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White Marlin Lightning Strikes Twice

As told by Mark “Hammer” Hill

Sometimes there’s simply no explaining the things that happen out there.

Photo: Dominic Sherony

white marlin

One of my best friends is named Scott Walker. Like me, he is a fishing boat captain, and has been for a long time. Scott and I know each other from Ocean City, Maryland. We’ve been fishing there since we were teenagers, kids really. His uncle ran a boat named the Huntress which was one of the top boats around back then, so of course I was always trying to pick those guys’ brains, because that’s what you do as a young fisherman, that’s how you learn and get better. This industry can be a secretive one, but the Huntress guys were one of the crews that actually shared some tips, and taught me a lot. Scott too. So the two of us came up fishing the same way and learning the same tricks from some of the older guys, and we became very close in the process. Likeminded, you might say.

As we got older, Scott stayed on with his uncle and worked the Huntress for a while, and I was mating on a boat called Carter’s Ark. For me that lasted until one night onboard I heard a loud thump in the dark around 2 a.m. The captain had fallen out of the tower, hit his head, and died. It was a shame. But that’s how I ended up running Carter’s Ark for five years. Then I moved on to the Alehouse, a 53 Monterey, and traveled the world on that boat catching fish and having adventures and leading a pretty good life for a young man.

While I was doing all this, Scott stayed in Ocean City and ran his uncle’s charter boat, though he spent a lot of time in Hawks Cay as well. We kept in touch all the time though, we spoke on the phone a lot, we were good buddies. He’s a ton of fun at the bar, and when we would see each other we’d get drinks and go play golf and all of that, lots of good memories.

In the late ’90s, I was married and had kids and I wanted to be closer to Ocean City and some of my other family. So I left Alehouse and took a job on Liquidator, a 57 Scarborough that ran out of Ocean City. Ironically, that boat used to be called TheNatural, and Scott actually was the captain before me. So we thought that was just kind of a funny little coincidence. 

In 1997 Liquidator entered the White Marlin Open. By the last day we had caught five white marlin, and then towards the end of the day another fish came up on the short ’rigger, and we got a hook in it. A sixth white marlin. It was a pretty average fight, it came up relatively easily, and when we got it alongside the boat we saw that it had a tag in it, right behind the head. I’ve tagged I don’t even know how many white marlin. One year we tagged 687 of them down in Venezuela. So nothing special about seeing the tag. We clipped it off, retagged the fish, and now it’s the end of the day so we start running home.

Back at port I filled out the tag and mailed it to The Billfish Foundation. Usually what happens there is the foundation will take the info on the card and it helps them track the fish, and then they send back a certificate to the fisherman to signify a release. But they’ll also send information to the guy who set the original tag, and let him know who caught it, where it was, what time it was, et cetera, et cetera.

That information used to take about a month to get back to the fisherman. And one day I was sitting at my house and the mail came and it was from the Foundation. It was always interesting to read those cards, because sometimes these fish, it feels like they swim halfway around the world before they’re caught again. You just never know where in that great, big ocean they’re going to pop up next. But when I read this particular card my jaw dropped. The fish I caught had been caught by Scott, on the same boat I was on back when it was called The Natural, within a mile of where we were fishing, exactly one year to the day earlier, almost to the hour. That’s like lightning striking. More rare than that actually. I mean, it simply doesn’t happen. I saw Scott at the bar later that day and we may have done a few shots over that one—I don’t really recall—it was just so damn cool. Some of it was pure, dumb luck, sure. But you know, we both grew up together fishing, we both have the same techniques, fishing the same spot. It’s like maybe we have the same brain for fish after all these years. Great minds, you know? But I mean, I’ve never heard of anything like that in all my life. And I doubt I ever will again.

For more information on The Billfish Foundation,

Mark “Hammer” Hill, 50, lives in Topsail Beach, North Carolina. He says his body is beat up from 25 years of hardcore fishing, but he’s trying to break back into it. Judging from this story it sounds like luck just might be on his side.

This article originally appeared in the November 2015 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.