet from the boat. With hardly any leader material in the water, this presentation proves deadly on all species of game fish, and you’d be hard-pressed to beat a kite fisherman in any sailfish tournament by trolling dead baits.
29. 5-Gallon Bucket
It’s got to be the most underappreciated item in the cockpit, but it’s one of the most useful as well.
We don’t have room to list all of the uses for a bucket, but here are some of our favorites: a trash collector for empty drink containers in the cockpit, a place to hold your thawing baits when rigging up, a place from which to scoop up some cool ocean water to throw on the hot teak deck, a sticker holder, a temporary beer cooler, a practical joke at the end of a fishing line, the ultimate washdown tool, a seat, a line holder for respooling, a place for seasick guests to stow their lunch, bailing out a boat, making sandcastles ? you name it, the bucket can do it!
30. Mackerel Baits
A peek into any serious marlin fisherman’s bait cooler will almost certainly reveal a few Spanish mackerel rigged up and ready to deploy. Since they sport a flattened body shape that lends itself to either swimming or skipping, crews have rigged these large-profile baits when pursuing marlin for decades. Spanish also boast a tough, silvery skin that allows them to troll for long periods and draw fish into the spread.
Capt. Ronnie Hamlin (Number 22 on our list) was one of the first captains to “juice” his mackerels with formaldehyde so he could pull the tough baits even faster and cover more ground on the North Drop off St. Thomas – soundly beating the pants off everyone that season before his secret got out. He essentially turned a dead bait into a lure. It must be said, however, that formaldehyde is a deadly poison and its use is largely frowned upon these days.
31. Polarized Sunglasses
Be wary of any lure or rod manufacturer that claims to “make you a better angler” if you use their product. There’s no such guarantee. Not even the Banjo Minnow can live up to those claims. However, one tool will, in fact, improve your game: a good pair of polarized sunglasses. Polarized lenses cut down glare and help you spot fish below the surface. They also protect your peepers from harmful UV rays, which will cause major fatigue on the water and can lead to severe vision problems down the road. Today’s top sunglasses feature lightweight lenses in a wide array of colors for all sorts of fishing conditions. For offshore fishing, try a lens with a gray or blue tint, and if you go with the mirrored version, you’ll find it cuts even more glare.
32. Tim Choate
No other American has done more for billfish populations in Central America than Tim Choate. His charter boats helped put Costa Rica on the map, and Guatemala would never be the huge draw it is today had Choate not opened up Fins n’ Feathers back in 1993. He’s owned operations in Ecuador and Brazil and is close to gaining the final permits needed to run diesel-powered boats in the Galapagos. He worked with the sport-fishing media to expose Central America’s prolific fisheries to a wider audience and profess the benefits of circle hooks. His tireless efforts put laws into action such as outlawing commercial fishing for billfish in Guatemala and the mandatory circle-hook law in Costa Rica. But it doesn’t end there. Choate and his old friend Win Rockefeller established The Billfish Foundation with Dr. Eric Prince in 1986, but Choate says his latest project will hopefully leave the greatest legacy. “I’d have to say that the most rewarding thing I’ve done is my work with CABA, the Central American Billfish Association,” he says. “Getting all the Central American countries to enter an agreement on the treaty we’re proposing has been a colossal challenge, but we’ve seen more progress than in the past, and it’s a wonderful thing.”
CABA is in the final stages of a socioeconomic study on sport fishing in Central America that will show local governments that billfish are worth much more alive as a game fish than dead in the hold of a commercial ship. Its proposed treaty would also outlaw semi-industrial longlining and the sale of billfish. CABA hopes to make importing Pacific-caught billfish into the United States illegal as well.
Thankfully, you don’t hear many dyed-in-the-wool captains bark “only sissies wear sunscreen” these days. Not only can a nasty sunburn ruin a fishing trip, it can also put you at risk for skin cancer – the most common form of cancer in the United States, with over one million new cases diagnosed every year. With that in mind, make sure to apply sunscreen before you spend any time cooking yourself in the cockpit of a boat. Sunscreen prevents harmful ultraviolet radiation, which causes skin cancer and over time will make your face look like an old catcher’s mitt. Here’s a tip: Keep your sunscreen in the cooler or fridge. When it feels like 100 degrees in the sun, the cool sunscreen will offer some sweet relief.
34. AFTCO Unibutt
According to a story written by Rick Gaffney on AFTCO’s website, “The introduction of the AFTCO aluminum butt and, ultimately, the AFTCO Unibutt is an interesting tale. In 1975, Bill Shedd took a month-long sales trip from Miami to Boston to visit AFTCO customers on the East Coast. During that trip he learned there were several machine shops making aluminum butts. Many of the custom rod builders he visited preferred the aluminum butts to wooden equivalents, but they complained about weight and inconsistent supply.
“Shedd began to wonder if AFTCO could produce a lighter aluminum butt efficiently and in large quantities. If they could, he figured they should be able to capture a large part of the aluminum-butt business.
“As luck would have it, his friend Jim Easton, from the James D. Easton Company, had recently tried to manufacture an aluminum butt through the same swaging process he used to make baseball bats, arrows and a number of other products. He had abandoned the rod-butt project but was eager to talk to the Shedds about how that effort might be resurrected in a partnership with AFTCO. This working relationship between AFTCO and the James D. Easton Company resulted not only in the development of the world-famous AFTCO aluminum butt in 1976, but the AFTCO Unibutt that followed in 1979.” For more information, visit www.aftco.com.
35. Shimano Triton Lever Drag Reel (TLD)
With the advent of the bait-and-switch came a need for a tough yet lightweight reel in the 20- to 30-pound range that an angler could handle easily with one hand. With an aluminum spool, graphite frame, smooth drags and great free-spool capabilities, the Shimano TLD series fit the bill perfectly. It wasn’t long before anglers were catching 300-pound blue marlin on the little reels, going way beyond their intended purpose. For more information, visit www.shimano.com.
36. Mold Craft Green Squid Chain
No matter where you go or what kind of boat you find yourself on, if you are in a place inhabited by sailfish, chances are you’ll find a Green Mold Craft Squid Chain somewhere on board. Commonly used as a bridge teaser in almost all of the world’s sailfish hot spots, the green version of the Mold Craft Squid Chain enjoys cult-like status on the East Coast. “Ten years ago I couldn’t have given away a green squid, but I think something happened down in Cozumel during the spring bite on the sails one year that got into people’s heads. Believe it or not, the purple-and-blue has been red-hot lately,” says Mold Craft’s Frank Johnson Jr. To get your next bridge teaser, contact Mold Craft at 954-785-4650, or visit www.moldcraftproducts.com.
37. Big Rock Blue Marlin
One of the longest-running billfish tournaments in the world, the Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament out of Moorhead City, North Carolina, recently celebrated its 50th birthday this past June. In 1957, a group of locals called the Fabulous Fishermen organized the first event to promote the area’s waterfront and give the local charter fleet some incentive to venture out to the Gulf Stream to pursue blue marlin. Several businessmen put together $200 in prize money and the tournament was on. Today, the Big Rock awards purses well over $1 million and has donated over $300,000 to local charities. If you’d like to experience some of that world-famous North Carolina hospitality and fish in a world-class blue marlin tournament, visit www.thebigrock.com.
38. Rums of the World
Three hundred years before Jimmy Buffet sang about rum drinks, sailors in Great Britain’s Royal Navy received daily rations or “tots” of rum (equal to one pint). Thus began an engaging relationship with seamen and rum. From pirates to presidents, rum remains a favorite drink of all walks. According to the book And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails, the feared pirate Blackbeard liked to mix his rum with gunpowder before igniting and swilling it as it flamed and popped, while Ernest Hemingway favored tall “Papa Doble” daiquiris in Cuba, once consuming 16 in a single sitting at the now famous Floridita bar in Havana.
Wherever you find sugar cane growing, you’re bound to find rum. Historians claim the liquid gold was created some 400 years ago when somebody discovered it could be made out of molasses, a byproduct of the sugar-making process. The Caribbean reigns as the epicenter of the rum world, and some of the best rums come from the Bahamas, Cuba, Bermuda, Barbados, the Virgin Islands and Jamaica. But you’ll also find tasty rums in Nicaragua, Guatemala and even Hawaii. Basically, if there’s a blue marlin swimming nearby, you should be within arm’s reach of a good rum drink.
39. Bluefin Tuna
Any fisherman who was lucky enough to experience the heyday of bluefin tuna fishing in the Bahamas in the 1950s and ’60s will likely tell you that it was the most amazing fishing he ever witnessed. Each year these brutes would make their way through the islands on their annual migration from spawning grounds to their traditional feeding grounds off the Northeast. Over time, as demand for bluefin meat skyrocketed, so did commercial-fishing efforts. Populations now hover on the brink of disaster; unless something is done soon, we could very well lose these giants of the sea.
Bluefin tuna represent one of the hardest pulling, toughest game fishes in the ocean. They can grow to more than 1,000 pounds but can’t outrun the purse seiners and longliners that pursue them. Just before he resigned as the head of U.S. fisheries earlier this year, Bill Hogarth made a call to the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas requesting a complete moratorium on the commercial bluefin tuna fishery to give stocks time to rebound. “Strong action must be taken immediately to prevent the collapse of the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean stock of bluefin tuna,” Hogarth said in a statement. Hopefully, ICCAT will heed this advice at its upcoming meeting this fall, but those who keep a close eye on ICCAT fear the worse.
“ICCAT is not following the science nor complying with the quotas. It’s a recipe for disaster,” says Ken Hinman, president of the National Coalition for Marine Conservation.
Several organizations are working to save bluefin such as Tag-A-Giant, led by Dr. Barbara Block. Through its hard work and tagging, Tag-A-Giant has helped scientists learn more about the species, which well help protect them in the future. We must all work together to save this species from extinction. To learn more, visit www.tagagiant.org.
40. Skipjack Tuna
The best marlin bait in the world is undeniably a small tuna…and the best bait of the small tunas is a live skipjack. Although any live tuna will catch marlin, only the skipjack sports a shiny, silver skin that literally glows while it’s still kicking, drawing fish into the spread from afar. Oftentimes, this ability to shine so brightly fools a captain into thinking a much larger fish has come to eat the tuna, only to find that the little bait had just turned sideways, its bright flanks flashing like a beacon for all to see. As an added bonus, as soon as a skipjack dies, the glow is lost, and a quick look over the captain’s shoulder tells him it’s time to get a new bait.
41. Black Bart
Throughout his career Capt. Bart Miller’s competitive spirit has always pushed him to the top of his game. Miller began building a name for himself in the 1960s and ’70s as one of the top captains in Hawaii. And when he brought a 1,656-pound Pacific blue marlin back to the dock in 1984, his name and his boat’s name, Black Bart, sparked conversations around the world. Although the fish was denied a world record and many claim it weighed 1,649 minus the tail rope, it still stands as one of the largest marlin ever caught on rod and reel – a claim few can make.
“I was fishing for that fish ever since I started fishing,” Miller says. “I was never thinking a 1,000-pounder; I was thinking a 2,000-pounder.”
Miller’s quest to be the best moved him into lure making. Only a couple of people were building lures back then, and they were hard to come by. Miller made his first lure in 1966, which he called the Tiger Taper. While the hole in the back of the lure head was centered, the hole in the front of the lure was lower, which gave it “wild action,” Miller says. From those humble beginnings, Miller built Black Bart Lures into one of the most recognized lure companies in the world.
At age 73, Miller is currently battling Parkinson’s disease, and he says the illness fights harder than any marlin. He’s made amazing strides, and you can find him at the Black Bart shop on Blue Heron Boulevard in West Palm, Florida, on most days. Swing by and say hello. If you’re lucky, you might hear one of the best fishing stories ever told. Check out all the Black Bart lures at www.blackbartlures.com.
42. Tournament Fishing
Braggarts by nature, fishermen live to catch the biggest fish and love to tell you about it. And while bragging rights are priceless, they sometimes come garnished with a six- or seven-figure giant cardboard check if you’re fishing in a big-money tournament. Even if you’re not into the big-money tournament scene, you can still find friendly fishing competitions around the world that draw all sorts of anglers together to have some fun, catch some fish and maybe even raise some money for a worthwhile cause. Tournaments bring us together and you’ll get to know many other fishermen over dinners, cocktail parties and other dockside shenanigans. Although you certainly don’t need to win to have a good time, finishing in the top spot does make it a bit more memorable – it’s always fun to be king for a day.
43. The Way-Home Cocktail
Peter Wright’s Health Drink & Bill Boyce’s Panty Remover
One of the great joys in life is enjoying a tall cocktail on the run home after a successful day of fishing. Once a little alcohol gets the tongues lubed up and wagging, you get to replay the day’s events, taunting your buddies over missed opportunities or the girl you saw them with the night before.
Peter Wright likes to relax after a day’s fishing with one of his world-famous health drinks. Wright’s explanation:
Start with a great dark or gold rum in a big glass with plenty of ice. Squeeze in a wedge or two of lime and fill with tonic water.
I call this, my very favorite cocktail, a health drink because the quinine in the tonic water is a well-known anti-malarial medication, and ever since Captain Cook’s era we have known that the vitamin C in lime juice prevents scurvy. And since rum, in moderation, makes you feel good, this mixture makes the perfect health drink.
Bill Boyce, a well-known photographer and general man-about-town from California represents the West Coast style with his personal L.P.R. (Liquid Panty Remover) Margarita. His recipe:
In a Martini shaker:
? 4 oz. of Hornitos or Patron
100 percent agave tequila
? 4 oz. of Contreau
? Juice from eight Key limes
Fill shaker with ice, shake vigorously and pour into Martini glass. Slurp till you burp.
44. Capt. Peter B. Wright
What can you say about a captain who’s weighed 77 1,000-pound marlin? Capt. Peter Wright epitomizes the words “living legend,” and his recent induction (2007) into the IGFA Hall of Fame just solidifies his reputation on the big-game circuit.
Wright started fishing as a boy in Fort Lauderdale and in 1956, at the ripe old age of 12, joined Johnny Whitmer on a bluefin tuna trip in Bimini. That same year he boated his first sail and gaffed his first blue marlin. He fished throughout his high-school days in the rich waters of south Florida and ended up going to college at the University of Miami to pursue a degree in marine biology.
At the conclusion of an Antarctic research project, Wright took some time off to explore the South Pacific. “I was supposed to be gone for six weeks, but I stayed for six months ? thereby ending my marine-biology career,” says Wright. He met up with Capt. George Bransford (the first man to catch a grander on the Great Barrier Reef) in Cairns, and Bransford asked Wright to stay in Australia and be his deckhand. “That was 1968 and I knew that my parents wouldn’t be happy, my school wouldn’t be happy and I’d probably get drafted. But I stayed anyway – got drafted – and then went home to face the music.” Luckily, a childhood history of asthma classified Wright as a 1-Y, enabling him to return to Australia for the 1970 season. In 1971, he was running a boat, and during his first year as a captain he caught an 816-pound black on 30-pound, setting one of many world records.
Wright eventually moved to Australia in 1973, the year he caught eight fish over 1,000 pounds – including a 1,442-pound black that is still the largest black marlin ever taken in Australian waters.
After 40 years fishing the Reef, no one knows more about heavy-tackle marlin fishing and how to maneuver the boat when fighting large fish than Wright. Known on the Reef as “The Lauderdale Lip,” Wright can talk with the best of them, and you can learn more about all aspects of big-game fishing in just one hour of listening to him speak than you could in 10 years of trolling the Gulf of Mexico.
He’s quick to call BS when he hears it and will eagerly tell a braggart to “Turn yourself upside down and shake yourself and I’ll bet you anything that falls out,” to end an argument. Quite simply ? he’s the man. – Dave Ferrell
45. The Billfish Foundation
Founded in 1986, The Billfish Foundation evolved into the largest grassroots organization focused solely on the health of billfish populations. “Billfish tagging is still considered our cornerstone program,” says president Ellen Peel. “The data collected is made available to scientists for stock assessments and age/growth studies. Tagging is also a great conduit to educating anglers on the need for data.”
But the organization does not stop at the tag. TBF is currently working on several programs, from a socioeconomic study on sport-fishing impacts in Costa Rica to gaining recapture data from artisanal fishermen in Venezuela to outlawing longlining off Mexico. The foundation’s most recent success came in Peru when President Alan Garcia signed a presidential order making it illegal to harvest marlin and sailfish. “We’re very proud of what we accomplished in Peru, and we hope it will serve as an example to the other countries we’re working with in Central America,” Peel says. TBF won’t rest on its laurels, however, and it has many irons in the fire working to protect billfish in all corners of the globe. To get involved, visit www.billfish.org.
46. Bisbee’s Black and Blue
Going into its 28th year, Bisbee’s Black and Blue Marlin Tournament holds the title of the world’s richest fishing event. In 2007, the event dished out more than $3.8 million in prizes. To get the big payday in this event, you need to go all in. In last year’s event, Angel and the Badman II caught the largest marlin, a 620-pounder, winning $734,415. But it was the third-place team, the Bad Company Wyoming Cowboys, that won the big payout. They entered all the dailies and walked off with $1,421,752 for their third-place, 539-pound marlin. It will cost you $63,000 to go all in for the 2008 Bisbee’s, scheduled for October 21-25. For more information, visit www.bisbees.com.
When it comes to billfish-release records, Guatemala has held them all. Most billfish released in a season: 2,809 on Captain Hook. Most billfish caught in a single day on conventional tackle: 124 on Captain Hook (since beaten). Most billfish caught in a single day on fly tackle: 57 on Release. All three of these records were set in 2006, which stood out as the best year the fleet has ever seen. But while 2006 was the year of the sailfish, 2007 was the year of the blue marlin. Decisive caught 41 blues in 41 days, proving that the marlin can run thick as molasses in this notoriously light-tackle destination.
You can’t go wrong with a trip to Guatemala. It’s just a three-hour flight from Miami, and the lodges and crews stand up to the best in the world. Contact info: Pacific Fins, www.pacificfins.com; Casa Vieja Lodge, www.casavieja.com; Guatemalan Billfishing Adventures; www.guatbilladv.com.
There’s no telling how many landlubbers have wandered down the docks, looked up at the outriggers and asked a busy captain or mate, “What do you catch on those big poles?” Even though they’re a mystery to many, there’s nothing that defines the look of a sport-fishing boat and tells you what it was designed to do better than a set of triple-spreader outriggers.
Today’s outrigger setups range from clean, two-clip, through-the-covering-board configurations to a tangled web of halyards controlling multiple clips and bridge teasers that requires a four-block pulley and a degree in geometry to operate. No matter which end of the halyard spectrum your boat lies on, a pair of well-set-up and working outriggers is key to any sport-fisher’s success on the water, and no boat worth its weight in fiberglass should ever be put afloat without a pair.
49. Minerva’s Baja Tackle, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
Any visit to Cabo San Lucas wouldn’t be complete without at least a stop at Minerva’s Baja Tackle. With over 31 years in the tackle and charter business, owners Minerva Saenz and Bob Smith provide the largest, most complete selection of fishing tackle in Southern Baja California, including rods, reels, line and a huge selection of all types of artificial lures for trolling, casting or surf-fishing. As an added bonus, they make some of the coolest fishing T-shirts you’ll find anywhere! For more information, visit www.minervas.com.
50. Merritt Boatyard
One of my earliest memories of Merritt Boat & Engine Works is of tying up to their seawall one morning and having the rough-and-ready Carolina-built charter boat Miss Jeanne 7 hauled out on a marine railway. John Whitmer and I hosed and scrubbed the bottom paint, picked dried mullet scales off the cockpit sides with a knife and rubbed down the cockpit with heavy-grit sandpaper. Merritt repainted the bottom and the cockpit, and we relaunched that afternoon.
The Merritts come from a charter-boat background and treat working boatmen right. When Jeff Fay and I bought a boat and fixed her up on a shoestring budget, the Merritts treated us kindly. “You can tear this out yourselves and I’ll send a man over to put it back. That’ll save you money,” said Roy Merritt as we started the project.
Decades and generations later, Roy and Allen Merritt are now legends, both as fishermen and boatmen. Behind all the varnish and the millions of dollars worth of boats they have built, they are still the go-to guys when I need the answer to a boat problem. In more than a small part, I am who I am because of the Merritts’ help over the years, and I’m not the only one who can say that, not by a long shot. – Peter B. Wright