On Greatness and Agony
Illustration by Scott Pollack
The sea was glass-calm. A mid-summer’s sun shone bright over cobalt waters that featured hints of purple. Our Blinky IV fishing team was trolling a 500-fathom contour line that lies about 65 miles offshore of Ocean City, Maryland. The scene was set for magic to happen. You could feel it like you can feel electricity in the air before a lightning strike.
Behind our 43 Viking Express we trolled two mullet dredges, and a few dozen of these brined beauties glided just under the surface, reflecting and shimmering the blazing sun off their perfect swimming bodies. Several dink-size ballyhoos skipped in our wake behind the dredges, an open invitation for a white marlin to have lunch with us. And way behind this setup sat the big kahuna, a super-secret blue marlin lure that we’d had past success with and felt was a good thing to add to our angling arsenal on this day. We’d attached the lure to a heavy-duty Shimano 80-wide reel and dropped the rig back—way back.
To this point our trip had been solid with several white marlin seen earlier in the week, as well as a small blue marlin. There was also an assortment of dolphin and a handful of wahoo in there, too.
I took my place on the starboard gunwale, staring intensely at the back of the boat, looking for a swiping bill, a flash, perhaps some lit-up pectoral fins streaking across the spread, indicating our quarry had come to play. Across from me sat Dave “Numbers” Nockler, an angler with lots of big-marlin stand-up battles under his belt. He was also our go-to guy should “the man in the blue suit” take an interest in our super-secret, all-catching lure.
Blinky’s owner, Capt. Tom D’Angelo, worked the boat over a fathom curve as Nockler, the rest of the crew, and I waited. And waited. The area felt fishy, but nothing was happening. We made a quick call on the satphone to sea-surface-temperature guru Mitch Roffer in Miami just to double check the status of the water we were fishing. Roffer informed us that we might want to investigate an area about eight miles south from where we were trolling. With no real prospects in sight, we hauled in our gear and hotfooted it to new grounds.
In short order, Nockler, D’Angelo, and I all saw the super-secret lure rod twitch. “Dave, you see that? D’Angelo asked. “Yep,” Nockler replied. “I saw, it, too,” I called out. After another couple of twitches, the massive rod bent over like a pretzel and the drag on that 80-wide reel began screaming. This was a big blue marlin, the one we’d been hunting for all week. All season. All of our fishing lives.
Nockler jumped to the rod with the speed of a cheetah. In short order he had the rod in hand and was getting ready to give the fish some heat. “Ready,” Nockler called out. We all added that we were also good to go. As Nockler engaged the marlin, its behemoth body erupted from the ocean in an explosion of spray. Gregg Blanchard, a Louisianan who was calling the play-by-play from the tuna tower, yelled out, “It’s a big fish!”
A couple of hundred yards back a massive head violently slashed back and forth. This fish was at least 700 pounds, possibly more based on our first look.
Suddenly he charged the boat, and D’Angelo throttled up the twin Detroit Diesels as the fish attempted to pass us up on the port side. The Viking shot ahead as Nockler held tight and tried to keep the slack out of the line. This was our moment for angling greatness. We would not be denied.
But no one told the marlin. The big blue made a quick cut and doubled back across the transom. In the process, he caught a bit of slack line around his tail, and soon after came that dreaded sound. Pop! It was a sound that was unbelievably devastating. We’d lost our lifetime fish, and as our marlin greyhounded away, complete with our super-secret lure hanging out of the side of its mouth, our crew went painfully silent.
Following a chorus of the popular refrain, “I can’t believe it,” we got back to the business of fishing because that’s what we do. We’ll be back for that marlin. He’s still out there. And he owes us a lure.
This article originally appeared in the March 2011 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.