At just 27 years old, Stephanie Choate had only dreamed of catching a grander marlin. And even if she had a million years, she never thought it would happen the way it eventually did.
Choate and her good friend Andy Moyes traveled to South Africa in October to celebrate their birthdays with a big-game hunting trip. Kevin Hodgson, a good friend of Moyes’, invited Choate and Moyes to fish off his boat in Mozambique while they were in the region.
Onboard the mothership QuoVadis, a 73-foot catamaran, Moyes and Choate were joined by Hodgson, Capt. Jason Holtz from Hawaii and mate Chris “Spanky” Pike from South Africa. Hodgson’s game boat, Big Bob, a custom, 48-foot sport-fisher, provided the fishing platform for the trip.
On their second day out, the right short went off just a couple of hours into the trip. The fish piled on one of Moyes’ custom lures, a small green-and-black Kaiwi. Everyone worked together to get lines cleared as Choate strapped herself in and settled in for the fight.
“I was gaining when I could, and the double line came up,” Choate says. “Before we knew it, in true marlin fashion, he took off, and I watched my spool empty and my hard work run out.”
All aboard knew that the fish looked like a big one, but they weren’t sure how big it actually was. After the first jump, the fight changed. The marlin started acting like a big one, erratic and determined. Holtz drove the boat skillfully to gain on the fish, but the fish suddenly started pulling much harder. After 30 minutes, Choate determined the fish was tail-wrapped because she stopped feeling movement in the rod. With her skin rubbed raw from a bucket harness that was too big for her frame, Choate was now up to full drag and holding the sides of the chair so she wouldn’t get pulled over. The fish made a final major lurch, and Choate thought the hook had pulled. She and the crew soon realized, however, that it was the line ripping into the tail fin a few inches.
Until this point, Choate had never had a billfish die on her before. “I felt sad and relieved at the same time,” she says. “Relieved because I knew we now had a plan of action to plane the thing up and end the torture of attempting to winch the dead weight in. I always love saying thank you and releasing any billfish so it can be caught again, but I had no say in that anymore.”
After eight or 10 major moves and an hour and a half, the fish finally surfaced. It took all four men on board to get a rope around the bill. Choate held the tuna door open and pushed the fish’s pectoral fin down as they pulled the marlin into the boat. After about 30 minutes of struggle, the bill was in the galley and the tail was touching the transom. Holtz then said, “This fish may surprise us, boys.” Before this catch, Holtz had eight granders under his belt.
They carefully hauled the giant black marlin to the mothership, rigged the IGFA-certified scale to the davit, tied a rope to both sides of the fish and lifted it out of the water. With the sun beating down, all parties involved remained silent as Hodgson zeroed out the scale. As the fish eased out of the water, the numbers climbed until it stopped — 1,018 pounds. “Immediately, [Holtz] turned to me in excitement and threw me overboard. I came up staring at the marlin above me in utter disbelief that it happened. I caught my grander. We caught a grander!” Choate says.
They decided the beach would be the best place for some pictures, as well as a good spot for the locals to pick up the meat. Champagne flowed, and excitement escalated.
Holtz had now caught a grander in every ocean, and Hodgson was beyond proud to have had this experience on Big Bob, a vessel named after his late father.
“It then dawned on us,” Choate says. “It was Oct. 18, 10/18. The marlin weighed 1,018. There was also a triple eclipse that day. I don’t believe in all that astrological stuff, but it did leave me wondering.”
Choate grew up believing and practicing catch-and-release, but like many other anglers, she has learned that fish do die on occasion. “We can’t prevent that; we can only strive to end long lining and purse seiners from completely wiping out their populations.” Choate says. “If I somehow caught another grander some day, I would release it. It’s an experience I want my future children to enjoy.”