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Big-game sport fishing is a lifestyle just as much as it is a hobby or a weekend activity, even for those of us who do it professionally. And once you’ve found a taste for it, the desire to fish in new and remote destinations dwells in us all.
Few places offer an experience as unique or as remote as our latest destination—Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. It’s a place that almost any fisherman would call a bucket-list experience, one that offers not only breathtaking scenery above and below the surface, but a legitimate opportunity to encounter some of the world’s largest and most powerful apex predators—the giant black marlin.
In late 2023, we headed Down Under with a group of six well-traveled, experienced anglers and three professional instructors hailing from all over the US and Australia. After arriving in Port Douglas, we joined two of the local gameboats we’d be fishing with—OB1, skippered by local boatbuilder Capt. Leigh O’Brien, and Calypso, run by longtime reef dweller Capt. Tim Dean—as well as the 88-foot mothership, Argo, which would be our home base for the week. Unfortunately, two of our guests were held up in transit, but they did join us the next day on the third gameboat, Release.
The next morning, we ran approximately two hours to an area of the reef known as South Opal and started fishing with two large skip baits and a swim bait. Finally, a little after 3 p.m., we had the first encounter when a black marlin in the 300-pound range engulfed one of our skip baits. Veteran Marlin Expeditions angler Phillip Kile did a fantastic job in the chair, and we had our first release of the trip. Lance Converse and Frank Burkhart, fishing on Calypso, were able to release three blacks from four bites in the 200-to-250-pound range.
The second day started with an awe-inspiring sunrise; then we were joined by Release, with our last pair of anglers, Marco Castellanos and Christy Moly, in tow. Shortly after they started fishing, they encountered what was by all accounts a true sea monster. Castellanos had put his skills—and the tackle—to the test, applying more than 70 pounds of drag for a good two hours of the fight. Despite expert boat handling and some top-notch angling, the fish still managed to escape.
After a slow Day Three, my OB1 team saw some stellar baitfishing on our fourth morning, catching mack tunas, scaly mackerels and scads. O’Brien told us that it was a sign of things to come, and was he ever right. Our group of three boats released a total of eight black marlin out of 10 bites on Day Four alone as the reef came alive. The Calypso team of Moly and Castellanos released two blacks in the 200-to-250-pound-class range, and Castellanos’ fish was implanted with an IGFA-sanctioned satellite tag as part of the Great Marlin Race (results will be published in an upcoming issue of Marlin). Converse and Burkhart, now fishing on Release with instructor Bo Jenyns, were also able to land two blacks in the 250-pound range on this day. But Team OB1 stole the show, capitalizing on a late-afternoon bite that fired off for Kile and Angelo Tesoriaero, who managed to release two fish each, going 4-for-4 overall. Two of the fish were in the 200-pound range, followed by a solid 650-to-700-pounder for Tesoriaero, and another big one—for Kile—was estimated to be well over 900 pounds, his personal best.
The fifth and final day of fishing brought us to tournament day. After a full day of hard fishing, the team of Converse and Burkhart, now fishing on Calypso with instructor Andrew Kennedy, emerged victorious with two releases, with the first fish being in the 250-pound class and the second in the 400-to-450-pound class.
In all, our Marlin Expeditions group made the most out of our adventure to the Great Barrier Reef. With the expert guidance of our seasoned instructors and knowledge of some of the finest captains fishing in Australia today, they all managed to catch the fish of their dreams, making this trip worth every second.