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Back To Australia Part 3 Onto Australia Part 5 Return To Home
 

Sorry - long page warning I'm afraid. This load of words is mainly about murder, mayhem and pursuing monster fish out on the high seas up here on the Great Barrier Reef from Cairns in sunny Australia. So if you have no interest in such frivolous activities, I apologise- maybe you'd be better off waiting until next time something goes wrong and I can't get out on the water again! Either that or just look at the pictures. Which is what I'd probably do myself, to be quite honest.


"Hello and welcome to Planet Marlin".

The cast: first time Marlin novices Steve "Sensational-Rambozo" Erdelyi from Darwin, Josh "Pretty Amazing" Conquest from Devon and Andy "My Life Is Shit" Pearson from that hotbed of blue-water fishing, Spalding, Lincolnshire, England, along with Cairns residents Tim "Get out of my way NOW!" Brown, and our omnipresent skipper and eco-warrior Simon "Just Kill The Bloody Thing" Spurr. 

It's eight o'clock in the morning, we're on the boat- the 46ft Platinum- and we're heading off out onto the Linden Bank, Barrier Reef Branch- hopefully to make a few Marlin withdrawals over the next nine or ten days, on what I hoped would prove to be one of the angling adventures of my lifetime. The sun is shining, winds are light, the Marlin have just started arriving on their annual migration to this part of the world, we've refuelled with a small mountain of Baked Beans, Pot Noodles and loo roll, two thousand litres of diesel (which in the current climate went up 20 cents a litre from the time we turned the pump on to getting the tanks full), and the excitement amongst the anglers on board is almost tangible as we thread our way up the channel out of port Cairns.
"What do you reckon Steve?"
"Sensational mate. Sen-bloody-sational".

Exiting the channel into the ocean, the twin 750hp diesel engines opened up into their pounding rhythm below decks, and I made my way up to the bridge, watching Cairns disappear back onto the horizon and beyond. Turning to face the wide open spaces of the Coral Sea and South Pacific unfold, I wondered what the next ten days on the high seas would hold for us, and the brainless grin I seem to wear for much of my waking hours these days was perhaps even a little wider than normal. I glanced at Steve, and the look on his face just about matched mine I guess. Christmas morning as a six year old all over again.

First mission, catch some bait. Although we had freezers partially stocked on board - numerous Queenfish, Mackerel, Tarpon and the like all individually bagged and ready to go, it was still important that we ensured our supply for the duration as best possible. This was easy as pie once Simon had put us in the right area, and a string of Scad and Rainbow Runners skittered aboard on a variety of plastic skirt lures and feathers which we trolled























Ready to leave The Pier at Cairns. 
Yup... it's on...

...and we're off!

Tim the Scadman. A morning dragging plastic and feathers about and bait is not a problem.

through the ocean at speed. Within a few hours the bait freezers were nicely filled and we could get on with the serious business of trying to get amongst some billfish for our first afternoon of big-game fishing out beyond the reef.

Our deckie and playground supervisor, Tim, appointed Steve as first into the Marlin chariot, so to speak, with yours truly second and Josh to follow, should a marlin be raised to the baits- these being a Scad rigged as a skip-bait to skim across the surface of the waves, and a Queenfish rigged with a lead-

 

weighted nose end to act as a swim-bait a little under the surface of the waves. Cover your options... Once the lines were fed out to their working position 120 feet behind the boat, and the line tags clipped into the outriggers, we sat back, relaxed (as far as was possible), and relied on Simon to get us in the right place at the right time. This was something I anticipated may take some while. But I was wrong again. Within an hour of rolling along the top of the swells at trolling speed, I was mesmerised, watching the Scad doing as skip-baits do on the left hand side, when a shout from the bridge broke the trance:


...until Rambozo drops the anchor on it in mid-flight! "Come here, son. Behave!"

The engines are gunned, the hook is set, the fish-turbo kicks in... and a Black Marlin greyhounds across the waves...

"Right side!! Right side!!" 

A dark shape had ghosted in just behind where the bait had been. The dacron snapped from the outrigger clip and fluttered down in slow motion, almost like gossamer in the wind. Tim was on the rod in a nanosecond, the ratchet on the 130 class Fin Nor reel screeched a steady monotone:
"He's got it! Simon!! Now!!! Go, go, go!!!!!!"









 

The things I can remember about it all after that? The deep growl of the engines, the boat's forward inertia setting the hook, the pained squeal of the reel's drag, palls of diesel exhaust filling the air. A brief moment of panic when Tim placed the rod into the fighting chair to find that Steve had sat a little too far back for the clips to reach the reel; "Move forward! Steve! Move forward!! Steve!! FORWARD!!! NOW!!!", then screaming more directions to the remainder of us novices... "get that rod in, get that rigger down, turn the chair, wind, wind, wind...keep bloody winding!!", while Josh and I dithered around the deck like a pair of clowns, not quite sure what the heck we were really supposed to be doing.

After the initial panic, things calmed down aboard ship as it became clear that the fish was not one of the true monsters for which the Linden Bank is famous. This gave me a chance to grab the camera and try to catch some of the action on memory card, and as luck had it, only seconds after clambering up to the bridge the fish decided to go crazy, a bounding, greyhounding, airborne burst which I managed to put the shutter around a couple of times (more by luck than judgement), before the hawser-tight line span the Marlin head-over-heels back into the the deep blue. 

"Come here son! Behave!" laughed Rambozo after dropping that particular fish-anchor.

Josh grapples with a Rainbow Runner. Top bait!

 


A big Wahoo that didn't get away with it for Josh.

After a few more minutes of back and forth, the fish was brought alongside, Tim grabbing the leader and jabbing a tag into the shoulder, before the leader was cut and we watched the fish- still lit up in bright, luminescent blue- disappear off back into the depths with a flick of it's tail. It was as simple as that(!). We had Marlin. Despite the experienced element of the crew declaring that at 200 to 250lbs the fish was "only a baby", Steve was delighted to have tagged and released his first, and the rest of us were just as happy to have got some early success under our belts, being a confidence booster for the rest of the journey to come.

My turn in the chariot. I recall feeling a certain amount of anguish as I paced the decks watching the baits out to the stern. It was a feeling like the one I'd had a few years ago doing a bungee jump from a tower crane over the Thames in London when the tide was out. Along the lines of 'do I really want to put myself through this?'. But I'd done the bungee jump and managed not to end up wedged in a shopping trolley, so therefore I would survive being beaten up for fun by a thousand pound Marlin. Of this I was fairly sure (ish!). The other concern I had was to not screw the whole thing up in one of the multitude of ways it seemed that one could screw these things up. Screwing up being something for which the Eco-Warrior and playground supervisor would have had all of us tied to an outrigger and beaten to a pulp with a flying gaff. After the mandatory bollocking, of course.

Settling in for the long wait, I was surprised that it took only a short period of time before another billfish decided to attack one of the baits. This time, the fish came adrift before the rod could even be placed into the chair, and upon inspection it seemed from the state of the stripped flesh on the bait that the Marlin had got itself bill-wrapped. This is a situation where as the fish attacks, it tries to smack the bait with it's rough bill, but instead of knocking the soft bait off keel and eating it, somehow it manages to get it twisted around the bill and miss the hook completely.

A new bait was fed out the back, and away we trolled again, only for a short while, as quickly another billfish homed in behind a Scad. Maybe the same one which had previously been bill-wrapped, since it was much more cautious, eyeing everything suspiciously before deciding against an easy meal and melting away from view, while I sat in the chariot with jangling nerves, willing it to just get on with it and eat the bloody thing! 



A beautiful, lit-up Marlin makes 
another attempt to throw the hook.

One more opportunity came our way that afternoon- a lovely, black-as-coal fish of perhaps 500 pounds slicing down a swell to grab a skip-bait off the surface. I strapped myself into the chariot again, ready for the big heave, and watched as the engines gunned and the majestic creature threw itself completely airborne, a maelstrom of saltwater foam exploding as it twisted, ejecting the hook and bait and catapulting it some 20 metres in a somersault through the air. Another chance missed, but still an exciting thing to experience.

"That one was a bit more like it" noted Simon from up above. 

Wahoo worms squirming on the decks. All of them have these things in their gut. Nice. Come to think of it, I reckon Josh probably had a colon full of them as well.

 

As the sun dipped towards the horizon, the boat was pointed back behind the reef into quieter waters, and after washing off all the equipment and waltzing down some very welcome food, some great fun was had with some light tackle and chunks of fish. It seemed that the bait barely hit bottom before it was seized by any one of the hordes of reef species waiting below. Spangled Emperors, Painted Sweetlips, Snapper, Moses Perch, Triggerfish and other brightly coloured species coming into the boat every minute or so. A small Potato Cod also grabbed my bait and hooked itself, and then snapped the rod I bought in Malaysia clean in two as I hung on to keep it out of the reef. 3 rods down and 3 to go in my travel collection...! 

Then a nice sized 'cuda grabbed a chunk of mackerel on my hook- luckily the 4/0 circle lodged in the very corner of it's mouth where it couldn't bite free. Suddenly a school of hooligan Big Eye Trevally gatecrashed the scene like a bunch of skinheads on the rampage. I quickly changed rigs, one of them falling to a black surface popper somewhere out there in the pitch darkness: one minute all I could hear was the "bloop, bloop, bloop" as I worked the lure, the next there was crash like a brick being thrown into the sea, and before I knew what was going on my Baitrunner was passing on a very urgent message that there was something even more unstable on the other end of the line! 

You'll be getting the picture by now- it really was fish soup down there, and if anyone has the impression that life on a coral reef is all cute and cuddly like on that Nemo film... well, please forget that particular theory, because there is no cuddling going on down there. Everything is food for something else, and if you're not watching your tail, then you're gonna lose it!

 Add to this the occasional hook up with a "Common Going The Other Way Fish", "the other way" always being the reef, and you have a great evening's entertainment (if you like fishing, that is). As Tim and I stood and fished and supped cold beers, watching swarms of squid light up patches of the ocean beneath us, suddenly in the black water just to the side a huge void opened up in the waves, a colossal shark of some sort or another clearly pursuing some hapless creature or other to it's doom. "Yup", declared Tim, "We're gonna need a bigger boat..."


A rod-busting Potato Cod, and only a little fella too, as far as they go.

As I scoffed breakfast early the next morning, I managed several other fish on the chunks of bait - including a Paddletail and a lovely Coral Trout. These, I have been told, are about the best eating fish about, but unfortunately I wasn't able to find out for myself, since due to one of the regular reef closures in these parts all reef fish are to be returned alive immediately. Never mind eh? I'm sure I'll survive.

The early part of the day, once we had cast off, was spent working our way around the coral bommies and the ocean side of the reefs using a variety of lures on 30 and 50 class outfits. A dream-like place to spend a few hours; long reaches of the bright, iridescent, turquoise blues and

greens of the shallow reef sharply defined against the navy blue of the deep water immediately adjacent, and in the area we fished that day, it was certainly full of fish. Our time there were was filled playing with the Yellowfin Tuna, Scaly Mackerel, Spanish Mackerel and Barracuda which all seemed intent on slicing our lures into tiny pieces, before we again headed out onto the deep fathoms of the bank to try and track down some more Marlin willing to attack a bait and eat it, yours truly hoping that one would manage to stay on the hook long enough for me to, well, "feel the power", as they say.

A couple of times the baits were chopped in half by sharp-toothed critters, and a sudden burst of activity after a long period of monotonous trolling when an enormous Spanish Mackerel launched itself at the left hand skip-bait and missed it- it's silhouette hanging briefly in mid-air before plunging back into the waves! It was difficult to tell exactly what weight to put on that fish, but Tim's estimate of in the region of 100lbs would perhaps not be too far from the truth. As he went to wind the big reel to retrieve the bait and check it wasn't damaged, it was suddenly very solid:
"Simon!!! Go go go!! There's something on here!!!" 


A tiny part of the Great Barrier Reef. 
A different world to that from which I come. 
Sometimes you have to pinch yourself.

Immediately the engines gunned to set the hook, once more the lever drag of the reel announced that the predator was on, and within seconds I found myself attached to my first fish in the chariot. Wahoo are often acclaimed as the fastest fish in the ocean, but I'll have to reserve judgement, cos with 17 kilos of drag on a 130 class outfit they're not. Within a minute or two the bright silver bar was gaffed boatside and brought through the door onto the decking. It was later weighed at 55lbs, so although I was pleased to get on the scorecard, all I wished was that I could have nobbled it on a 30 or 50 class outfit and got my money's worth out of the unfortunate thing!

With Josh in the chair for the rest of the day, we continued our trawl of the ocean looking for billfish. Several hours passed without event, and Tim decided on a change. The Scad on the left was brought in and replaced by a 15lb Tuna we had caught in the morning, nose rigged to skip along the top. This thing made a hell of a commotion, crashing through the waves like a miniature jet-ski and creating a wake all of it's own. It was a bait with a captivating effect, all of us concentrating intently on it's action, waiting for 

 the thithe sea to open up behind it at any instant and swallowng up in a combination of billfish and spray.Out of the blue, the dacron fluttered down from the right hand outrigger.
"On the right! On the right!" came the shout from the bridge. Our attention quickly swapped rods!

Somehow a shifty Marlin had decided to ignore 15lbs of slapping Tuna, and had crept up to gently sip in a small, wriggling Queenfish while we weren't looking! Unfortunately the fish was jumped yet again, before ejecting the bait- complete with hook - yet again.


Another "Wahoodini" attack. How the hell did it get away with that?!
 

Tim the playground supervisor in deckie mode with his all seeing eye. There is nowhere to hide...





















Mervyn the Mental Marlin hits the gas again, probably cos he had spotted the sharks hot on his tail.

This was to prove a problem for us throughout the trip. Several times Marlin were raised to the baits, and took them, only to avoid a solid hook-up. And although we tried numerous combinations; J-hooks on almost instant hooking set ups to the outriggers, circle hooks on plenty of slack line to the outriggers, moving the hook positions on the baits being just some of them, still the problem persisted. The possibility was aired by the experienced element of the crew that with it being still early in the season, the Marlin were either not hungry enough or just not aggressive enough yet - or both.

Another regular occurrence was our bait being bitten in two by toothed critters other than Marlin. On one day alone, 14 baits were lost to either Wahoo, 'Cudas or Mackerel, with only one of them getting the hook - a lovely 'Hoo of 72lbs which Josh wound in on a 130 outfit again. We really could have had some great sport that day with lighter gear and smaller baits... Just a pity we were there after a bloody Marlin! One day, I'm gonna have a Wahoo day on 30 class gear, cos that would just be a fantastic way to give a lever drag a workout.

Our days eventually began to follow a pattern, with some lighter trolling in the mornings, trying for whatever could be caught for fun/bait, followed by hour after hour of trolling the seas in search of Marlin until dusk, at which point we'd head back to anchor behind the reef and fish for whatever came along. Us beginners even started to have a small grasp of what we were expected to do at times, having been chewed into shape on numerous occasions by both skipper and deckie. 

A typical exchange can be demonstrated as follows. A fish has shown some interest the right hand bait and pulled the line from the outrigger. Tim is on the rod in a flash, and we're convinced we're going to have a hook up. 
"Get that 'rigger down!! Now!" shouts Tim. So Steve and myself both jump to attention and rush for the left hand outrigger to get that rod in and moved out of the way.
"Not that one you pair of tw*ts! This one!!! It's dropped the f***ing bait!" bawls Tim, pointing up to the right hand outrigger. 
Cue bewildered looks and a shrug of shoulders exchanged between Rambozo and myself. I mean, how were we to know?

 

'




















Kinell. The result of less than 5 seconds work by the sharks on a 300 pound Marlin. If you can keep your head while all around you are losing theirs...

Above: "Bery muckin munny". Tim nose-rigs a Yellowfin to go and meet it's maker. Life expectancy from this point about two minutes thirty five seconds. Give or take...

There were numerous other examples, and between us we developed a theory that the experienced side of the boat were actually really enjoying themselves by making us Marlin Virgins feel even dumber than usual. 
A difficult feat I'd admit... but they succeeded.

A short while back, I mentioned the hours and hours of trolling the seas, because that first afternoon where four 

Marlin were tempted to have a pop at the baits proved to be a little less than representative of the harsh realities of Marlin fishing... True, each day we raised at least one to show some interest, but between bursts of animation and panic, many, many hours were spent watching, waiting, willing something to happen. The undulating swells rolling the boat combining with the throb and drone of the engines at troll speed to create a hypnotic effect that could find you miles away just at the wrong moment. 

Being something of an insomniac, I managed to keep awake, but many was the time I'd look round to see Steve with his chin resting either on his chest or hands... and a quick check behind the shades would find tightly closed eyes, away with the fairies, dreaming about whatever it is that blokes from the Northern Territory dream about, which in itself could be terrifying enough.

Sharks. Another feature of our stay out on the Coral Sea. Tim had already forewarned me that we would certainly be encountering them, and to this end I was quite happy, since I actually like them and find them interesting in all sorts of ways. The attitudes of a typical Marlin angler, however, seem to be at odds with this. As our eco-warrior skipper reminded us on several occasions, "the only good shark is a dead bastard". Nice. 
























Wahoo?























Rambozo and a bigger version of the same which was wound in on the heavy 130 class gear by Josh.

The basis for his opinion was demonstrated one afternoon when we finally got a Marlin to stick on the hook. A fish of about 300lbs gave me a really nice scrap, with tailwalking leaps, a couple of cracking runs meaning the boat had to be hastily backed down into position on the fish, and eventually the beautiful billfish was brought alongside as Tim wired the leader and Josh put a tag into it's shoulder. All very nice and pretty much textbook. 

Suddenly, the seemingly subdued Marlin went crazy, ripping the leader from Tim's gloves, spinning me round in the chariot and ripping line from the reel again. Something had clearly put the shits up the fish, and aside from Steve gazing over the transom at it, we couldn't work out what it could have been. Then it happened. Huge Oceanic Whaler Sharks appeared into view- one of which looked to be about 3 feet wide across the head. All I could make out were the light grey shapes about 30 metres back from the stern twisting and writhing, the line now solid between rod, reel and the frenzy. In less than five seconds it was all over. The line fell slack and I wound in the severed head of the Marlin, the rest of it having been cleanly devoured. 

Eco-Simon expressed his considered opinion again, that all sharks were bastard Marlin-eaters and the all the poxy bloody things should be killed on sight. I personally felt bad that it had been our capture of the fish that had disabled the Marlin to such an extent that it allowed the sharks to seize it- after all, a fit Marlin without the hindrance of hook, line and drag would simply be too fast to be caught by a shark- each and every time. This argument was put to the floor, adding that they could kill every shark that swam

A beautiful Yellowfin Tuna on lighter tackle. Bad size though... the dilemma being whether we should eat it- with soy sauce and wasabi on it... or throw it straight out the back and let the Marlin and Sharks eat it- with a big hook in it.

Right: This one is called a Chinaman Cod, A.K.A. "The Galloper" cos they pull like chuff. One that proper does what it says on the tin!

 

 within a 100 metre radius of the boat every time it was out on the water, but there would still be millions of them out there, filling their allotted slot in the ecosystem. After a bit of debate, the final statement on the issue went something along the lines of "if you don't like killing fish, then don't go fishing". Ok. Whatever. I guess you have to agree to disagree sometimes...


Scaly Mackerel. Bait. No messing about.

On strike in the chariot again, the 'shot-gun' rod, which we had out with a plastic skirt lure on to tempt whatever pelagic species might see fit to eat it, was ripped into life by a small Yellowfin Tuna of perhaps ten pounds in weight. A quick decision was made to just drop it straight back out for bait, so it was quickly rigged on a size 20/0 circle hook and 650lb BS mono leader. Before the line had even been let all the way out, something large and hungry had already made a meal of it, managing to create a nasty bird's nest at the reel, which was still out of gear. 

Luckily the predator played ball and didn't continue to run off with the bait until the over-run was untangled. Once clipped up to it in the chair, the fish immediately and obviously lacked any of the speed and athleticism of a Marlin, and it became clear that I was attached to a pretty heavy shark. The runs were steady, powerful and unswerving, but without any real urgency. And after a sweaty battle of attrition, a Whaler Shark of some 400lbs or so laid beaten on the surface. I was actually relieved when the thing gave one last roll and managed to get the mono leader in it's teeth- with the obvious result. The way I saw it, the thing would survive just fine with a hook lodged temporarily in the corner of it's jaw, which was good. And at least this way it saved Eco-Simon the problem of thinking of an imaginative way to kill it.

Rambozo and his Whaler Shark. "Listen, mate... who won the battle... eh? Come on, just tell me; who won it?"

 

And a similar occurrence was only just around the corner for Josh's next stint in the chariot, when a very large shark chased down another live Tuna which had been sent out for a little swim around. It had been in the water a matter of minutes, when suddenly it leapt from the surface three or four times, a shark hot on it's tail, and finally, with an aggressive flurry, it disappeared and line peeled rapidly from the heavy brass reel. The fish was hooked up without problem in plumes of spray and diesel smoke, and Josh was immediately almost pulled to his feet in the chair. This was a heavy one, and it steadily churned all around the boat, before eventually crash-diving vertically to the depths and the line parted with a crack... Yup, that was a very heavy one!





A big, fat, 400lb Whaler Shark lumbers into view through the darkness.

Having tagged my first Marlin- not that there was any point in sending the card in, Tim, by way of taking the piss, conducted a small award ceremony the following morning. The really tasteful set of technicolour polyester shorts, complete with Sailfish print and 'Hooking The Big One' logo were accepted with a previously unseen level of humility(!), and immediately employed in the role of lucky shorts. Whether they'd turn out to be lucky or not would be anyone's guess, but anything was worth a try. As it turned out, today was Saturday, and being the weekend more boats than normal were out searching for Black Marlin over the Linden Bank- fourteen in all, we were later to find out.

After a quiet morning, the lucky shorts began to weave their mystical powers. The skirt lure on the shot-gun rod was seized by something a bit lively, and with Rambozo being the elected crew member to deal with these issues at that time, the 50lb class rod was quickly stuck into his gimball. This Tuna was a real powerhouse, stripping an amazing amount of line from the reel in seconds. 

Then 200 metres behind the boat, the reason became apparent, as the Tuna turned out to be a leaping Black Marlin! Much excitement, shouting, bawling and confusion ensued, as outriggers, rods and lines were hastily retrieved and stowed. Although Tim was pretty sure the fish would be lost on the light mono leader. Quickly Simon backed the boat down to the fish- spumes of water and smoke again over spilling the transom of the boat - enabling precious line to be reclaimed onto the spool. 

Steve was to have a fantastic fight with this fish: searing runs, acrobatic leaps, stubborn episodes of holding tight in the current, and sudden, unbelievable changes of direction- one of which saw the Marlin pose in true 'Superman' fashion as it spun and took a horizontal leap literally 2 metres from the stern. I was too slow to get the action on camera, but with a reactionary snap of the shutter, Josh managed to catch most of the fish frozen in time. An amazing sight, for the split second it lasted! Steve did a great job on the rod, Simon kept adjusting the boat in just the right places, and after some twenty minutes of hard work, the lovely Black was tagged and released amongst much backslapping and laughter all around. I'll have to admit I was a little envious of Steve having the fight with that fish- it truly was one of the highlights of the trip. Even if he did say afterwards that he wanted to shout 'Ok, Ok! Time Out, Time Out!' a couple of times!

Our good luck continued when Josh also got on the scorecard for the day, whacking a billfish's arse in a matter of minutes as we backed down on it and got the tag in in double quick time, Rambozo amusing us greatly with the tag-pole by taking a couple of stabs to get it in the fish, brandishing the thing like a Masai fella trying to chuck a spear at an Antelope. This capture was the complete antithesis of Steve's experience on the 50 class gear, and I confess that after that, I actually confided to him that I'd rather have a 200 pounder on the light gear than a monster on the heavy stuff. Putting all the macho Marlin ego,  bullshit and bravado aside, it just looked like so much more fun!

That evening, several of the Marlin boats were anchored up behind the reef for the night, getting ready to fish the next day. According to Tim & Simon, this meant that two tag and release flags simply HAD to be raised up the outrigger. After all, with two of the four fish taken on the bank that day falling to our boat, bragging rights needed to be exercised! Even Simon was smiling as we cruised past the already moored Marlin boats sheltering in the lee of Opal Reef, our two red flags flying high. If we'd had a copy of the theme tune to Thunderbirds available, I'm sure they would have had that blaring out over the stereo too.
"If you think you're changing your shorts tomorrow, you've got another thing coming", ordered our ever-cheerful skipper.

Above: "Hello boys". Josh's picture of a posing Black Marlin. I'm sure it gave us a wink on the way past. That's my camera on the right, pointing right at the fish... but the arthritic trigger finger wasn't quick enough; all I got was the tail disappearing into the drink!

Below:
Bragging rights exercised as we head back behind the reef that evening. As they say, if you've got it... then rub the other skipper's noses right in it. (We blanked the next day. Serves us right...)

 








Josh "Pretty Amazing" having the big pull with his Marlin. 

Of course, having crowed off like that, we got our just desserts the next day by blanking completely- the only action to break up the hypnotic undulations of the boat being one good sized fish that charged the skip-bait, lit up for attack like a turquoise submarine, and looking an absolute certainty to nail the bait... before turning away and disappearing at the very last minute. "After the Lord Mayor's Show" and all that!

Our days and nights continued to follow a regular pattern, and the night time fishing inside the reef also continued to be great fun. Several times we managed to 

The 120ft Valkyrie plays mother ship to the Platinum for a few nights. Lifestyles of the rich and the famous eh?

berley a school of Big Eye Trevally up into the lights off the stern of the boat and catch a few of them on chunks of Tuna- all of them hard fighting scrappers on light tackle. And it was during one of these scraps I looked down to see a very large, pale and ominous looking shadow following the Trevally up to the surface in the deck lights.
"Jesus Steve- there's a bloody great shark down here mate!" I muttered, as it slinked off and disappeared back into the blackness.
"I'll have some of that!" replied Rambozo, and a 50lb class outfit was quickly set up with a wire leader and a strong 14/0 hook. Another Trevally (of about 8 to 10lbs in weight) was caught and sent out under a white balloon to see if the shark was still patrolling the area.


































One actually behaves itself at boat side - all ready for it's release.

Instincts told us that it would be. And we were right- within a few minutes, there was a large disturbance somewhere out there in the darkness beneath the balloon, briefly, before it vanished with a loud, well, erm, "bosh" is probably the best way to describe it! 28 minutes of grinding each other down later, the shark finally gave in and waddled up beside the boat to be roped to the side- giving mercy to Rambozo's aching arms. Simon was now in his element, and sadly (to me) the 400lb plus Whaler Shark was ritually despatched with a club (A.K.A. 'the donger'; as in, 

"I knocked the back out of her with the donger and she went out like a light, mate...") before being simply dumped over the side to feed the crabs and other sharks. I'm not completely in tune with billfishing etiquette, but to me it seemed such a wasteful and ignominious end for such a big fish. Upon rising the following morning there were chunks of oily shark liver floating to the surface right near the boat, a slick flattening the surface for hundreds of metres downtide. For some reason I can't for the life of me fathom the logic of now, I decided it would be interesting to see what was tearing the unfortunate shark corpse to pieces and donned a snorkel and fins to go down and have a look. Regrettably the visibility was only perhaps 15 metres that day, and nothing could be seen in 30 metres of water. I briefly considered diving down as deep as I could to try and get a better view... but then realisation dawned that I was flapping about in the ocean where Tiger Sharks play, with a huge Whaler Shark being ripped to pieces a few metres beneath me, it's blood and oil berleying up every predator for miles around... Hmmm... Time to make a sharp exit!

The next time we tried the berley for the Trevally, the sharks really got on the scent, and on the outer extremities of the light cast by the boat, long, slow moving, light coloured shapes could be seen cruising pretty much continuously. A shark bait was dropped out for them, but for some reason, all they wanted were the tiny cubes of Tuna we were using for berley! Steve got spooled out by one on a light spinning outfit before the backing line broke, and three times that evening large sharks stole in on the scene before the Trevally and ate one of my Tuna cubes with a hook in it. The first two bit off pretty much immediately, but the last one just swam up and ate the bait as gently as a Carp taking a Chum Mixer off the surface of a pond... and then it just kept swimming. Realising I had fat chance of getting the thing to the boat on the gear I was using, I watched the expensive braid quickly disappearing from my Baitrunner: "Ten quid... twenty quid... thirty quid..." I thought as the metres zipped out. "Ohhhh bollocks...". So I turned the drag up to 'sunset' and hoped for the best! Luckily it then bit through the leader and I wound 200 metres of line back onto the spool with some relief!

A colourful remedy for a salty old sea-dog's jock-rash?
















Still waiting as another day draws to a close 
out on the blue water. Tim would call this 
the 'scary time of day'.

"Ladies and gentlemen. Fresh for this season of utility-wear on the Linden Bank, styled and brought to you by House of Versace, Andy models the stunning new Marlin Fishcoteque hot-pants, available in turquoise polyester, and tastefully appointed in a sequined billfish outline, a piss-dribble-spot and a delicate patina of Scad gism..."

 


That tagging moment, Rambozo goes native with the tag-pole and Josh has his fish on the card. Nice one boys!

For our last few evenings at sea, we had the luxury of a 'mothership' for company. Josh's gainful employment (huh- call that a job?!) is as deckie on a stunning, privately owned 120ft luxury yacht- the Valkyrie. His captain, Martin, and crew Mark, Jo, Linda and Jim had brought the ship out to the reef for a few days. After fishing was finished in the evening, we would make our way back behind Opal Reef to find them and tie up alongside, where the absurdly generous bunch there would wine and dine us in true style- with great food and ice cold drinks as we relaxed on their spacious deck. We were piped aboard (well, not quite...) and invited to take a seat. 
"What can we get you to drink, Andy?" politely asked Captain Martin.
"Erm, a G&T would be rather nice, thank you for asking", I smiled, all tongue in cheek.
"Certainly. I'll get someone to bring one for you". And five minutes later, a tray arrived at my side, with a nice, big gin and tonic, ice and a slice, napkin, in a large, straight glass. Just how I like 'em! And the one time I leave my smoking jacket and slippers at home! All very civilised and a unique experience for a pond-life traveller like myself. How the other half live eh?

The final full day on the ocean arrived, and having rested the lucky shorts for a couple of days (after our 

"Ooof me poor Farmer Giles..." Early induction sessions for Rambozo with the tag-pole were not without incident...









...A tag in the right place- before he swims off to go find a long-line to play with.









The end of another shitty day in paradise. Sometimes I wonder just how I cope.

blank day when I had given them another airing), I decided it was time to blow the slime off them and dazzle some more billfish into submission.

Rambozo was on strike for starters, and after hours of hydro-hypnosis, at 3pm he hooked up on another fish of some three hundred pounds, which after another spirited tussle, was brought boat-side on the wire ready to be tagged. This fish had other ideas though, and three times it almost pulled Tim over the transom before he finally had to dump the leader and let it free. With the sudden  

increase in power, everything appeared to go solid. Steve was pulled up onto his feet in the chariot.The fish seemed to plunge vertically beneath the boat, everything seeming considerably heavier than before, and finally the dacron gave way again with sharp crack. Opinion was divided aboard on exactly what had happened. Steve and myself thought that another poor Marlin had been mullered by a large shark, but Simon and Tim thought it was just the Marlin catching some second wind. Whatever occurred, it was certainly an impressive show of strength, although we found it all a little disconcerting that it was the very heavy braid that had broken yet again. Something was clearly not right.

After this disappointing loss, I slipped back into the cabin to get a drink, feeling a bit disillusioned with it all if I'm honest. You troll for hours, maybe hook a fish, and then it gets eaten by a shark, simply because we put a hook in it? After all, we were practising tag and release in the name of angling, science and conservation weren't we? Yet of the fish we brought to the boat, although we managed to put a tag in a few, there was no time to even check for other tags, let alone read and record the tiny reference numbers on the side in the name of science. From my admittedly limited experience, I'd guess the only tags that are ever re-recorded are those that are returned once the Marlin has had a terminal encounter with a long-liner! 

I snapped out of it and slipped back out on deck. The rods had just been re-positioned, and it was perhaps my last turn in the chariot before heading back to dry land. We didn't have long to wait.






















"Jesus H Christ on bike!!!"
900lbs of incredibly fat Marlin tries to leave the water just off the stern.

"Big fish!!! Big fish!!! On the left!!!" came Simon's yell from the bridge. As I swiftly dropped into the chair and readied the clips and chains for the rod, my eyes were focused on the left hand bait. And there, as plain as day, and even larger than life, was a huge outline of a Black Marlin, tracking and eyeing the bait from the wake side. My heart began to pound even harder, a slight feeling of dread mixed with exhilaration and adrenaline. I watched, mesmerised, as coolly, languidly, the monster fish drifted towards the bait; a metre of bill appearing and slicing through the surface, then confidently closing around the Scad in a tiny spatter of foam.

"Oh shit", I thought, "it's gone and got it..." as the heavy dacron pinged out from the clip and fluttered gently through the air before tightening off the waves to the rod tip. The point of no return. After all the hesitant takes, rejected baits and missed strikes of the previous eight days, the biggest fish we had seen turned out to be a dream- textbook almost.

 Not an ounce of hesitation or panic in its demeanour at all... until, that is, the "He's on!" shout went out from Tim, Simon hit the throttle, and the hook went home in a fury of spray and engine noise. As I attached the clips to the reel, I looked up to see the enormous fish ploughing across the ocean, its bill flared wide open, half its body clear of the surface, torso and head twisting and thrashing to dislodge the embedded circle hook, the still attached bait flailing around the fish's head. An apparition the like of which I had never seen before in my life. And then the braid began to melt from the spool, suddenly the huge Tiagra reel didn't seem so huge. Hundreds of metres- I have no idea how much- disappeared in seconds, Simon backed down hard to allow me to furiously wind as much braid as possible back, the deck of the boat filling with water as the ocean swells burst over the transom soaking all and sundry.

"You are now attached to the fish of a lifetime mate!" shouted Tim in my ear over the roar of the engines "So don't go and f**k it up!!!"

 

Having "fun" with an estimated 900 pound Black Marlin on the line... Those shorts are magic.

 "The never-ending, downward spiral of misery, torment and depression that I attempt to pass off as some kind of a life..."

















After nine days  of perfect weather, it cut up a bit choppy before we set course back to port.

Just the words of comfort and reassurance you need to hear when you're already in up to your neck and panic station is just a short hop around the corner. Time after time we got over the fish, and time after time the irresistible force just steadily dragged more line from the reel.

At times nothing would move for minutes on end- just a massive, immovable weight on the rod, lifting me from my backside in the chair and onto my feet, trying to get another turn or two on the reel, but finding it jammed solid against the broadside of the Marlin, sweat running down chest and back, down the forehead and stinging into the eyes. At least five times the outrigger tag passed through the roller guides on the rod, signifying that the prize was only some 120 feet away, only to watch it turn and go again, the tag disappearing below the surface and yards of line in interest taken by way of retribution. Torture as you realise you now have to wind all that line back onto the reel! Eventually I realised that these runs were getting shorter, and I knew that as much as my legs were feeling the strain, the Marlin was feeling it more: I was going to win the battle. 

After yet more attrition, the huge fish was within reach of the boat, Tim's gloved hands reaching and grabbing the heavy leader, bringing it ever closer, but again our adversary had other ideas. Tim hung on grimly as the fish turned and made a bid for freedom again;
"Dump it!!" I shouted, in fear that he would be pulled clean over the side, and this he did, just as the billfish pushed itself from the water like a Polaris Missile not ten metres from the boat, although so big, heavy and incredibly fat that it was unable to lift it's whole body clear of the surface. My jaw dropped as I took in the vision in front of me, the rest of the crew screaming various strengths of expletive. I made the line back from the short run the fish had made, Tim wired the fish up again for the third time, told me it was a caught fish now, and asked if I wanted to tag the fish or just release it:
"Tag it if you can, but if you can't it don't matter- I just want it to go back in one piece", and so it was decided that the fish would be cut free immediately to make things as quick and easy as possible. We didn't have a chance though, since the fish made one more attempt at freedom, pulled out of Tim's grasp, and gained it's liberty without our help, breaking free- no doubt due to some small nick of damage to the line that had occurred boatside during the fight- after one hour fifty minutes of hard conflict. 

 

The end of a long trip. Aaahhh, bless.

 It was all over. I unclipped from the rod and reel, and wobbled out of the chariot, realising for the first time that I was completely done in. Legs turned to jelly, hands, arms and ribs aching, soaked from head to toe in saltwater spray and sweat. For some absurd reason, the only thing I could say was "That'll do me for today boys".
"We'll give you at least 900 pounds for that mate", smiled Tim, shaking my hand, before I waddled off to sit alone in the air-conditioned cabin and take stock of it all. Initially I felt pretty numb. In fact I felt nothing at all. At the end of the day, as far as acts of angling skill go, I've used more to catch a 3 pound Chub from the River Welland, and without Tim, Simon and the boat I would have had no chance of even encountering the creature, let alone hooking it and winding it to the boat. But in terms of excitement, fear, adrenaline and pure spectacle it would take some surpassing in all my days on the water. I started to get a similar feeling to that which I had when I caught my first thirty pound plus Pike (all those years ago). After all, no matter what happens for the rest of my days, no one can take that experience away from me. Similarly, I now know just what it feels like to have 900lbs of Black Marlin on the end of the line. And that will stay with me forever, as will the pictures stored in my mind's eye of that unbelievable fish taking the bait and lifting itself airborne. Priceless.

I awoke the following morning with a bit of an aching skull from too much "Fighting Cock" (whisky, 51% proof- not to be confused with "Cock Fighting" which was not allowed on board under any circumstances, even after ten days at sea), and a body that felt like it had been hit by a bus in my sleep. I had already told the others that I wouldn't be fishing on the last day, and with Josh at work on the Valkyrie, this gave Steve a seat in the chariot all day in the hope that he too would encounter one of the big girls. Feeling as I did, of that I was grateful. As it turned out, the wind had sprung up to some 25 knots, making the waters of the Linden bank a bit choppy for our final curtain call with the Marlin. One hesitant fish was raised all day, which in the end decided not to eat the bait, and the only other point of interest being when we watched a large Hammerhead Shark home in on, and follow, one of the skip-baits. It picked up the scent hundreds of metres back from the bait, and just made a bee line straight up the trail. Tim wound the bait up in order to tease it closer to the boat, which it followed, but still it just sniffed and inspected the bait, before finally ghosting off into the distance and disappearing into the deep blue. Who says sharks are dumb eh?

When Simon gave the order to wind up the baits that afternoon, signifying the end of the trip and the beginning of the long haul back to port, I realised how lucky I'd been to have experienced the whole voyage. The huge, spectacular fish, the perfect tropical weather, and the vast, beautiful ocean with the dazzling turquoise reef. Idling into the now familiar surroundings of port Cairns as the sun set over the smoky backdrop of the far distant hills, I felt like I'd just returned home from a truly memorable holiday. Which I suppose I had really.

Oh, and before I sign off this instalment, I can't express enough thanks to Tim and Simon for presenting the opportunity to take a place on a trip I never thought I'd get to go on, and for looking after us novices out there on the ocean. And a big thanks also to Josh and Steve- both top blokes and great company. Cheers boys!

Phew... now that was a loooong story.

 

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