It had been almost a year since my last marlin fishing session on the outer reef, which resulted in 5 strikes without a hookup! We did manage a 250 pounder on a Rapala lure fitted with single hooks but that really didn't count as we were chasing 'Big Julie' not her kids!!! So I was pumped and raring to get out there this year after hearing about so many XOS Blacks stretching anglers arms. Comments like 'Best season for big fish since the early 80's' and 'There's so many Granders out here you could walk on them' drove me to the brink so I rang my old mate Bill Spooner, (of Australian Fish Mounts fame).
Bill is one of the original marlin boat skippers and worked many seasons chasing big fish. The best he did for his clients was 2 x 1100 pounders in one day, and that does take some beating. We've fished together out on the reef, outback and in local rivers for thirty years. He's good company too spinning yarns about the early days of the marlin fleet and the personalities it attracted. Bill is also the weigh master for big captures around Cairns, his most recent weigh in was a black marlin over 1100 lbs, but I suppose I should keep quiet about that??
I saw the weather was going to be 'glamour' six days before my day off so started preparing the Bransfords boat, a 31 foot Trophy with all that's needed to do the job. Problem was my Furuno sounder was playing up but due to the top service from Markwells that was fixed just in time. Even though I have all the marks previously fished a sounder assists safety and marks bait fish. Baits, good quality scaley mackos were rigged in advance and all tackle re rigged ready to go. Last problem was to find my trusty Black magic stand up harness that had gone walk abouts but after spending a few hours looking it was well and truly lost so a new one was snaffled from the shop. Without this harness I would not attempt 24 kilo stand up for big blacks.
We met at Yorkeys 6am on the Thursday and after re fuelling set off for Linden Banks, our favourite stomping ground. Bill and I, along with my son Matt had won two stand up tournaments fishing these grounds and felt confident plying these cobalt blue waters. Its where George Bransford and many other fine skippers pioneered marlin fishing in this region and always holds some monsters this time of year. Our 1 1/2 hours run in 6 to 8 knot winds soon passed as we discussed tactics along the way. Low tide was around 11 a.m. so we had the chance of an early bite and a late bite which gave us time to chase a yellowfin, mahi mahi, mackerel or a wahoo for the table. As we rigged up D'nD Wog heads with gar the southern end of the Banks loomed up, it all looked so perfect!
Trolling at 6 knots we had two Wogs out and two Rapala deep divers rigged with large single hooks, a good combination to tempt pelagics and, if we hooked a billfish on the Rapala's the single hooks had a good chance of holding. Our Scaleys we put out to thaw in the live well in preparation for the tide change. A cuppa coffee was in order as we trolled and chatted away looking for current lines, birds, bait or any surface activity, but it was dead. Nothing was happening and time marched on to around 10am-ish when we put out a skipper and a swimmer in search of Mr.Big.
Almost an hour passed without a sign as we headed to the opening trolling some shallower country before coming back out to 200 metres. We then headed north out to deeper grounds opposite Opal Ridge, a place where I had hooked a good one a couple of years ago. There was a fault line that created current, which in turn seemed to keep bait there. Right on cue, right on the mark a good sized black hurried around out skipping scaley and then engulfed it and headed north after turning. Bill and I saw all this action and I grabbed the rod to freespool this ravenous marlin. Thumbing the spool I felt a sudden burst of energy as the fish sped away so gradually upped the drag towards 'strike'. The Tiagra 50 spool was fair humming by now so I upped it to full strike and the fish was on, jumping, and he wasn't small!
Bill manoeuvred the boat to put me beam on and I had the harness on a ready to go when the line went slack. Oh was a feeling, a sickening feeling!!! The estimated 650 pounder had fooled us somehow, as they do, and feeling the leader was frayed for the first metre or so told us he had the bait well in there, but the 20/0 circle hook didn't properly connect. Marlin do that to you sometimes and all we could do was get the baits out again and keep trolling.
We circled that spot for another hour and nothing, it was soon 2pm and we decided to head south towards the southern end of the banks, with a few deviations to check out bait schools and current lines. Time marched on and by 3pm we were a little dispondent thinking we'd had our chance. A nearby gameboat had hooked up to a smallish fish around the 200 lbs mark and we watched him for a while, which lifted spirits thinking we may have another shot. Then...it happened. Just like a bolt of lightning this huge mother of a marlin jumped towards us with one of our 5 kilo scaleys in his gob laughing at us! I was driving and Bill said 'you take this one Keith - its a horse'. We swapped places and I grabbed Bills rod, a Shimano 50, 2 speed graphite and a Backbone 24 kilo stick with only a small roller tip. My harness was on in seconds and the fish was well and truly hooked jumping all over the shop, going ballistic. I knew this was going to be a fight and a half.
Bill gave me every opportunity to keep maximum pressure on this rampaging fish, keeping me on the quarter and backing down to minimise the amount of line out. My right arm was like jelly after half an hour of constant winding but the black magic harness gave me some reprieve as I could lift my arms off, lean back and rest now and again. The fish didn't give up and I began to up the drag beyond strike to keep maximum pressure on. Both the marlin and I were tiring, it was a question of who could last the longest.
He jumped again, this time horizontal making a tremendous 'splash' as he re entered the water, more line poured off the reel...shit!!! It had been almost two hours now and the routine was set - gain line, lose line, keep the pressure on. Track him down, then he changes direction and heads north. At one point we had him just under the boat and I managed to roll him over, surely he was getting tired now!!!! Another series of jumps broke the stale mate as he shook his head in anger greyhounding away from us. This was a powerful fish and Bill changed his call saying it was a 'good 900 pounder', which made me a little more nervous. This was a magnificent sight seeing all these jumps from a giant black marlin and trying my best to remain upright on 24 kilo stand up tackle.
Three hours had passed and it was almost dark. Following another couple of skywards leaps the fight had settled down again and I was feeling a little sore in my back and knees, but there again it was a satisfying feeling of having done a hard days fishing that was about to come to some sort of a conclusion. Bill did a top job of driving 'Trophy Hunter' and as we upped the drag again we made a big effort to bring this beast alongside. The 24 kilo Pre-Test mono was 'humming' with the strain and we had the leader out and the double followed, but there in the dark it would have been foolhardy for two sixty somethings to try and handle this beautiful animal. In our minds we had caught him and made the decision to just cut him free. He was beaten and made one last dive for the depths and that worried us as sharks live there!
Sunsetting the reel I pumped like fury as Bill used the boat to maximise upwards pressure.and he began to come towards us. Quickly gaining line he was soon just beneath the boat and Bill grabbed the line and broke him off. He gave a last, mighty kick of his tail and away he went. This 3 1/2 hour fight will be long remembered by the pair of us, and to see a 900 pound plus black jump more than 10 times and hover under the boat was a priveledge, an amazing experience and my fish of a lifetime.