A South Carolina-based crew goes toe-to-toe with its first grander.
Photo courtesy of White Marlin Open
Thousands gathered to see this once-in-a lifetime fish.
“Tom, do you have the binoculars?” I asked as the 58-foot Viking No Problem calmly cruised into Ocean City, Maryland’s Harbour Isle Marina. She was flying a blue-marlin flag and had her sights set on the White Marlin Open’s (WMO) weigh-in station just a few slips down from where our boat was docked. “Hurry,” I replied, “there’s something big sticking out of that boat’s cockpit. Really big.”
Tom handed me the binoculars, and I tried to make out what I was seeing as the boat turned beam-to our slip. I don’t have eagle-eye vision these days, but I could make out a tail. Actually, it was only part of one hanging over the gunwale. As the whole fish came into view, the tail seemed to span the width of an average-size man’s outstretched arms. All of the nearby competing anglers and an ever-growing mass of spectators could sense that history was about to be made, while I wondered where this Myrtle Beach, South Carolina-based fishing crew found the monster marlin. No Problem’s Capt. Skip Opalko recently gave me the play-by-play.
Photo courtesy Scott Lawrence
The team was fishing in 750 feet of water in the northeast corner of Baltimore Canyon, about 60 miles off the Maryland coast. “We found a piece of water that had bait, contrasting color, and current,” Opalko tells me, noting that the situation looked “fishy” enough that he was determined to work that area all day. Luckily, he wouldn’t have to wait that long.
“We had a mixed spread of lures,” he said, adding, “We were fishing nothing but lures—the mates wanted to try it.” Having caught a nice-size, but short-of-weighable white marlin during the previous day’s fishing, the crew was hopeful that they’d find a contender.
Photo courtesy Scott Lawrence
This 1,062-pound blue marlin demolished the WMO's two-decade-old tournament record of 942 pounds.
As the lures danced in the clean lanes behind the transom, one plastic, a black-and-purple colored offering from Aloha Lures, got bit. Well, sort of. No one actually saw what had taken the bait, Opalko recalls, “But it started to walk away, like the fish was saying hey, I ate a peanut.” That didn’t last long, however, as a few seconds later the fish felt the sting of the hook, took off, and started to smoke the reel.
The marlin peeled off about 600 yards of line on the 80-pound-class outfit then showed itself, jumping clear out of the water during its initial run. With angler Bob Ferris set to do battle in the fighting chair, the crew had cleared the decks, yet the anglers were still unsure of just how big this marlin was.
“I thought it was maybe 600 or 700 pounds,” the captain says, recalling his first view of the marlin. “It’s hard to judge from that far away.”
For three hours and five minutes, the team fought to close the gap between them and the behemoth blue. Opalko, Ferris, Mark Becker, No Problem’s owner, and the rest of the team finally managed to make up a lot of ground and get the big blue to within 75 yards of the boat, and on several occasions, the mates got hold of the leader. But this blue marlin wasn’t going down yet.
“We got the leader fairly quickly the first time, but we couldn’t budge it,” recalls Opalko, adding, “[The fish] stayed pretty much about 50 yards behind the boat the whole time.”
Ferris kept the pressure on while Opalko backed down No Problem at the massive marlin. Nearing the three-hour mark, the fish made two big runs of about 100 yards each. By the end of the second run, Opalko says the big blue just kind of rolled on its side. “It was just done,” he adds. The team boated the marlin, but they still weren’t taking guesses of how it would do at the scales. The boat’s GPS showed that the vessel had traveled 6.76 miles in reverse chasing the fish.
It took about an hour for the WMO weigh-in staff to configure a way to get this mammoth marlin off the boat and onto the scale. The block-and-tackle system used to weigh fish was raised to its highest point and its limits were tested as the billfish came up. There was a lot of strain on the gear—even the heavy-duty cabling securing the tail stretched. With a fork length of about 140 inches (almost 12 feet), the marlin’s bill nearly touched the dock.
As for me, I peered through the binoculars one more time to see the scale’s readout. “Tom, it reads 1,062 pounds,” I said. With a tournament-record-setting 93.5-pound white marlin weighed in the day before this grander blue, Tom chuckled, turned to me, and said, “I guess we’re going out for wahoo tomorrow.”
This article originally appeared in the April 2010 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.