Since I started running surfing and fishing charters back in 2002 we have always pondered over the existence of Marlin in Nicaragua. Costa Rica, El Salvador, and Panama all boast some of the world’s best waters for catching Pacific Blue and Black Marlin. It has always seemed very logical that these fish would also migrate through Nicaragua. There is a small handful of Marlin released each year in Nicaragua, but those are usually caught out of San Juan del Sur in Costa Rican waters. In 2007, Carlos Pellas, aboard the Rum Runner, caught and released the only Marlin in Nicaragua during the annual Asseradores Flor de Caña Billfish Tournament. This tournament is one of the only times when up to 30 boats all go in search of the elusive Marlin and is usually the only time any Marlin get caught by Sportfish boats in Nicaragua.
So the questions arise: are there not many Marlin in Nicaragua, or are there not many people Marlin fishing in Nicaragua? The only detail that would make you believe the latter is the large Continental Shelf that stretches out 40-50 miles before the “drop” on nearly the entire Pacific Coast of Nicaragua. To me, it seems absurd to believe that these fish do not migrate into shallower Nicaraguan waters at certain times of year. I now have reason to believe that there are simply not many Marlin fishermen in Nicaragua.
I by no means consider myself a true Marlin fisherman or an expert of any kind in Marlin fishing. I have spent nearly all of my time in Nicaragua fishing inshore, honing my skills in catching Mackerel, Wahoo, Dolphin, Jacks, Tuna, and Sailfish. I have not spent that much time trolling big baits and really giving it the college effort. Aside from the Flor de Caña Billfish Tournament, where we have pushed our panga to the limit by going over 50 miles in search Marlin and Sails, I cannot say that we have tried for Marlin very often.
That is basically where this story begins. On May 20, 2008, a large low-pressure system set itself over Nicaragua and caused onshore winds. These winds are somewhat rare in the southern part of Nicaragua, which is dominated by lake effect winds that blow offshore nearly 330 days a year. The onshore winds, however, blow the warm cobalt blue water right into the coastline. On May 20th one of our Captains, Jimmy Taylor, lost a Wahoo at one of our favorite Wahoo spots. On May 21st I pressed back out to the same zone, but went 0-7 on Wahoo before finally getting rewarded with a 53 pounder right before dark. On the 22nd Jimmy and I headed back out together and managed to catch a 35 pound Wahoo, release a Sailfish on a bridle rigged Dorado, and then catch a 45 pound Wahoo right before dark. This same day we also caught numerous Dorado and Yellowfin Tuna. The low-pressure system kept pushing onshore winds and warm, clear water towards us each day. On the 23rd Jimmy headed out and caught two more Wahoo, a 45 pounder and a 50 pounder. The run was not as on-fire as we have seen in years past, but nonetheless it was some amazing fishing.
On the afternoon of May 23rd, my good friends Brian and Deneen Wargo showed up in town with their friend Chappy. All three are from my home town of Niceville, Florida and now live in Kona, Hawaii. Brian and Deneen run a World-Class Charter company, Bite-Me Sportfishing. They are pros who eat, sleep, and breathe Billfishing. Brian competes in Billfish tournaments worldwide and is a wealth of knowledge in everything Billfishing. On May 24th we planned to take Brian, Deneen, and Chappy out on our boat for some schooling in tactics.
On the morning of the 24th we cruised out to our Wahoo grounds and the waters were alive with activity. Frigates were everywhere diving and bee hiving above schools of Yellowfin and Bonita. As we were getting close to the zone, our shotgun rod got nailed and we reeled in a nice 15 pound Yellowfin Tuna. As we are about to gaff it, Brian jumps up and says “Let’s rig that thing, it’s perfect”. My jaw dropped as he gently pulled over the fish; expertly bridle rigged it, and threw it back over as bait. I was somewhat shocked by the size of the bait but we ended up trolling it all day. In the process, I showed them some of my favorite grounds. The Yellowfin never got ate, but we managed to catch some nice Dorado and Yellowfin Tuna over the course of the day. Even though we did not catch the “one”, Brian made me believe that the grounds were holding, and that if I started swimming big baits I would get my shot. This type of confidence is invaluable when you are spending time and money to catch something that you are not even sure exists. Needless to say, I was consumed with the idea of getting our first Marlin in Nicaragua.
On the 25th, I headed back out with a group of guests from our camp and we slow trolled bridled Bonita, Yellowfin Tuna, and Dorado. We never got the “bite” but still managed to catch many Dorado and Tuna during the course of the day. The ability to slow troll a big bait and still fish for Dorado close to the boat was adding an interesting new angle to our approach. The best part is that we were burning way less fuel and still catching just as many fish!
On the 26th the low-pressure system was still in effect and the on-shore winds had actually picked up to the point where it was unsafe to fish in the morning. With a little luck, the wind backed off a bit and Jimmy and I were able to sneak out around mid-day with another group of guests at the camp. We headed out to the same zone that had been producing and immediately bridle rigged some Dorado and Bonita. I warned our guests that Marlin fishing starts out slow and goes downhill from there! They were really patient even though I told them that we had never caught a Marlin. Luckily, a nice 18 pound Dorado bull-dogged one of our short baits and brought some nice action to the day. About an hour later the action had slowed, but we had a deadly spread out. On the left rigger, we had a bridle rigged peanut dolphin and on the right rigger a bridle rigged bullet Bonita, and just behind the transom a handful of small Dorado lures. One of our guests spotted a lone frigate bird and we worked our way over to it. As we came underneath it, our right rigger got knocked out of the clip, and a second later, the left rigger did the same. We quickly reeled on both baits, but it appeared that nothing had hit them. I was kind of scratching my head, but my instincts told me that we should circle back around to the same spot to make sure we had not just raised a fish.
As I started to circle on the spot, I realized the left rigger was limp and that the Dorado was gone. At that same instant one of our short baits got hit with a nice size Bonita, perfect timing! I quickly rigged up the Bonita and sent it out on the left rigger and continued to circle back to the same spot we got knocked down on. As we approached the spot, the left rigger got knocked out of the clip and the drag started steadily going out. My heart skipped a beat, and I looked at the TLD 50 and then looked at Jimmy with a little disbelief. There was only one thing left to do, push the lever forward and see if there was a fish on the other end. My first thought was that the Bonita got excited and just popped itself out of the clip, but you have to treat every clip knockdown like it is a fish. I pushed the lever forward and started cranking on the handle. The line got tight and the rod started to double over. I immediately thought we had hooked a sea monster but that the monster had no idea it was hooked. I was really confused, because the drag was not getting dumped; it was just steadily going out. We got Jamie, one of our guests, set up in a fighting belt, and got him on the rod. I jumped on the controls and spun the boat around on the spot. I was completely baffled at this point, because it seemed we had hooked a net or maybe even the bottom. The line was just not moving from the area where we hooked up. Then everything set in and I realized we really did have a fish on the other end.
For fifteen minutes the fish would come almost underneath the boat, and then start taking drag off to one side or the other. It never made a blistering run, just kind of kept cruising. If we sped up, the fish would catch up to the boat and then just dip off to one side. I really had no idea what it was; I just knew it had to be big to eat a 10 pound Bonita. About 20 minutes into the fight, the line started to rise up on the starboard side of the boat and we realized we might see the sea monster on the other end. About 25 yards off, the sea monster finally broke the surface. It is an image that will be burned into the memories of everyone on the boat for the rest of our lives.
The Marlin stuck his entire head out of the water all the way past his dorsal fin and then just rolled over to the side. I could see the width of the bill, the blue around his mouth and face, and the dorsal fin perfectly. A cold wave of emotions and nerves shot through my entire body like lightning striking a tree. Jimmy and I both yelled Marlin and looked at each other in shock. It had finally happened, ready or not, it was game on! I cannot even describe what I felt like at that moment. It was a combination of the excitement you get on Christmas morning when you are a kid and the sheer adrenaline and fear of almost being in a car accident. Everything just felt surreal, like it wasn’t even happening. Our guest, Jamie, was on the rod and I prepared him for a long battle. I told him to take his time and pace himself and it was probably going to take a few hours. Jimmy and I were just so happy that we were both in the boat and going to experience our first Marlin battle together.
We started going back and forth again with the Marlin but the whole fight just seemed strange. We kept expecting the fish to take off for the horizon in an aerial display we have all seen in videos, but he just kept cruising up to the boat, then swimming away, and then swimming back again. It was like the fish did not know we were trying to catch it. Then suddenly the fish seemed about ready to come to the boat; it came close to the surface and we started gaining line. About 15 feet away we could see the blood knot that connects 21 feet of top shot to the main line. At the end of the top shot we had a snap swivel with about 12 feet of leader to the hook. Jimmy started to get ready and I felt a lump in my throat, as I knew it was about to go down. Then out of nowhere, the line went slack, the Bonita popped up on the surface and Jamie reeled it to the boat. We all could not believe that we had just lost this enormous creature.
The Bonita came back white as a ghost. It had been inside the Marlin stomach for so long it was already partially digested. Then we saw what had happened; the hook had turned itself backward into the Bonita, so the Marlin was never actually hooked. This immediately explained why the fish was just cruising and never really fighting; it felt no pain and probably never realized it was in danger. That Marlin was only feeling a weird tug in his stomach telling him to go swim toward this strange panga! We totally felt heart broken, but at the same time, it was amazing to realize that our belief was right, that Marlin do cruise the Nicaraguan water and not just 50 miles out! We ended up bridle rigging another Bonita and cruising around until almost dark, but deep down we all knew we were not going to get another shot this day. On the ride home we were treated with an amazing sunset and all of us looked to the horizon knowing that “Bob” Marlin was out there and one day we would tango again.
I do not want to divulge the location of the bite for obvious reasons, but for everyone frothing out there, I will tell you it was not 50 miles out, it was much closer. I think we unlocked a small secret of the ocean and realized that if the blue water comes to you, you don’t need to run way out, just fish where the Bonita are, and “Bob” will not be far away!