He hooks up a lure to one of the spare rods and drops it out behind the boat, letting it take out line. Then he shows me how the reel works and tells me to practice. I reel the lure in and let it out four or five times until I get the hang of it. The hardest part is maintaining balance on the heaving deck of the boat while holding the rod with two hands. Balance is not a problem for John. He walks around without holding onto anything, whereas I have to keep one hand on a rail to keep from falling off the boat. Back on the bridge, John sets the throttle at about eight miles per hour. "Keep your eyes skinned for a tail," he says. "It'll look like the blade of a sickle. This water is beautiful, perfect color. You see that deep blue color? Marlin like that. We could very well see one."
We're in the area in which John caught a marlin on Wednesday. Within a mile or two of us, eight other boats are trolling their lures. At 7:55, we hear on the radio that one has got a marlin hooked up, but a few minutes later, they come on again to say they lost it. Five minutes later, I see a black sickle sticking up out of the water about 100 yards off the starboard bow. I jump up and point.
"What? What?" John asks.
"Is that a tail?"
"Yes, it is. Good spot." John backs off the throttle and jumps down to the cockpit, grabbing the rod with the live mackerel on it. "Reel in those lures," he yells to me as he runs up to the bow, "and wind like hell." I jump down and reel in the lures as fast as my inexperienced hands will go. John casts the mackerel to the tailing marlin but it's not interested. It swims down out of sight. John continues to "soak" the bait -- he lets the mackerel swim around the area -- for the next half hour just in case the marlin changes its mind. After that, he puts out the jigs again and we circle the area for another hour. The other boats, having seen us stop and throw bait, also patrol the area, but none of us manages to "bring him up."
The sight of that fish has brought a change in John. Before he was relaxed, leaning back in his seat, jacket zipped up against the morning breeze. Now, he's sitting up, the jacket is off, and he breaks into laughter every few minutes. "That was a damn good spot, mate, damn good job. You're going to see some action today." At 9:45, one of the jig reels starts buzzing like a ten-foot zipper being unzipped. John guns the boat for three or four seconds, then backs off the throttle and flies down the ladder, grabbing the pole from its holder on the way down. "There's something on here..." he says pulling and reeling, "...it's off. Could have been a mako [shark]."
At 11:15 am, one of the reels goes off again but just for a second. "That's was probably a knockdown," John explains. "That's when the marlin comes up and whacks at the lure with his bill but doesn't take it." After the knockdown things get very slow. We drag the lures around in circles but get nothing. Asked if the waiting ever bothers him, John, jacket back on and leaning back in his chair, answers, "No, it gives you a chance to think things over in your mind while you watch the water."
To me, it's torture, especially since I'm low on sleep. After fighting drowsiness for an hour, I go below for a 30-minute nap in the cabin. When I come back up, John goes down and sleeps for an hour, and I continue dragging lures around the area. At 2:45, John comes up and points the boat north for home. We're about 40 miles from Point Loma, and it will take the rest of the daylight hours to get back, at trolling speed. "We'll just drag them back up there," John says, "and we may get one, who knows?"
Fifteen minutes later, we're "heading for the barn," when the port side reel starts screaming. Again John guns the boat for a few seconds, backs off the throttle, and practically jumps the six feet down into the cockpit. "That's a marlin!" he yells over the zzzzzzzzz of the reel. "Look at him!" Off the port stern off the boat, I see the light blue and gray marlin jump six feet out of the water. "Get down here and reel in these lures!"
John warned me he was going to yell "with, not at" me when we got a fish on the line, and he's true to his word. I run around following the orders he shouts while he fights the fish. "Come on, get those jigs in... Now get up there and call the Sidekick and tell him we've got a fish on the line... Now get down here and take the wheel."
The Tenacious has a wheel and throttle control in the cockpit, which I man. John yells, "Keep the line at a 45-degree angle to the starboard side of the boat! We're going to boat this fish, okay?" The line is behind us and a little to starboard, so I turn the wheel full right but oversteer, and now it's pointing straight ahead. "Bring the ass around," John yells. I crank left. For the next 30 minutes John slowly reels in the fish while I keep the line at 45 degrees to the boat. "He's getting close," John says. "Grab that gaff hook by your feet and hook him from underneath when he gets close enough."
Just then, the marlin surfaces off the starboard rail in a flash of electric blue. He's just out of range of the eight-foot gaff. The line swings around to the back. "He's coming up again," John yells. I run to the stern with the gaff just as the fish pokes his bill out of the water. I reach with the hook, but a big swell lifts the boat, wrenching the hook out of the marlin's mouth and it swims away. John and I stand there, hearts pounding, faces smiling. Because we had the leader -- the ten or so feet of heavier line used at the hook end of an angler's line -- in the boat, our marlin can be considered a catch and release. However, rules for the tournament state that to release a marlin and receive credit for a 130-pound catch, you must radio your intention to release within five minutes of hooking it up. We hadn't, always intending to boat the fish. So our marlin, which John estimated at between 130 and 145 pounds, can't be used. It doesn't detract from our excitement, however, and we laugh the five hours back to port.