Marlin Madness

Competitive marlin fishers do lots of drinking, tell lots of tales, and, oh yes, sometimes they catch fish.

Saturday morning, however, is bright and sunny and provides hope anew. "You like to check around during prefish so you can get things straight in your mind," Darrin Isaacs explains. "The best feeling in the world is to go to sleep the night before a tournament and know exactly where you're going the next day."

Isaacs and other World Team members Flynn, McCullough, and Sam Peters, who's just arrived from Savannah, gather on a charter boat for their first day out as a team. Peters is part-owner of the family business, Release Marine, which manufactures, among other things, the "fighting" chairs bolted to the decks in the back of most fishing boats. The 42-year-old has been deep-sea fishing for 20 years but is new to the Xtreme league this year.

There's good news from the last two members, Ken Ross, the captain, and Erik Rusnick, the mate. They're on the Dream Catcher, which reportedly is repaired and underway to Antigua. Given the luck so far, no one is about to jinx the journey with hoots and a victory dance.

Mamora Bay, Antigua: staging area for the six fishing boats that compete for a $50,000 prize
Mamora Bay, Antigua: staging area for the six fishing boats that compete for a $50,000 prize

The team sets out just after 8 a.m. on the 45-foot Hatteras, a 34-year-old vessel that has a formidable time pushing through the eight- to 12-foot waves stacked close to one another. At times, the bow breaks through, then crashes down into the watery vale. After about an hour of this, Peters crawls down the ladder from the bridge and sheepishly admits to McCullough that he feels a bit green around the gills. Confessing to seasickness in this hypermacho world isn't easy; it's akin to a surgeon fainting at the sight of blood. McCullough roars with laughter.

Perhaps it's the power of suggestion, but at this point I begin to feel slightly queasy. I'd eaten a light breakfast, but in effect I feel as though I've been on a carnival ride for more than an hour. Soon I'm draped over the gunwale going for the "Technicolor yawn," as Norm Isaacs describes it. I crumple down near the door to the cabin, which reeks of diesel fuel. The mate hands me a black bucket.

Deep-sea fishing has one thing in common with all types of angling: There's a lot of waiting for a few episodes of exhilaration. Thus, the spectacle of someone collapsing from seasickness provides a welcome respite from tedium. "Hey, Frank," Peters whoops, his own stomach and ego apparently buoyed by the suffering of another, "I thought we had Superman, not cub reporter Jimmy Olsen, onboard." Surveying my scrunched-up remains, he announces, "Gentlemen, we just saw a six-foot man shrink to a foot and a half. It's like an alien came down and sucked his vital juices out and left a shell behind."

The anglers pull in one mahimahi, whose flopping about on the cockpit floor forces me into the gaseous cabin. Eight hours later, we dock.

Once again, no one has so much as seen a marlin. For the World Team, however, that disappointment gives way to the arrival of the Dream Catcher. The World Team will have one day to prefish as a team atop its own boat.

Flynn boards the Dream Catcher Sunday morning and regales the crew with gossip from last night, which, for Flynn, lasted until roughly 2 a.m. By Flynn's telling -- which is likely adorned for drama's sake -- he'd gone to join several people at the resort's casino bar, a group that included Cujo. The resort's dress code required men to wear long pants to the restaurants and casino in the evening, apparel that Flynn and many others had neglected to pack. So not surprisingly, Flynn was stopped last night at the casino bar entrance and told he wouldn't be allowed in with shorts. He asked to speak with a manager, then went on in anyway and joined the others, who were also wearing shorts. The manager did indeed appear but for some reason chose to lecture only Cujo about his attire.

As the boat begins to chug away from the pier, Flynn concludes the tale with flourish: "Cujo started yelling, 'Do you see the boats we're on? We're all millionaires here. I own shorts worth more than most guys' pants. '"

The 52-foot Dream Catcher is better-equipped than the Hatteras to take on the wallowing waves, and the crew is soon setting up the cockpit for marlin fishing. Going after billfish requires a finely oiled machine of people, hooks, lines, lures, and diesel engines. The crew must anticipate every potential move its quarry might make. Marlin are usually lone hunters, but the right waters will attract more than one. The hunt begins as Isaacs and Rusnick tether glittering, neon-bright lures, or teasers, the size of beer bottles to the outriggers on both sides of the boat. The outriggers are then lowered so that the hookless teaser lines run parallel to the boat. Ross controls these from the bridge and pulls a teaser in if a marlin starts chasing it. "The fish will follow the teaser all the way to the side of the boat," he says. "When I pull it out of the water, the fish will do a U-turn and go back out." By this time, the anglers will have tossed out hooks baited with large mackerels that the fish sees immediately on turning around.

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