Jon Schwartz from bluewaterjon.com here with some wild fishing news: a huge marlin attacked the boat I was on today in Kona, Hawaii! I am a fishing photographer and writer and was on the press boat here at the HIBT (Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament). Captain B.C. Crawford, owner of the 36' Hatteras Chiripa, and mate K.J. Robinson were helping me document the billfish action by chasing after boats that were hooked up. The morning saw a flurry of action and I was able to get some good shots of marlin jumping. By midday the action had slowed down, and I was sacked out on the couch, my 4 cameras strewn across the floor of the salon.
Though we were the press boat, we were also trolling some lures; as long as we had to be moving around, often simply waiting for the next boat to call in a hookup, the boat trolled two lures. That might help us catch a nice mahi mahi or small tuna for dinner, I thought. The rest of the boats are trolling at least 6 so this is a very light setup, and I told KJ that if the lures got hit, I was manning the cameras, not the rod!
I used to do a lot of fishing, mostly kayak fishing, where I chased smaller striped marlin up to 150 pounds in Mexico. One day I was lucky enough to catch and release 5 of them, and it was filmed and featured on Nat Geo TV's "Hooked: Monster Fish II".
I was so obsessed with it for so long that within a couple of years I had gotten it all out of my system and took up writing and photography, which seemed to befit a guy like me with 3 kids, a wife, and all that. Enough with pulling on the fish! I'd let others do the work and simply document the highlights without breaking a sweat. Once in awhile I go in the water and get shots of big fish if they are calm enough, like the below photo (actually that sailfish you see was kind of sketchy, which is another story) but for the most part I sit on my rear end on the boats, twiddling my thumbs, and wait for hours until the action unfolds.
Compared to what I used to do, it often feels too sedentary, but I guess to be a marine wildlife photographer, you have to be patient. It's kind of like waiting for a rare animal sighting; jumping marlin don't (or so I thought until today!!) spend a whole lot of time in the air. So you get a lot of down time with a couple of seconds per day, if you are lucky, to witness something cool. If you're even luckier, you might get a good photo of it. Getting the shot is every bit as satisfying as catching the fish with your hands, and you get to hold on to it forever, assuming you don't delete it by mistake. Here's one I took of a 400 pound black marlin in Panama crushing a football-sized tuna in it's mouth:
Anywho, there we are on the Chiripa trolling lures and waiting for the next called-in hookup. Suddenly I was jolted awake by the sound of a screaming reel- one of our lures had been hit! We'd been pulling those things for the past two days with no hits, and I basically forgot they were even there!
I ran out to the deck and KJ had taken the rod and was yelling, "It's a tuna, it's going straight down!!" That seemed plausible to me because whatever it was, it wasn't jumping. My first thought was, "Bummer that I didn't bring my underwater camera housing; it's probably a nice tuna and because we're not in the tournament I could have swam with it and taken some pictures of it!! Now we'll be stuck here for hours while they reel in this fish, and I won't get any action shots!"
All of a sudden a huge blue marlin, later estimated by many long time big game angling experts who witnessed the event to be over 550 pounds, starts careening through the air in every conceivable direction, throwing massive walls of water with every move of it's huge tail, and leaving car size holes in the water when it came crashing down, sometimes belly up. This was one angry fish!
I ran back into the boat to get my cameras, and I was hooting and hollering in excitement. Finally some action!!! KJ knew that I wanted to get pictures rather than do the angling, so he took the rod into the chair and started strapping himself in.
I guess I must have kept shooting photos the whole time because I got these images of the fish going ballistic. Notice the remoras on it's underbelly! I wonder what they were thinking!! Some free ride they got!
KJ was born and raised in Kona and has spent time learning from B.C. on the Chiripa as well as doing some work on legendary Kona Captian Gene Vanderhoek's boat, the Sea Genie II. He knew the drill, did everything quickly and efficiently, and was ready in a matter of seconds for anything that the fish would do. Or so I thought....
After a couple of dazzling runs, which big gamed fishing expert Bob Lowe from Australia later called "The wildest thing I have ever seen on my 50 years of marlin fishing!" the fish started to run, and head toward us.
Now mind you, I am watching all of this through my 300 mm telephoto lens. I was so focused on getting the shot that I probably lost sense of what was really happening in terms of how the fish was behaving. All I knew was that the fish came at us so quickly that soon I was unable to see it through the camera (see shot #4 in the photo above) and I was starting to miss it because my lens was too long! "It must be close!" I thought! "Where's my wide lens?"
The last shot I took prior to impact was this:
Then came the impact.
The fish hit the side of the boat to my right, and my first thought was that it had come off (bummer!) and that the boat, and possibly the marlin, were in bad shape. But no! The reel was still screaming and KJ is yelling, "He's still on! He's still on!" but now we had a big problem. The fish had evidently slammed into the boat and just kept on going, and was pulling the 80 pound line under the boat. We were all waiting for the line to snap, but the reel kept on screaming!
Captain B.C. swung the boat around and KJ told me to help him by turning the chair, so I put my cameras down and became the deckhand. By this time the fish was going straight down and when KJ was able to get a bit of line back on the reel, he shook his head in resignation- the line surely couldn't last much longer, because it was coated with the black paint from the underside of the boat and was frayed. B.C. encouraged KJ to stick with it and soon they settled into a rhythm, slowly gaining back line.
If it looks like KJ is forcing a smile, he is! He was rightfully concerned that the fish would break line, and even though they planned to tag the fish and let it go, after the fish rammed the boat we seemed to all be committed to winning the battle and bringing it to heel, if only for a brief minute. Here's what he really looked like when I wasn't asking him to smile:
I'm not sure if you can sense it from the picture but we were all just waiting the whole time for the line to part, and that sinking feeling stayed with us for the duration of the fight. As I mentioned, this kid is a Kona native, and he knew exactly what to do. I helped a bit here and there but he performed the tasks of two people, the mate and the angler, grabbing onto the line to help him wind it on to the reel, repositioning himself, and so forth. He wanted to win and redoubled his efforts, and after maybe 20 minutes, the rubber band on the line had come up, meaning the fish was pretty close.
"Get the tagging stick!" he told me, so I reluctantly put my cameras down and got it for him. I didn't know what the hay we were going to do; I guess I was going to have to ditch my camera, but I figured I'd get one last shot in. KJ turned a few more cranks, and just as we started getting ready for the end game, and I fetched his leadering gloves, the line came up and the fish seemed ready to jump.
And then the line went slack..... it was off, and so close!!!
We figured the hook had pulled, but upon closer inspection, it turns out the hook had in fact broken! Tackle failure! Bad hook!
Below here you can see some pics of KJ, and also of the reel with the line that still had paint from the bottom of the boat:
KJ and I talked a bit about it and decided that we might dive underneath the boat soon and inspect the boat to see if it has any damage. I will take pictures if we see any!
Here's Captain B.C. Crawford, mate KJ, and the boat back at the Kailua Pier after it all was over:
I have many more great pictures that I'd like to share but I have to get to bed- it's 2:10am and I need to get up in less than 4 hours to go out again tomorrow! I will try to post some videos of the interviews I recorded on my iPhone with the people who witnessed it all. It turns out that as incredible as it seemed to us, the anglers that witnessed it were doubly blown away! Many of them have been fishing for giant marlin their whole lives and said that they had never seen anything like it, and they'd never seen a fish act like that or move that fast. They also said that they were worried about the guys in the boat!!
Check in tomorrow for my blog and report after day 3 of the Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament (HIBT). Hopefully I'll have some more big fish tales- and photos- to share with you. In the meantime check out the gallery on my site Bluewaterjon.com: fishing photography, articles, and travel for interesting content.