Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Canyons

I've let my videos do most of the talking so far this season, so I figured I would write a little report to describe my best offshore trip of the year. I'll begin by mentioning that everything that follows was filmed for television, and over the past several days I have watched the footage again and again and I remain in awe at the power and beauty of the blue marlin. It is truly the greatest gamefish in the world.

Once a summer, I take my cousin and his friend Jeff out in my boat to film a fishing trip for Outdoor Traditions Television, a hunting/fishing program that airs once weekly on Fox Sports Midwest. The past two seasons we have fished for bluefin east of Cape Cod and both trips resulted in vicotory.

Of course, there is a big difference between a trip to the edge and a trip off chatham. A trip to the edge is significantly more involved, difficult and dangerous then a trip east. Our target canyon, Veatch, is approximately 90 miles from shore and any trip this far from land cannot be taken lightly. Furthermore, I had been riding a hot hand all season, starting with Wilkie's big bluefin and continuing on the previous trip with Clark's double bigeye tuna, an incredibly fortuitous event.

And, all lucky streaks must at some point come to an end. I was somewhat worried that my good luck was destined to change. Furthermore, on this occassion the weather window only accommodated a day trip. When travelling to the edge, an overnight trip is always most productive as it allows you to troll the evening and first light hours when the bite is best, and affords more fishing time in general. Day trips are always a crap shoot. You could get lucky and drop in on a pile of fish, or you could miss the bite and go home with nothing. But, as a small boat canyon fisherman, you have to take what the weather gives you and make the best of it. We would leave at 2AM, in 3-5 foot seas, and head for Veatches Canyon in the pitch black night. The OI was readied the afternoon before, bait, ice, food, beer and camara gear were stowed, and in the middle of the night we motored out into the sound.

The ride south was long and slow in the lumpy seas. At about 615, we began to set the spread on the eastern edge of Veatch Canyon. The water jumped from 68 to 71. The temperature charts showed that just a few miles south it would reach 74. An excellent blue water break. Long off the t-top, I ran a bird followed by an islander chain and a ballyhoo. Off the riggers I ran rainbow spreader bars and green machine spreader bars. The flat lines would get islander/ballyhoo combos. An 8 line spread was targeted. Amazingly it was never reached. As I set out the fourth line, drag sounded on the green machine bar and we were tight to our first tuna, less than 5 minutes after slowing the boat!

With camera rolling Jeff settled in to battle the yellowfin. In 20 minutes the fat 60 pound fish was on the deck and our day was off to a hot start.
A round of high fives and handshakes were in order. After a 4 hour boat ride, it's always nice to get the pressure off with a fish. And beyond that, it looked likely that we would get a tv show out of this trip. The spread was reset and we circled back towards our waypoint where the tuna bit. Or, I should say, the spread was almost reset... Before I could get out the 7th line we came tight on the long bird islander chain. This fish quickly identified itself as a monster with a blistering intial run! My initial thought was "bigeye", but the fish never really sounded. Tony's friend settled into the harness to do battle with the fish. After a 20 minute battle, we were greated by the surprise of the day, an 80 pound+, 6 foot wahoo! The blistering run and the landing of the wahoo were both caught on film.
It was quickly becoming clear that we were on the bite! Radio chatter indicated that other boats were not experiencing our luck. Clearly the hot hand that I've had for the bulk of the summer hadn't yet cooled. The spread was set out again and before all lines were out we picked up another big yellowfin on the long bird/islander chain. Then again the lines were not all in before we came tight to a fourth yellowfin, this smaller fish was released.

Finally I was able to set out the spread in its entirety as the action momentarily slowed. We pushed the boat south along the countour line of the canyon. Just as we began to talk about sandwiches, the drags began to sing! "One on! Two on! Wait, there a fish on the inside rigger! Three on! Fish on the flat line! Four on! Fish is still coming on the green machine bar. He 's crushing it! ...Slow the boat down. We're gonna have lines cross... Let's get these fish in..." Four rods went tight, four 60 pound yellowfin found their way into the boat, all filmed for tv, including footage of the last yellowfin slamming and missing the green machine bar.

At this point, we'd been fishing for roughly 2 hours and we were loaded with fish. The captain elected to take a gamble. I told the crew it was time to go marlin fishing, and given the luck we were having, maybe, just maybe, we would get a bite. Out went the marelin spread. Moldcraft wide ranges on the outside riggers, Black Bart on one inside rigger, Moldcraft Super Chugger on the other. A second Black Bart on a flat line and an Big Islander/horse ballyhoo on the other flat. The bird/islander chain would remain long down the middle. The spread was set and we cranked up the speed just a bit. With the lures, chugging, diving and spitting just the way they should, the OI trolled south into warmer water.

Ten mintues into our troll, my well deserved cold beer was interupted. The Super Chugger was ripped from the inside rigger, but never came tight. The crew turned and watched the spread. "Nothing on the chugger. Must have been a marlin that popped it. I don't know what else it could have been." Then suddenly, the flat line rod with the islander/ballyhoo bent and the line began to peel off the reel at an incredible rate. "Fish on! Fish on! We're tight! Holy shit that's a big fish! Push the drag up before we get dumped. Clear those two lines!" By the time we got Tony set up in the harness, it was over. The hook had pulled. An inspection at the boat showed that the hook on the bait had been straightened. Only one kind of fish can straighten a hook like that. I knew we had lost a blue marlin.

"Fuck, I've never seen a fish straighten a hook like that." I reset the spread and we continued to troll. Watching the spread. Watching the spread. C'mon eat you bastards... As I watched, my gaze just happened to fall on the outside port rigger. And while I watched that pink and purple Wide Range dance across the suface, a beast of a fish blasted the lure, and in a shower of white and blue it dissappeared into a hole in the water.

"Fish! Fish! Blue Marlin! Blue Marlin!" The screaming drag left no doubt. Lines were cleared, the camera was rolling. My cousin was strapped into the harness. "The fish is coming up! Holy shit ! It's a monster blue!" The 400+ pound marlin greyhounded out of the water as the drag on the 50W tiagra wailed in defiance. The drag never stopped. The fish completely exerted its will on us, taking line when it wanted to, jumping clear out of the water as it ran.

"I'm going to need to chase this fish or it's going to dump us." I brought the OI to port and picked up speed and Tony tried to gain back line. Suddenly the line went limp. "Shit. I think he's coming at us. I truned the boat away from the direction of the fish and ran away from it. "Keep cranking Tony." 10 Seconds. No weight. 20 seconds. Nothing. "Fuck I think we dropped it. Crank it in man." I slowed the boat. F bombs sounded from all members of the crew. We had lost the monster. Tony cranked in the line. Hopefully we hadn't broken the fish off and could at least retrieve the lure.

"ZZZZZZZZ. What the fuck?!! It's still on there!!!!" Pandomodium returned to the OI. The marlin had been swimming at the boat for no less than a minute. We came tight again and the fish shot off on another blsitering 400 yard run, churning up the water with its powerful acrobatics. It is unbelieveable the speed with which a blue marlin runs. The line is pointed into the water in one direction and the fish in jumping out of the water at a completely different angle. Meanwhile, the drag is still peeling out. They are so fast and so strong that they can put a loop in the line while still pulling out 30 pounds of drag. "Push the drag up," I said. We were already past strike but we needed to tire this fish. The extra drag was applied and the line was making that "tink, tink" sound that comes when the pressure is ultra high. Fortunatley, it worked. The fish slowed. And then we began the long process of back and forth to bring the fish to the boat.

An hour after the fish first bit, we were at the leader. I grabbed the leader with gloved hands and marveled at the weight and power of the fish. I could barely haul it up from the depths. Finally, I grabbed the bill with my hands. The fish shook its head, beating my arms again and again into the hull of the OI. The lure hook was straight through the bill. I tried to yank it out with pliers. It was through the bone. I couldn't extract it. My cousin wanted to keep it. "Let's take this fish. I'll mount it." I want to let it go I said. Shit. The fish shook and i dropped the pliers. Straight down to the bottom in 900 feet. "Do we have another pair of pliers?"

Now the tide was turning against me. Jeff wanted to keep it too."Let's just put this thing in the boat. We'll get some great footage of it for the show. And Tony will mount it." I relented, something I now regret. "Ok fine, if you guys will mount it, we can take it." With that, we put a gaff through the great fish's gills and all four men hauled it over the side.
This was an absolutely incredible fishing trip and regretably I must remember it with some sadness, for this marlin never should have been kept. It's a mistake I will never make again. Once one experiences the power off the blue marlin, there is no comparison in all of fishing, and to kill a fish so amazing is criminal. From here on out, the OI is billfish catch and release only. (Unless of course its a swordie!)

Ever since I starting fishing the canyons, I dreamt of the blue marlin. It blew my mind to think that the leaping billfish caught in carribean waters on ESPN were available to me, in my own boat, off cape cod. To me, this landing represents my greatest fishing accomplishment. It is the fish I always wanted, and I landed it on my boat, on my rod, on the lure I rigged up, without a guide or a recommendation. I hope that someday each of you someday land your own blue.


hallas said...

Epic! I'm totally speachless

Jesse Lance Robbins said...


i returned from my long day on the water to find this story and am speechless as well. i feel your pain at the loss of a great fish. i have been unable to revive large trout before and it's not a great feeling. i'm sure you've heard lee's words, "a a great gamefish is too valuable to catch only once," or something to that effect. and it's true i suppose. but like you said, you will forever remember that day and that fish. when you see it on the wall you can respect it and a part of you will be in that fish. you, sir, are indeed a fine, fine captain.

Andrew Wilkie said...

I can tell by the way that I just read this post that the words flew very freely from your head and onto the keys of your computer. I missed this trip, and I will never forgive myself for it. When you're hot, you're hot my man!

Morrell said...


Clark Winchell said...

A well executed post effectively conveying the emotion, fatigue, elatedness and general epicness of the trip. I hope to see one of these beast one day and to send her back to waters from which she came...