Often it is the ones that get away that we remember the most, dreaming about how big it might have been, or what if's. And, on this particular occasion it was no different except that I don't think that any of us on board actually seriously thought that we were going to catch the fish. But all the same it was very memorable and extremely enjoyable and had everything that we love about marlin fishing.
This story comes from late February sometime in the early 1980's fishing aboard the legendary sport fishing boat White Otter with regular angler Stuart Allison and some friends from the UK. During that particular season there were so many schools of skipjack and juvenile yellowfin tunas all the way along from the Punguti ya Juu Island to Chale Point. The plan each morning was to reach the drop-off as quickly as possible, catch some I've baits and put them out. With so much bait around there were also plenty of black marlin and the occasional blue and striped marlins as well. Generally speaking if you could get live baits down before 10 am you were as good as guaranteed a black marlin. Then between 10 am and 2 pm you may well get strikes but very often the marlin were only interested in killing the live bait and not eating it. After 2 pm there was often another positive period with good strikes late on.
In order to best protect our marlin fishing reels we used old star drag reels such as Penn Senators and Ocean City (This one was an Ocean City), for bait catching. On this occasion we had reached the drop off where there was a big school of skipjack tuna and very quickly we had a multiple hookup. Since White Otter has a high freeboard I was half out of the boat with one leg on the transom spray rail just above the waterline, the other still in the boat and both hands free to grab my next live bait ready for rigging from underwater. I heard one of the old reels start to scream and somebody shouting "Marlin!"
I responded, "Hold on, I'l have this bait rigged in a jiffy."
"Too bloody late, he's already on!" I heard Stuart shout and this little reel was screaming. I looked up to see about a 100-kg black marlin going absolutely berserk behind the boat. Now, all very exciting but the reel didn't have more than about 150 - 200m of 50 lb line on it and there was no trace,, no double line, just 50 lb monofilament direct to the hook, which was a # 3 O'Shaughnessy stainless steel hook inside a 3 inch white plastic squid.
One of our other boats, Broadbill, fished that day by my late mother Maia, was also working the same school. The two crew were heads down in the cockpit rigging livies totally oblivious to what was happening elsewhere. Fortunately my mother was standing by the helm. She saw our black marlin coming straight for the back of Broadbill and realised if she didn't do something it was coming in the cockpit. She slammed the boat into gear and gunned the motors with an angry retort from Usama, the captain until he saw our marlin looking at him over the transom. They made it clear just in the nick of time.
Kadi, the great captain of White Otter on those days had to use every bit of horsepower and experience available to him to stay within 100m of that marlin, which jumped non stop for an hour. White Otter's old engines in those days were wonderful 2-stroke Foden diesels, which when you gunned them produced plenty of black smoke. It was really quite spectacular and all of us on board loved every minute as you can see from the picture (Photo by Stuart's buddy John), Finally after 1 hr 10 min, when the fish eventually got tired and stopped jumping the line parted close to the hook.
This was indeed a fish that none of us will ever forget, it wasn't the biggest fish but it was beautiful and finally broke free to live another day.
With a lifetime spent working on and with the ocean I have developed a deep love and empathy for all things fishy. After more than 30 years as a professional charter captain and a doctorate in fisheries biology i shall be writing and various subjects associated with marlin fishing and fisheries in general.
P.O. Box 348,
Ukunda - 80400
Tel" +254 - 722 - 796198