By Capt. Bart Miller
Two mysterious hours passed in our slow motion tug of war game with Tu Tu. There were brief moments when I could make out the marlin clearly; blood still trailing ominously from its gills, but the color had changed to a light watermelon red that faded quickly in our wake. The great fish seemed to be getting weaker, bleeding out, probably the reason we were able to stay attached to her. The 80 pound tackle was nothing more than ultra-light tackle to this fish. The crew and my anglers could occasionally make out the great shadow at the other end of the line, but they could not get as clear a picture as I could from my vantage point on the bridge.
Once again, the questions were raised from the deck: How big? Is it a grander? They demanded. I knew that soon enough they’d be able to make up their own minds, however their persistence spurred me to finally blurt out, “If you chopped off its fucking head and weighed it, that part would weigh a thousand pounds!”
There was stunned silence from the cockpit. No one said a word. The realization of what was at the other end of the line left crew and angler alike in a near trance. We worked the fish closer, and the angle on the line decreased. We all sensed the same thing; we were going to see her; she might even jump. The fish was a mere forty feet away.
When the mass of her enormous body raised from the sea in a display that brought her out of the water to her anal fin, pink blood washed from her mouth, and the muscles in her flanks rippled and flexed as she fell back, splashing a geyser of water in all directions. Her monstrous head thrashed from side to side, and she blew out her huge stomach, disgorging its contents. Reef fish, large and small, were strewn over the surface and floating every direction. The amazing volume of partially digested fish created a large oil slick, and gross stench permeated our surroundings. This experience was so incredible I never mentioned it before because I felt no one would ever believe me.
After seeing the great fish, no one on board doubted what we had to deal with. This fish was twenty-five feet long, and we had it on an eighty-pound rig, deployed for 200 pound tuna. A strange new fear came over me unlike any I’d ever known before. I was afraid of making a critical mistake and losing this incredible opportunity. I’d been hunting for a ‘tonner’ and I now had one far larger hooked up near the boat. This was the realization of my quest for a truly great marlin. Over the years, I’d worked hard to learn all I could about these fish, their movements and migrations, the ways to appeal to the very biggest that lived in this infinite water. I’d experienced thousands of battles, some lost, some won, and understood the best attitude to carry into the fight was one neither positive nor negative. Never wish things to happen, accept your limitations and try to simply stay in step with whatever occurs. Stay mentally focused and learn to react to each move the fish makes and avoid mistakes by being sure your gear and your crew are up to any challenge that presents itself. Put yourself in the right places at the right times of day and use all your skills and experience to tip the scales in your favor…but enough business philosophy!
It was now four hours since we first hooked Tu Tu, the honored grandmother. The fight had changed; she was no longer headed out to sea. We were forced to follow her back to where she first took the bait meant for tuna only one fifteenth her remarkable size. We were going back to the sacred fishing grounds off Milolii. Her shadow was still visible like an apparition some 40 feet under the surface of the clear, blue water. We lost some line as she kicked her massive tail, but she always came back and settled in at the same distance, just beyond our ability to reach her. We could watch, but we couldn’t touch! The frustration was overwhelming as we knew she would also destroy any preconceived notion of big blue marlin grow.
We were back at the B Buoy, and the fish headed directly for one of the commercial skiffs. Trying to let the commercial fishermen know I was hooked to a big marlin, I waved frantically at the fisherman in the stern. He took a moment to acknowledge our presence, but the look on his face told the story…. “You’re on your own!” I realized that we’d get no leeway from this busy village fisherman. Fortunately, at the last minute the fish turned and avoided his boat. If my taught line had crossed that of the commercial tuna hand liner, then mine would have been cut off, no doubt about it.
I was tired of the game of ‘dog walking man’. The singularly unspectacular fight was bordering on monotony. I began to think that if I had only put out my “stump puller” outfit, an unlimited class rod with a 12/0 Zane Gray reel loaded with 130 pound Dacron and a 700 pound leader tied to a 12/0 double strength forged hook, I could apply enough drag to finish the fish. It certainly wouldn’t diminish the magnitude of the accomplishment, and the heavier gear might let us turn her head and lift her to the boat. Damned if we weren’t stuck trying to do the job with the wrong tools. It forced me to walk a tight rope, staying with the fish, applying only as much pressure as the eighty allowed, hoping we could hold her until she bled out, hoping the sharks didn’t home in on her blood trail before it was over. I counted my blessings. At least she stayed in easy range, and was visible. If she slugged it out deep and died there, we’d never be able to lift her lifeless body to the surface with this outfit.
We were now six and a half hours into the fight. Suddenly, the angle on the line changed, and she came to the surface. I reversed hard, the gaff was lifted from the deck, the wireman readied himself and angler pumped harder. This was it, the moment of truth we’d been waiting and working to achieve. She was about to slide up the starboard side, her massive black eye looking tired to the point of appearing drugged. I slid in and out of gear ever so carefully, trying to let her finally be transferred from the rod to the wire man’s gloved hands.
At that exact moment, a flood of positive energy coursed through my consciousness. “We’re going to catch her! She’ll easily weigh some 3,000 pounds! She’s 25 feet long!” My brain almost screamed in my ears…. “My God, she’s twice the size of the 1656!” How can any man be so lucky? The photos that will be taken, the stories that will be told! Too bad it wasn’t a more impressive fight, just a huge fish that finally bled to death.
Suddenly, there she was, lying on her side, her colors still vivid. Broad bands of copper hues, the jet-black back, blues and purples and a pearl white belly all shown like she was lit from within. The wireman stretched out over the gunwales, reaching for the leader when inexplicably his posture changed. He turned his head away from the fish and looked up at me with abject disappointment in his eyes. He was trying to tell me something, but all he could do was mouth the words; no sound passed his lips. I looked at the great marlin and watched in horror as Tu Tu weakly paddled her massive tail ever so slightly, slowly propelling her huge mass down and out of view. She was gone, forever!
I bounded from the flybridge, reaching the fighting chair in several steps. I grabbed the line, which had broken near the rod tip, I inspected the line at the break, no chafe or wear was visible. Bryan, who had so valiantly fought the great fish for all these hours, sat heart broken, literally hurt with the grief borne of defeat. The crew was disgusted to the point of being sick, both mentally and physically. There was nothing to say, nothing that would have changed the moment or relieved the private sense of hell we all felt.
The crew recovered rapidly, having fought and lost before. For Bryan, it was another story. He’d made a mistake, one we’d learn about later when we reviewed the battle. He had put his strong thumbs on the spool at that last moment in an effort to put just a little more pressure on the fish to get it to the wireman. He could never have known the little extra would cost us all, not only a fish of a lifetime, but a fish of a million life times, a fish only a privileged few would even glimpse, never mind hook and fight.
I returned to the helm and pushed the throttles of the Black Bart up to cruise, pointing the boat toward home. It was late, and it would be dark before we made the harbor at Kailua Kona. The breeze freshened, like it had early in the morning when the day was fresh with promise. Then I laughed out loud, not so loud that it could be heard in the cockpit over the drumming of the big diesels, and smiled. I was remembering the thought that danced through my head, as we had the great fish alongside the boat. One in particular I could literally see in my mind’s eye just before we lost her the image of our pictures being taken alongside the triple grander. The flash bulbs were brightly dancing. The cool Hawaiian night and fresh trade winds calmed me for what was not to be.
While you might doubt the size of the marlin recounted in this very true story, I can assure you there are specimens swimming the oceans of the world that far exceed any that have been brought to boat by hook and line. The 1,656 pound Pacific Blue Marlin I caught in 1984 was aged by biologists at 32 years. This was determined by analyzing the annular rings of the otoliths, small bones found in the skull that provide the accurate method of determining age. It is believed that blue marlin can live to be 50 years of age.
As a result of many discussions with biologists who study the great ocean predators, I firmly believe not just age, but genetics plays an important part in determining the potential size of each large female blue marlin. Some are genetically predisposed to grow larger and faster than their sisters. In conclusion, the largest marlin that I have seen caught over the years, mine as well as others, had their stomachs full of deep water sea life. This to me indicates that they probably spend the majority of their senior years feeding deep where clouds of easy prey are abundant. We encountered Tu Tu using a live aku fished down twenty fathoms, probably the upper limits of her deep water foraging habits.
Maybe someday Tu Tu will be caught and smash the all tackle record. She is certainly there for the taking.
Great Fishing, aloha, Capt. Bart Miller.