Nobody ever sees it coming — mate Kyle Applefield sure didn’t. Last year, a blue marlin yanked him from the cockpit of the sport-fisher Blue Heaven off the coast of the Dominican Republic. A loose wrap caught his glove’s strap and tightened around his left hand as he leadered the fish. The fish surged, and he was pulled into the blue.
That’s how fast an offshore trip can turn into chaos, even for an experienced mate like Applefield.
“He made the proper wraps around his glove,” said Capt. Ed Thompson, who was running the boat. “The marlin wasn’t even all that big — about 110 pounds.”
Applefield kept his cool and recovered quickly. Treading water, he untangled his hand from the leader. Back on the boat, he successfully released the same billfish that had pulled him in earlier.
Cockpit mishaps happen. When targeting game fish offshore, proper preparation and techniques are vital to safely leader massive fish.
When an amped-up billfish nears the boat, the captain, mate and angler must be on the same page.
“If you hesitate, you can put yourself in a bind,” says Kevin Beach, a charter captain out of Venice, Louisiana. “First and foremost, you want to be safe. The fish will dictate where the mate leaders the fish, but I like the action to happen in the port corner. That’s the best position for me to see what’s happening.”
Once the leader is in the mate’s hand, the angler’s job isn’t over. Capt. Carter Andrews, director of fishing at Isla Secas Lodge in Panama, agrees that the angler plays an import role.
“Ninety percent of the anglers we take fishing have never caught a tuna or marlin,” says Andrews. “We ask them to turn the clicker on, and then move the drag back to where we’ve marked it on the reel.”
Following the mate’s orders, the angler should reel in as much of the wind-on leader as possible, stopping only when the swivel reaches the rod tip.
“If the fish was fought with 25 pounds of drag, it’s safe to back off to about 10 pounds,” says Beach. “The angler has to be ready at all times. He needs to make sure the leader never wraps around the rod tip, or the shoulders, neck or feet of the leader man.”
Illustration by Dave Underwood