Wednesday, 16 May 2012 00:00
Captain Peter Bristow explains the process involved when catching and releasing BLUE MARLIN of 1,000lbs or more!
Most of the billfish we encounter during the course of big game fishing have a very good chance of survival regardless of what anyone says to the contrary.
In fact I would give them almost 100% chance with everything going right. Living and working in a place like Madeira where the normal blue marlin is huge on world standards, the task of releasing the fish alive becomes difficult for the inexperienced angler and Captain. I came to realize very quickly that there was a deep void in the understanding of revival and survival.
Let me take each aspect, one at a time. These principals will individually effect the outcome of releasing a healthy fish. For goodness sake if we are marlin fishing without the intention of killing the fish then why not pay attention to the basic rules of the sport.
DRIVING THE BOAT: Most likely the most important item on the agenda. Shortly after hook-up and the first run it is important to drive the boat and try to think what the fish is doing. If you are running out of line then turn the boat around and get after the fish before it is too late. The Captain must make quick decisions at this point in time. Backing up works well but the boat goes much better in forward motion than reverse. DO NOT just stop the boat and sit there. This does not work. It’s called the Old Maderian Dead Boat Trick. It ends up with a dead fish every time.
When the fish has finally settled down and is down there in the deeps digging away is the time to keep a good angle on the line. About 45% to the water is perfect. This means taking the boat forward slowly and keeping the fish swimming. When the fish arrives at the boat it will still be alive and be in good condition to release. Don’t worry about driving away from the fish; it works. Not only with marlin but for tuna as well. Try it some time. Stopping the boat results with the line straight up and down. The fish will keep trying to dig down going no where at all and eventually die because you have stopped it going forward. I must admit that Blues and Blacks are very different in their fighting patterns. Knowing what to do comes from experience. But whatever you do, don’t stop the boat.
THE ANGLER: Please consider that marlin fishing is a team effort. The angler is of course the most important person on board. There must be a close relationship between the Angler and the Captain. If this falls down then we are all in trouble, including the fish. With heavy tackle using angling skills to the best of your ability and pushing the tackle to the limit is the key to releasing healthy fish. Get yourself set up in the chair well before time. Adjustment of the chair is by far the most important.
The tackle should be comfortable to the reach of the arms. The rod tip should be at right angles to the line. You cannot lift a fish with your rod tip up in the air and the line straight down. It is all simple mechanics The basic principal is using the weight of your body to fight the fish. No arms and no back effort. The seat harness will take care of that. Lift the fish with the motion of the boat and take line when it is easy on the way down. One to one at this point is the best.
TAIL WRAPPED FISH: Oh dear, this is the worst thing to happen. Fortunately it is not very often. If the fish cannot be raised to the boat in time then there is little hope of revival. The fish must be pulled to the surface on the plane. Take the boat ahead slowly with maximum drag on the reel and slowly tow the fish. When there is sufficient angle on the line then back down fast and pick up as much as you can. Repeat this procedure as many times as it takes to get the fish up. If the fish comes up and looks dead then try to tow it by the bill for at least 25 minutes and just see if it will not come around. With light tackle and a big fish it is virtually impossible to hurt the fish or get its attention. In this case I would let the boat drift until there is serious angle on the line. The fish will almost certainly come to the surface if given the distance and time to swim..
At that point run down the line and hope it will stay on top and maybe jump. Then the opportunity might arise for a tag or a gaff. I had this experience off Cape Moreton once on a huge sail. We fought the fish for six hours using this method. Every time I ran down the line the fish went down. Finally after six hours and in the dark the fish decided to jump at the back of the boat. In the spotlight it was well over 200 pound but we used a tag.
We never saw the fish again and another 3 ½ hours later broke line. It makes me think that with a giant tail wrapped fish, light drag could be applied. I never tried it but I don’t think it would work. It is all too theoretical.
RESUSCITATION: The end result of the tail wrap is quite often a dead looking fish. They come to the boat tail first. Not a pretty sight. The fish could begin to float belly up at this point. This is usually the case. This is because the air sacks which extend almost the full length of the body have become inflated due to the drop in pressure at the surface. The fish has now lost negative buoyancy and is unable to swim upright.
Without being able to swim forward and use the pectoral fins for stability there is every chance that the fish will now surely die. It might look dead but it’s not. The leader cuts into the lobe of the caudal keel and becomes locked on. You may have to lift the tail up and pass the leader underneath in order to clear it.
Now you can roll the fish out of the leader. It will most likely be around the body only once. By this time the fish should be floating completely on top and with a stick gaff fetch it on the bill and bring it along side. Now the snotter can be applied.
It is a good idea to carry a piece of line especially for this purpose. 3/8” or 1/2” will do. Soft nylon being the best for blues and polypropylene for blacks. This is because of the big difference in the surface of the bill. The Black being very rough and the Blue comparatively smooth. Stripers are also smooth. About 50 feet long is more than plenty. For convenience, splice an eye on each end . Now just push the line thru the loop to form a snotter. Open the loop out and pass this over the bill and pull it tight. It will not slip off.
Now take the boat slow ahead with one engine. You may have to just nudge the gears in some situations. Hopefully you were able to remove the hook if that was at all possible but do not waste any time.
Slowly let out about 30 feet of line and take a turn on the cleat. Hold tight on the cleat with one hand and with the other lift up on the line so as to hold the fish tight. Like this you can feel what is going on. The idea is to get the fish underwater. If the fish is really out of puff then there will be no feeling of swimming at all. Instead the line will just jerk and tug as the fish rolls over and over. This is the waiting period and patience must prevail. It all sounds so horrible. How did we get into this situation when all we were doing was just having fun. Well it just goes wrong sometimes and the fish must not be left to a matter of chance and a ‘maybe’ survive scenario.
The great moment comes when you can feel the fish coming to life. That massive tail starts to pump. This is not the time to let go. Suddenly the fish will become oriented and start to swim upright. It is possible to see the bright colors coming back. At that moment the pressure comes off the line because the fish is swimming straight towards you. Stop the boat and the fish will swim alongside. This will be the best feeling you ever had since the thrill of the strike and hook-up. In fact for my part it is the most rewarding. I use a small stick gaff to get hold of the snotter and take it off the bill. Now you can release the fish and feel sure it has a 100% chance of survival.
At this point I must strongly advocate the use of a line to get the fish away from the boat. Some Captains have the practice of holding the fish along side even using a stick gaff in the dorsal area. The area of the gills is very sensitive and banging on the boat side could cause excessive damage and hemorrhaging. The eyeball is also vulnerable at this point. The only exception would be small sails or small marlin which could be held by the bill.
The boat would have to be low freeboard so as to allow your hand in the water. But really its easier with the snotter . This way he’s not going to rip your arms when he wakes up. The snooter could also be used very effectively in this situation.
SNOOTER or SNOTTER:
Almost a play on words. But “snooter” is a new word coined here in Madeira, and ‘snotter’ is an old sailing term. De-hooking a lure caught fish is generally so much easier than those caught on bait. The lure rigged hook is usually superficial.
I never fail to be impressed by some of the gadgets that turn up. The most effective piece of equipment to aid the release of Blues is the snooter. This is an ingenious contraption and resembles a modified salmon tailer. It works on the same principal. Peter
Wright was tied up next to me in Madeira and I was admiring this thing. Next morning his crew, Scott Levine presented me with one he had manufactured in very quick time. It is the finest present I have ever received. I still get a kick out of showing folks how it works.
However I would draw the line on trying to use it on a Giant Black. These fish have a very sensitive nose and do not like being touched at the best of times. If the black was fully exhausted, well then, and only then, might it be possible to use.
In contrast Blues tend to be pussycats at the boat and a lot easier to handle. But watch out for that wild one. The snooter is an ingenious device and to my knowledge was put together by Roddy Hayes.
It can be most useful in the release routine. The advantage of this is to be able to hold the fish down and the bill under water while you try to remove the lure hook, usually stainless. Holding the fish down is important, it reduces the tendency or impulse for the fish to jump or head shake. It can all get very messy if this should happen at this point. The PVC handle is held tight but the rope can be let go if trouble arises. The wire loop will automatically extend itself and releases the fish. The rope is able to completely run out of the handle if need be. Then it can be reloaded and ready for the next opportunity. It does work very well.
Capt. Peter Bristow