(All images by Lyle Muhl, Cross Country)
First marlin caught and released: Boat: Fishbones. Skipper: Barry Muller. Angler: Ruben Moggee.
“It is a back-sickening, sinew-straining, man-sized job even with a rod that looks like a hoe handle,” he wrote in the Toronto Star Weekly in February 1922. “But if you land a big tuna after a six-hour fight, fight him man against fish until your muscles are nauseated with the unceasing strain, and finally bring him up alongside the boat, green-blue and silver in the lazy ocean, you will be purified and will be able to enter unabashed into the presence of the very elder gods, and they will make you welcome.” Ernest Hemingway
Cross Country has been one of the sponsors of the OET Bill & Game Fish Tournament for well over a decade. This year it was held between 6th – 11th November. OET is an acronym for what was formerly known as the Oos/Eastern Transvaal Ski-Boat Association. These days it is known as the Mpumalanga Deep Sea Angling Association – and this particular tournament has been going for around 45 years (since way back in 1977). The event this year was, as always, superb. They say a picture paints a thousand words, and so I am going to allow the images to ‘do the talking’, whilst we explore some interesting facts / anecdotes around the sport.
Ian enjoying himself at the tournament…
According to Wikipedia, “Big-game fishing, also known as offshore sportfishing, offshore game fishing or blue-water fishing, is a form of recreational fishing targeting large game fish, usually done on a large body of water such as the ocean”. “Game fish” is a fish prized for the sport involved in catching it – they are known to put up a good fight. The term “billfish” refers to a group of saltwater fish characterised by prominent pointed bills (rostra), and they are amongst the most powerful predators in the sea.
All sports have a ‘starting point’ and, somewhat surprisingly, the origins of big-game fishing can be traced to one specific day – 1st June 1898. On this auspicious day, off Avalon on Santa Catalina, California, Dr Charles Frederick Holder landed a 183 lb (83kg) blue fin tuna on rod and reel. As a result of this catch, he and his friends founded the “Tuna Club” on 15th June. The club’s articles of incorporation were finalized on 20th July 1898, with three membership classifications: Honorary, Associate and Active. The club would be open to any gentlemen willing to follow strict rules of fish engagement whilst at the same time promoting fish conservation (more about this later). To this day, the Tuna Club is located at 100 St. Catherine Way in Avalon and is still considered the most prestigious fishing club in the world.
Big boats and big motors.
When people began fishing in prehistoric times, they used their bare hands to catch fish in shallow water – which was obviously not practical in deeper water. Enter fishhook and a line. The first hooks were made of wood, bone, shell or stone. Because fishermen cut their hands when the fish started fighting, and because they had limited control as to where the baited hook fell, they started tying a line to a fishing rod. These rods were primarily made of wood and bamboo until the 20th century. Until 1884 (when “artificial” line was invented in France by a process that used twisted silk mixed with resin and chemicals), all fishing line was made from natural fibres. The point being made in this little history lesson is that the equipment used in the early days was vastly inferior to today’s modern equipment, inspiring great respect for those early pioneers of the sport.
It seems a great pity to kill these magnificent creatures (and it’s really important to conservation that one doesn’t). So, for example, in the OET Bill & Game Fish Tournament, all bill-, sail- and kingfish are for compulsory release. There’s a R30k fine if you don’t release. But do the fish survive? Well, studies have shown that the post-release survival rates of marlin taken by recreational anglers are high, usually around 85% – 90%, and can approach 100% when experienced anglers use lures (or circle hooks when using baits) and utilise best practice in fighting and handling the fish (tagging and releasing the fish beside the boat, no air exposure etc.). So that’s a resounding “yes”!!
Sooo many boats.
Ernest Hemingway returned from the Spanish Civil War in the ‘30s, when fishermen were landing giant bluefin tuna on rod and reel in the shallow waters off Nova Scotia. In the deep waters off Bimini, Bahamas however, it was nearly impossible to land the giants or marlin before sharks “apple-cored” them. They regularly hauled them up to find nothing more than a head, tail and backbone. Hemingway’s somewhat quirky solution (although often more macho than effective), was to shoot at the sharks with a Tommy gun or pistol!
Marlin fishing is a game of patience. You wait. And then you wait some more. Then chaos and adrenalin. Then more waiting.
Following on from Ernest Hemingway’s shark issues, my family used to spend time in Mozambique, and more specifically Bazaruto, fishing for marlin. When not on his own boat, my grandfather was often on the boat belonging to the legendary game fisherman, Jim Mortleman – who hailed from what was then Rhodesia. Jim’s wife was a tiny, petit little woman – who apparently also had a great passion for game fishing. She hooked an enormous marlin, and bravely fought it all the way. By the time she managed to get it alongside the boat, literally only the head was left – which, by all accounts, indicated that the marlin was of world record size. Thanks to those pesky sharks, that record was never attained…
Once you’ve committed, there’s no turning back…
Another idea passed down through the family, was the suspicion (circa the ‘60s) that the Bazaruto Islands were spawning grounds for black marlin. So, on writing this newsletter, I decided to investigate. To date, only two spawning grounds have previously been recognised – the Great Barrier Reef and the South China Seas. Then I came across an article in FishBazaruto.com. “What is also very interesting to us is that, finally, the scientific world is suggesting that the black marlin are spawning off the Bazaruto Islands in the Indian Ocean. We are no scientists but we (through on-site observation over the last two decades) believe this to be the case. There is actually very little doubt in our minds, that Bazaruto is a black marlin spawning area. We have, on various occasions, seen the “mating” behaviour between young males and the very large females that are present in the area throughout September to early December.” Isn’t that fascinating – right on our doorstep, so to speak?
Early mornings and late nights.
And finally, to wrap, some amazing facts about the black marlin. How large can they grow? Well, the largest black marlin ever caught weighed 1,560-pounds (707.6kgs) – caught by Alfred Glassell, Jr. on 4th August 1953 off Cabo Blanco, Peru. By comparison, the largest Blue Marlin weighed 1,805 pounds (817kgs), caught by Captain Cornelius Choy out of Oahu, Hawaii in 1970. Female black marlin grow much larger than the males, who rarely weigh more than 400 lbs (181 kgs).
While some maintain that black marlin can dive to nearly 3,000 feet (914m), as a rule they don’t do that often since deeper water is colder and they prefer warmer water. It’s unusual for a black marlin to dive deeper than 100 feet (30m). They are a migratory species that travels thousands of miles across our oceans (tracked using satellite trackers). The black marlin is arguably the fastest fish – reaching speeds of up to 80 mph (almost 130 km)!
Magical time on the water…
Black marlin congregate at spawning grounds, where they reproduce via external fertilization. The females release eggs into the warm waters and the males release their sperm to fertilize them. A female can carry up to 40 million eggs. There is no parental care of the young. The eggs float until the tiny larval fish hatch out, probably one to two days after fertilization. What is truly fascinating is that all black marlin are born female (males evolve later).
The only real threat that these fish face comes from humans – particularly from the high-seas longlining bycatch which is a major problem (it is said that it accounts for 90% – 95% of the fishing mortality of marlin).
Long live catch-and-release big game fishing!!
Jacqui Ikin & The Cross Country Team