Kayak Fishing for Marlin on National Geographic TV

Is kayak fishing for marlin safe? Of course not! It was something that I felt compelled to do when I was head over heels in love with big game kayak fishing. I decided to take the risks after a lot of thought and years of preparation. It was a calculated risk, just like surfing large waves, but I imagine surfing large waves takes more skill. Kayak fishing for marlin takes more foolhardiness than skill..maybe a lot of foolhardiness.
When you think about it, many people engage in activities that are known to be dangerous, it's just that kayak fishing for marlin is less common than, say, riding a motorcycle, or skateboarding down a handrail at top speed only four feet above the cement. Other people have caught marlin from kayaks, and bigger ones at that, so it's not a singular feat, but it sure was a HUGE thrill!
Tune in to Nat Geo TV this week to see some work I did that ended up on their show called "Hooked: Monster Fish II". Several years ago I went down to Cabo San Lucas during a crazy red hot bite and caught and released 8 marlin from a kayak in a two day period. I hired a videographer and photographer who got hours of incredible HD footage and stills of the fish going ballistic right next to my kayak. I released them all by hand after hooking them by trolling mackerel behind my kayak. If you go to Kayak Fishing For Marlin: Story and Photos you can read about some related big game marlin kayak fishing that I did. Here's a video on Youtube that shows some of the wild footage:
The trip that we documented for Nat Geo TV represented the highpoint of my kayak fishing fun and after that I transitioned into a somewhat more mellow role as a standard fishing and travel writer and photographer. I haven't been kayak fishing in quite awhile but one of these days I'll get back in the saddle for some more adventure.


Mahi-mahi, dorado, or dolphin fish: What's in a name?

Why do East Coast fishing anglers and captains call these spectacular fish dolphin?
In Hawaii, they are called mahi-mahi. From Panama to California, they are called dorado. Supposedly mahi means strong in Hawaiian, and dorado means "golden one" in Spanish, so I get that. But where do East Coasters come up with the term dolphin? I mean, isn't THIS a dolphin?
I've got nothing against the East Coast ( in fact, I grew up there), but whatsup with the term dolphin? Is there any linguistic basis for calling it a dolphin? I'd like to know the answer.
I do know some things about these fish, which I will call dorado from now on. Keep in mind I'm not a fishologist, these are just things I have picked up through my own experience, and from talking with hundreds of anglers and captains over the years.
Dorado grow extremely rapidly, and if I'm not mistaken a 5 year old dorado is an old one. The males have the pronounced Herman Munster-like foreheads, while the forehead of the female slopes back gently. Males get much bigger, and the world record, 88 pounds, was caught in Cabo within the last 20 years.
Providing you don't catch them on heavy tackle, they are in my opinion one of the most fun fish to catch, because they go ballistic in the air and do all types of crazy acrobatic leaps. They turn color in a flash, going from white to neon yellow, green, aqua, blue, and even purple all sometimes within the same jump.
For fishing photographers like me, they make very tricky subjects, because their leaps are so unpredictable and lightning quick. In fact, they are easier to photograph underwater because they are usually calmer in their own element. It's hard to get a decent shot of the fish above water with their true colors; here's one of the few I have. Thanks to my friend Captain Jeff Rogers for dealing with the feisty bugger!
Their beauty disappears instantaneously when they are unhappy ( as in, when they realize they are becoming dinner). They immediately turn greenish brown and so getting a photo of them happy is quite difficult. In addition, they go totally nutso in the cockpit, so many people simply stuff them right in an ice chest to avoid having the thing flip out- literally and figuratively!
Below is a recent cover shot of mine of a dorado that my friend caught in Nicaragua. I was visiting Lance Moss and his wife at their Surfari Lodge (think epic fishing meets dream surfing vacation) and there were plenty of them there. Jeff looks cool as a cucumber in the pic but I can guarantee you it was a real pain to hold this fish. Most people can't handle it and drop it, resulting in chaos.
I probably don't have to tell you that they are one of the tastiest eating fish around, but one thing you might not know is that they just might be one of the healthiest fish to eat. Why? Well, do a google search on mercury in fish. Last time I checked, they have a very low mercury count, and I'm pretty sure that's due to their short lifespan and diet.
Kayak fishing for dorado is one of my all time favorite fishing activities. When they hit your bait or lure, the reel screems like a dentist's drill and all those acrobatic leaps are now happening right next to you, often at eye level or higher!


Fishing for Giant Bonefish in Hawaii: My New Article in Saltwater Sportsman Magazine

Bonefish in Hawaii get HUGE! I went to Oahu last summer to get photos and content for a how-to/travel article that I wrote for Saltwater Sportsman on these prized fish. I spent a week with Capt. Mike Hennessy watching him put his clients of these monsters, which can grow to 16-plus pounds.  Here are some underwater bonefish photos and pictures.


Fishing with Kids- BIG fun on the High Seas!

I recently had the pleasure of taking three of my students fishing. Spending time on the water together and sharing my passion for saltwater angling, adventure, photography, and technology has proven to be a great way to get to know my students. Every year I try to get as many kids as I can out on the water.
This year, the mission is the same, but the number of students has increased twofold; my 4/5 combination class has 38 students(!) It's definitely the most challenging and rewarding assignment I've had in my 13 years teaching.
I don't have a boat, so I need people to help me. My buddy Mike Proctor owns one, and he has been my salvation many times over.
Here's Captain Mike:

The way I met him shows what kind of a guy he is. I used to teach at a public school on Camp Pendleton Marine Base, and one of the students in my class was upset because his dad was deploying for Iraq in three days. I put out a desperate "Hail Mary" post on a local fishing chat board, asking if anyone could volunteer to take the kid and his dad out fishing within the next two days, and Mike, who I had never met before, sends me an email telling me he's up for doing it!
Lo and behold two days later Mike took out my student, his dad, and the other two brothers, and they had an awesome time fishing, all on Mike's time and tab. So that's Mike. Here's a pic of the boys and their dad on that trip just a day before dad deployed:
I ended up teaching all three of those boys, in fact. The one that was in my class at the time, Luke, is the one with the chips in his mouth. Here is a picture of him the next day in class telling the kids about the monster fish he caught the day before with Captain Mike!
 (You'll have to excuse the quality, I took it on an old cell phone)
I gave Mike a call this past August; we'd been planning to take some of my kids out, and we finally found a weekend that worked for both of us. Of course I left it to the last minute, so on Thursday I announced in class that I had the chance to take three kids fishing. How would we make it fair? We decided to use a  random number generator that we looked up online.
Trouble was, most of the kids that got picked by the generator ended up not being able to go. Much of that may have been due to the fact that I called the kids' parents up and asked them if they could come on a fishing trip with me with no advance notice. It also didn't help that I was speaking in flawed Spanish to many of the parents, trying to bridge the language gap .
By the end of the day I had three kids who might be able to go, and to seal the deal with two, I needed to bring in a closer who was fluent in Spanish....my wife! It has to be an odd kind of situation, the parents not knowing me very well, and me being new to this school. I don't imagine they get a lot of calls from gringo teachers asking if they can take their kids out fishing on a boat for free, but after they spoke with my wife and I, they agreed to it. I felt honored. The other student, whose parents speak English, wasn't an easy sell either, but after I explained how safe it was going to be, the parents agreed.
Half of the fun was watching the kids interact. Bill, Eve, and Richy aren't exactly chums in class, but they were the right kids to bring, because they hadn't experienced the wonders of the sea. Bill in particular is a very quiet kid at school.
By the time we'd gotten halfway to Dana Point Harbor (which is all of 30 miles away), the kids were giggling excitedly and acting as if they'd been best buds for years. Bill, as you can see in comparing the pics from above and below, had turned over a new leaf and became the life of the party.
The hills to the left, shrouded in early morning mist, somehow morphed into prehistoric mountains in their minds. I had to remind them periodically where we were, and that no, those hills weren't volcanoes, and that yes, we were still in the United States.
We stopped at a tackle shop to check the scene out. Mind you, we didn't need anything (Mike would provide it all) but I thought it would be a good idea to set the stage by letting them see some reels, rods, and fish mounts: tools of the trade, and reminders that were venturing into Poseidon's domain, where we'd summon equal amounts of brawn and brains in epic battles between man and monster. Or kids and fish.
If you take the time to prime the pump by stoking the kids imagination and schooling them on what they are likely to encounter, that makes the trip more meaningful; by the time we showed up at the dock to meet our benefactor Mike and his magnificent motorboat full of gear and grub, the kids were fired up!
Mike fitted the kids with life jackets and I started passing out cameras and food.                          
We motored out to a buoy where a single male sea lion held court with a bevy of ladies, and stayed until the stench eclipsed our curiosity.
After another ten minute cruise, Mike set anchor just outside the kelp and set out some chum to attract schools of mackerel. The thing about fishing with kids is that they usually prefer action over size. Whereas some anglers are happy to scour the ocean for a chance at hooking into one huge fish, most kids prefer to stay closer to shore, pulling on smaller fish all day. Having done both I'm not sure they haven't picked the better option!
I began to explain what it was like under the kelp forest that we were anchored next to. Because the trip was scheduled on such short notice, I hadn't had time to teach them enough about the marine environment.  I decided to put the latest technology to use and bring up images of kelp forests on my iPhone! Is that cool or what? We were doing internet research in real time on the boat! Kelp is pretty unimpressive when you are on top of the water surface, but once the kids learned what it's like below, their excitement doubled. As a teacher, I felt thrilled to be able to use technology in such a meaningful way.
I actually returned to the exact same spot two weeks later to do a shoot for a fishing magazine and I got some cool underwater kelp forest pictures. That's me mired in the kelp in the first pic.
So there we were in the boat looking at pics of the kelp on my iPhone. Soon Captain Mike set up some chum (ground up fish parts) along the side of the boat to attract our "target species", the mighty mackerel. These are great fun on light tackle because it's one after the other fishing, and they school right next to the boat, so it's very visual. Within minutes the kids had mastered the art of hooking these hard fighting brutes, and chaotic contests of fury and might commenced.                        
Something primeval was born in Bill at that moment; the warrior within him surfaced. I was no longer watching a child at play; I was witnessing an archetypal struggle between man and beast. Soon he had fought his foe to the corner of the boat, gaining line at times, only to watch it fly off the reel in bursts.
Ultimately, Bill's superior intellect enabled him to subdue the sea creature, and he hoisted his vanquished foe aboard in a bold display of strength and supremacy.
Like many of the world's strongest gamefish, mackerel exhibit a fishy taste, so we decided to put them in Captain Mike's bait tank. Soon their catches numbered many. The kids enjoyed watching them circle 'round the pen; it allowed them to savor their victory, while still permitting their later release.
Eve and Richy boated some of the largest specimens.
We also took advantage of another learning opportunity by examining Captain Mike's 'fish finder".   California State Math Standard Number Sense 1.2 requires that the students "Order and compare whole numbers and decimals" and we talked about how we might round 41.9 feet of depth to 42 feet, thereby doubling our chances of catching "the big one". With stakes this high, we couldn't get bogged down in whether or not we had 41 or 42 feet beneath us!
To finish off our successful sea voyage, Captain Mike brought the kids to Seal Rock and broke out the last of the booty for the kids. I'm not a big fan of junk food but rights of passage like these call for celebrations of decadence and debauchery. They earned their stripes.
The trip provided a great many opportunities for excitement and learning, and the next day in class I had the students cap off their adventure with some writing and art activities. These would provide a forum for higher order thinking skills like evaluation and synthesis that are mentioned in Bloom's Taxonomy. Here's a sample of the work:
The highlight of the trip for me was watching the kids on the ride home. The kids asked Mike to push the boat to it's limits and Mike granted their wish. Richy kept falling off of the chair and together we all broke out in laughter, to the point where our bellies ached. 
Perhaps Eve summed up the trip best in this last part of her letter to our dear friend Captain Mike:
To see more stories about Jon fishing with kids click here and here. Also, believe it or not one time I was able to arrange a free fishing trip for a family of a returning Iraq War Vet. His son was my student and you can read about that trip here.


Strange Fishing News: Weird Disc-Shaped Opah Fish Washes Up on San Diego Beach!

Jon Schwartz of http://www.bluewaterjon.com/ with some incredible fishing news: a large, strange looking Opah fish washed ashore in San Diego, in perfect shape! These bizarre brightly colored sea creatures are only rarely found by recreational anglers in this region, let alone in the surf; they're usually caught by longliners in distant waters, or incidentally by anglers fishing great depths. With the strange water conditions and cooler water temps brought about by La NiƱa this year, some commercial boats have been netting them at night miles off the Southern California Coast.  But why was it here in such shallow waters? Moreover, how did it get to shore untouched by the sharks, sealions, and other predators that exist here? Opah are delicious and go for over 12 dollars a pound!
Surfer Scott Williams was on a cliff overlooking his favorite surf spot at 9:00 am Friday 9/24/10 when he and his friends spotted a manhole-sized red object floating in the water 50 yards offshore. They took out a pair of binoculars to get a closer view. Whatever it was, it may have been moving slightly. According to Williams, a 50 year old surfer who has surfed the area for 41 years, "Once we realized it was a fish, we ran down there as fast as we could!"
Scott is a veteran waterman, and surfs internationally. In the four decades he'd spent surfing this same spot, he'd never seen anything of that shape, color, and size. Soon the large disc-shaped object had washed up on shore. Scott took pictures of it on his cellphone.
A crowd gathered around the unique animal; some suggested they might try putting it back in hopes that it would swim off, but it became obvious that the fish was now either dead, or on it's last gasp. As you can see from the photos, their unusual shape wouldn't help them move much on land. "It was a beautiful fish, and looked very healthy. We were in awe because in all the time I have spent there, I usually only see dead seagulls or pelicans washing up. Once in a while a small decomposed fish washes ashore, but this was huge, bright red and silvery with white spots. It looked like it was from another planet!"
Indeed, of all the fish in the ocean, the Opah, also known as Moonfish, are one of the wildest looking. I first saw a mount of one at Rancho Leonero Fishing Lodge in Baja Mexico, and ever since then I have been fascinated by them. They are not the type of fish that you target casually and no one I know has ever fished for them on purpose. The only non-commercial angler I personally know who has ever caught one is Captain Dale Leverone who skippers a popular charter operation called the Sea Strike in Kona, Hawaii.  Here is Dale below with a 138 pounder. We know this was exactly 138 pounds because it was weighed on a certified scale at the Kona Charter Desk.
Judging by that picture of Dale, knowing his size, and comparing that to the photos of the beached Opah, I'd say the San Diego specimen is at least 80 pounds. In fact it could well be over 100. Dale happens to be one of the foremost experts in fishing at great depths for unusual fish. The Kona Coast of Hawaii where he lives is the perfect place to fish the abyssal depths, because it gets incredibly deep very close to shore. It was during one of his "deep dropping" jaunts, when he dropped a whole squid down to 1200 feet, that he landed his Opah, a catch so rare that it made the cover of Hawaii Fishing News.
I actually spent time accompanying Leverone this summer in Kona on the Sea Strike, and had a great time swapping strange fish stories. I sat listening most of the time as we motored along the Kona Coast because Leverone is an expert and I am merely an enthusiast. We made plans to hook up later this year and see if we can't fish for some other deep water oddities.
To me, this Opah incident is particularly ironic, because about 5 years ago when I was obsessed with kayak fishing, I made an action adventure DVD about catching big fish from kayaks, called "Bluewater Jon and the Giant Tuna".
The 57 minute long movie starts with an animation sequence I painstakingly constructed that features, of all things, a dancing Opah!! I picked it because it looked hilarious to me, that an animal could actually live and be shaped and colored like that. One would think it would be an easy target, and forget about camouflage; I don't care how deep you go, pink with opalescent white spots can't blend in anywhere, right? To see an except from that Opah animation sequence and more exciting kayak fishing videos, click here:
Back to the "Opah Incident": As you can see, this isn't as if any old sea creature landed on a beach 5 miles from my own house- I've long had a fascination with these marvelous fish. I've spent the last several years photographing large fish like sharks, marlin, sailfish and tuna above and below the water (see my galleries at : http://www.bluewaterjon.com/photogallery.htm) but one of my biggest fantasies is to come face to face with one of these amazing Opah.  I don't suppose it would jump out of the water next to me like the sailfish below but I'd be so excited I wouldn't much care.
The only time I have ever seen an Opah is in fillet form at the seafood market; they are delicious! Had Scott Williams known this, he may have thought twice about leaving the large, seemingly healthy fish in the sand. "We thought it might have been a sunfish, and then someone said that sunfish are poor eating, so we just left it there."  Then again, who knows why the fish ended up so, uh, washed up? ( For my 4th and 5th grade students reading this, that's called a pun!) Eating fish you find on the beach is probably not the smartest way to cop a free meal.
I found out about the Opah Incident when I saw Scott at a friend's party on Friday night. He came up to me and said, "Jon, you know your fish pretty well, what is this?" My eyes bugged as soon as he showed me the pics on his cell phone. "Omigosh! It's an Opah!" There must have been a lot of surfers at this party because another one of our friends overheard us and showed us photos he took of the same fish in the sand later in the day. By that time the fish's beautiful colors had faded. I'll try to get those photos too. Word has it that someone carted the specimen away; I hope it went to a scientist who can make sense of the "Opah Incident"!
I'll try to follow up this interesting story with interviews of some marine biologists I know who might be able to make some sense of this all.
Stay Tuned,
Jon Schwartz
Fishing News, Travel Articles, and Photography