Pursuit of a Grander
For a big-game angler, catching a 1,000-pound marlin is akin to sliding on the green jacket after the Masters, winning an Olympic medal or taking home the Stanley Cup. There simply isn’t a greater achievement.
A few newbies might get lucky and catch what we affectionately call a grander on their first offshore adventure – not fully appreciating the accomplishment – but for those anglers and captains on a grander quest, landing such a magnificent specimen takes time, determination and commitment. To stack the odds in your favor, plan a trip to one of the world’s hottest locations, hook up with a knowledgeable captain and plan your trip to coincide with the best bite. The following locations represent what the editors at Marlin feel are your best bets for a chance at a grander.
Ever since Capt. George Bransford landed the first 1,000-pound black marlin off Australia in 1966, this location has accounted for more big marlin than any other spot in the world. Capt. Peter Wright estimates more than 800 granders have been caught here. These waters are a known breeding ground for black marlin, hence the abundance of really big female blacks in the area.
While lures have accounted for a few catches here, the top boats use giant baits for big blacks. Skipping dead bait along the edge will give you the best shot at success. In 2007, Capt. Jared Weir on Shaka pulled a 25-pound Spanish mackerel for North Carolina boatbuilder and top tournament captain Paul Spencer and his son Daniel in pursuit of a grander. Just before 5 p.m. the crew got ready to change the bait when a big black wolfed it down like it was tossing back a peanut. The fish, a 1,120-pounder, was one of the top fish caught that year, but they’ve been known to get even bigger.
More captains choose to release the big black marlin caught off Australia these days, and many will also go after them on 80-pound or even 50-pound if you’re up for it.
When to Go: September to December.
Where to Stay: It’s a good 30-mile run from Cairns to the fishing grounds, so many of the game boats offer multiple-day charters and house their clients on a mothership near one of the reefs.
Visitors will also find a long list of accommodations of all types within the tourist town of Cairns.
You can catch a grander Pacific blue on any day of the week in these waters, but the best big-fish months occur during the summer. Jim Rizzuto, who has chronicled the local fishing scene for the past few decades, counts 76 marlin topping 1,000 pounds since 1960 (and that does not take into account any granders released).
“I have literally caught a grander five minutes from Honokohau Harbor,” says Capt. Gene Vanderhoek, who’s been fishing Kona for 40 years.
The Big Island is literally the top of a mountain that drops down to the seafloor. The depths fall away to 1,000 fathoms within sight of land, and you can catch marlin, tuna, wahoo and more within a stone’s throw of the harbor. It’s not uncommon to see an 18-foot Boston Whaler trolling with a 130-pound setup. The average blue runs between 300 and 500 pounds, but most of the fleet sticks with heavy tackle, and for good reason: you never know when the grander will show up in your spread.
When to Go: Any month of the year, but April through September seems to produce more big fish.
Where to Stay: The charter boats tie up at Honokohau Harbor, located outside the Kailua-Kona village where you’ll find many of the hotels, resorts and local eateries. For a complete list of resorts, visit www.bigisland.org, or ask the captain you plan on fishing with for recommendations.
During its heyday from the mid- to late 1990s, Madeira took the cake as the top spot for big Atlantic blues. An El Niño and the ebb and flow of weather patterns seemed to take a toll on the number of big fish, but that appears to be changing. Capt. Peter Bristow, who has fished here for 17 years, says that on average, one in every 10 blue marlin caught in Madeira tops the 1,000-pound mark.
While fishing here, it’s a good idea to keep the big guns handy when you pull lures because the blue ones get huge in Madeira. “The biggest fish I hooked so far was well over 1,400 [pounds],” Bristow says. “The chap in the chair was just not up to it. It was a sad day for us all, but just one of those things. No use crying about it, but I hope that next time I have a lot more in my favor.”
When to Go: Late May through August
Where to Stay: Funchal, Madeira’s main town, has a great selection of hotels and is home to various charter operations. Some severe flooding and mudslides devastated areas of Funchal several years ago, but the marinas survived mostly untouched. Visit www.madeira-portugal.com for an extensive list of hotels.
Tahiti and French Polynesia
Tahiti has long been known for harboring some really big fish. Zane Grey landed a 1,040-pound marlin in Tahiti back in 1930. The fish was mutilated by sharks and as such was not recognized as a world record, but it remains the first 1,000-pound marlin taken on rod and reel. Other stories also tell of some monster blues caught here, including one marlin that was so large it had to be cut in half to be weighed. Although it’s unsubstantiated, the two halves supposedly totaled 2,700 pounds.
While the validity of this catch was never proven, Capt. Peter Wright tells a story of spotting two giant marlin tails on the wall at Dave Cave’s Hertz rental-car agency in Papeete. One tail was from a commercially caught blue that weighed more than 1,800 pounds. The other tail was larger, but the fish was never put on a scale. “The unweighed fish’s tail had a much greater span from tip to tip. The tail was much larger in circumference at the base. I think this fish probably weighed 2,000 pounds,” Wright says.
The period between January and June is best for big marlin, with the hottest bite occurring in March and April. While record keeping is shoddy, angler Richard Richardson predicts more than 50 granders have been caught here, though most of the big fish were taken by local commercial buoy fishermen.
As far as the granders go, put in some time and you will see one. “I had one on in the Marquesas on the lee side of Nuku Hiva that I am sure would top the 1,000-pound mark; it almost spooled us twice, and being on a 75-foot expedition trawler, we were totally outmatched and lost the fish after a prolonged fight,” says Richardson.
When to Go: January through June, with March and April the prime months.
Where to Stay: The waters surrounding Tahiti, Papeete and Raiatea all feature big marlin. All of these areas cater to tourists who make the journey. Visit www.go-to-tahiti.com for more info.
Contacts: Luna Sea Capt. Tepoe Pere www.boraborasportfishing.com
With six victories in the World Cup Blue Marlin Championship, including the event’s two heaviest blue marlin to date – a 1,189-pounder in 2004 and a 1,195 in 1993 – Bermuda has earned a reputation as a hot spot for big blues.
Capt. Allen DeSilva, who runs Mako, a 56-foot Sunny Briggs, says there have been 15 granders caught off Bermuda. DeSilva’s 1,352-pounder stands as the island’s largest and the second largest in the entire Atlantic Ocean. “It is believed that the larger female marlin roam farther north, so locations like Bermuda, the Azores and Madeira are great spots,” he says.
And just how big do they get in the waters surrounding Challenger and Argus banks? “The biggest marlin we ever fought was on for five hours,” DeSilva says. “We had the leader 12 times, but the battle ended with the leader breaking. The size is anyone’s guess, but I can tell you it was at least three feet longer than the 1,352-pounder we caught! Maybe 1,800, 2,000 pounds?”
When to Go: May through September for the really big blues.
Where to Stay: The city of Hamilton is the main hub of all activities in Bermuda. You’ll find plenty of resorts and hotels to choose from. Visit www.gotobermuda.com for a complete list.
“We have two runs of marlin here,” says Capt. Shawn Wallace, who has fished out of Brazil for nine years. “One goes from October to December, with lots of males and females. The next run is January to March, with mostly larger marlin – not the numbers – but big fish. Both granders weighed off Charlotte Bank were caught in January and March, weighing 1,012 and 1,064 pounds.”
Wallace bases his operation out of Canavieiras, making the run to Charlotte Bank just 17 miles. At the bank, the depths go from 1,000 fathoms to 300 feet. The southerly currents hit the bank, pushing all the nutrients up to the surface, which attracts massive schools of bait and big marlin. Wallace says he has also released two fish exceeding 1,000 pounds on Charlotte Bank.
Quite a ways south of Canavieiras and much closer to Rio de Janeiro is Cabo Frio, another big-fish spot. Though you won’t find many full-time charter captains, local yacht broker and big-game angler/captain Eduardo Baumeier has been fishing here since the mid-1990s. “The best time for big fish is from New Year’s to late February,” he says. “There’s been eight granders taken in Cabo Frio in the past 12 years.”
When to Go: October to March are the peak seasons for big marlin.
Where to Stay: To fish Charlotte Bank, plan on going to Canavieiras, a quaint beach town about 750 miles north of Rio de Janeiro. Wallace puts his guests up at Casa La Ma. Finding a legit charter boat in Cabo Frio is nearly impossible, but you will find plenty of hotels. There is a tournament held out of Cabo Frio each year in January or February.
Capt. Shawn Wallace www.majesticmarlin.com.br
There never seems to be enough room to list all of the worthwhile spots in an article like this. With that in mind, the editors at Marlin feel that the following locations deserve mention.
Rodrigues Island – Over the past few years, Rodrigues Island has put up some notable catches, including the 1,237-pounder caught in 2007 that currently holds the 80-pound Pacific blue marlin world record.
Mauritius – Located off the coast of Madagascar, this small island is home to some enormous Pacific blues. There have been several fish topping 1,200 pounds documented here.
Azores – The Azores make a great spot to target big Atlantic blue marlin. The season runs from July through the end of September, and the fish average more than 500 pounds.
Cape Verde – Captains Bark Garnsey, Peter Wright and Skip Smith have all said the biggest marlin they ever saw was off Cape Verde on different occasions. Need we say more?
Vanuatu – With at least two granders documented under IGFA rules, this South Pacific island is a budding blue marlin location. You can catch marlin all year, but the big ones seem to show up mostly from June to November.
Ivory Coast – Located next to Ghana, another marlin haven, on Africa’s Atlantic coast, the Ivory Coast has two granders to its credit so far in 2010. Will it be the next big-fish spot?
Ascension Island – It’s not an easy place to get to, but this island in the middle of the Atlantic produces big fish for the crews that make it there.