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The Blue Marlin Quest

One man's dream turns into reality in Panama

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A large blue marlin breaking out of the surface of the ocean.
Mission accomplished: Chart Westcott’s dream blue marlin takes to the air off Panama. Hannes Ribbner

For Texan Chart Westcott, nothing but catching a blue marlin could have been more thought-provoking. For the past five or six years, every vacation he’d ­taken had turned into that quest, but even the best billfishing destinations—the Bahamas, Jamaica, the Florida Keys, Guatemala, and Cabo San Lucas and Riviera Nayarit, Mexico—couldn’t make his dream come true.

It was an obsession of sorts, ever since he was a kid. Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea had inspired him as a child, just as it has for many big-game ­anglers. The seed was planted, he says, and he just couldn’t shake it.

A weight lifter, Westcott likened ­conditioning for a big match with an ­adversary on the mat to the same fight on the ocean with a big fish: a test of ­physical strength and endurance. He had his ­go-round with quite a few yellowfins before, but marlin were next-level, so this past December, he headed to Panama to fulfill his dream—or so he hoped.

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Watch: We show you how to rig one of the best baits for blue marlin: the swimming mackerel.

Tropic Star Lodge was his Hail Mary. The first day he arrived, he knew he was somewhere different, and after the orientation given by manager Richard White, who made it abundantly clear that Tropic Star wasn’t just an ordinary fishing lodge with ordinary crews or equipment, he was sure he was going to catch his blue. In fact, he was so certain he was going to catch his fish, he wanted to hire a photographer. And it just so happened that he hired one of the best ­up-and-coming billfish photographers today: Hannes Ribbner, who has been ­spending his ­billfish seasons at TSL for the past ­couple of years now. If anyone was going to ­document Westcott’s trip—and his ­crusade—it would be Ribbner.

“Little did I know that within 48 hours of arriving at Tropic Star, I would have caught three blues,” Westcott says. The first fish to show up was a little, noncommitted blue one, but several dorado later, Westcott got a real shot from a hungry one. It took the live bonito not once, twice or thrice, but four times before getting properly hooked. And once it was, it ran straight at the boat and came alongside at a speed that shocked everyone on board. “My friend Jason and I had been looking at the stern, only to see the fish breech alongside us; we were shocked,” he said. “The captain instantly reacted and positioned the boat to get back ahead of the fish,” and just like that, Westcott was wrestling with the fish he had been pursuing for years.

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“The skill and precision in which the captain handled the boat had me reeling furiously just to keep up, and it was all over in less than 15 minutes,” he said, and after getting the fish to the boat, he leaned over the side for picture proof: His mission was accomplished.

Two men walking down a pier at Tropic Star Lodge.
Marlin mission: Chart Westcott (left) and his friend and traveling partner, Jason Caswell, walk down the legendary dock at Tropic Star Lodge. Hannes Ribbner

“My long quest to catch a blue ­marlin had ended, and the emotions were ­overwhelming,” Westcott remembers.
After looking into the eye of the fish he had dreamed about, he cut the leader, and the beautiful fish swam into the deep to fight again, perhaps to make another fisherman’s dream come true sometime soon.

“Chart got everything he wanted out of his first Pacific blue marlin,” Ribbner says. “I don’t think I have ever seen a happier man in my life.”

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Read Next: An inside look at one of the sport’s most iconic destinations, Tropic Star Lodge.

Westcott gives much of the credit to the crew on Pollyanna: Capt. Fidel Mosquera, first mate Levin Grajales and second mate Hayden Houser, and of course, his travel buddy, Jason Caswell, who caught his first blue the day after. He also conveyed his impression of Tropic Star as “the best run, most professional and most dedicated fishing operation I have ever seen,” saying how much he appreciated the lodge’s strict catch-and-release policy. And his kind words of Ribbner? Well, we let the pages of Marlin speak to that.

“Oftentimes in our private lives, we hang onto things that become symbols,” Westcott muses, “and for me, that fish was truth. Not just in the pursuit of that blue marlin, but simultaneously in the pursuit of truth and meaning in my own life; and cutting the line was a bit like ­letting go and releasing control—control of an obsession that had been [taunting] me for years.”

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Westcott says he seldom cries tears of joy, but that day he did. And I’m certain he wasn’t the only one.

This article originally appeared in the March 2022 issue of Marlin.

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