This is the story of one very large Black Marlin I encountered off the coast of Exmouth, Western Australia back in 2008. A fish that will remain entrenched in my memory forever!
Our story begins in Fremantle as two game boats prepare for one of W.A’s most daring blue water adventures ever attempted. The plan was to travel up the coast from Fremantle to Exmouth where we would attempt to film the tag and release of Western Australia’s first 1000lb marlin.
The vessels we had been kindly allocated by Dr Lindsay Adams were the Orca, a 46’ Cresta with an impressive sparkling, stainless tuna tower and the Wave Rider, a Black Watch 40 and one of my personal all-time favourite boats. Both these vessels were very familiar to me after encountering them and their crews in many east coast game fishing tournaments from Port Stevens to The Great Barrier Reef in my younger years fishing with my father and the crew of Born Free.
We headed out of Fremantle and pointed our bows north in search of warmer, bluer waters. Both vessels were fully loaded with tackle and fuel but only two crew members aboard each. Once we had arrived safely in Exmouth we would collect the film crew and head out to the Exmouth Plate, a notorious sea mount located around 150 miles west of Exmouth. This is a place that is rarely visited and it and other areas like it could quite possibly be the key to giant Black and Blue marlin breeding cycles here in our west.
After birthing overnight in Carnarvon, Shark Bay and Coral Bay we had now well and truly had enough of travelling and sightseeing, Exmouth was only a few hours away so we figured it was time to wet a few lines and try out all these fancy new toys we had to play with. I ran out a standard billfish spread of five medium to large sized Richter lures attached to 80 and 130lb chair outfits with a flashing witch doctor teaser to boot before reclining on Orca’s impressive tuna tower deck.
Conditions were absolutely superb as we cruised along the Ningaloo coastline crisscrossing our way along the 100 – 300 meter lines working bait schools, bottom contours and current lines. The view from our magnificent vantage point was incredible and I can clearly recall commenting to Skipper Steve Tucker about what we were going to do when we actually hooked up. Having this much gear in the water with only two people on board is seriously not recommended and generally results in chaos and shear pandemonium upon hook up.
We figured the boys next to us on Wave Rider were having similar thoughts and decided to check out their spread. I glanced over to notice they were much more sensible than us and were only running two lures and no teaser. Ha, we thought. Being so close together and us having such a fantastic looking spread compared to theirs surely we will get all the strikes.
It was around lunch time when we moved over a very promising looking bottom contour wide of Ningaloo Reef, the area was alive with bait schools and as I watched the lures splash and bubble their way through the warm, cobalt blue water I knew it would only be a matter of time before we had our first billfish strike. The only thing I didn’t realize was it wouldn’t be ours.
Tuck’s and I were having a good old chat up on the tower enjoying the view when I noticed out of the corner of my eye what looked to be another large vessel tearing up wave Riders lure spread. Upon closer inspection I soon realised that this was no mysterious vigilante at all but a massive marlin doing its best to rid itself of whatever the Wave Rider boys had stuck into it.
I quickly raced down to the fly bridge and was confronted with the rather panic stricken voice of one Skipper Steve Pavlovich booming across the radio. “Were gunna need a hand over here Nicko!” After clearing all our gear I then returned to the fly bridge where the two skippers had decided on a plan of action.
Wave Rider didn’t have a chair harness on board or anybody to handle the fish at boat side so it was decided that I would be transported from Orca to Wave Rider with the chair harness in an attempt to land this beast of a fish. Great theory but think about it, a risky bow to bow transfer in mid ocean while hooked up to an enormous rampaging billfish? I had my doubts but was also confident in both skippers abilities not to get me killed.
I clipped the large and extremely awkward chair harness around my chest and shoulders, put on my leader gloves and made my way to Orca’s massively high bow sprit. Tuck’s and Pav moved the boats into their final positions and there it was, a 10 – 15’ leap of faith required by yours truly. Orca’s bow is considerably higher than Wave Rider’s so there was definitely going to be a bit of free fall action going on before landing.
Anyway I made it no dramas at all and as I stepped down into the cockpit I couldn’t believe my eyes, here was this big, burly looking bloke with a bright red face and a 60kg chair outfit jammed in his crutch. I quickly positioned him into the chair and clipped up the harness, his face began to regain colour and I’m pretty sure he also started breathing again at this stage. The man’s name was Tim from memory; he was Steve Pavlovich’s cousin and a shearer from down south.
Pav chased the big marlin down with all the skill and expertise of a Cairns marlin fleet skipper and big Tim handled the heavy tackle like he’d done it all before. There are two different fighting styles of most billfish species, the sprinters and the sluggers. The sprinters tear across the surface leaping and carving up the water which tires the fish fairly quickly whereas sluggers head deep and conserve energy by swimming along deep thermoclines and currents. These sluggers use everything they can to their advantage and are generally much more difficult to land than sprinters.
Fortunately for us this fish was a sprinter and a magnificent one at that, after around half an hour or so of her going absolutely nuts all over the ocean it looked like we were going to get our first shot at the leader. Now this is where things go pear shaped, just as I was about to place my hand on the leader Pav informed me to be very careful as it was only 300lb! “How big is the hook?” I quickly enquired. “It’s only a 9/0!” Was Pav’s reply.
This fish was probably close to 800lb plus and all I had to hold onto it with was a 300lb leader and a 9/0 hook? I took the leader gently into my gloves and began to work on the fish as best I could, I can remember thinking “This fish might die if I take too long” I gingerly kept pinching away on the leader pulling the massive marlin closer inch by agonising inch.
The marlin was still very strong and continued changing direction making things very difficult for me on the leader and Pav on the wheel. After what felt like an eternity but was probably only 5 minutes or so the beautiful, big marlin suffered a massive heart attack and died. One second I was staring into her beautiful, big brown eye and the next she was gone. Her colour began to fade as she simply rolled over and floated to the surface, her huge bill extending from the ocean in her final salute. Fare well my old friend fare well.
All big marlin over 150kg are female and considered to be an ocean treasure that are truly respected by all who encounter them. This fish was no exception and will remain with me for many years to come. There was no celebrating for me or for her, just a lasting memory and a great old story.
We eventually made it to the Exmouth Plate with the film crew by the way but only managed marlin to around half the size of the fish encountered on the way up. Like most fish giant Marlin also seem to know when the cameras are out. Here is some amateur footage taken towards the end of the battle.
Calm seas, clear skies