A Blue Marlin Experience
By Captain Paul Dunn
When you wet a line in the Florida Keys anywhere off the world’s third largest barrier reef system you should be prepared for “anything”, or you may never see what “anything” was. I have lost many fish without ever knowing for sure what I lost. Several times after a long fight I was steadily losing, I remarked that I would be satisfied if I could just see what was beating me before it broke away, but was not granted that wish.
Standard protocol for catching a blue marlin starts with a large, beamy boat and several hundred gallons of diesel. Stack on a couple dozen large rod and reels and innumerable artificial baits and a freezer full of carefully selected naturals. Install the perfect adjustable fighting chair and have a correctly sized bucket rod harness ready. Spend several months training an enthusiastic crew to work in precision following many hours of sea time experience. Select a young, strong, agile mate that can quickly rig any type bait and leader big fish. Study the known best locations and season for marlin and have current sea surface temperature intel along with all local knowledge you can garner. Many have done all of this and still never caught their sought after marlin.
Or, you could use your 15 year old 23’ Parker center console, invite a couple you have never fished with before, carry your 30 year old Penn Int 12T reels with 40 lb mono, take a few packs of small and medium ballyhoo, a bucket of Islander lures that still look good after 25 years, sign up for a dolphin tournament and just go fishing.
On Saturday May 25th the 4 of us did just that and this true story, captured in photographs, happened.
Two live aboard couples from Boca Chica Navy Marina signed up for the Navy Morale, Welfare and Recreation sponsored dolphin tournament. We were sailors leaving our homes at the dock and using Captain Paul’s Parker fishing boat to depart predawn to be beyond the reef in 600’ by the sunrise lines in the water start. On the way out in around 300’ running hard we saw a sailfish off our starboard clear the water chasing baits in 6 or 7 lunges. With a glint of dawn light on the horizon and the adrenalin pump surging our spirits we were really excited.
6:40 sunrise and 4 lines in the water for dolphin on a scattered weed line around 680’. We developed our team work with a few small dolphin boated and clearing of many “weed fish” hook ups. Paul rigged baits and directed Marcia who became a quick study on setting lines and weed clearing, while Ted ran the helm and monitored the electronics. Kitty scanned the area for interesting dolphin holding debri.
8 am and a hard hit on the flat line that bent the 5’ rod more than I thought it could take and we were hooked up to something big. Ted had abandoned the helm to Kitty and fought the rod out of the gunwale rod holder. Initally we guessed a big bull dolphin and the line melted off as the fish ran out and deep. I scrambled to get a simple waist belt on Ted, a young active duty pilot from the Adversary Squadron at Boca Chica, and started clearing the rods and deck with Marcia’s help while my wife managed the helm.
Ted was now stand up fighting a large fish with the small Penn Int 12T and 40 lb mono of forgotten age.
My mind raced as to strategy as the boat dance around the center console boat by angler and crew began.
Constant changes were necessary at the helm to follow but not cut off this fish. Shouts of advice were freely given along with warning to not touch the drag. Ted was young, strong, excited, and a quick learner who listened well. With half the spool emptied and no sight of the fish, we were 30 minutes into the fight when it surfaced and showed itself for the first time. This was no bull dolphin. It was a billfish!
No one could believe what we had briefly seen as it went deep and took more line.
Now what do we do became the next topic of discussion. This was a dolphin tournament. There were no prizes for billfish and we had already lost most of an hour of limited fishing time. I let everyone know that this was a chance of a lifetime and in my 70+ years of life I had never released a marlin from a boat I owned. If successful this would be a never forgotten memory for all onboard, so we maneuvered and encouraged each other for a little over an hour until this magnificent creature could be brought to the leader and with gloved hands on the bill be seen up close and personal. The blue/white blunt head Islander was removed from the upper left jaw with a dehooker. A broken off longliner hook and a 2’ piece of attached wire was removed from his flank. After photos and slow resuscitation, noted by strong tail movements and head shakes, this young blue was set free to live and fight another day.
Be forewarned, he will be larger, stronger, and wiser from these encounters, and he may be a grander by the time you are fortunate enough to hook up with him. This time the stamina and excitement of a young angler, the experience of an old captain, two attentive and helpful women aboard, and the gift of God’s blessing allowed us to share time with a truly magnificent creature in his great blue aquarium, mother ocean.
Crew and Captain Bio
Lt Ted Reeves, active duty jet pilot, licensed sailing instructor and licensed USCG captain stationed with the Adversary Squadron at Boca Chica Naval Air Station lives on his catamaran sailboat.
Marcia Kreske manages the Navigator Bar and Grill at Boca Chica Navy Marina. Marcia is also a licensed USCG Captain.
Captain Paul Dunn, a retired Navy Captain and a licensed USCG captain, and his wife Kitty spend 6 or 7 months on their sailboat and fish their Parker center console when weather is good and no fresh fish are in the freezer.
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