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Posted on Oct 8, 2007 in Top Shots
What's "Fair" in Fishing?

"Dear Mr. Olander, I need to get something off my chest."

So begins a letter recently from a reader in Wilmette, Illinois. His beef? An item in the IGFA Report (October) that describes the capture of 104-pound blue marlin on 12-pound tippet after a 1 1/2-hour battle as "a fair fight." He suggests the style of fishing is unfair because it's simply a matter of hooking the fish then chasing it relentlessly with a fast boat until, exhausted, "the fish floats to the top."

That letter opens up several worm cans, but it's worth exploring. I'll state here my thoughts on that charge - but of course mine is just one man's opinion; I'd like to read some of yours.

I should start by saying I've written editorials critical of the style of fishing the reader describes. However, I don't think the charge is necessarily fair, here. One can indeed find IGFA line-class records where billfish weighing well into three figures were caught not only on ultra-light lines (e.g. 4- or 6- or 8-pound) but - and this is particularly telling - landed, according to notarized forms, in just a few minutes!

Is that "a fair fight"? Some argue it is -- that doing this is another phase of our sport and requires great equipment and teamwork. But it seems to me to defeat the spirit of the sport.

Another editorial I penned some years ago suggested anglers should really test their skill only from a dead boat, when possible. No chasing. Of course that concept has many caveats, among them:

* It's really relevant only with fish that often fight on the top -- primarily billfishes though it may apply to dolphin (mahi) and wahoo. These are fish that can be chased. A big tuna that heads down requires essentially a dead-boat fight anyway.

* It's not a good idea if the angler is using very light line since that risks (a) being spooled and the last thing anyone should want is a game fish swimming around the ocean dragging hundreds of yards of line or (b) a very long fight time which can leave the fish seriously impaired. (Yes, ironically, the letter writer has backwards, I think: chasing with a boat will usually shorten fight times and increase the odds of a fish being in better shape for release.)

But I do think dead-boat fishing, with line appropriately heavy, combined with good tackle and a skilled angler, is the most sporting way to fish: mano a fino, if you will. Man (or woman) versus fish. Period.

But in any event, back to the letter. I suspect the fight was fair indeed, even if a chase boat saw some use. Had this been one of those light-line-class battles that lasted 4 minutes (from time of hookup until time crew could get gaffs into the surface-swimming fish), I might agree. But if an experienced, skilled angler requires 90 minutes to beat a marlin, that suggests the boat didn't (or couldn't) chase it relentlessly. (Keep in mind, billfish sure don't always cooperate, often sounding, in which case unless the boat is a submersible, it can't help.) Rather, it suggests a long, difficult battle during which time the angler probably earned his bragging rights.

What do you think? Fair or unfair, and why? And what are your thoughts on dead-boat fishing as the most sporting way to take on a fish?

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