What can I say about this fish........ except..... it is one real bulldog of a fish. It doesn't give up! I've had only one experience with this majestic fish, but it was an unforgettable one! More about this later.
This pelagic is found in all the offshore waters surrounding Malaysia. It is commonly caught off the east coast of Johor, near Mersing. However the black marlin normally caught in our waters are small, below 100kgs, but when the appropriate tackle is used, it's still a challenge to land one!
Most of the locals use live bait to catch marlin, although some do use trolling methods. The use of wire, although not necessary for billfish, is a must in our waters, as other prevalent fish like barracuda and spanish mackerel easily snip through heavy mono!
Here is the story of my encounter with the black marlin. We had just left Jarak Island in the Straits of Malacca, after spending 2 nights fishing around it. It was a 5-6 hour journey back to the mainland. Tony the captain had just given me the helm of the boat, and Jarak Island was 45 mins behind us. Earlier I had placed my TLD20, spooled with 500 meters of 25lb mono on the centre rod holder at the transom. I was trolling a skirted lure on the 3rd wave just behind the prop wash.
Tony's boat is a forty foot wooden fishing trawler, outfitted with sportfishing in mind, but with no fly bridge, the helmsman can't see the aft of the boat. Surprised I faintly heard the ratchet of my reel going off and some commotion going on behind, I ignored the yells thinking the guys were pulling a fast one on me! But the yells just kept going on, so I throttled back, but leaving it in gear, and went aft. To my astonishment, the rod was actually bent over and the reel singing away!
My first thoughts were, sailfish! As there had been plenty jumping around Jarak Island! That was why I'd put out my lure anyway. "Has anybody set the hook?" I yelled as I pulled the rod from its holder, and the answer was negative. I quickly struck twice, though I doubt it made a difference, over 200 meters of line was out!
Suddenly the fish made its first few jumps and we saw its small sail, "It is a marlin" everyone was shouting! The feeling of seeing a fish jump out of the water, in the distance, 250 meters away, knowing its actually attached to your rod, it's a strange and exciting feeling!
Then it started heading back to the boat. I cranked in the line furiously, there was little tension on the line. I hoped the fish was still hooked. As the line was retrieved further I could feel with relief the movements of the fish on the line. Then it turned and headed off again! With the line peeling off the spool smoothly. The third time the fish headed in, I actually retrieved all the line till we could see the double above the water! Then it jumped! Not more than 10 meters aft of the boat, not once but twice! A spectacular sight to behold!
After that jump it dove deep, down to 40-50 meters. The seabed there was about 100 meters deep so I wasn't worried about getting cut off. But from then on it was a slow hard battle. I'd pump and work the rod and retrieve 15 cm of line and it would take out 30 cm! The marlin continued to circle deep below the boat while I huffed and puffed above with out proper stand-up belt and kidney harness.
This went on for 20 mins or so, with neither side gaining, I was getting tired and I hoped the marlin was too, but it didn't feel like it was. When suddenly the line went slack. I thought the line had parted. Quickly cranking in the line, I pulled up my skirted lure, hook and all, intact! The hook had just dropped out!
Well catch and release! , as they say. Later on I read up marlin fishing, and the author said when artificial lures are used, only 1 in 3 of those billfish hooked up are landed, as their hard mouths make the full penetration of the hook extremely difficult. That sure made me feel better. I also learnt that when these pelagic fishes are down deep, circling, moving the boat away from above the fish puts the pressure on the fish from the side, and its advantage of circling is removed, allowing the fish to be brought to the surface again.
Well, I hope to try these techniques out one day, but I haven't been to Jarak Island during the billfish season for the last 3 years! Those of you who do catch this magnificent fish, please release them.