Marlin takes dead aim on Hatteras

Posted on 01 October 2010 Written by Jim Flannery
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17_marlin_01An extremely active blue marlin slams into the press boat during a tournament in Hawaii

Twisting, turning, jumping - explosively carving figure eights in the water like an out-of-control train - the blue marlin riveted Chiripa's crew with its pyrotechnics. Then it startled them as it bore down on the 36-foot Hatteras and body-slammed the sportfish's port side at full speed.

"It was definitely one of the most impressive displays I've seen in my 40 years of doing this," says Bill Crawford, the 63-year-old captain of Chiripa, which fishes out of Honokohau Harbor on the big island of Hawaii.

Chiripa, the press boat in the Aug. 2-6 Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament, was trolling two lures off the Kona Coast on the second morning of fishing - killing time until one of the boats in the tournament hooked a fish.

The feisty marlin - one of the photographers on board estimated its size at 550 pounds (Crawford thinks it might have been a little smaller) - grabbed the lure off the outrigger. "It was going as fast as I've seen a marlin go," he says.

The marlin didn't sound, as billfish sometimes do when they hook up. It started jumping and twisting and powering back and forth across the top of the water in big figure eights, just 30 to 40 yards behind the boat.

"It was overlapping line. It was swimming under the line," Crawford says.

The fish dove under the boat, came out on the port side, then ran at the boat at full speed.

"Its whole body hit just below the prow," Crawford says. "It slammed into it." The tower shook.

Crawford feared that the fish had tangled with a prop, as well, but "then it came up jumping on the other side," he says. He saw no blood on it, so he knew it had missed the props. Its bill still was intact, so the fish hadn't punctured the hull with it.

Crawford was surprised that the 80-pound-test line held, especially because he later found that 20 to 30 feet of it had been discolored with paint from rubbing against Chiripa's bottom.

Crawford's mate, K.J. Robinson, fought the fish, as wild as it was.  "We would have put a tag on it 10 minutes later, but the barb on the end of the hook broke," Crawford says. He suspects that the hook - a big black size 9/0 or 10/0 - may have lodged in bone in the fish's mouth, contributing to its failure.

In early reports, the marlin was said to have attacked Chiripa. Crawford thinks it more likely that the marlin reacted to the hookup with a big dose of adrenaline and was swimming so fast it couldn't veer off quickly enough to avoid hitting the boat.

"I've often said, 'Did you see that?' " he says. "This was 'Did you see that?' times 10."

This article originally appeared in the October 2010 issue.