Black Marlin Boondoogle
If you’ve always wanted to catch a huge marlin, Australia is still a great bet.
Huge fish! Right ’rigger? Right ’rigger!” shouted Captain Chris Miles, a.k.a. Sharky. A marlin bigger than any fish I have ever seen rose out of the water and engulfed the bait skipping off the port ’rigger, the release clip sounded like a rifle shot! I grabbed the rod and stumbled into the fighting chair.
The marlin charged away. Sharky backed down in hot pursuit, and line peeled off the reel as the massive fish rose in one awesome jump after another. The initial 45 pounds of drag seemed to be merely an annoyance so I inched the lever up until the fish was pulling 75 pounds. She didn’t slow a bit! The power is impossible to describe.
To put line on the reel I’d crank myself up out of the chair until I was balanced precariously, butt in the air, then pull back to gain a precious yard or two, repeating the process ad infinitum. After what felt like an eternity the deckhand grabbed the leader and, as if on cue, the huge fish rose halfway out of the water, a towering presence, before being released.
“Easily a thousand pounds, mate,” Sharky yelled from the flying bridge. “You got your first grander!” It was an experience that is seared into my memory as vividly as the day it happened.
Bluewater fishermen all share the desire to battle a massive billfish, a marlin so big all the other fish stories can be laid to rest. But where should you set your sights when you decide to stop dreaming and take up the challenge? One place consistently offers the best odds: the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Queensland, Australia. It produces grander black marlin, year in and year out, but to fulfill your wildest fisherman’s fantasy you have to start planning now for 2014.
In a recent conversation with Sharky, he confirmed that black marlin season starts there in early spring (autumn here in the States) as these great fish gather in the Coral Sea and begin a southward migration down the east coast of the continent. Massive females that can easily break the half-ton mark and diminutive males that rarely exceed 350 pounds come together in an age-old dance that involves feeding and procreation. Only a handful of captains are recognized for their prowess in this very specialized fishery and Sharky is at the top of the heap.
“The big fish season starts well north of Cairns,” he said. “By mid-October, when the Lizard Island Marlin Tournament is held through to late November, Cairns is the center of activity.” I fished with Sharky the second week of November a few years ago when he was running the 55-foot Maritimo factory tournament boat and the fish were scattered from the Middle Ribbons to due east of the city. We trolled for three days using what seemed to me like an abbreviated spread of only three baits, all freshly rigged, rather large skipjack, small tuna, scad, and a species that looked just like the king mackerel we catch here in the States. One was run short off the right ’rigger, the second about twice as far back off the left, and then one well behind the boat off the center ’rigger. The baits were all rigged to skip on the surface behind single 22/0 circle hooks using leader systems that have got to be the strongest I have ever seen. During that time we caught seven black marlin, the five smaller males falling for rigged scad and two grander-class females hitting a rigged 10-pound skipjack on the short right ’rigger and the large mackerel on the center ’rigger.
As the run moves south of Cairns the big females become more and more scarce so your target date with fishing destiny for 2014 should be in the October-November time frame. “The big girls are still here every year,” Sharky reiterated, “and in good numbers.” If you want your chance at catching the marlin of a lifetime, this is the place—and now you know when.
This article originally appeared in the December 2013 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.