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Marlin Mania

March 16, 1971, Key West: A proud father and two youngsters show off a marlin caught aboard the charter boat Cay Sal. Countless trophy pictures such as this have been taken over the years, emulating the kind of fishing made famous by Ernest Hemingway in the 1930s.

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While marlin made for great fishing action, they remained an elusive quarry. The fish were known to be found around Cay Sal in the Bahamas, off Cuba and west to the Dry Tortugas. Keys anglers Capt. Norman Wood and Danny O’Laughlin theorized that marlin were migrating between the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic along a route that ran about 20 miles south of Key West.

After repeated expeditions, they finally caught their first marlin – a 470-pounder that was “wild as hell and trying to stick his bill in the back of the boat,” recalled Wood.

They were fishing over a drop-off and a series of canyons – with a concentration of baitfish and medium-size game fish – running east-west along the Straits of Florida. The discovery rekindled the era of marlin fishing around Key West.

In 1982, the first Key West Marlin Tournament drew 92 boats and 400 anglers to an area known as “the wall.” The winning fish weighed in at 462 pounds. Wood and his wife, Shirley, won top honors in 1985 in the catch-and-release category. The tournament continues to this day, appropriately coinciding with Key West’s Hemingway Days Festival in July.

March 2014 issue