Four o’clock in the morning, my alarm goes off. Normally I would hit the snooze button, but knowing that in a few hours I’d have the chance to hook a blue marlin gave me that same electric feeling I experienced 25 years ago when my first marlin demolished the right teaser and ate my flat-line bait. From that moment on, I was hooked.
For the next two and a half decades, I have been lucky to fish in some of the best and most fertile billfish waters on Earth. Even now, every time a billfish comes up on a bait or teaser, I still get that same feeling, one that can be understood only by those men and women who have spent the time and effort to understand the science of hooking your own fish. If you’re an angler working with a mate or captain on a bait-and-switch teaser bite, you’re part of a well-oiled team, each relying on the other to do their job perfectly.
Preparing for the Offshore World Championship is like training for a marathon. You have four days of fishing, and you rotate among four different boats and crews, which are drawn by a lottery system. None of those boats can be owned by yourself or any other member of your team. It’s a system that makes it extremely competitive and provides a level playing field for all teams. It also can be very taxing—changing boats with your tackle, getting the baits, teasers and dredges rigged, bringing your own food and drinks, and don’t forget a couple of video cameras, which are required to provide proof of every billfish release. Any species of marlin is worth 500 points, sailfish are 200 points, and gamefish are worth one point per pound, with a 25-pound minimum.
This year, I fished with Dwight Wolf and Michael Moretti, who won the Presidential Flamingo Fishing Rodeo. We shoved off at 5:30 a.m. for the boat parade out of the harbor in Quepos, Costa Rica, for the first day of fishing. I don’t know what it is about fishermen, but we are always so optimistic about what the day ahead will hold. Thoughts of multiple sailfish hookups and crazy tail-walking marlin seem to fill our minds every time. With the anticipation meter on high, our first bite was a blue marlin on the left teaser, which switched to the left flat in the blink of an eye. A short drop-back, the drag pushed up and line peeled off as fast as a reel can spin, then the empty, sinking feeling of…nothing. No bait, no hook or leader, just the burnt end of the line. Was it crossed up with the shotgun or left long? Doesn’t matter—it’s a missed opportunity. Then the “what ifs” start setting in. That’s when you have to shake it off and say to yourself, There’s nothing you could have done differently that would have changed the outcome. You must regain your confidence because there will be more opportunities to come very soon. By the end of the day, Dwight and I had released two sailfish from a double—a slow day, but we were on the board.
Day Two and we’re on Frenzy with Capt. Jose Fernandez. Dwight scores a couple of sailfish right off the bat, then here comes another blue marlin. It wrecks the left teaser and flat line, then eats the right teaser and right flat without finding a hook. I get a tap on the right long, but he drops it, then finally the fish eats the left long. In just a few minutes, we have the fish jumping 15 feet beside the boat and it’s chaos, but we get the video and the release. That feeling of having a very special day on the water starts to set in. Dwight is on a roll—every time he gets a teaser fish up, a few seconds later, I would also get a bite on a long-rigger bait. Now we’re in first place at the end of the day.
The third day started off with a bit of disaster and didn’t get any better. We got to the dock, and our boat for the day was gone. The captain had moved it to the fuel dock, so he had to come back, pick us up, then finish fueling; finally we were off. Frustrating, but it happens sometimes. We had only three bites all day and returned with the feeling that we were out of it, but learned that we had only dropped to third overall, and just one billfish separated us from the leading team. Day Four would be a shootout.
On the final day we had drawn Super Fly, a 36-foot Maverick captained by Geovanny Leal. We ran 42 miles offshore in some pretty rough conditions, but the area looked really fishy: birds everywhere, bait balled up, spinner dolphins and whales all around us. You’d think we would get covered up right from the start, but our first bite didn’t happen until just after 10 a.m. when Dwight scored a sailfish. Leal stuck with it though and stayed there for the rest of the day, which was key: Other boats would leave, but the bites kept coming. It’s tough fishing from a smaller boat in rough seas—we caught a couple but missed more than a few bites, again thinking we had missed our chance to win. Our last bite was at 2 p.m., and it hit hard enough to create a backlash. If you’ve never had one, then you’re not fishing enough, and you can only hope that it’s not on your rod and that it’s not the tournament winner, which in this case, it was both!
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I got lucky though, with the overrun ironing itself out and the drag taking over, we were able to get the release, then had to endure another hour and a half of no bites. With no cell service that far offshore, we didn’t know the final results until we were almost back to the marina.
The rush of excitement was almost beyond belief. We won by just 67 points, and one billfish release separated the top three teams. I was also the top angler of the tournament. I’ve been fortunate to win some big tournaments over the years, and this one definitely ranks right up there among the best. It’s a combination of skill, perseverance and luck, and I can’t wait to do it again next year.
This article was originally published in the August/September issue of Marlin.