No other woman has ever caught a fish weighing over 900 pounds in New Zealand, and now Donna Pascoe has caught two, including a world-record Pacific bluefin. Even more incredible: The two remarkable catches occurred three years apart, to the day. This is Pascoe’s story of an incredible day on the water.
We were fishing the New Zealand Sport Fishing Club’s Simrad Nationals tournament with Capt. Ken Pascoe, our two deckies, Brad Bennetto and Phil Evans, and myself as the solo angler.
On February 20, 2017, we headed out early to the top of New Zealand’s North Island to start our day. Ken had gone inside to have a shower when at 7 a.m. we had a strike from a nice blue marlin. The same thing had happened the previous morning when Ken was in the shower, and once again he came running out with just a towel wrapped around himself as he yelled, “'Not again!”
I grabbed the rod and made my way to the chair, strapping in and pushing the drag up. The line wasn't coming off the reel too fast, so I didn’t think it was anything really big. But after a few jumps, Brad Bennetto, one of our deckies who has seen a lot of big fish in Cairns [Australia] and Kona [Hawaii], said, “I think I need my big boy gloves for this one.”
We were keen on tagging all of our marlin, as we had our sights set on the category for most tagged and released marlin in the tournament. We wanted to make sure the fish didn't die on us, so Ken backed down hard and thoroughly soaked me in the chair.
Brad kept telling us that it was a pretty big fish, but we still planned on just tagging it at this stage. After 23 minutes, I had the fish to the boat and Brad was able to tag it. When the tag went in, the fish went crazy and Brad had to let go of the leader as the fish went down. Once again, Brad said it was a really big fish, and we decided to bring it in to weigh. So we started the old game of gaining line and having the fish take it back.
I finally got the fish back up to the surface, with Brad once again grabbing the leader and Phil gaffing the fish. Finally, Brad got a firm hold on the bill and it was time to bring it on board. Ken and Phil helped but the fish wasn't coming in easily. After much huffing and puffing, we finally slid the fish aboard. I do have to say that at no stage during the fight or bringing the fish on the boat did Ken's towel ever come off.
The marlin seemed big. We have a very long cockpit and the fish had its tail curled up a bit at the back of the boat and its head was on the step leading into the salon. After cleaning up the boat, changing out of our wet clothes and Ken finally getting dressed, we headed to Houhora to weigh the fish. We were greeted by a lot of locals who were keen to see the fish.
As the marlin was lifted off the boat, I was hoping it would go over 771 pounds. I did not expect it to go over 880 pounds, and was stunned when the scales settled on 927 pounds. There is no way I could ever imagine catching a fish heavier than my 907-pound Pacific bluefin tuna, which is an all-tackle world record as well as the women’s 130-pound line class world record.
The blue marlin is a pending New Zealand record. The freaky thing is that when I looked at the photos of both fish, the catch board had the same date: February 20. The tuna was caught in 2014 and the blue marlin in 2017. And yes, I definitely plan on fishing on February 20 in 2018.
--as told to Sam White by Donna Pascoe.