They're called "granders" in saltwater lingo, blue or black marlin that break the thousand-pound mark, and they are the ultimate goal for big-game anglers. One South African angler recently broke that barrier in spectacular fashion with a monstrous black marlin that - despite being attacked and partially eaten by sharks - almost broke the all-tackle African record. Here is the tragic story of how they caught this fish.
On the morning of Nov. 6, Mike Jankowitz and Jerome Sedgwick were fishing the last day of the eight-day Bazaruto Invitational Marlin Competition, a catch an release tournament held in an archipelago of five islands just off the southern tip of Mozambique. The two men were fishing out of Bazaruto Lodge. Their skipper was a well-known local marlin guide named Duarte Rato. Rato has caught and released over 250 marlin, but so far in this tournament the team had tagged only one, a 350-pound fish. Their luck, for better or worse, was about to change.
Around 11 a.m., the team was trolling a live bonito in about 55 meters of water when something big struck and began peeling line off the reel. It was Sedgwick’s turn in the chair. If this fish was a marlin, it would be his first.
For ten minutes the crew didn’t know what they had, other than that it was very, very large. It took more and more line, pulling the boat into deeper water, until finally coming up and thrashing just beneath the surface. There was no doubt: this was a marlin, and it was a monster. With one blistering run a fish this size can easily strip hundeds of yards of line. Sedgwick was solidly hooked up, with 950 yards of 130 pound mono and Dacron backing on his reel. He would need every bit of it in the battle ahead.
The fish towed the boat away from shore for four miles, then reversed its course. Finally, an hour into the fight, it rose close to the boat. Captain Rato was the first to see the giant close up. “I have been lucky to have fished great marlin grounds over the years. Bazaruto. Madeira. The Azores. Bom Bom. We’ve seen and released a considerable number of big marlin, three of them blues we estimated at over the grander mark,” Rato said. “But nothing, nothing ever looked remotely like this beautiful massive dark shape swimming 10 meters beneath us.”
“Within the next two hours we grabbed the leader four times. The fourth time Alex, my first mate, looked at us in astonishment, saying he couldn´t pull her up an inch. As much as we wanted to get the fish close for measurements and photographs, we also didn’t want to exhaust it, so I told Alex to try and hold on even if it meant breaking the leader. We also came down on the drag, turned the pre-set all the way and pushed the lever back up to sunset.” Still, the fish sounded again.
Sedgwick remembers the fight. “After the first hour I was prompted to remark that just possibly we had bitten off more than we could chew,” he says. “At two hours in we had worked the fish so close to the boat that we could see it in the clear blue waters. Then we touched the leader for the first time and the fish had an explosive reaction. She took off at speed, passing under the boat, very nearly snagging the line on the outboards and leaping clear of the water for the first and only time. She was so close that a blue paint mark was left on the tip of her bill.”
“From then and for the next 3 hours she set about proving to us that there was a great deal more fight left in her,” says Sedgwick. “We lost count of the number of great runs she made, stripping with in excess of 150 meters of line on each occasion, despite our having progressively increased the drag pressure to at least 75 pounds.”
After four hours and forty five minutes the crew touched the leader for the sixth time. Thinking the great fish was finally spent, the crew hung on to the leader with all their strength. Still she ran again, taking Sedgwick’s reel into the backing. But it would be her last effort. “For the first time, we turned her and made her swim the way we wanted, straight into the current,” said Rato. “We were now in full control, first gear, and inch by inch Jerome slowly brought her up. I just knew this time she would have no more runs and we would get her by the boat. It was a slow and painful effort, especially for Jerome, but in twenty minutes we got the backing and most of the top shot back, and finally the rigger loop appeared.” And then it happened. “We were all on our toes, expecting to see the fish at any second, when there were a couple of sharp thumps on the rod. I wanted to believe she was just shaking her head, and urged Jerome to bring her up faster.”
She had not been shaking her head. Holding the rod, Sedgwick realized in horror that sharks had found the exhausted marlin. Despite his best efforts, and the exhortations of the captain, he couldn’t retrieve the fish fast enough to prevent them from tearing into its body. When the marlin finally came into view, the crew was horrified to see that massive chunks of flesh have been ripped from her shoulders.
“Tournament and IGFA rules state that any injured fish (be it from shark attack or propellers) is disqualified, so we could not enter the marlin in the tournament,” says Duarte. “It would, of course, had won if we could have entered it. We would also have won if we had released the marlin, which was our intention anyway.” The fish’s wounds made releasing her a moot point but the anglers discover that, even half-eaten, she was too large to load into the boat. Her head was too wide to fit through the marlin door between the gunnels and the engine, so the crew lashed her to the back and began to tow her home.
During the two hour trip back to port the exhausted angler and crew sat silently, trying to digest what had just occurred. “There is no doubt that we would have unanimously agreed to release this great and magnificent creature to complete her life in the ocean,” says Sedgwick. “Although at that size, she had probably seen the overwhelming majority of it. Would she have bred again and how many times? How many viable offspring had she given rise to in her lifetime? How many are still alive today?”
Captain Rato was equally contemplative. The man who had caught 250 marlin was still coming to grips with catching a one so ancient. “We had just experienced an adventure that none of us would ever forget, had had the privilege to encounter and fight this truly magnificent fish. Its bottom jaw so old it curved down, the base of its tail so thick I couldn´t get both my hands around it. Its unforgettable, huge eyes”
The anglers didn’t realize just how large the fish was until they got back to the dock and placed it on the scales. Despite the massive loss of blood, tissue, fluid, and flesh, the fish weighed 1107 pounds.
You can estimate the weight of a live marlin using a simple formula. All you need is the fish’s length, its girth at the base of its tail, and its girth at its widest point (the shoulders). The base of this marlin’s tail measured 53 centimeters around. Its length was 3.8 meters. And although its girth could not be accurately taken because the sharks had eaten the shoulders, the anglers’ best guess at this measurement put the marlin’s live weight between 1350 and 1420 pounds. Had it not been attacked, the fish could have been the largest black marlin ever caught in Africa. The current all-tackle record for the continent stands at 1,298 pounds.
Sedgwick says a great deal of credit must go to the Captain, Duarte Rato, and his deckhands Alexander and Zambezi, and he remains philosophical about the entire episode. “I returned to my farm on the Western Cape of South Africa, humbled by my encounter with this magnificent creature and saddened by her death. I was filled with warm thoughts of friendships, old and new, and a sense of anticipation at the thought of sharing my story with my children and grandchildren and “in the telling of it afterwards, shall have no need to lie”. Editor’s Note: Sedgwick is quoting from a fisherman’s prayer. The full version reads, “…”God grant me the strength to catch a fish so big that I, when telling of it afterwards, shall have no need to lie.”