Tip 13: Avoid the head-sea roller coaster.
The first time I was aboard a sport-fisher with Merritt at the helm, it was a particularly rough day, even by Venezuela standards. Yet his crew on Sniper, a 56-foot Paul Mann, snatched a tournament win with a double grand slam, plus a third blue marlin on the last day. I noted that, like Sawley, Merritt swings his bow into the wind on the bite. Both captains strive to get upwind/up-sea of the fish as quickly as possible. "Once it feels that strain coming from the direction it's headed," Merritt says, "the fish is going to turn [away]"; if the skipper has moved into the wind quickly enough, that should have the fish heading down-sea, and the boat can follow during the fight. Whether the angler is fighting from the bow of a center-console or the stern of a sport-fisher, fighting the fish down-sea, with the waves, gives the boat the advantage as opposed to the thudding rise and fall of the boat if working into big swells.
Tip 14: At the endgame monitor everything and fine-tune boat position.
The final few feet of any fight are critical but particularly so in big seas. "The boat is rolling, falling, jumping, snatching. You can go from a tight line to slack in a moment," Merritt says. "I watch the pole, the angle of the line and the angler all at once," he says, adjusting the boat to keep the line taut. The sea can help close that gap: "You can get that last little surge, but if it's too much, you end up on top of the fish." This is made harder when the captain can't see over the bow of an open fisherman or through the white water thrown astern of a big boat backing down. "Next thing you know the rod is bouncing because the line is in the wheel," Sawley says, unfortunately from experience.
Tip 15: Let practice trump comfort.
Most professional captains quickly acknowledge dis-cretion as the better part of valor - that there are days fishing boats simply don't belong offshore. But spectacular memories often come when Mother Nature flexes her muscles. Don't rush out into a gale, but try fishing on days your crew may consider marginal - as long as mere comfort, and not safety, may be in question - to build skills and confidence over time.
Teamwork, practice and planning may turn uneventful days into memorable ones. Sawley's crew will attest to that: They ended up not simply releasing 1,000 marlin during the season described at the beginning of this feature, but went on to release 1,736 marlin in 27 (often rough) fishing days.
About the Author: Vincent Daniello, who grew up fishing and diving in south Florida and the Bahamas, has run boats professionally for 20 years. Daniello currently works as a freelance writer based in New Hampshire.