It was early November in 1996. My girlfriend Debra and I flew to Coolangatta from Adelaide to stay at my father’s apartment building, the Bay Apartments in Rainbow Bay. During our stay we went to all the great theme parks: Dreamworld, Seaworld, etc. and, on Sunday, visited the fisherman’s wharf at the marina at Southport. Anyone who has ever been here on a Sunday afternoon would know what a fun place the wharf can be. Whilst there I checked out a couple of the local fishing charter operations, and immediately decided to apply for a day’s fishing. I picked the best looking boat with the best looking fishing tackle, and left my name with the skipper to ring me when he intended going out. As it was quite windy at the time, leading into cyclone season, I did not receive a call for a few days.
Eventually the phone rang and the skipper advised me that we would be heading out the next day. He had a full complement of clients that were Japanese and wondered if I still wanted to go. Although my Japanese was limited to the word “konichiwa”, and communication would be difficult, I instantly agreed. It would be Melbourne Cup Day, Australia’s biggest horse racing day, that I would be missing, but the opportunity to go offshore fishing was impossible to resist. Up until then I had caught fish to a maximum of ten kilograms, but nothing bigger, and hoped for some luck.
The next morning (after a sleepless night) I drove north the 30 kilometers to Southport Marina. There I met the deckie and the skipper and my Japanese crew mates. They were all close friends and a young lady was also with them. Communication was indeed difficult but they seemed to warmly accept me when I kindly offered “konichiwa”–“hello” in Japanese. I have always found non-English speaking people most helpful when you attempt to use their language.
With speed that still amazes me to this day, I pounced upon that massive Penn rod/reel as if it were my own, and struck with some force. I instantly felt the weight of a fish and decided that it was definitely not seaweed or something. As I furiously wound away, I looked at the Penn Fish Exterminator fishing reel in my hands and attempted to immediately familiarize myself with all its knobs, levers and buttons. In attempting to wind up the drag, my line slackened and thought I had lost all line weight. Gloomily, I advised the deckie that I had dropped it, knowing I had blown my chance. The skipper wound the engines down to a dull murmur and all was quiet.
Suddenly, to the right hand side of the boat deck, about 40 meters away, a blue marlin, bigger than any live fish I had seen in the ocean, launched itself away further to the right in a mad speed dash while trying to throw the squid type jig hooked in its mouth. POW! I immediately took up the slack, whilst the marlin proceeded to strip great lengths of line away from my screaming reel. I managed to lever the drag a bit tighter but there was no way I was going to turn this fish yet. I could not control the line at all, so the deckie hooked a harness belt onto me. It soon became apparent that this also, without anchoring me, would not help me control the fish. Eventually the deckie hooked me into the game chair that was sitting in the middle of the deck, exactly for this purpose. Funny, it had never occurred to me that the chair I had first seen, assuming it was for sunning oneself whilst fishing and enjoying a beer, was for the purpose of catching game fish. Now I became locked in its embrace.
For the first 15-20 minutes the fish proceeded to run and run, launching itself many times, twisting bizarrely while trying to throw the hook. We all hooted and screamed as the fish put on a display– just like you see in the Fujitsu ads. The fish then went deep underwater, and as it peeled line away, I could feel that the line was scarred from many battles won and lost. If I got too overexcited, my line could simply “ping” and the fish would be lost, even though it felt like 100 kilogram line! I tested that Penn’s drag system to the limit, and the fish began to relent. I finally started to get some line back, although it was not easy. My crew mates were yelling in Japanese, urging me on. After about 50 minutes we finally began to see flashes of color. My forearms were lactating and burning from the exertion. My left hand was so cramped, I had to pump the rod with my left forearm instead–to give my hands a break.
When the marlin was nearly at the surface, it suddenly shot off again and dived way, way deep. Groaning loudly from exertion, I was powerless and had to give it back more line. The fish proceeded to do this another two or three times, each burst agony to recover, until it finally floundered, exhausted, near the surface. The deckie and the skipper grabbed it with gloves on the “bill”, and heaved her aboard. This was the biggest and most beautiful fish I had ever seen, even after seeing dolphins close up whilst surfing. I ran and got my camera from the cabin, and gave it to one of my crew mates to take a few photos. I grabbed the marlin by its huge tail, as it was far too heavy and I was too exhausted for anything else, and the Japanese gentleman proceeded to take my photo. That was it, a photo of me, holding onto something undiscernable.
I have been hooked on fishing ever since. For the rest of the charter I lay in the cabin, totally exhausted, wondering aloud how even professionals could catch and release twelve 1,000-pound fish a day. Meanwhile, my crew mates proceeded to watch both trolling reels intently, so as to be the first to hook up with the next big, blue Australian marlin. By days end they had three medium-sized flatheads between them. We landed later that afternoon, around 2 p.m., at the wharf. I bid my crew mates a fond good-bye. They had taken a few photos and probably sit back now, from time to time, recounting how the likable maniac from Australia caught the biggest sushi they had ever laid eyes upon. How he fought the beast and won….
I piled my exhausted limbs into the small hire car and proceeded south through the normally packed Surfer’s Paradise. For some reason the streets were empty. A beautiful day, perfect beach conditions, and the streets were empty? Later I realized it was because of the running of the Melbourne Cup, and not because the world had stopped and I was dreaming and had never really actually caught that marlin!
The most disappointing thing, if you like, was the fact that I had returned home empty-handed. There was no fresh fish of any description for the master fisherman to cook up on the BBQ for his father and the women and guests. All I had was a tale about how a relatively inexperienced game fisherman caught the fish of his life–hooked, landed and photographed. But who would listen anyway to another fisherman’s tale lauding about the enormous length and girth of the near record breaking fish, a story told by most men and colored by their own environment? In my case it was true. I had the photos to prove it, and the large souvenir hook, almost straightened by the long fight!!!