Walking aft to our tower, I saw our Ocky strap bowstring tight and the trolling line singing. Shocked and alarmed I jumped back shouting, “Hey Jude. Oi! Come look. Something huge is hooked up.”
We nearly always troll a fishing lure when sailing during daylight hours. In the past, we also dragged them during the night, but too many lures got taken by Noahs even after we devised a simple alarm consisting of an empty tin that fell to the deck whenever we had a strike. Whether then or now our setup has always been a simple handline. Attach the lure by a few metres of wire trace to a swivel then 50m of 100kg tested monofilament that's attached by another swivel to nearly 100m of small-diameter braided sash cord that makes the initial haul-in a little easier on our hands. The boat end is attached to a strong Ocky strap that held in a bight of line that only lets the strap stretch to its maximum length without breaking, and seeing how far it stretches is something like watching it weigh the fish. A normal-sized fish usually just takes the catenary out the line, but when motoring south over some of the world's best fishing ground on a bright Sunday morn, we had just hooked a monster.
We didn't go near it. Any second something could snap and flick back into an eye. “It's stretched tighter than when we hooked that fertiliser sack.” I reminded Jude of the time we hooked a big woven plastic fertiliser bag that nearly stopped our boat when it popped open. Just to be sure it wasn't another bag, I cautiously approached the line and tested its tautness then tiptoed back saying, “It's a real monster. Let's drag it for awhile and hope it gets free.”
So we did. The white line a tightrope you could walk on. For the next couple of miles we took turns searching the sea with the glasses but the sparkling sea hid our monster. Then in the briefest second, it suddenly rose close enough to the surface for me to see a long sleek dark body and long bill, which sent me racing for our video camera and calling, “It's a marlin or sailfish!”
Once when leaving Cocos Keeling with a similar fishing rig we hooked a two or three hundred kilo black marlin. In those days Banyandah had two masts and we attached the trolling line to the smaller mast's support wires, but stopped doing that after the black marlin nearly pulled it over. These days we attach the trolling gear to our new stout tower.
For a good 20 minutes the video recorded a rather boring scene of blue sea and bowstring line which eventually had me giving it a few serious jerks to wake the fellah up. But whoever was on the line was happy to tag-along, sometimes racing to one side then the other. Not once did it jump free of the sea so we shut down the recorder and simply waited. And so did our monster, for another good hour. Completely bored now, I took matters in hand. Damn! I hate getting sucked in to battling big fish.
Jude was assigned the all-important task of head camerawoman in addition to her regular duty, which is to keep the gathered line away from my body in case the beast makes a run I can't turn. With a serious face, she uttered a few words of encouragement then followed that up with a stern warning to be careful. Nodding I would, I took hold of the braided sash cord and started hauling. Once started, I try to keep it coming. Slacken off and the beast might turn and run. The idea is to force the creature up to the surface where its powerful tail is less efficient. Steadily, hand over hand using the strength in my arms I pulled, all the time dreading the beast might run. But it didn't. So I kept yelling, “Come on. Tail-walk you crazy fish. Throw the hook.”
When just a boat length astern, this most magnificent creature was seen gliding effortlessly through the water with its iridescent blue sail fully extended. And when almost close enough to touch, the creature finally jumped out the water like an excited puppy on a short leash. That's when its flashing tail splashed the sea's surface and its noble head shook in a last ditch effort to throw the lure. Oh, how we wished to see it flung free, but we didn't, and the beast fell back exhausted, to be towed on its side while we wondered what to do next.
“Put that camera down, now!” I ordered Jude, no longer able to keep the worry out my voice. “Get the biggest pliers quick!” Meanwhile my eyes are glued on the beast, expecting any moment to see it come alive and take a run. Instead, our eyes made contact and our minds interacted and in my head I'm sure I heard it say it would wait. Jude returned with my water pump pliers, and without hesitation, I leant over the rail and grabbed the bugger by his sword. God! He was as big as me and so much more powerful. But looking again into its eyes, I think this guy had been through this before. They were staring at me and seemed to be saying, “Okay, let's get this over. Stick your tag into me and I'll be on my way.” Fine by me. A cooperative beast. Sure made my job of reaching into its jaws with the pliers and twisting out the hook a whole lot easier. After checking Jude had the camera whirling, I released its sword and was delighted to see a huge splash and with a quick swish of its tail, the creature flashed away.
We'd had lots of excitement, plenty of photos, but no fish. So Jude convinced me to put the lure out again. I must have rocks in my head ‘cause an hour later we had the same scenario. Another taut line dragging a very boisterous tenant who was a bit smaller. Nevertheless, we dragged it for half an hour because I was still recovering from my last battle. Eventually, there was another hand-over-hand tussle, this time a shiny slippery stinky barracuda hit the deck. It's a fish we absolutely hate. This one broke free, went berserk, snapping its dagger teeth and leaving slimy prints until sent over the side.
Now Jude, she's a vixen, put on her prettiest face, cuddled me, and massaged my sagging arms, and, well, I put the lure out a third time. Fortunately, nothing happened. Not straight away. Not till about four when the sun was heading for Africa did we hear the plastic spool clunk against the tower. I let out a moan, feeling decidedly weak. I would have settled for a steaming bowl of pasta, but being a good sailor boy and a slave to my woman, I took up my station back aft and tested the line. You know, you can feel the brute shake its head when trying to throw the hook, and feeling that sent adrenalin through me. A fight hey! You want to take me on? Okay, try it. So I pulled. And it fought. And I pulled some more using my shoulders and the strength in my back, which was about all I had left. Fifteen minutes later, the bell ending round ten sounded and a 20kg wahoo was heaved alongside where Jude ripped into it with the gaff. The two of us then struggled to bring a wiggling twitching monster up over the railing. All of a sudden, we had more fish then we could eat in a week. And that called for a cold beer before the bigger job of carving it up.
* Click on the blog link at the top of the page for Jack and Jude's pic and profile and more Banyandah blogs. Pic up the September issue of Cruising Helmsman for an in-depth story about their Southern Ocean crossing from Albany to Tassie.
To view more photos from Jack's adventures click here