Next, I did my best to level the playing field. Rather than simply ask participants to try to rate the performance of species "pound for pound," I facilitated that by asking them to compare fish of the same size on the same-strength tackle as much as possible.
Each participant received these three lists:
Offshore - Rate the following based on a 100-pound fish on 20-pound line: black marlin, blue marlin, striped marlin, blue shark, mako shark, thresher shark, swordfish, bluefin tuna and yellowfin tuna.
Rate these species for a 50-pound fish on 12-pound line: dolphin (mahi), sailfish, wahoo.
Nearshore - Rate these based on a 40-pound fish on 12-pound line: amberjack, barracuda, California yellowtail, cobia, grouper (black/ broomtail/gag etc.), halibut, kingfish, chinook salmon, white seabass, Pacific cubera snapper, dogtooth tuna.
For the following, assume a 15-pound fish on 8-pound line: little tunny (false albacore), Atlantic red snapper, tripletail.
Inshore - Assume a 10-pounder on 6-pound-test: striped bass, bluefish, bonefish, red drum, jack crevalle, Spanish mackerel, permit, queenfish, roosterfish, seatrout/weakfish, blacktip shark, snook, tarpon, giant trevally.
Participants rated these species' performance for each of three attributes: speed, stamina/endurance and quality of fight (excitement, in terms of acrobatics and unpredictable tactics). These behavioral responses to being hooked cover fairly well the spectrum of what goes into a fish's fight.
Participants rated the fish by scoring each of these three attributes from 0 to 5, using this scale: (0) nothing to offer (once hooked), (1) poor, (2) fair, (3) good, (4) excellent, (5) outstanding/exceptional. I urged participants to rate only species with which they had considerable experience; few participants rated all 40 species on the list, though some well-traveled veteran anglers had the knowledge to rate all or most.
And the Overall Winner Is...
Make that "winners are ..." because in our ratings, one offshore species and one inshore species tied for top honors. Blue marlin and tarpon came out on top of 38 other popular game fish, earning total scores of 13.0 and 12.9, respectively. So the short answer to the question this feature raises comes down to this: The two greatest game fish in the world, in terms of their fight when hooked, are blue marlin and tarpon.