Angler. Competitor. Adventurer. These words come to mind as I listen to Capt. Norm Isaacs talk about his life on and off the water, and it’s been quite the journey for this big-game top gun. But unlike most great stories of blue water and behemoth fish, this one starts out in Kansas.
That’s where Isaacs was born, but he grew up in Texas, where he began fishing from riverbanks for freshwater game while tethered to his father with a rope. (Actually, he’s not sure when he started fishing, saying he can never remember not doing it). As Isaacs’ skills progressed (and his father untied the rope), the young angler began competing in nearby bass tournaments, with purses nowhere near the likes of the big-money payouts of today. “I almost covered my expenses,” he recalls.
Unfortuately bass fishing overlapped with his other passion, baseball, and being a standout he was drafted by the New York Yankees right out of high school. The future athlete was “running hard” in those days and liked to have a good time, but it was a ruptured forearm muscle that ended his professional baseball dream in 1964.
As in all great comeback stories, just as the door seems to be closing on the final chapter, another door is ready to open. Around the same time his baseball story was coming to an end, Isaacs got the chance to try bluewater fishing off the coast of Texas with his brother. On that fateful trip, the attraction of the open ocean got Isaacs’ attention like a brush-back pitch. His eye-widening bonk came in the form of a 400-pound blue marlin that took him to task. After fighting the fish and feeling its power, he told himself, “No fish is going to do that [to me].”
The new door was open. But fishing for a living didn’t always pay the bills, so Isaacs, who’s also a pilot (I told you he was an adventurer), began a cargo-transport business out of Brownsville, Texas, while still fishing every chance he got: fly, get paid, go fishing, and repeat. By late 1967, the now-exclusively saltwater angler opened his own charter-fishing outfit and quickly learned about chasing and catching marlin while still getting tossed around the deck when big blue came calling. “I’ve had the leader on a 600-pound marlin and got my ass kicked,” he says, chuckling. But underneath that chuckle is a reverence for what many top anglers consider the toughest quarry in big-game angling.
Over the years he explored fisheries far from his home state, eventually reaching Hawaii and the mega-marlin waters of Kona. The attraction of being able to fish just minutes outside the harbor and still catch a mammoth marlin drew him in like a billfish on a daisy-chain teaser. Within six weeks of his first visit there in the early 1980’s, Isaacs moved his charter operation to Hawaii, eventually taking his clients with him. His charter outfit was a family business, with Isaacs handling the flying bridge of their 35-foot Bertram, Sundowner, while his son, Darren, ran the cockpit. Together they had built a solid reputation as a top-notch billfish boat.
This article originally appeared in the March 2007 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.