Two boys, a dream, a boat and a fish
by Andrew Hart
A dream - Marlin are the king of all fish. They have captured the imagination of people for generations. They are for many, a dream, but for two Tasmanian teenagers, that dream has become a reality.
My obsession with billfish began when I was about six. I was introduced to fishing by my cousin and a Tasmanian beaky has always been a dream. I'd watch Malcolm Florence videos, read all the books, and dream that one day I'd be in the chair pumping and winding.
A lot has changed since then. Although I was captivated by marlin, I never had very many chances to head out to sea and troll big lures. Every now and then I was fortunate enough to go on a charter boat; this gave me a taste for what game fishing in Tasmanian involved. Usually that taste was of big seas, no tuna or marlin, and a sick little boy who was left believing that trout were a much more attractive proposition.
Then came the eagle ray stage. My local play ground is the Tamar River, which I fished for flathead and salmon, until my cousin found bigger things. Sure, they are only rays, but for a twelve year old kid to be hooked up on game gear from the land fighting a jumping, hard pulling eagle ray, lead to a new motivation to find bigger fish. Let's face it, trout are challenge, but they don't really fight compared to saltwater speedsters.
The first time I saw a marlin was in 1996, when two impressive fish were caught in a tournament known as the St Helens Game Fishing Classic. Although I only saw them hanging on the scales, I was now even more fascinated by these creatures, and I made a goal, that by the time I was twenty five, I wanted to catch a Tasmanian striped marlin.
Our Marlin Cruiser
Now I am seventeen and have a mate whose dad owns a boat. Aaron Ford's his name; a well built, hairy faced boy, who has become a very keen fisherman in recent times. His dad's boat is a seventeen and a half footer. Not a huge, new shiny marlin boat with tower and every invention under the sun; but a blue aluminium hulled run-about, which would allow us to at least get our lures out and about to where the big breakys belong.
We planned to fish in the 1998 St Helens Game Fish classic. To enter the Classic, you boat needs a name, so we called our Vomit. A name which sounded funny over the radio; but one which everybody knew by the end of the tournament.
The Classic has become huge. An event which is organised by both the Northern and St Helens game fishing clubs. So the scene was set. Almost seventy boats were to take place in this years event which was held on February 28 and March 1, and with fine weather expected, it looked like being a grant tournament.
Saturday, February 28, 1998
We arrived at Burns Bay boat ramp at about 8:30 am after driving down to St Helens from Launceston that morning. There were three on board Vomit; Fordy, myself and his dad, who come along to drive the boat. Well it turned out Saturday was a bit of a dud. There were really only albacore about. We trolled all day for nothing, until we made a final run over the top of the reef known as Merricks, when my little pink lure was nailed by a nice 8 kg albacore.
However, a big cruiser called Sovain had a better time than everybody else. The boat reported landing a marlin early in the day. Their fish was caught on 24kg by a Hobart angler, Chris Shaw. Chris took about an hour and forty minutes to land his prize, and back at the weigh-in, the crew and lucky angler were ecstatic as the mighty fish pulled the scales down to 115kg cleaned. I thought to myself, "if only it was team Vomit".
Sunday, March 1, 1998
Sunday was to be out day, Team Vomit had lost its boat driver when Fordy's dad decided to fish with a friend. That meant two seventeen year old hooligans heading out to sea to tangle with some fish. We put the boat in about 8:00 am; we were greeted by a fair size swell, and a coll southerly breeze. From the reports on the radio, most crews headed north, however, we went south, down behind Merricks. We powered out to about seven miles and started fishing.
We trolled east, until we found a huge mass of Mutton Birds, which were looking excited. These birds had found something. The water was bluer and warmer; it looked fishy. We turned north, and followed the line of birds.
After trolling for about thirty minutes, Fordy spotted a massive school of fish, which we called mackerel, leaping clear of the water. The action was happening about 400 metres away, so we hurried over to see what had scared the little fish. Slowly up to troll around the area of the action, our wildest dreams suddenly come true.
Around twenty metres in from of Vomit was a marlin, finning his way along the swell. This fish was lit up, and feeding. We froze, yelled, screamed and entered a state of shock all at the same time!
He was out the side of Vomit for about a minute, before he went down. Instantly, I turned to watch the two pushers well out the back, but what happened next was amazing. Instead of taking the big lures, a dorsal popped up behind the same little pink lure the albacore had eaten the previous day. The lure was on a 15 kg rod fitted with a Shimano TLD 20, and was only some four or five metres behind the motor. The strike was executed in textbook style. I quickly grabbed the screaming rod. This started the best two hours of my life so far!
The first jump placed me into a deep daze. I knew that I had hooked a marlin, but until it jumped, some fifty metres behind the boat, I just couldn't believe it! For the first ten minutes of fight, al I could do was hand on! That magnificent fish jumped probably 30 times in its first run! With 250 metres of line in the water before Fordy could start giving chase, I was getting worried. However, we held on and Fordy soon had Vomit following a very unhappy and acrobatic marlin.
We had most of the line back on the reel after his initial run, due to some fearless boat driving, and in fact the fish was only metres away after ten minutes. This made me more confident, I knew we didn't want to let this beaky get to far away. Then he went down. I guess he ran down for about 150 metres.
As soon as he went down, I knew we had a chance at landing this fish. Fordy just kept the line out to one side and tracked along - following the marlin's every movement. All I had to do was keep on as much pressure as I could, and gain every inch of line possible.
I have always said to mates that if I hooked a marlin I'd fish the tackle to its limits, I believe too many big beakys are lost because too much line is in the water. Si it began. For the next hour or so we didn't see that fish. I fished the 15 kg line on a near locked up drag on the smooth Shimano TLD, and Fordy kept on driving - he did a good job just coping with me yelling at him! It all become a rhythm, we weren't getting far, but we were starting to win.
At about the hour and twenty minute mark the fish came up for another look. Only this time the few jumps he did were from tiring marlin. There was one desperate jump which had Fordy on his toes as the big fish headed towards the boat, and in fact hit the side of Vomit.
After this action, unfortunately the beaky headed back down. I was not too happy about this: I thought we had him tired out, but down he went and it was back to work for Fordy with the boat driving, and more pressure on my arms and back.
It took another forty minutes of sweat (I didn't get time to take my jumper off!) and pain (my arms hurt after thirty minutes. A harness will be on next years Christmas list!) to finally have the marlin on top again. He had another few jumps, a couple of head shakes, but this magnificent fish had been beaten. I did not think twice about putting a gaff in to this marlin - he was my first and he was in a competition. However, I made a vow back on land that I would not kill another marlin. These beautiful fish belong in the sea. Having said this, however, I have no regrets what so ever about keeping this one. I've always said, I'll take my first. I don't believe anyone can say that it is almost criminal to kill a marlin unless they have caught one.
Beaten, but happy
Later at the weigh-in, about two hundred people witnessed our marlin pull the scales down to 91 kg cleaned. This won second place, and now Vomit will know where it is going with a new Lowrance GPS, Great thanks must go to an unknown angler, who watched us fight the fish, then come over and helped us lift him on-board. Without this help, it would have been a long tow from fifteen miles out in a deteriorating sea.
The St Helens Game Fishing Classic truly is one of Tasmania's finest fishing events. With record entries in 1998, next years event is looking just as big. The competition would rate up there with some of Australia's best when t comes to fish being caught and the organisation.
Make sure you put the classic on your fishing calendar. Next year though. Team Vomit will be out to make second into first.