Catching a grander blue marlin in a tournament is perhaps sportfishing’s ultimate achievement. For most any passionate bluewater angler, the chance to catch a 1,000-pound blue marlin under any circumstance is about as good as it gets. To catch one with all the chips on the table with not only all of the fanfare but hundreds of thousands of dollars on the line? That’s another thing entirely. There aren’t many times, after all, when catching the fish of a lifetime can also provide a life-changing payday.
The following are stories from captains who have experienced this glory. To underscore just how impactful the occasion was, the money was an afterthought. Each captain was profoundly grateful for the experience…as you might imagine.
Captain Alan Card, Challenger, Bermuda – 1,195-pound Blue Marlin, 1993 Blue Marlin World Cup
We called Captain Alan Card out of the blue, with no warning or appointment. It was a Tuesday afternoon. We explained the idea for the article over the phone and apologized for asking about a fish that he caught 26 years ago. I imagined that perhaps he might have a hard time recalling the details on the spot and wanted to give him a way out of the conversation. He laughed at me (in his charming Bermuda fashion)…and launched into the story like it happened yesterday.
“That sort of fish you never forget! I can still count the stripes on it when it jumped,” he exclaimed with a laugh. “There were only two fish caught here that day. The other one was a little fish.” In Bermuda, boats stack up to fish the Blue Marlin World Cup. “We hooked him at 12:30 or so. I called Jim Hardy, who was running the tournament at the time, and told him we had a fish hooked. He told me there was already a big one – an 880 weighed in Madeira,” Card recalls. “I told him, ‘Don’t worry about it….’ You never forget a fish like that.” “I was using a Joe Yee Super Plunger with a pearl head and a purple and pink skirt. He ate the short rigger and jumped like hell. We were shallow, in 120 or 130 fathoms when he ate. It was a two- or so-hour fight. We chased him four or five miles.”
Card’s 1195 is still the largest fish ever caught in the Blue Marlin World Cup. The next year he entered again. “At the time they had a 400-pound minimum. We caught a fish and it measured so we brought in the boat. Some of the crew said it would go 399, some said 400. It was close,” Card recalls. At the scales, the fish squeaked by at 401. “There were not many fish caught that year. It stood until the last 10 minutes when some S.O.B. from Hawaii weighed a 600. Jim Hardy said, ‘I was rooting for you guys. You would have won it in back to back years with the biggest fish and the smallest ever to win.’”
Captain Mike King, Mimi, North Carolina – 1,228-pound Blue Marlin, 2008 Pirate’s Cove
The story of how Captain Mike King came to run across what is perhaps the largest blue marlin ever caught in the continental United States during the Pirate’s Cove Tournament is really something. His summary upon reflecting on the day provides some insight into just how incredible it can be to catch the fish of a lifetime at just the right time. “I’m just so humbled that out of all of the generations of captains out of North Carolina to have that sea monster on, God chose me to catch it.”
Fishing in their home tournament, the Mimi assembled an all-star crew for Pirate’s Cove. Aboard were Trey Irvine, owner of Pipe Welders Marine, Paul Spencer, Chris Hall, an ex-Bayliss mate, an ex-Sea Toy mate, Patrick Byrd, and Cliff Spencer. “We had been striking out on the release division all tournament and had to pull out the lures. It was a Hail Mary event,” King recalls. A full spread of lures was certainly not King’s normal approach when tournament fishing. It was a decision they came to upon realizing that they would need something out of the ordinary to win the tournament.
“At 9:00 the night before, after a lot of brainstorming, we got the lures. We wanted to put four of them out, but we didn’t have enough hooks. Patrick and I go to one of the commercial rigs and took a couple rusty extra strength 10/0 hooks right off a mackerel rig. We polished them up real good…. Guess what the fish ate?” “I ran offshore and found the tunas. Our strategy was to just troll around the tunas all day,” the captain recalls. “It came up on a teaser and faded off and ate a lure. I knew it was a big fish, but I was nervous and didn’t say anything. Paul (Spencer) never says anything, but he erupted and said, ‘King this is a big one!’”
“The fish jumped around and stayed up top for two hours. We were 20 miles offshore of everyone else. The last hour it was 30- to 45-feet away from the boat. We were in a stalemate. I was scared of losing it – the way it happens that way,” he recalls. “The last time it came up to jump the line kind of made a half hitch over its mouth and kind of choked it for a second. It stayed up top. I came roaring back and was either going to run it over or catch it.”
“The boat had a 19-inch door rather than the standard 22 inches. The fish was so big that it wouldn’t fit. We were afraid of tearing the fish. The dorsal created a barb and jammed the fish – we couldn’t get it out. We wrestled with it for an hour and finally decided to just pull. Somehow the fish made it.”
King and company caught the fish on an 80-wide.
“It would have been an IGFA record, but for the connection we used for the backing. In those days we didn’t always think about those things – today we do.”
The fish made for a payday of more than 600k, but it could have been more.
“It was in 2008 and things were just starting to recover (from the recession). Most years the tournament had a policy with Lloyd’s of London to pay out for a state record fish.
For whatever reason that year they didn’t,” King says. “We had some long faces. ‘Are you really gonna pull those lures?’ With a lot of divine intervention, it worked out.”
Captain Freddy Rice, Ihu Nui – 1062.5-pound Blue Marlin, 1986 Hawaii Invitational Billfish Tournament
Captain Freddy Rice was an icon of the Hawaii sportfishing community. At the helm of the Ihu Nui, Rice caught the then 50-pound line class record Pacific blue marlin on the last day of the 1986 HIBT. Rice’s son McGrew, who now runs the Ihu Nui, was working the cockpit that day. While Capt. Freddy Rice passed in January 2018, McGrew provided us a video interview his father gave that describes the fight and shows original video of the fight.
“We went four days in the tournament without a strike. The Laguna Niguel Billfish Club was the team for the day. They had won the billfish tournament the year before,” Rice describes. “Brooks Morris (the team captain) had his door knob lure that he was introducing. They were meant to be trolled as fast as you could go – almost with a rooster tail behind the boat.”
“I like heavy tackle – I don’t like light tackle. He had 50-pound on an 80-pound outfit – he wanted to do that. I said, ‘You are the client.’”
Known for his hospitality, Rice allowed the team to deploy their lure on their own tackle. “We had seen, the afternoon before, a big fish just broach. My thinking was that the big fish was still here…” Rice recalls. “The next thing you know, I thought someone had fallen overboard – everybody was yelling – and the fish comes out of the water.”
“I immediately said to myself, ‘It’s bigger than Joe Yee’s fish – which he had caught the first day. It was a 700-pounder that was leading the tournament.’ We got the lines cleared and I immediately started chasing the fish. Gil Kraemer (the angler) did a great job – he paid attention to what you asked him to do, he really concentrated. McGrew was crewing for me that day and he stood right over him to make sure that the angler was doing what he was supposed to do.”
“When the leader came up, McGrew got the leader and Brooks Morris, one of the anglers, got the first gaff in him. I came down from the bridge and got the second gaff in him. What we didn’t know was that one hook had gone over the top of his bill and the other one went underneath his jaw.”
“We knew we had a potential world record on light tackle, and we had won the tournament. McGrew said to me, ‘Your first 1,000 pounder is on light tackle.’ I said, ‘I know. God is punishing me, but I love the way He’s doing it!”
Two of the Three Largest Blue Marlin Ever Caught in Gulf Tournaments – The Sea Wolff
With Captain Dennis Barrett at the helm, the Sea Wolff caught the Gulf record blue marlin – 1054.6 – on the first day of the 2002 Mississippi Gulf Coast Billfish Classic in Biloxi. Captain Keith Quick was the first mate that day. Some four years later, with Quick running the boat, the Sea Wolff would catch a 998.6-pound blue at the 2006 Bay Point Invitational. Were it not enough for one boat to come within 1.4-pounds of catching two grander blue marlin in tournaments, the Sea Wolff is a charter boat. Aboard for both fish was angler Barry Carr – the man who reeled them both in – and his group of friends.
The Sea Wolff is a G&S built in 2001. “We caught the grander on the first morning of our first tournament on the boat. The boat was built in 2001. We took delivery of it in February 2002. The tournament was in June,” recalls Keith Quick.
“We were fishing around Ram Powell (an oil rig), just getting our trolling spread in the water. We hadn’t been fishing for an hour when she came up and hit the long-left rigger – it ate a skirted Spanish mackerel,” Quick recalls. “We got the fish to the boat in 45 minutes, but we fought her for four hours. We were totally tripping. After some spectacular jumps and big runs initially, she settled in for battle within 30 yards from the boat, swimming away the whole time. We couldn’t do anything with her initially. We just stayed close to her as we could get. Capt. Dennis did a great job of staying on the fish. When we tried to pressure her, she would pull off 100 yards or so of line and sound. We would get her back up but she would only let us get so close.”
When the marlin finally came up for a gaff shot, the story becomes even more incredible. “Gaff man, Tony Parks, stuck her with the first gaff. The fish bolted and everything came tight in a hurry. All of a sudden it sounded like a tuning fork; I’ll never forget it. The gaff pulled out – the fish straightened the gaff,” he says.
The crew was using a 10-inch Pompanette flyer, a standard issue gaff that was not reinforced. After pulling off the gaff, the fish bolted. “It took 70 yards of line out and then it turned jet black…black as the ace of spades. It died on the spot. The fish was vertical with its bill sticking out of the water. We backed down hard and got a hold of her. We were lucky to get her before she sank.”
“We got her on the boat at about 11:00. We were 90 or so miles off the beach. We threw the marlin bag over her and ran in. We couldn’t weigh her until the scales opened at 5:30 or 6:00, so we just waited. We never did go back out.”
Were it not enough for the Sea Wolff to catch the Gulf record blue marlin in the Biloxi tournament – with a charter group, some four years later they would come within 1.4-pounds of doing it again at the 2006 Bay Point Invitational. Keith Quick was running the boat in 2006, his son Jared was working in the cockpit. They were fishing with the same charter group.
“It was the second day of the tournament. We had been catching so many blackfin and small yellowfin tuna that the guys were ready to move on, ‘We’re tired of this, let’s go,’ they said. I told them, ‘The one we’re looking for eats these things like grapes.’ Not five minutes later, here she comes.”
“She came straight across the spread right behind the boat and grabbed the left flat line lure, we could see how big the fish was. She missed it the first two times then, on the third try, grabbed the lure out of the clip and took 50 yards of line and pulled off. We were dying. We thought we missed our shot. Then she submarined over and ate the horse ballyhoo rigged with a blue and white Islander on the long-left rigger.”
“The dimensions on the first fish were 137-inch fork length and a 78-inch girth – it was like a bluegill! The second one was 134 to the fork, with a girth of 72-inches. It weighed 998.6-pounds,” Quick recalls. He is incredibly grateful to have been part of catching two of the three largest blue marlin ever caught in tournaments in the Gulf of Mexico. “You work your whole life to be part of something like that. I am so thankful and feel very blessed. We (speaking of the crew on the Sea Wolff) were good friends before – now, because of something like that, we’re inseparable.”
Jared Quick, Captain Keith’s son, is a deckhand and captain who has gone on to work aboard some of the Gulf’s finest boats – the Sea Mixer, the Dreamin’ On, and the Work of Art to name a few – was on the boat for the Bay Point fish. “Jared was one of the crew members with us for the second fish. That means so much to me. That was one of the most special things…”
Quick says, emotionally. “Everybody in this business knows that something like this is a very significant team achievement… to share something like this with your son is every father’s dream.”
A Grand Day
Catching a grander in and of itself is a monumental achievement that most will never experience. Doing so when all the money is on the line is another thing entirely. It doesn’t always turn out like you’d imagine. Captain Rahn Yamashita and the Shirley-Y caught a 1,101.6-pound blue in the 1997 Lahaina Jackpot Classic. A windfall victory? It would have been on any other day in the history of the world. Yamashita and crew took second place, coming up four and half pounds short of the 1106 weighed by Captain Russell Tanaka and the crew of the Magic. How’s that for a fish story?
The following is a list of 20 grander blue marlin caught in tournaments:
◆ 1979 Bahamas Billfish Championship, Bimini Leg.
1062– Capt. Mike Lemon, Revenge
◆ 1986 Hawaii International
Billfish Tournament: 1062.5 –
Capt. Freddy Rice, Ihu Nui
◆ 1988 Pirate’s Cove (North Carolina):
1080 – Capt. Brynner Parks, Teaser
◆ 1989 Band-the-Billfish Tournament
(NC Ducks Unlimited): 1002 –
Capt. Howard Basnight, Wave Runner
◆ 1993 Blue Marlin World Cup: 1195 –
Capt. Allen Card, Challenger – Bermuda
◆ 1993 LaHaina Jackpot: 1201.8 –
Capt. Bruce Matson, Cormorant
◆ 1993 Hawaii International Billfish
Tournament: 1,166 – Capt. Dale
Leverone, Sea Strike
◆ 1997 LaHaina Jackpot Classic:
(Two granders!) 1106 – Capt. Russell
Tanaka, Magic and 1101.5 – Capt. Rahn
◆ 2001 Bay Point Invitational (Florida):
1,046 – Capt. Conrad Hawkins, Lucky 2
◆ 2002 Mississippi Gulf Coast Billfish
Classic: 1054.6 – Capt. Dennis Barrett,
◆ 2003 Fire Cracker Open (Hawaii): 1258.5 –
Capt. Bomboy Llanes, On The Fly
◆ 2004 Blue Marlin World Cup: 1189 –
Capt. Andrew Dias, Triple Play – Bermuda
◆ 2008 Pirate’s Cove (North Carolina):
1228 – Capt. Mike King, Mimi
◆ 2009 White Marlin Open: 1062 –
Capt. Skip Olpaco, No Problem
◆ 2010 Blue Marlin World Cup: 1097 –
Capt. Berno Niebuhr, Happy Hooker –
◆ 2010 White Marlin Open: 1010.5 –
Capt. Tom McCoungle, Let It Ride
◆ 2012 Big Island Marlin Tournament
(Hawaii): 1022.5 – Capt. Neil Isaacs,
Anxious (self DQed, would be ladies’
world record. The fish died and had to
be planed up. After four hours in the
chair, with up to 90-pounds of drag,
angler Molly Palmer had to be relieved
by the crew).
◆ 2013 Trinidad International Game
Fishing Tournament: 1005.9. –
Capt. Brendan Farfan, Predator
◆ 2013 Bahamas Billfish Championship,
Treasure Cay Leg: 1119 – Capt. Jason
Parker, Double Dog