Albino Sailfish Caught by Angler Fishing in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico!

Article by Jon Schwartz, http://www.bluewaterjon.com/

Sailfish are one of about 9 species of fish known as "billfish". All billfish have long pointy bills at the tip of their nose. Sailfish aren't as big as some of their cousins, like the broadbill swordfish or blue and black marlins that can weigh over 1000 pounds, but they make up for it in looks and acrobatic leaps.

The Spanish term for them is Pez Vella: beautiful fish. Their fanlike dorsal fins make them instantly recognizable, and when they're excited, they flash iridescent mixes of magenta, red, yellow, and aqua hues.

 At other times, they assume dark tones, allowing them to sneak up on prey.

That's what makes the one that Matt Dye just caught off Cabo San Lucas so incredible. On Saturday, Nov. 28, Dye landed a ghostly white albino sailfish, which may be truly one of the rarest billfish catches in the world. And yes, the eyes were reddish pink! This fish must have stuck out like a sore thumb in the ocean!How on earth a fish of this size, with no ability to blend in, managed to survive in the wild remains a mystery for the moment; marine scientists will no doubt start chiming in with theories and insight in the coming weeks.

Matt, who hails from Alexandria Virginia, came down to Cabo to visit with Bob Gist, his wife Sharon, and Linda Daniels. Though they've all known each other for over 20 years, they see each other only occasionally, and decided to vacation at a Cabo time share owned by one in the group.

They contacted Tracy Ehrenberg, owner of Pisces Sportfishing Fleet, and indicated that they'd like to charter a luxury yacht for fishing. Tracy put them on the Get Over It, a 54-foot Bertram captained by Jobe Villavicencio, with brother Javier working as the mate. Jobe has become one of Cabo's most sought after captains, known for such feats as catching and releasing 197 striped marlin in one day in 2008, and in fact, the two are current World Offshore Champions.

Though most of the boats had been heading north of Cabo's marina to load up on dorado (aka mahi-mahi), Bob suggested that they try for marlin and head straight out to the "6000 line", where the depth reaches, uh, 6000 feet. Evidently, that's about 15 miles out. Just before they reached the area, they saw what they thought was a marlin free jumping, so they ran the boat over to the fish and threw out a live bait to the fish on 30-pound tackle.

The fish took the bait, a battle between angler and fish ensued, and eventually Matt brought the fish to the boat. What began to appear from the depths shocked everyone aboard. Bob Gist watched the strange sea creature emerge with astonishment. "When it was coming up, it just looked...weird..and I was like, where the h-ll is the color?!... and it kept coming and then I thought it was a shark! And then I said, it's a billfish!...and it's a sailfish! and I was like, sH#@!"

"It almost looked skeletonly from a color, and it was just all white, the tail was more so than the bill, and it was incredible!"

I asked Bob what the crew’s reaction was like. "They were flipping out because they've never seen anything like that in their lives, and they started looking at the eyes, and the eyes were red and pink, and they started hollering out albino, albino, and then they called into the marina, and that's when we learned that it was a special thing.”

What actually happened was that Captain Jobe had called Tracy and told her that they had landed the bizarre fish, and they wanted Tracy's advice on what to do with it. Pisces has earned a reputation as one of the most conservation minded charter operations in the industry, and is a strong proponent of the catch and release of billfish. For her, the decision to release the fish would usually be a no-brainer, and they would have usually left the fish in the water, but since the fish was so unusual, the crew thought they had better ask Tracy and take some pictures.

Tracy Ehrenberg at her office overlooking the Cabo Marina

Tracy has even been training her crews to learn how to obtain scientific samples that are given to several trusted marine scientists she knows. She's one of many that feel that Cabo may in fact be a breeding ground for billfish. If this theory can be proven to the government- if enough billfish larvae are collected while skimming the surface for plankton- the area will be closed to commercial fishing, and billfish stocks will be safeguarded from longliners. This is her ultimate goal.

Ehrenberg said that although she knew the scientists might be able to obtain valuable data from this one unusual fish, she also wanted to honor the client's wish. Matt knew that if he wanted to get a mount made of his amazing catch, he didn’t need to kill it. These days, taxidermists make replicas better than ever before, based only on a photo of the catch. Matt was committed to letting the fish go, but now they had a problem: after the fish was brought aboard for a photo, it was exhausted, and releasing it in good health proved to be difficult.

Matt Dye being interviewed by Jon Schwartz after Matt's incredible catch

The fish wasn't able to swim off by itself after placing it back in the water, and Matt and his friends became worried it might not make it. The anglers and crew got so caught up in the revival effort that they came up with a most unusual plan: mate Javier volunteered to be held over the transom by his feet so he could hold the fish’s head underwater, and his brother, captain Jobe, would slowly move the boat through the water to run fresh water over the fish’s gills. Incredibly, the plan worked! The fish regained it's strength and kicked off by itself, and everyone aboard cheered with relief.

Matt Dye should be given a big hand for making the decision to release the fish, and the crew of the Get Over It should be commended for their valiant efforts. Well done!!!

Interestingly, The Billfish Foundation (TBF),  a nonprofit organization founded to promote the health of billfish stocks worldwide, has actually come up with a helpful set of guidelines that are geared towards educating us anglers on releasing fish in a manner that puts the least amount of stress on the fish. They recommend that the billfish be left in the water at all times. Several publications and websites have written articles on how to properly release billfish, and as I come across them I will post them here. In the meantime, if you know of one, please contact me throught my website, listed above.

Personally, I have seen several methods employed that seem to work really well. Different methods work for different sizes of fish, types of line, sizes and types of hook, and so on. There's the school of thought that it's better to leave the hook in the fish (this also depends on where the fish is hooked). Sometimes the anglers will use light line and when the fish gets close to the boat, the mate will simply yank the line tight very quickly, causing it to snap at the knot on the hook. The fish usually simply swims away without even ever touching the boat. This was used about 50% of the time that I accompanied Pisces fishing charters.

At other times, I have seen mates leader the fish to the side of the boat, grab the bill, and remove the hook. With larger fish the captain will often come over and remove the hook with an ARC Dehooker, a device made specifically for the safe and effective removal of hooks in fish. I spent a month in Kona watching some of the world's best captains like Marlin Parker and Gene Vanderhoek catch and release 600 pound blue marlin without barely blinking an eye, it seemed, and both fellows and their mates made used dehooker tools to great effect.

In Guatemala, they seem to have the greatest sailfish numbers on earth. When I was there last year in December, they were releasing 30 plus sails per day, per boat. No joke! Check my website for the article I wrote on it in the "Articles" section. There, what they do is they have a long stick with a line-cutting tool attached to the end of it. They use very thin wire circle hooks, similar to the ones the Pisces Fleet uses, and when the fish gets close to the boat, the mate grabs the leader and cuts it right at the knot where the hook is in one deft motion.

As a sport fishing photographer and writer who shoots above and below the water, my own observations have led me to conclude that there are a great many mthods that are successful in promoting healthy billfish releases. I actually took this next photo aboard the Rebecca, another member of the Pisces Sportfishing Fleet. It shows one of the clients, Dan Ryan, releasing one of the 4 striped marlin that was landed that day. When the fish are calm enough and the situation is right, sometimes the anglers can even join in the fun!

Of course, usually the mate is the one handling the fish at this point, but Dan has been coming back to Cabo for many years and befriended the captains and crews at Pisces to the point where he likes to take over as second mate. In fact, he had dinner for two nights in a row at Captain J.R's house, but that's another story..!


Fishing for Marlin and Dorado in Cabo

Lots of tailing striped marlin! The first three days of my trip I accompanied a very experienced angler named Gerald Richmond, a member of the IGFA and TBF (Billfish Foundation). We were on he 31 foot Rebecca, one of many fishing boats in the Pisces Sportfishing Fleet.
He's been fishing with them for 15 years as a client, and has caught over 500 marlin in his 79 plus years! Gerry baited up 16 and caught two on our first day. We went about 18 miles north of Cabo, maybe a bit more than halfway to Golden Gate Bank where the striped marlin bite went crazy the past 4-5 years. The fish were no more than 3 miles from shore.

The bait was goggle eyes/caballitos and Jerry used spinning tackle to sight cast to them as they swam around in full view, so it was quite exciting. Once they saw the bait, they either sank down or lit up like a Christmas tree and bit.
On board was his fiance Claire who is 73, another experienced angler. Both hail from Islamorada, Florida.
The dorado bit is close to wide open, with bulls averaging 15-20 pounds, caught on jig strikes and bait. Of course all marlin are being released! When you see a red flag with a white "T" on it that means the fish was released, so on this particular set of flags you see two marlin flags ( blue), two release flags, and a dorado flag. Jerry actually released most of his dorado too, but kept a couple for us to eat back at the Marine.
There are many restaurants like"Captain Tony's" right next to Pisces Sportfishing on the marina that will cook your catch. Quick fact- did you know that the marina here in Cabo is one of the most expensive and luxurious in the world?

Here's a shot of Land's End that I took on the way back. This is the spot at the very tip of Baja where the Pacific meets the Sea of Cortez. A most beautiful spot, this pic actually doesn't do it justice, it was taken on the fly..

I have been staying at some wonderful hotels. After 3 nights at Casa Dorada (see previous post) I found myself at the luxurious Marquis Los Cabos Hotel and Resort
The place is amazing! Here are a couple of quick pictures I took. As soon as I was taken to my room overlooking the Pacific I whipped out my camera because the from my balcony was equisite. Hopefully I captured some of the beauty in this photo (click to enlarge)

I took some other ones, and have plenty more I will be sharing. As much as I love fishing and underwater photography, I love photographing architecture and scenery. Resorts like this give one plenty of opportunities to take nice photos. Below is one of their restaurants. If you can believe it, it's the least fancy of the two they have!!

And then a few shots I took by the pool:


Cabo San Lucas

I just got into Cabo San Lucas yesterday, and checked into the Casa Dorada Hotel. It's all new and quite beautiful. The weather here is about 78 degrees and sunny with a slight breeze. I'm overlooking Los Arcos, where the Pacific meets the Sea of Cortez, and I feel like I could swim there I'm so close!
After taking a nap, I enjoyed some delicious gourmet Mexican cuisine and then took some night shots by the hotel pool that sits right on top of Medano beach. Here's one of my photos (click on photo to see the whole image):


New Cover Shot: Bluewater Boats and Sportfishing Magazine

Bluewater Boats and Sportfishing Magazine is a highly acclaimed publication based in Australia that focuses exclusively on big game fishing. The magazine has garnered much praise from top anglers, readers, sport fishing professionals, and fishing enthusiasts. I feel very fortunate that editor Tim Simpson chose a photo I took for the November 2009 issue.  Here is the shot:

I took it while I was doing a travel story on fishing for sailfish in Guatemala. The fishing was incredible, and the resort that I stayed at, Casa Vieja Lodge , was top notch in every way.  These types of shots require that I put my camera in a custom underwater housing, go for a swim, and shoot up at the angler and fish. The fish was released in good shape, as evidenced by the incredible colors.

Many anglers and captains wisely strive to bring billfish to the side of the boat rapidly for a quick release, which reduces stress on the fish. If they've been played to exhaustion- something anglers should avoid-their colors fade to a dark, somber hue. Judging by the colors on this one, it must have been pretty darn healthy! When I get in the water I try not to take pictures at the expense of the fish. To that end I only get in when the fish is calm, but still healthy. If these conditions are not met, I don't do it.

Over the years I've learned that billfish should not be brought aboard for the sake of a picture. The Billfish Foundation has done a great job of educating anglers about this important fact and a visit to their website might explain the how's and why's of proper billfish release techniques. If I am not mistaken, it's illegal in some countries to bring billfish aboard for a photo, as may already be the case with other fish like tarpon in Florida. Don't quote me here though, that's not my field of expertise!

Back to the photo: I remember getting back on board, toweling off, checking this image in the viewfinder, and then almost hitting the roof because I was so happy. Getting a good photo of a billfish release is hard enough, but getting one while treading water in the ocean increases the factor of difficulty many times over. If even one drop gets on the housing's exterior surface, the shot can be ruined. Even worse, housings can leak and flood, turning a $6000 camera and lens setup and the accompanying $3500 housing into an expensive doorstop in a matter of seconds!!