As we approached the “Hundred Square,” where we would be setting-up for chunking during the night, a large pod of porpoises appeared off our port bow, chasing fish. “A good sign,” Captain Dave yelled down from the bridge. “Usually tuna under the porpoises,” he continued. With dusk approaching we stowed the trolling gear and prepared to start the chunking process. We set out a five-gallon bucket of bunker chum, to get our slick going. Every couple of minutes, five to six pieces of cut up butterfish were thrown into the slick. This combination of the bunker chum and the “chunks” of butterfish would attract, and hopefully hold fish in our slick. Next, we set up the 30's. We rigged the stand-up rods with a five-foot Bimini. A barrel swivel was attached with Palomar knots, to prevent line twist. The leader consisted of approximately five feet of eighty pound fluorocarbon line. A size 6/0 live-bait hook was then attached to the fluoro, also using a Palomar knot. The hook was passed through the butterfish’s mouth and out its gill opening. It was then passed back through the gill into the body cavity, so that just the point protruded through the butterfish’s belly. The slack was taken-up, and the bait placed into the slick.
Captain Dave Rieman positions the author’s White Marlin for release.
Photo by: Jimmy Caltabellatta
As dusk faded into night we began marking bait and fish from 40 to 70 feet. Somewhere in the darkness, almost six hundred feet below, laid the bottom and an unknown bounty. We now had to entice the fish up. Our four “working” lines were continually feed out a few strips at a time until they were out 30 to 60 yards into the slick. Then the bait would be slowly retrieved, and the whole process would begin again. Several times during the night, schools of squid attracted by the noise of the generator or the underwater lights, swam by. We caught a few squids in a net and tried them as bait also. According to Captain Dave, “There are generally two bites during the night, the “late bite” around dusk and the “early bite” around dawn.” He continued. “Usually you’ll pick up a few fish during the night as they come into the slick.” Rieman said. We had hooked and lost several big fish, some next to the boat. Including, two “Allison’s” (yellowfin’s more than 120 pounds). We boated one Allison and an eighty-pound class Yellowfin. “Some nights chunking you fill the boat with yellowfins, other nights you’re lucky to catch a fish.” Rieman would later say.
As the reddish light of dawn cut its way through the morning haze, the International 30 I’d been working out of the starboard rod holder, began slowly to give up line. The “clicker” sounded-off, slow at first, then it’s speed and urgency increased as if attached to a rocket. In one motion I removed the rod from its holder and silenced the “clicker.” I pushed the drag lever to “strike” and the line began to cut through the water as it tightened. A hundred yards out a great distinct silhouette rose from the water, as I set the hook.
A “Tuna Rigged” butterfish; because of a Tuna’s incredible eyesight, low visibility Fluorocarbon mono leader is used and the hook is well hidden in the butterfish (the point of the 6/0 live-bait hook is just visible below the butterfish’s lower gill).
Photo by: Author
Almost before the word “marlin” escaped my mouth, Captain Dave was awake and standing in the cockpit. The fish took a long run and then surfaced again. The calm water churned white with foam as his powerful tail hurled his undulating body into the air. With each shake of his head he tried to throw the hook from his powerful bill. He continued his aerobatic demonstration, turning and twisting at heights up to six feet into the air. We lost count somewhere around a two dozen leaps.
This was my first white marlin, although I had caught Stripes and Blues before, this was my first Atlantic billfish. He took a long run and striped-off quite a bit of line. With a violent shake, his bill and head appeared from the water. As if aware of our presence, he rolled over and disappeared into the flat sea. Several more times during the fight he would appear from the depths, as if checking our location, then shake his head and vanish again.
It was strangely quiet while the marlin was on, maybe it was the almost religious experience of catching a billfish or the lack of sleep that had caught-up with everyone. It seemed almost anticlimactic when the exhausted fish rolled next to the boat. We quickly tagged and photographed him for posterity. Then returned him to his domain, and as they revived the seventy-five-pound white and his colors brightened we said farewell.
Butterfish are used both as “chunks” and as bait, in conjunction with a steady slick of bunker chum
Photo by: Author
As Notorious’ powerful diesels started and we prepared for the long ride home, I reflected back on other canyon trips, and of other fish caught. This trip, however, would remain etched in my mind as the one I caught a white. There would be no reason for any dockside bragging, our memories and the string of flags on the outriggers told our story.