By Elliott Stark
A native of Bermuda, Captain Alan Card has been fishing since the mid-1960s. A man whose reputation proceeds him, the veteran captain tells his stories with charm, understatement and appreciation for all he has seen. If chartering a day of blue marlin fishing with Captain Alan Card is anything like talking fishing with him over the phone, it is no wonder that he has been in business for decades.
Living on the island there was not much to do but fish… there were not enough women to chase,” he says with a laugh. “It was natural to fall into fishing. My brother Andrew was fishing longer than me. He was having more fun than me, so I decided to fish, too. I wouldn’t change it for anything, it’s too late to change it now anyway.”
Alan’s early days were spent in the cockpit working as second mate on the boat that his brother was working on. He then progressed to running to a private boat for a few years before turning to a full-time charter operation. Card credits Captain Walter Voss of the Sea Quest as one of his early influences. “The owner of the boat had a house in Bermuda. We traveled back and forth between the Caribbean and Bermuda. Walter taught me a hell of a lot,” he recalls. These were those days that such captains as Mike Benitez from Puerto Rico and others started to become active fishing for marlin in the Bahamas. “A couple of trips exposed me to marlin fishing. On the island (Bermuda), much of what we did was self-taught. We picked up bits and pieces from other people and from magazines – it’s not like it is today. We got the basics and off we went.”
Card started running his own charters full time in 1971. “A full day’s charter fishing back then was $75. If you got a $5 tip you were really doing great. At the time, most of the boats were locally built – not the fancy boats that come here today. We never caught blues back then. We didn’t have the tackle to catch them,” Card recalls “It wasn’t until we invested in decent tackle that we started to catch blues – once we had 80 and 130-pound line on the boat.”
Card caught the first grander blue marlin ever landed in Bermuda. The year was 1982, the fish weighed 1,130-pounds. “I also caught the first fish over 500 – that was in the mid-1970s. Bermuda used to be a light tackle spot. We used to troll for wahoo and yellowfin tuna. Every once in a while, a giant would blow up on one of the lures – it would last be seen heading west!”
Captain Alan Card runs his 40-foot Gamefisherman, the Challenger. “My son Ian has worked with me for the past 25 years. There’s just the two of us on the boat,” Card describes. “In years past, we used to fish up to 190-days per year. Now we fish between 100-120 days per year. The price has changed a lot.”
“Working with your son has some advantages,” Card begins. “He’s in his 40s… I’ve known him for a long time. He likes to work in the cockpit, and I’m up on the bridge. We do what we do. Mostly it works quite well, but like anything it can have its ups and downs. It’s unique. Mates are hard to come by here.”
“There are not as many charter boats around now – maybe seven or eight here. It’s not easy to get into it. The boats are expensive, and the economics have changed. It’s a hard life, but it’s rewarding. I’ve met a lot of good people,” Card relates thoughtfully.
Over the course of carving out a livelihood for himself and his family, Captain Alan Card and his charter operation have transformed Bermuda and the way the sportfishing world relates to the island. For starters, the words “Bermuda” and “light tackle” are no longer used in relation to one another. The island nation that sits some 665 miles east of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina is one of the world’s leading grander blue marlin destinations. “I’ve caught seven granders – all of them here. There have been 25 or 26 granders caught in Bermuda all told. The largest was 1,350 – it’s only a matter of time before someone catches a record fish here,” Card surmises.
“We have released another two or three or four that were over 1,000-pounds. Our largest was 1,289,” Card says matter of factly. “Every one of them has a mother. We’ve seen some huge fish out here – bigger than we’ve caught. I’m sort of glad we don’t see them every day,” Card says with a chuckle.
Card’s approach to marlin fishing is influenced by the ever-present opportunity to catch the fish of a lifetime. “We rig baits and gear and tackle for the biggest fish you can imagine and let everything else go. I’m not sure how many I’ve caught – maybe 1,500 or 2,000, but I still get jacked up. I don’t remember all of them, but I remember the first one.”
When asked about pranks and dock jokes, Card’s Bermuda charm and manners are on full display. “On a daily basis, we are courteous.” When pressed a bit, Card delivers a gem. A joke that illustrates just how incredible his career has been. Bear in mind that the man has weighed seven blue marlin north of 1,000 pounds. “When people ask me, ‘How many granders have you caught?’ My answer is, ‘None. All of mine are over 1,100.’” While Captain Alan Card may well be the only person in the world able to provide such an answer to this question, he relates his story with understatement and perspective.
In describing his relationship with large blue marlin, Card is no less thoughtful. “It is a privilege and an honor to see a fish like that – let alone catch it. It’s a rarity to kill a fish now. There is nothing wrong with cutting them loose,” the veteran captain provides. “The 1,199 we caught was 28 years old. They used to say that fish that didn’t reproduce. But that fish had two egg sacks that weighed 80- or 90-pounds.”
Not only does Captain Alan Card provide perspective as it relates to large blue marlin, he also gives freely of experience in regard to those considering a career on the charter docks. “Fishing can be a hell of an opportunity for kids. If you get mixed up with the right crew, you can have a 30- or 40-year career like me. It’s been a fun and rewarding career, with lots of repeat clients,” Card provides.
He also provides a road map for learning the craft. “Hands on knowledge is important, Walter Voss taught me that. He’d take me and show me things, ‘This is how you do this.’” Beyond learning from those you work with, it’s also important to pay attention to what goes on around you. “Pay attention. Watch what others are doing. If someone is getting better results, ask questions. Don’t be embarrassed or ashamed to ask questions.”
Captain Alan Card is 71 years old. He and his wife recently celebrated their 49th anniversary. As many a good man does, Card jokes about the medals his wife deserves. “They call me Santiago now,” he laughs. More than an old man of the sea, Captain Alan Card is a fishing legend whose career has transformed how the world relates with the island Bermuda. He has spent his life on the water and the sportfishing landscape is better for it.