The Big Blue and the Lone Ranger (1996)

I was alone this time, unable to find crew during the week. The sea was settled but mal
del mare was upon me. Not usually a drinker, good companionship at the 'Waihau Bay
Lodge’ has resulted in the consumption of five handles which was enough to ensure I
was miserably ill.

For most of the day I had been tucked up in a secluded bay and while there were
yellowfin jumping alongside the anchored boat I simply was not interested. But by early
afternoon I was at the partial recovery stage so headed out from Cape Runaway on a
line for White Island. Homemade lures splashing and gulping in the wake, a big freighter
appeared to be cutting me off. Would I pass in front or be wise and pass behind him? At
a few hundred metres I altered course and came alongside the huge ship.

The crew waved out to me. While returning the wave, the short rigger twanged. Spinning around, I
couldn't believe my eyes. Lunging at the splashing lure was the biggest marlin I had ever
seen.... it looked like a cattle beast playing momentarily with the lure. It disappeared.
Frantically I pressed the waypoint on the GPS, intending to trn back over the spot. But
then the long rigger rubber band broke and my home made rod buckled over.
I always feared hooking up on a blue marlin, undoubtedly the best fighting gamefish on
the planet. Recent tales of spooled reels flooded my grey matter. Twenty four kilo line
and a Penn 501W seemed inadequate for such a scrap with help from a full crew, let
alone single banded. At best it would be a short encounter, at worst, the lost fish of a
lifetime, the trailing line possibly signing its death warrant.

As a young man I had been totally captivated by Ernest Hemingway's Noble prize-
winning book 'The Old Man of the Sea". Briefly, it is the story of an old, lone fisherman
on the breadline, fishing out of Havana with baited band lines. His sardines were drifting
at 20 and 40 fathoms. He hooks a mighty blue marlin and is towed for three days and
nights to finally beat the great fish. On the return trip the sharks attack the marlin tied to
the side. The poor old man is left with a head, spine and tail of the largest marlin that has
ever been seen in the little port. Truly wonderful reading.

So here I was, controlled, clearing gear, watching the state of the reel capacity and
turning the boat with the loaded rod untouched in the holder. For a long time I followed
the line, trying to not lose too much to the big fish aware that if it sounded, I would never
lift it. It jumped as if in slow motion, sending spray like I'd never seen before. On hook-up
the great bill and head thrashed the spot like duellist's rapier, trying to rid itself of the
hook.

Still following the big fish I had the butt in one hand, throttle and autopilot in the
other in an attempt to minimise line loss. Suddenly there was a tremendous increase in
the peel of line as the marlin doubled back, jumping behind the boat. All the time mono
was pouring off the rod tip in the opposing direction, towards the bow. Checking to see
which way the line looped, I doubled Freedom back.
Clearly the blue and pink lure could be seen waving outside the fish's mouth, the
glittering, seemingly fragile trace trailing. It was at this point the first bit of luck went my
way. A vast distance of slackline was wound back frantically onto the reel possibly 200
metres. With the pressure back on the blue.

Recovering so much line was a telling bonus in the eventual lifting of the sounding fish. I was well aware of the problem and had read several good articles such as Bill Hall's "Raising the Dead" where many
big fish cannot be lifted once down too deep and past the point of no return. This was
only 24kg line and my chances would not have been good. I had recollections of the Old
Man of the Sea praying to beat the big fish as he held onto his handline over his
shoulder with only his coat to stop the line cutting into him. I concentrated on my composure and a new purchase, the award-winning Black Magic stand-up gimbal harness, rested across my knees with its locking keel between my thighs. I radioed for help but secretly hoped to land the fish unassisted. But to be sensible, I did need help.

I gave my position to Simon Mills and his Challenger crew but they were 45 minutes
away, 8km off Waikawa Point. To the rescue came my good friend Bill Hol, manager of
the Waihau Bay Lodge, who put to sea and headed out with two other big strong lads
10km offshore to my position. Meantime, things were not going well. I could not lift the
sounding fish. I was losing line after I pushed my lever drag fully up as far as it goes.

I thought perhaps I should try to "plane" the fish, however, motor in gear I still lost line.
Tears filled my eyes with the realisation the encounter was coming to an end. I used the
best stand up technique and mulled over Bill Hall's article in my mind. It was not a tug-of-
war. Marsha Bierman at a Christchurch seminar said don't "baby the fish", be
aggressive. I was sure "babying" this one, and having a skipper to back up on a fish was
fine, but not here. Bill Hall said to use the swells, use your finger on the spool and try
that. In Tonga the skipper of Kiwi Magic, Keith McKee also said it was not a tug-of-war,
advising to show stroke the rod to be content with half a turn on the down-swell.
With all this advice put into practice the stalemate was broken and the big fish was
definitely lifting, be it a quarter turn of the reel on the down stroke. 

It was timeless - maybe an hour to two hours now, until the rubber band still wrapped to
the line was visible. I thought it was the swivel but alas, work still bad to be done. The
fish heard the boat and moved off again. But this time not far. It was then that Bill asked
for the waypoint again. Struggling, I had to back off the drag but the fish went under the
boat. · The only alternative was taking that drag off. What a line loss!
Again it was worked up close. What if the fish might revive? The swivel came and went
again. The scenario was repeated, the fish not done yet. It swam under the boat but
harnessed up I could not get quickly to the controls. It was now the fish would gain the
freedom it had fought for. The only hope was back off the drag and go over the side of
the boat.

I held to the gunwhale with my closed thighs, dipping the rod and reel underwater to
clear the line of the hull. Careful to keep the guides on the outer side, my beautiful rod
wrapped itself around the contour of the boat's chine scratching its glassed finish. I recall
hearing the ratchet growl even underwater! The tip of the rod moved like a clock arm
right through where the stem leg was.  Miraculously there was still weight on when
eventually the scramble over the engine was complete and the scrap resumed in
earnest. Again it happened.

Again the tortuous manoeuvre worked. I could not put the boat in gear to avoid this, only
cringe at the line loss. On the third time I got hold of the leader and took control for the
first time. The massive blue marlin came to the side, still swimming. I recalled Bill Hall
saying if you keep the fish, put it out of its misery and club it. This I considered the most
effective move as a gaff could be too much for me to handle if the fish started to thrash
around. So holding the trace hard I pulled and reached for the club on the other side of
the boat and gave it a killing blow. It was all over.

I gaffed it through the gill plates and lashed it to the back cleat. Unable to reach its tail, a
rope around its bead had to do. The size of such a well conditioned fish reminded me of
a big black marlin caught in a small tinny off the Motu. What a photo that was! Towing the wallowing fish slowly, I couldn't help continuously glancing back at its size.  It was bleeding a lot and the story of the sharks and the Old Man of the Sea flashed back. Not too much had gone wrong, so worried about a mako mutilation I looked around for my good friend Bill, still wrestling with the operation of his new GPS.  But then there he was, running out of fuel. He said not to leave him as I might have to tow him in too! 

Alongside, the three of them boarded Freedom and we discussed how we were going to
lift the monster aboard.  For a quarter of an hour we tugged and pulled with gaffs - but,
as they say, "where there's a will, there's a way". Eventually we beat it and the glowing
fish slipped in, filling half the boat. I was drenched with sweat and almost crying. Finally arriving at Waihau Bay, a crowd had gathered and when the fish tipped the scales at 235.2kg (518.52Ibs) a new blue
marlin mark had been set at the Waihau Bay Club stand up tackle. "How did you
manage on your own?" was the buzz of the day. The line wad tested at 22.2kg making it
an 0/1 capture on Ocean Invader skipper Steve Haddock radioed saying it was one hell
of a feat and perhaps not done in New Zealand before. A blue marlin especially, the fish
that literally spools you or breaks you off - and nobody steering the boat - luck, mixed
with a little skill and perseverance, had been on my side that day.


May 1996 - Alain Jorion
New Zealand Fishing News Magazine.
Copyright: NZ Fishing Media Ltd.
Re-publishing elsewhere is prohibited