Kona’s third grander of 2012 lost a girl fight to veteran angler Molly Palmer, but Molly needed a bit of help at the end of her three-and-a-half-hour battle with the 1,022.5-pound fish. That last bit of assistance was enough to have the fish disqualified as a “legal” tournament catch.
Molly hooked the huge female marlin at 10:20 am on Saturday, the first day of the three-day Big Island Marlin Tournament. She and her husband Shawn were fishing on the boat Anxious with Capts. Neal Isaacs, Jeff Metzler and Brian Schumaker and two more teammates, George Liddle and Bill Duke. The fish hit a Marlin Magic red-eye Ruckus lure as Anxious trolled in 400 fathoms off Honaunau just south of the area known as "Grandma's Kitchen."
Molly took the rod from the rod holder to the fighting chair and snapped herself into the bucket harness, just as tournament regulations required. Then she went right to work as the fish leaped and tail-walked across the surface. After the crew retrieved the extra trolling lines, Neal reversed Anxious to stay with the fish, and Molly cranked the reel to keep the line tight and the hook firmly anchored.
Tournament rules allowed the heaviest IGFA approved tackle possible, 130 pound class, and Molly took maximum advantage of the line strength and reel’s power.
After the marlin settled down from its acrobatics, it dove down. Neal could only guess what was going on. Fish often die on dives, which forces the angler into superhuman efforts to raise the dead weight up from hundreds of yards down. But just as often a live fish will swim back up to the surface where it can be fought with less effort and more boat handling.
Neal said this one died before he realized it was a goner. But the line kept slipping off the reel as its weight kept sinking. In 400 fathoms, the bottom is nearly a half-mile down.
“We had to do something different,” Neal said. “We had Molly push the drag lever forward to stop the fish from sinking. We were either going to break the line or give ourselves a fighting chance of raising it back up.”
For much of the rest of the fight, Molly had the drag lever “pushed to sunset” with her hands on the spool for additional pressure. The weight of the fish pulled against her harness and lifted her out of her seat.
“She was standing up in the chair with full drag for over two more hours,” Neal said. “And she hung in there way past any time that was good for her.”
Shawn was monitoring his wife, saw she was about to pass out, and decided to throw in the towel despite Molly’s protests. She needed help, even though it meant disqualifying the fish and giving up the money the fish might have won.
“We had to help her out regardless of the potential winnings,” Neal said. “We decided we would win our money another day and in another way. Besides, if this fish turned out to be as big as our estimate, we weren’t going to care about the money.”
Days later, he is still satisfied he made the right decision and still has the smile to prove it. And he still has the lucky red-eye Ruckus lure in his wake. This lure goes back about 8 years to the first big fish that legendary angler Pat Brian ever caught. Pat placed second in a tournament with Neal way back then and the lure has caught a lot of big fish for him ever since. Losing that lure would definitely affect Neal’s smile. You can bet it has a new leader, crimps and hooks after every time something takes a swipe at it.
The fish finally came up to the surface belly up but Neal and his party were unable to get it aboard until well after 3:00 pm.
“At that point, we just backed right up to it and pulled it aboard,” Neal said. “We didn’t need a gaff.”
For Neal, this would be his first blue marlin grander and his biggest billfish catch of all time. He had previously caught a 1,005-pound black marlin in Australia, so he now has a matched set – one black, one blue.
Molly stayed home on the second day of the event but not because she was black and blue. She had a test to take for a marine certificate. The fish also took the day off. As I’m writing this, the tournament fleet is one for ten on catches versus strikes.
But Molly plans to be back aboard today (Monday) for the final day of the Big Island Marlin Tournament. She still has to catch a money-winner.