by John (El Mackerele) Vallon
4 weeks ago, I flew down to San Diego, from Seattle, to go dove hunting with my younger brother, Geoff, and his 18-year-old son, Jared. This was quite a big deal because I hadn't seen Jared since he was 8 years old. Now fully grown at 6’ 2” and 235 lbs., I can see why he was a 4-year letterman and MVP offensive tackle. While we were in Parker, hunting doves, I invited Geoff and Jared along on my annual trip to Cabo for my birthday. Besides, I still owed Geoff for that marlin he missed on his first ever trip marlin fishing last May. Sticking my neck out even more, I told Jared that the possibilities of him catching one were also very high. This would be a great birthday present for me getting both Geoff and Jared their first marlin, and a blue at that. My hopes for pulling this off started to dim when I ran into last minute difficulties getting a boat lined up. None of my aces were available, but we booked our air and hotel anyway. At the last minute, the boat came through, another tournament rigged Blackfin. So, the three Vallons', John, Geoff and Jared, were all lined out on Tony Berkowitz's 30' Blackfin, the "GoDeep".
Summary for two days of fishing:
Weather: Mid to upper 90's and lows to upper 70's, afternoon light breeze from the south. Sunny except for Sunday. Water temperature 84 to 86, clear everywhere.
Friday: 9/29/00 (my b-day). We slow trolled a yellowfin tuna, and 3 bonitos on the Gorda Banks. We made all the bait at the outer bank. We had the first knockdown at 9:45 AM, but it was a wahoo that sliced the 500# leader neatly in half. At 12:20 PM, an estimated 450# blue marlin attacked the yellowfin that was being trolled on my 130# Penn 2-speed. Jared was up first and after getting him situated in the chair he quickly got the nice blue to the tag in 20 minutes time. We changed to lures around 1:30 PM and headed towards Santa Maria Canyon. Only other hook up was our dinner for the evening, a small dorado. Most fleet boats returning had multiple dorado and tuna flags. Only 3 blues reported caught today. Most fleet boats fished the old lighthouse area and straight out 2-3 miles.
Saturday: 9/30/00. Same story as yesterday, except the blue was slightly smaller, estimated to be 425#'s, and it hit one of the 80 wide Tiagras. Geoff was now fighting the marlin I owed him. As before, the fish was tagged and released. Geoff’s bite came early, around 8:20 AM. Next bite came at 12:50 PM, another nice blue, but the hooks pulled before I got in the chair. Again, another banner day for the fleet boats on dorado and tuna, with a few sailfish.
Before leaving for the airport on Friday morning, I checked my e-mail and found one from Lisa Dobson, of Pacific Blue Water Sportfishing. Lisa warned me that the whole street along the hotel Mar de Cortez, where we would be staying, was torn up, and raw sewer was all over. I called the hotel and was told that it was indeed torn up, but it didn't impact the guests and had nothing to do with the hotel.
We arrived at San Jose on time, gathered up our luggage and got a taxi to take us directly to the hotel, bypassing the cattle wagon. Whew, $70. Strange, it's only $40 from the hotel to the airport! Lisa was right, the whole street was torn up, but we were able to go down a few side streets (the wrong way) and eventually make it to the hotel. Upon checking in, I was handed a message from Tony: John - Call me upon arrival. OK? Welcome back. Tony and I had only spoken on the phone a few times to set this trip up. We had never met face-to-face before. I hoped nothing had changed, but the fact that he had come over to leave the note, was somewhat puzzling. As it turned out, it was just about the street being dug up. We decided that we would take a taxi to the boat in the morning instead of him picking us up as we had planned. Tony said his boat was at the new marina and that we couldn't miss it. No problem, I thought. After a quick change of clothes we were at the Latitude 22 having the blue plate special and a few beers. Jared's first exposure to marlin was the marlins hanging in the back room. He was overwhelmed at the size. After dinner we headed to the super Mercado plaza Aramuro for lunches and water. We finally turned in around 1:30 AM after talking all night about the next day of fishing. Our wake-up call was set for 5:00 AM.
Friday, 9/29/00. 6:00 AM we are headed for the new marina, where we met with Mori, the captain. Tony and the mate hadn't shown up yet so we took the time to get some coffee and more ice before heading to the fuel dock. Tony finally arrived and we went over the equipment that I brought along. Tony looked over the wind-on leaders I had and was really impressed with how well they were made. We got the scale out and set the drags on all of my Penn's. 36 pounds on the 130ST strike position, 24 pounds on the 50SW strike position, and 18 pounds on the 30SW.
I told Tony what we wanted to do for the day. Target blues only. I made my decision based on Lance Watkins outstanding success a few weeks ago of making bait at the bank early and slow trolling. We may not get a shot at a 500+ black or a 700+ blue as he did, but, if we are persistent, we might have success. Everything was in our favor. Lances' recent success, no storms lately or in site, beautiful water, same tidal conditions, and a first quarter moon, but with a morning rise, meant the blues would be hungry. The only thing left to chance would be the ability to make bait. It was a 1-hour run to the outer bank at 24.5 knots over calm water with a slight breeze. We joined about 3 pangas that were chunking for yellowfin. The Checkmate was right behind us, along with a few private boats and a few fleet boats.
We put out feathers and cedar plugs, and in 10 minutes, all lines were hooked up. We put 3 bonitos in the tuna tubes on this stop. One more stop and we had 2 more bonito and a 12 to 14 pound yellowfin. Mori put the yellowfin on the 130, and 3 of the bonito on the 80 Tiagras. With all these perfect conditions, it would just be a matter of time I thought. At 9:45 AM we got the first knockdown on the starboard rigger. I grabbed the rod out of the holder only to find the line slack; a big wahoo had bitten through the 500# leader just above the bridled bonito. We continued to troll the live baits, but it was apparent that the local bait had moved out of the area and by now, there were many boats sitting on the bank. Mori suggested that we troll south to La Fortuna to see if we could find more activity. The bonito and yellowfin were holding up real well, so I agreed, but with the stipulation that we would return by noon if things didn’t look any better further south. The tide would peak at 10:01 AM, and I wanted to fish the downside as much as possible at the bank.
We returned to the bank around noon without seeing even so much as a bird the whole time. I was beginning to worry about my plan, but I stuck to it. Everyone was pretty much bored with slow trolling the live baits, but I new that dragging lures would be even more boring. Mori asked me if I wanted to switch to lures, which the rest of the team would not have objected to, but I said no. The baits are still lively and we still had 2 in the tubes, I explained. As I looked around I noticed that most of the boats had left the area and I could see some skipjacks breaking the surface up ahead with birds above them. Mori quickly turned the boat and headed to the schooling skipjack.
Just as we got alongside the outer edge of the school, the 130 went off with a vengeance! Even with my really bad hearing, I could here the line snap from the release clip and the clicker sounding off. This is what we had been waiting for. This must be a marlin this time I thought. Mori yelled “blue marlin” while the mate was setting the hook. Jared moved to the chair as we had practiced on the way out in the morning, and the mate passed him the rod with the marlin firmly attached. Jared’s eyes were popping out with excitement at the sudden feel of strength from the huge marlin. Line was peeling off as he sat helplessly in the chair. Jared, being 6’2” and 235 lbs., was quite a stretch for this chair, and we couldn’t get the footrest fully extended to allow him to straighten out his legs. “I’m reeling but the line is still going out” he cried. In his excitement, he forgot everything we had gone over on the way out. The marlin made a short run, and then slowed without ever jumping. I guessed that it was either gut hooked or foul hooked. I recall that the mate let the fish run a little too long before hitting the drag. Jared was now pumping the marlin as we had practiced but was a little jerky with the pump. After a few of these he settled down and was gaining line like a pro. Within 20 minutes the marlin was alongside. Mori came down and tagged the fish while the mate removed the hook. The marlin had a lot of girth so they estimated it at 450 pounds. I’m sure that Jared would have estimated the weight at 1000 pounds! For a guy that runs a mile everyday and works out with weights, that marlin really tired him out.
Now it was Geoff’s turn. We still had plenty of bait and possibly another hour, maybe two to fish for the day, so things still looked promising for another score. I think the next hour was all spent talking about Jared’s first marlin. What a score for an 18 year old out on his first trip to the ocean. Hey, Jared, a lot more fun than catching bass, I joked with him. It will be a few days before this sinks in with him.
Activity at the bank came to a halt, so I suggested that we put out the lures and troll towards Santa Maria Canyon and try to put some dinner on board before heading in. There had been tons of dorado caught all week so that shouldn’t have been too difficult. It wasn’t long before we had a small female on the starboard flat line. I told the mate to release it because of it’s size, but before he could get the hooks out, one of the hooks punctured the dorado’s eye critically injuring it, so we kept it and headed in.
Tony was at the slip waiting for us when we returned. He congratulated us on sticking to our plan. “Well, you guys came down here to target blue marlin and even brought your big stuff. You patiently stuck to the plan and it paid off. Good job guys!” Tony asked what we wanted to do the final morning. I told him we wanted to do the exact same thing, but we’d like to get an earlier start. I wanted to be on the bank early enough to make bait and get them in the water by sunrise when the marlin would be the most aggressive. The best he could do was a 6:00 AM departure. Close enough, I agreed. We took the dorado to Cabo Wabo for dinner. What a day I thought while digging into the garlic and oil seasoned dorado.
After dinner we headed over to see Mini at Minerva’s Tackle Shop. She was so happy for Jared, and wasted no time telling him what the odds were of getting a big blue on his very first trip. “A million to 1” she said. Mini told us that only 2 marlin were caught today and they were both small, so that added to the sense of accomplishment.
Saturday, 9/30/00. 6:00 AM we arrive at the marina. The boat is dark, the marina store isn’t open yet and we are accompanied by a little breeze from the south. Soon two cars appear, one with our captain, Mori, and the other with the clerk for the store. Mori helped us with getting the water and ice aboard. This time we will take 4 gallons of water instead of 2 (we ran out of water yesterday around noon and had to drink water from the melted ice). Today we would have a mate named Hobie with us. He was young, around 25 years old, lean, and spoke excellent English. He normally works on a private 42 foot Ocean Yacht - I can’t remember the name he told us.
The run out was a little rough this morning because of the southerly wind blowing, but it died completely out as we got near the banks. We arrived just past 7:00 AM and found no boats and lots of bait – tuna, skipjack and bonito along with an occasional small pod of porpoises.
We wasted little time making bait. We split up into two teams: as we caught the bait, the mate and captain bridled them and put them out while I ran the video. All of a sudden Geoff cried out “marlin right off the bow”. As I turned to look, I couldn’t believe my eyes. A huge blue jumped three times, not more than 20 feet from the bow. We all saw the marlin lit up by the sunrise at our backs. The marlin had a bright greenish hue – something I’ve never seen before. We caught several more bait and put them in the tubes for later.
This morning we trolled 5 baits, way too many I thought. Sure enough, they soon became tangled when we made turns so I asked Hobie to pull 2 of them in. It wasn’t long before we would hear that sound of the reel clicker singing in the warm breeze. 20 minutes into our trolling we got a knockdown on the starboard outrigger. Without saying a word, Geoff was in the chair even before the mate got to the rod. Jared and I helped bring in the remaining baits while Hobie handed off the rod to Geoff. With the cockpit cleared now, I started to get the video out when it dawned on me that the backrest was still mounted on the chair. No wonder Jared looked so bunched up yesterday. I removed the backrest and stored it below. Geoff was now more relaxed and able to put more of his weight into the marlin instead of using his arms. Geoff had watched the video I took last year in Madeira of Lance and I taking turns on the grander, so he was able to mimic what we were doing more easily with the backrest off. I told Geoff that he was using 80# tackle now, and not the 130 that Jared had yesterday, so this was going to take a little longer. Each time the marlin got within leader distance, she would peel off again. After repeating this several times Geoff started to question what was going on. I told him that Tony has a shark painted on the bottom of the hull! Everyone laughed. Hobie said, “take your time, we have all day”. Finally, after 40 minutes, Hobie grabbed the leader and got a tag in.
Well, it was finally my turn in the chair. Everyone was anxious to see how I would perform on a big blue with all the orders and advice that I had been giving out over the past two days. Experience, however, told me that the chances of tagging another one like the first two were fairly low. I could see the look on Geoff’s and Jared’s faces – we all wanted to go 3 for 3, but if not, I was still glad for their first time success, and after all, I’ve surely caught my share in the past. But hey, we were on a roll here. We still had perfect conditions and plenty of bait. I was surprised at how long these bonitos’s had held up. It was just past 9:00 AM so we had plenty of time. Even if we went 3 for 4, that would be outstanding I thought.
By 12:30 PM I was beginning to feel that I wasn’t going to join the blues list. Time was running out and so were Jared’s hopes of another tour of duty in the chair. Then the starboard outrigger went off again. Hobie had been sitting in the cockpit watching the lines ever since Geoff got his blue, so he was right on it. Unfortunately the hook pulled and the line went slack on us.
Was the trip a success? You bet. I’ll take 2 for 3 on blues anytime. Tony met us as we came in again and upon seeing another blue marlin tag and the release tag flying, he was smiling from ear to ear.
Last modified 03/26/05