While Norm and Darren were busy dropping back baits on marlin, specialty TV programming was growing in popularity, and eventually Isaacs’ wife, Julia, an on- and off-camera TV veteran, approached them about producing a fishing show. At first Isaacs wanted no part of it—after all, he was fishing 250 to 260 days a year, was his own boss, and was doing okay. He repeatedly responded with, “Leave me alone and let me go fishing.” Finally in 1986, after two years of saying no, he reluctantly agreed. But following the pilot shoot, the producers felt the professional narrator wasn’t working out and turned to the captain and his laid-back, easy-to-listen-to voice. The audience on the local NBC affiliate in Honolulu immediately grew, finally attracting ESPN, where Big Game Fishing the World With Norm Isaacs airs to this day.
And his “world” includes trips from Midway and Mexico to the Great Barrier Reef and Bahamas. But just when you think that it’s all been enough for this been-there-done-that captain, a new idea comes to his head. What if the best billfish anglers and crews around compete in an extreme-format tournament over the course of a season in exotic locations? Isaacs’ idea becomes the wildly popular and televised (on ESPN, of course) Billfish Xtreme Release League, or BXRL. It’s a ten-team, seven-destination event with prize money in the seven-figure range. The format requires teams to tag and release all billfish, but with strict guidelines regarding tag location and where the leader can be cut and penalties exacted for broken lines, bad tags, poor leader cuts, and the like. Isaacs says that typical biggest-fish-wins tourneys don’t provide “a good measurement of skill.” The BXRL rewards consistency over the entire season.
Surely bringing all of his pelagic passions to fruition has adequately fed this captain’s on-the-water wanderlust, right?
Isaacs tells me his desire to fish is strong as ever. While Sundowner now rests in the hands of a new owner-operator, this captain currently resides in the Florida Keys, where he has a Pro Sports catamaran and is trying his hand at applying his Pacific bluewater fishing expertise in the Atlantic. And in his spare time he has a hand in the Cay Clubs Professional Fishing Academy, which offers three-day, five-day, and semester-length backcountry, coastal, and extreme offshore fishing instruction out of Sarasota, Clearwater, and Marathon. Darren handles the day-to-day operations of the academy while his dad still runs the bridge, so to speak.
What’s next for this captain, who has apparently done everything to be done when it comes to big-game angling? With the way Isaacs seemingly flows with the currents of his life, I’m sure it’ll be something involving sun, water, baits, and blue marlin, but the answer will have to wait because as we’re speaking he’s busy planning another fishing trip. Believe that?
This article originally appeared in the March 2007 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.