When Arthur Teriipaia set out for a day of fishing off the French Polynesian island of Moorea in the South Pacific, he probably had no idea he would encounter what most would call the fish of a lifetime: a blue marlin weighing more than 1,000 pounds. It’s Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, writ large and in real life.
Teriipaia, a 67-year-old retired chef-turned-commercial fisherman, was trolling off the southern point of the island in his locally built skiff, Viainapa, powered with a single Volvo Penta inboard/outdrive, and without a top, tower or outriggers, fishing for yellowfin tuna. As is common in the Pacific and elsewhere around the world when the tuna are boat-shy, he chose to run a blue Halco Laser Pro swimming plug some 200 yards behind the boat, fishing it from an Accurate 130 loaded with 80-pound-test line. Teriipaia had already lost a large marlin from bent hooks on this particular lure the previous week, so he had switched to Owner quadruple-strong trebles in case he came across another one. The move proved to be a fortuitous one.
Around midday, a blue marlin ate the lure and came up jumping, but since it was so far from the boat, Teriipaia thought the fish weighed only about 500 pounds. The fish stayed on the surface, nearly spooling him in the process with four strong initial runs. Teriipaia stayed with it, running the small boat while also fighting the marlin, gaining line while also trying not to pull the treble hooks with too much drag pressure. He was also still unable to gauge the true size of the fish because it wasn’t coming out of the water at this point, just lunging on top, as big marlin often do.
After two hours, the fish rolled over and died on the surface. Teriipaia drove up to the marlin, secured its bill with a few half hitches of dock line, and towed it slowly back to port. Once back at the commercial dock in Moorea, a small crowd gathered as the fish was hoisted from the water and weighed. The certified scale read 502 kilograms, or 1,106 pounds. The marlin had a short length of 137 inches and a girth of 78 inches, representing yet another of many impressive catches from those waters. According to granderwatch.com, four additional blues over the 1,000-pound mark have been reported from French Polynesia in the past decade: a 1,474-pound fish in 2015 and a 1,301-pounder in 2011, both weighed in Tahiti. More recently, the neighboring island of Raiatea produced a pair of grander blues in 2016, fish weighing 1,128 and 1,034 pounds.
But the story doesn’t end there. It seems that landing big marlin runs in the family: Alfred’s father, Marii Teriipaia, caught the French Polynesian record marlin back in 1965. In its monthly newsletter at the time of the catch, the IGFA reported the weight of that fish as 2,650 pounds after its internal organs had been removed. Teriipaia was fishing with Alfred, who was 11 years old at the time, between Tahiti and Bora Bora when two 50-pound-class yellowfin showed up around the boat; he free-gaffed one and was looking for the second fish when the giant blue marlin charged up from the depths, apparently also searching for the second tuna. Using a hand-lined bonito for bait, Marii hooked the big fish and fought it for an hour and a half before subduing it alongside the boat. Back at Raiatea, it took 10 men to carry the fish to the city market, where it had to be cut in half before being weighed—it had bottomed out a 2,000-pound scale. Because of the way the fish was handled, there have been many disputes about the actual size and even the species—whether it was a blue or a black—but there is little doubt in anyone’s mind that it was truly a giant marlin.