Great Marlin Hunt

Chasing Game Fish in the South Pacific

Fishing, Fishing Travel, New Zealand

Living on the Great Barrier Reef, Chasing the Big Girls

Mitch wrangles a 600 pounder

Cairns is a really cool seaside tourist town and the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, one of the seven greatest natural wonders of the world. It is also the jumping off point to some of the biggest black marlin fishing in the world and that’s why we are here; to catch and release a black marlin of grander proportion, the pinnacle of every serious game fisher-person’s dream.

The crew surprised Gaz and Lori with new sun hats, which have somehow already been misplaced

After our 13-day ocean crossing from Vanuatu, we savored the four decadent days lounging around the Cairns Marlin Marina, restocking our larders, ordering spare parts and just getting a lay of the land. The crew of November Rain, Captain Gaz and myself and our deckies Aidan and Mitch, enjoyed long forgotten pastimes such as live sports telecasts, professional haircuts, tackle store shopping sprees, and nice restaurant meals. And after four months of subsistence shopping in the desert of Vanuatu, K-Mart just seemed to me to stock the world’s most desirable goods. In addition to the plethora of tour operators offering everything from Scuba trips and helicopter flights to Jet-ski crocodile adventures, there was a massive daily farmer’s market selling produce that I had long forgotten existed, upscale dining and cheap eats, a night market hawking trinkets and kangaroo pelts to boozy tourists, and an army of Uber drivers to ferry us around town.  Every morning, from our marina berth, we watched as scores of massive catamarans loaded with scuba enthusiasts departed for the reef, returning in the afternoon, their passengers all smiles and sunburns. At the end of our dock, three derelict trawlers had been repurposed into on-the-water seafood bars, serving beers, crayfish and prawns by the kilo. There was a real nice vibe to the whole place.

Mitch takes a Jet-Ski tour out Crocodile watching

While we were in Cairns, Gaz took advantage of every chance to strike up conversations with other sports fishermen, walking the docks and making a pest of himself, asking for advice and inside information as to how to catch the local bait, and clues to where the marlin might be found.  Some were quite helpful, others were more tight lipped, preferring not to share local lore with interlopers. 

Gaz had warned me that we would be camping out on the reef for the next eighteen days.  Since Australian Biosecurity had confiscated all our meats and veg upon entry into the country, we needed a big shop to restock.  I expected to fill two large trolleys, and so, recruited Aidan aka Horse, to accompany me as a cart pusher and bag handler.  Upon arrival at the  supermarket, we discovered the store had done away with shopping carts (apparently stolen once too often), offering shoppers only flimsy tote baskets as well as marginally larger plastic bins with  pull-up handles and flimsy plastic wheels.  After trying to jockey several of these carts all at once, Horse and I settled upon a new plan; he would guard the pull-carts in a stationary spot in the store, while I would cruise around the aisles, filling up one cart, then returning to his camp site to swap out my full cart for an empty cart. Astonishingly, Horse had to repeatedly shoo other shoppers away from picking through his stockpile of groceries, perhaps they thought it was the bargain bin. Once our provisions list was checked off, we managed to maneuver all nine carts to one of the only two cashiers (we decided self-check out would be too daunting) and packed the groceries ourselves in our own recyclable bags. 

The next challenge was to get the twenty sacks of groceries and two cases of beer to the curb, where an Uber could ferry us back to the marina.  A kindly shopper helped me tote all the bags outside, his wife guarding our purchases at the curb, while Aidan went off to purchase the beer.  Fortunately for us, the Uber that arrived was a Toyota Land Cruiser with plenty of room. For a paltry $8.00, the driver loaded the boot himself, carted us the short two blocks to the marina, and then unloaded the ute for us, even offering us mints as part of his service.  The marina’s trolleys were nowhere to be found, so we had to haul several loads of groceries down the dock ramp at low tide, to the very end of the finger where November Rain was berthed. Even so, it was so much simpler than our weekly shopping in Vanuatu that involved five different markets, dilapidated micro-taxis, a channel crossing in a tin boat and a steep hike up the hill to the house . 

It was time to put our lines back in the water, only this time, we are trolling for the bait we will need to have our a shot at a grander. The preferred fish for skip-baiting, we were told, are scads, which are like candy to finicky marlin.  The usual routine most boats take is to spend mornings fishing for bait behind the reef, (when the sun was high enough to avoid the coral heads), and afternoons out in the deeper blue water, fishing for marlin.  There are a lot of restrictions, penalties and fines on where you can and cannot fish, as well as were you can drop anchor, so we have seven different areas charts provided by the Oz government to keep us out of the pokey. 

The first day out on the reef was disheartening. We trolled two diver lures on our way north towards Lizard Island,  a long 50 miles in breezy 20 knot winds.  We hooked only a single lonely scad, late in the afternoon.  While it was a decent bait, about 8 kilos, we needed heaps more. We have been told that we might use up to thirty baits in a single day while trolling for marlin. (Apparently sharks and wahoo account for most of the losses) At this rate, we will need to fish for bait for an entire month, just to have enough bait for one day of marlin fishing. Mitch expertly gutted and gilled the scad, then stitched up the gut cavity and creating a towing harness by threading the waxed string through the eyes, gill plates and throat latch. There’s quite an art to it and Aidan and I are impressed. The lone fish went into our new fish freezer. 

Mitch helps a perfect specimen scad show off his good side

Despite the rocky-rolly first night on the reef, everyone slept well enough. Perhaps we were still inoculated against the winds and waves after our recent thirteen day open-ocean voyage. We headed out the next morning to fish for some more bait, this time desperate enough to bring a small stinky barracuda aboard.  It’s the first time ever that we have polluted our bait freezer with such a poor quality fish.  Later on in the day, we picked up another nice size Scad and a couple of smaller fish.  Things were looking up!  If we keep up at this rate, we will only have to fish for bait for another week before we stock up enough for one day’s marlin troll.

By the end of the third morning of trolling around the reef, we had only seven baits on ice, three of which were decent sized scads, the rest were small barracudas and long tongs.  Gaz decided it was time to try for a marlin.  We headed out to the open ocean, away from the calm afforded by the reef.  As Gaz ramped up our trolling speed from 4.5 knots to 7 knots, suddenly we began catching more bait, reeling in two large travelly and two more scads in less than half an hour.  Perhaps we have figured this bait business out after all. 

Mitch rigging a scad

Aidan rigs a bait under Mitch’s tutalage

As Aidan and I watched, Mitch and Gaz set up the outriggers to troll the skip baits.  Two 37 kg game rods were secured into the game chair’s rod holders. The lines were fed back to the outriggers and tied up with rubber bands, designed to snap under pressure. Large loops of slack line dragged behind the boat in the water, giving a marlin plenty of time to swallow the bait before sensing the weight come on. The baits are dragged behind the boat at 5 knots, generating a big splash as they skip along the surface, hence the term “skip bait”.  Alternatively, a weight can be sewn into the bait and it can be towed under the surface.  These baits are called “swimmers” as they appear to swim below the surface when towed. If the swimmers are not rigged correctly, they spin around like helicopters in the water and are useless.

Swim Bait Rigging

Gaz rigging up a swim bait

Even though Gaz gave us a quick run down of the drill for a hook up, I expect it will be complete chaos and pandemonium, should we be lucky enough to stumble over a marlin.  We trolled one of the larger scads and one small barracuda for about three hours in rough seas.  At one point, something big and brown (most likely a shark) had a pass at the scad, but peeled off without a nibble.   

The following day, the Jamaican Bob Sled team earned their gold medal.  We were trolling one 8 kg travelly and one recycled 6 kg scad from the previous day.  Mitch was up in the tuna tower, Gaz, one flight below on the helm. They both spotted something rather large on the sounder screens at around 40 meters down. As they watched out the back, a huge black female marlin came up and crashed the scad, ripping it off the hook without tripping the line out of the outrigger.  There were four or five smaller males in tow behind her, hanging around like dogs, just in case she decided to spawn. She raced across the prop wash to the other bait, mouthing the travelly before spitting it out. The males followed closely behind.  Mitch quickly grabbed another pre-rigged scad out of the freezer, clipped it onto a rod and tossed it out behind us.  Almost immediately, she grabbed the bait, and after a few tense seconds, and Gaz’s okay, Mitch set the hook.  

The line began screaming off the reel. I jumped in the chair, strapped myself into the harness and got settled with the rod and Gaz began backing up as he started chasing down the fish. At first, we feared maybe one of the smaller males had taken the bait, but just a few minutes later, we saw her leap out the water in the distance and we knew we had a real big one. I was able to regain line quickly and after only twenty minutes into the fight, Mitch was able to grab the leader from the rod tip.  That’s when she woke up and gave us a spectacular show, up close and personal. Mitch had no choice but to drop the leader.  Everyone’s jaws dropped at the magnitude of her size and Gaz yelled out that it was an 800 pounder. There was a lot of jumping and screaming on the deck as we couldn’t believe we had actually hooked what we came here to do, especially on our first fish.

She went deep after that, peeling off all 100 meters of the 130 pound nylon and took me down to the Dacron backing on the 37 kg reel. At that point, I had to ease up on the drag as the Dacron was only rated for 80 pounds. That made it even easier for her to gain another 300 meters off of me.  It was another two hours and twenty minutes of pain to get the leader back again.  By this time, I was completely exhausted, legs wobbling so much that I could barely stand, muscles cramping, and soaking wet from the spray washing over us as Gaz backed up into the waves. As soon as Mitch had the leader again, Aidan cut the line behind him. The big girl gave another tremendous full on out-of-the-water leap right at the back of the boat, and Mitch had to let her go. This time, Gaz is hollering, “Holy F@#! That was a grander man!” By next week, she’ll be 1,200 pounds and 1,500 pounds the week after.  A fishing quote “If you don’t weigh it, you can’t say it” but we have some poor quality photos as shoddy evidence, so we’ll let them speak for us.  Gaz and Mitch estimate that she was somewhere between 800 and 1,000 pounds but I think we will have to pass the photos around to more experienced captains and get their consensus.  Gaz has waited over thirty years to see a fish this large, yet Aidan went from catching his first 70 kg marlin to the pinnacle of marlin fishing in only four months.  Mitch’s appreciation of the fish can best be described as very animated, as evidenced in our video clip. I think we have peaked and can go home now. This fish will be a hard to beat and will be long remembered.

She’s a really big girl, but takes a lousy photo

We were lucky to get the leader back and cut her free before sunset, as we had to navigate back through the reef before dropping the anchor for the night.  The rest of the evening was spent reliving the blessed event.  I believe it’s like having a baby, the pain was so awful during the event, but the minute it’s over, you are ready to do it again. 

Day three of fishing was a bit of a bust, but on day four, bite time came on at the predicted hour, 2:30 pm. Aidan nicely played a 600 pound black that devoured a scad skip bait.  His fight was much shorter than our previous catch, and after fifteen minutes, Mitch grabbed the leader the for the first time. She treated us to some leaps right at the side of the boat. Mitch had to drop the leader, and she went deep, but came right back up after a few minutes. Mitch was able to hold on for the second chance, when she danced around a couple more times. This time, Mitch was able to keep control and brought her to the side of the boat, where he snapped off the line.  This girl was smaller than our first but still quite respectable and earns the title of the second largest fish this boat has ever seen.

Aidan keeps a tight line on a big girl

Mitch wrangles a 600 pounder

Bait fishing is still challenging, more so as we move further north towards Lizard Island.  We are catching maybe two or three scads a morning.  (I’m curious as to how scads got their name as have not come across scads of scads. Scants would be a more fitting label, considering their scarcity.) The boys tried jigging on the bottom at one point but had no success.  On the up side, we are now releasing barracuda, helping to keep the odor down in the fish bin. Day five was a bust, and we are down one scad after a wahoo chopped off the tail.

Gaz has decided to continue north, even though he’s not happy with the color of the water.  Apparently, it’s not blue enough and marlin prefer blue water. And while the entire ocean appears all the same color to me, he is gifted with eyes that see inperceivable shades of the color spectrum.  After eight days at seas, the crew would enjoy sinking their toes in sand, and so we are heading for Lizard Island for a tiki tour in the wop-wops .  Speaking of lizards, the gecko that Gaz dispatched to the deep a couple of weeks ago has left behind his legacy; his tiny prodigy have begun to make appearances around the boat and his widowed mate has claimed the head as her territory. She cowers behind the toilet whenever Gaz tries to evict her.  Gaz promises her that we will release her unharmed on Lizard Island if she will only come out, but she’s remains unconvinced. (I’m actually surprised that Australia hasn’t trained its police dogs to ferret out vermin; they can do more damage to their ecosystem than illicit drugs or large sums of cash would.)

Baby geckos are appearing around the boat

Mitch, his nose wrinkled up, uttered those three little words you never want to hear on a boat; “What’s that smell?”  Once we determined it wasn’t Gassy Gaz, we began to get concerned and narrowed it down to the refrigerator motor, recently reconditioned in our last refit. Gaz tore the cushions off the bench and opened up the cover to the unit. She was smoking hot, and not the kind you want to find in your date. We shut her down and the boys discussed a lot of possibilities including poor air circulation, water pump failure, excessive use, etc.  It’s still a mystery, but I’ve been instructed not to run her so hard. My bad – I was only trying to avoid food poisoning for the crew.    

We arrived at Lizard Island in the late morning, anchoring just outside the protected marine reserve. It was nice to have an afternoon off the hard out marlin fishing, especially when radio chatter reported less than stellar action. We snorkeled the reef and I was impressed by the size of the giant clams, so large that you might imagine them snapping shut on your foot and drowning you (an urban legend that has never been proven).  The fish and turtles were indifferent to our presence and you could get quite close. A six-foot shark gave me a bit of a scare when it cruised by, and I swam back to the boat, trying not to act all panicky.  

Giant Clam

Turtle Great Barrier Reef

Turtle

There’s a swanky resort on the island and a dozen other game boats anchored in the bay, along with a few sailing yachts. There’s also the world-famous Marlin Bar of Lizard Island, open Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays after 5 pm. We are hoping they might have some WiFi so that we can catch up on the weather forecasts.  That’s our excuse and we are sticking to it.

World Famous

After Aidan and Mitch deployed the dingy, we headed for the beach bar.  The place was pleasant and open to the breeze, a dozen meters from the beach where we ditched the dingy. Above the bar was a mold of an almost 1,200 pound black marlin, which only solidified our appreciation for the massive size. It also cemented our certainty that we had caught a beast of similarly equal proportions, just three days past.  

Mitch and Aidan under the 1150 pound black monster

The Marlin Bar let us down on the WiFi, so I took a wander over to the nearby resort, where I managed to score some free WiFi just outside the hotel spa. After checking the weather on Windyty.com, I screen-shotted the forecasts, which were favorable for the next 10 days, to share with Gaz back at the bar.  What the bar lacked in communication with the outside world, it compensated for with a pool table and decent burgers.  It was a fisherman’s mecca and we hobnobbed with the some of the most elite skippers in the world, including Corey Hard, who caught over 140 marlin last season, earning him the title of Cairns’ top skipper, along with a gold pinkie ring.  I swear that Gaz was going to kiss that ring, like it was on the hand of the Pope or a Mafia kingpin. While Gaz and Mitch were a bit star struck, Aidan and I had no idea who the guy was.

Gaz and I headed back to the boat early, leaving Mitch and Aidan to party on with Corey’s crew.  At first, Mitch and Aidan insisted they would just swim back to the boat, but that was the liquor talking.  I spotted a six-foot long shark while snorkeling earlier and sober me knew it was a terrible idea to put inebriated swimmers into the water after dark. In the end, I persuaded Aidan to taxi us back in the dingy and then return to the bar to carry on. 

Bait fishing was very productive the next morning, so much so, that we could afford to chuck out some of the whiffier stuff in the bottom of the fish bin.  Our bin was now half-full after nine days, a feat that might have been accomplished in less than hour, if we were still in Vanuatu. I reeled in a huge Spanish mack, and while I was betting it’ll be the ticket to another big black, Gaz tells me it is too big to tow, our outriggers won’t handle the pressure.

Aidan sniffs the bait for freshness

Spanish Mack Great Barrier Reef

Lori with Spanish Mack

While the marlin fishing didn’t pan out that day, I managed to trap the bathroom gecko under a bucket. Captain Gaz ordered her to walk the plank, but mercifully pointed her in the direction of Lizard Island, a good ten miles away by now. I was little sad to see her swim off, but understood that if the authorities detected illegal immigrants aboard, November Rain would be quarantined until they determine otherwise, and all at our cost. 

Stowaway Gecko tries to sell me auto insurance

We skipped the bait fishing routine the following morning, opting instead for a snorkel on a reef renown for its’ large friendly potato cods.  As soon as we dropped anchor, red bass were waiting for handouts at the transom. The coral was in horrible condition, all bleached out, but the bass were friendly and we enjoyed feeding them chunks of old bait. Eventually, the potato cod arrived, accompanied by three or four sharks, which was our cue to get out of the water.

Playing with Red Bass

Just when we were starting to believe that every other boat out there on the horizon was having hard luck with the marlin bite, we discovered otherwise.  A 58 foot Riviera charter boat was anchored next to us, and Gaz rocked up for some neighborly conversation.  We were deflated to learn that they had released seven marlin over the past four days, as well as dropped a few more.  Suddenly, we weren’t feeling so hot after all.  We hadn’t even seen a marlin in the past five days.  Time to change tactics.  

The first tweak was the way we were fishing for bait.  We had been towing two small divers with treble hooks which could hook only one bait at a time.  Mitch and Gaz made up some scad lines, which consisted of several small lures with hooks strung sequentially on the same line,  potentially catching several fish at once.  This new setup netted us five small baits for the morning’s fish, not a lot, but enough to keep going for another day. 

Time to try for another tactic for the marlin fishing as well, so we switched to towing two swimmer baits instead of one and went down to just one skip bait.  Around 2:00 pm (afternoon bite time again), something took one of the swimmers, snapping the rubber band, releasing the line from the clip on the outrigger.  Whatever took the bait just sat in the water, apparently not sensing it was hooked.  We were unsure if it was a marlin or a shark that ate the bait.

I jumped in the chair as Mitch and Aidan began clearing the other two lines. As we were still driving off the line, I dropped the drag back, but apparently, it wasn’t enough.  Suddenly, there was a loud snap as the Dacron backing line broke clean off at the reel.  It was surreal moment and we were all stunned, unsure what had caused the line to snap so suddenly.  But true to our legend, the Jamaican Bob Sled Team pulled another miracle out of their keister.

From the tuna tower, Gaz spotted the yellow fluorescence nylon line under the water (I already mentioned that he is equiped with extraordinary vision) and began backing up towards it while simultaneously shouting to Aidan, “Jump into the water and grab the line!” Without hesitation, Aidan leapt over the side of the boat, swam down three or four meters (without a mask) and managed to recover the end of the rapidly sinking line.  Meanwhile, I was struggling to find my own end of the line on the reel, but it was like trying to locate the end of plastic cling wrap, the line wrapped too tightly around the reel.  At this point, we still didn’t know what species was on the hook. The line in the water was still slack, and soon as Aidan was back on board, Mitch frantically knitted the two pieces of Dacron together with a double uni-knot.  Once we were connected to the fish again, I started cranking on the reel and the minute some weight came on, a small black popped up and started dancing around the surface, just twenty meters off the stern.  I dragged the small fish to the boat within five minutes, as he was no match for 130 pound test.  I was a bit concerned that the fish was still green from the short fight, but he behaved nicely at the side of the boat and cooperated as Mitch removed the hook from the corner of the jaw, having to push the expelled stomach out of the way to do so. While it was a small fish, 60 kgs perhaps, it was an epic effort by the team and the birth of a legend to be retold for years to come.  Oh course this marlin would have been disqualified under IGFA rules, but it was good to spare the fish the burden of having to swim around, dragging one hundred meters of nylon behind him.

We lost a bigger marlin later that day after she managed to tear the bait off the hook. The following afternoon, we lost five more baits to Wahoo strikes. Desperately needing fresh bait, Gaz made a decision to backtrack, north towards Lizard Island, to a reef that had previously proven successful for bait. And since it was Friday night, we might as well drop in for another round at the Marlin Club.   

Great Barrier Reef Lizard Island

Lizard Island

As Gaz dropped the hook for the evening, a neighboring game boat invited us over for a drink. They were super friendly, offering up beers, wifi and a lesson on a different way to rig swim baits, even giving us the bait to try. Two six-foot lemon sharks keep circling the transom, hoping for a free feed. We were told they are mostly harmless as they don’t have teeth, but can still leave a nasty hickey.  (I’m sure these were the same guys that gave me a fright snorkeling a few days back.)  Afterwards, we headed into shore for pizza night at the Marlin Bar, where surprisingly, we ran into a Kiwi mate, Marcus, who was in Oz on a fishing charter.  Even odder, he was in the company of the father of Lisa, our previous deckhand on November Rain, whom I had just messaged only minutes earlier.  Gaz made a couple of new friends and now he has voices on the radio (rather than in his head) that he can commiserate with. 

It was the right decision to return to Lizard Island for the bait.  Aidan and I took turns reeling in scads and Spanish macks all morning, while Mitch gutted, gilled and rigged them up almost as fast as we caught them.  We fished until 1 pm, filling our bins again, then Gaz put the ponies into a gallop and we raced out to the blue water, to arrive in time for bite time.

Out in the blue, we crossed paths with another Kiwi, the Ultimate Lady. She’s one of New Zealand’s most iconic boats, a 90 foot sports fishing catamaran, built by Harkin Boat Builders in the mid-1990’s.  Gaz had recounted how he, then working as a crane operator, was called in to flip the hulls over during the build and had almost lost the load.  It was there he met the Harkin team, and he returned to Harkin for the initial modifications to November Rain in 2007, as well as the complete refit in 2018.  There are a few design ideas on November Rain that Gaz lifted from the Ultimate Lady, such as the enclosed pods and the fishing platform between the hulls.  (A bit of trivial; The special rubber locking drain plug in our new fish freezer was a 20 year old spare, leftover from the Lady’s original build. Harkin had squirreled it away for all those years, and our drain hole was sized to fit the last-of-its-kind plug.) Ironically, while we were undergoing our big refit, the Lady’s owner, Fred, had another boat, a 58’ ICON Formula, undergoing major mods as well. We were side-by-side in the boat shed for nine months, the length of a pregnancy, for Harkin to deliver our babies back to us.

Ultimate Lady

We spent the night on the reef alone, all the other boats had whizzed back to the Marlin Club for a tournament briefing on a competition that we weren’t entered in. Come 11:00 am, they were all back, lined up like planes on a tarmac, to pass through the narrow gap in the reef and out into the blue water.  The comp required entrants to radio in their strikes, hookups, tags and losses and so, we were eager eavesdroppers, listening in on the action, while trolling right alongside them. Gaz and Mitch, both Kiwis, seemed to enjoy mimicking the Australian twang and lingo that were on the airwaves.  The Aussies were probably doing the same about them.  To my untrained ear, they all sounded the same. 

One marlin cruised into our gear, eyeballed all three baits, then swam away without so much as a sniff.  Disheartened, we watched as another boat hooked up right next to us.  We had been out for fourteen days now and only had three marlin under our belts, and we were all beginning to get a bit frustrated. We lost a couple more baits to sharks, which only made things worse. Finally about 5 pm, a small juvenile marlin literally bit off more than he could chew when he tried to swallow a great big scad. He had it between his jaws for a few minutes, popping up to the surface, choking on it. It was enough time for us to clear the other gear and put Aidan in the game chair.  As Aidan began reeling in line, he ripped the bait out of the choking marlin’s mouth, essentially performing the Heimlich maneuver and incredibly, saved the fish’s life…… it does make a better story that way… Oh well, it was good to at least see a couple of blacks today. 

The VHF squawked out the news that twelve marlin had been tagged during the first day of contest, for the fourteen boats entered.  Some boats had tagged two or three, others none, with one tagged fish estimated at 950 pounds (If you don’t weigh it, you can’t say it, so it was probably a grander). The rest were little guys, under 300 pounds.  Sadly, one person died aboard one of the boats that day, we don’t know the circumstances, but I’m speculating on natural causes over foul play or accidental misadventure. 

The next morning, we got skunked on the bait fishing, but picked up a double of small blacks in the afternoon. It was a little crazy, as we had only planned on one angler in the chair, and so Mitch had to run around and grab the stand-up gear out of storage for me. I got my marlin to the side of the boat within 5 minutes, incentivised to action by my bare feet burning on the hot deck. Unfortunately, Aidan’s fish, and the larger of the two, fell off only twenty meters from the boat.  Still, we are stoked that our luck seems to be turning around. An hour later, Aidan hooks up to another little black and pulled him in, despite the handle falling off the reel.  Mitch wired the fellow in and I took a wave up the nose while trying to help him unhook.  Mrs. Marlin must be around here somewhere, as we keep stumbling across her suitors.  Another hour goes by, and we catch another small black male for me. The fish spit the bait right at the boat, but Mitch had already grabbed the leader, so we are calling it a caught fish. The MILF is still out there and we are coming for her. 

The radio reported that there were only seven marlin tagged in yesterday’s contest, with a 1,200 pound mama being disqualified after a four hour fight.  And while we weren’t in the comp, the fact that we had four strikes yesterday with three (okay, really two) caught fish made us feel pretty good about ourselves, even if they were really small fellows. It seems like the fish out here are at the extreme ends of the scale, either teenage boys or mature mamas.  We are out there, still looking for Stiffler’s mother. 

Today was Gaz’s Birthday and he was wishing for a day like yesterday, but it didn’t pan out.  Like juvenile delinquents at a gas station hold up, two adolescent males ripped us off of a couple of scads in the late morning.  Ten minutes later, their 500 pound baby mama did the same, taking both baits with her, and that really hurt. We hooked up and dropped another small guy a few minutes after that, down five baits in less than an hour. Three of the replacement baits were lost due to knot failures, which was knot funny.  Gaz is complaining it’s not his lucky birthday day but at least it’s not sharks stealing our bait.…And I spoke too early…. Two sharks just ate two baits. We have one more day left to fish and we are down to the last two baits in the bin.  At least there’s birthday cake tonight.

The following morning, Gaz decided to pack it up a day early and head  south, 90 miles straight for Cairns. We had only the two baits left, one of which was oversized, making it unlikely that we would score a marlin. We had been out on the reef for a total of 17 days and had not seen so much as a tree (not counting the two overnights at Lizard).  The landscape out here consists of green water behind the reef and blue water beyond it, and not a dot of land in sight, unless you count surf breaking over the reefs.  Other than a few minutes of internet on Lizard, and the sportsman’s radio chatter, we had been out of touch with the outside world. Our provisions were running low, we had been out of eggs for a week, and my guitar and the toaster were both broken, both critical items for my sanity. Yes, I think it’s safe to say that everyone was a bit sea sick, and not in a physical way. 

We travel fished along the inside of the reef on the way back to Cairns and surprisingly, picked up a few more baits, which the boys gutted, gilled and froze down for our next trip. We’ll have only four short days in Cairns to fuel up, fix up and provision up before heading back out to the reef with our visiting Kiwi mates, Thirty-Knot Tony and Steve the Chicken Man.  We made sure to leave plenty of fish out there for them, including Stiffler’s Mom. 

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