Batting 1.000. Bowling a 300 game. Running a four-minute mile. Shooting 10 under par. Catching a grander. Every sport has its ultimate goals. Few participants accomplish them - but some try and others dream. Hooking a marlin weighing 1,000 pounds or more undeniably qualifies as one of sport fishing's ultimate goals. And while only a tiny percentage of blue-water anglers ever realize such a feat, it is within reach for those with the time, money and strength to pursue it.
We present here a unique guide to some of the world's top spots for grander marlin for all those who'd like to pledge that oh-so-exclusive fraternity (and sorority) of anglers who know what it's like to feel a half-ton of thundering marlin on a line.
Obviously, marlin are pelagic nomads. That may be particularly true of the huge females that have reached 1,000 pounds or more; their great size makes traveling long distances that much easier. Certainly, recovered tags prove marlin have no trouble crossing entire oceans.
Nevertheless, a handful of areas tend to account for the majority of granders hooked, year in and year out. Some waters may lie in a migratory path for marlin; others may benefit from a submarine topography that promotes upwelling and concentrates prey.
No doubt effort plays a big part in the grander success that some areas seem to offer anglers. That is, some destinations have substantial fleets of charter (and private) boats that work the waters all or most of the year. More lines in the water equal more chances for hookups. It's possible that some great grander grounds may get so little effort that they haven't yet made it onto many anglers' radar screens. Ascension Island came into prominence for its big marlin just within the past three years. But the odds are, in this shrinking world, most fabulous marlin spots have been discovered.
This guide does not pretend to list all the waters in the world where anglers may encounter massive marlin. Nor does it suggest which are best or rate them. It does assess and compare areas that have gained an international reputation. I'm indebted to many top skippers and anglers - world-class, renowned veterans of the big-game scene - who shared with me their most candid and well-considered thoughts.
Cairns, the Great Barrier Reef, Lizard Island - names that make this area of northeastern Australia legendary among anglers seeking some of the world's largest marlin. No place in the world offers fishermen a better shot at a 1,000-pounder than Cairns, gateway to the blue Pacific off the Great Barrier Reef. Nor does any other spot provide a remarkably productive light-tackle fishery for baby black marlin.
The Odds: Hard to beat overall, though chances for monster marlin vary considerably season to season. In a typical year, at least a grander or two will be hooked every week, on average, among the fleet of roughly 30 boats. In his best season, Capt. Peter B. Wright hooked an average of one grander every four days. On the other hand, in some years he has gone weeks without releasing one. Both 2001 and 2002 offered particularly consistent action from big marlin. Most grander fishing here means trolling large dead baits close to the edge of the outer barrier reef. However, more skippers in recent years also troll big lures wide of the reef.
Species and Size: Although a few blues do turn up, expect to see all blacks on most days. An overall average size during the "heavy-tackle season" would be 450 to 500 pounds.
Release: Virtually all marlin caught here are released.
Distance to Fish: From Cairns (or Cooktown), you're looking at a 30-mile run to start trolling. That's why so many anglers stay on motherships or large sport-fishers out at the barrier reef: Crews can put lines in almost as soon as boats leave the reef.
Length of Prime Season (for granders): Three and one-half months: mid-September through November (may run a little earlier or later, but this is the safest bet). Odds of a grander from January through August are slim. Last year, for example, big fish started showing in real numbers around the end of September and continued for several weeks, with the largest of the granders taken weighing 1,245.
Conditions: Seas may range from flat calm to "frightening," as Wright says. But he adds that conditions seldom get too rough to keep boats from fishing. The early part of prime season tends to be rougher; winds often moderate in November and December. However, rough winds seem to up the odds for big marlin, especially southeast trades of 18 to 25 knots, Wright points out.
Charter Availability/Quality: About 30 charters, most top-notch - though still with varying levels of experience and knowledge - fish these waters. About eight motherships operate on the reef; that's fewer than in years past because so many sport-fishers are now set up to live aboard for extended trips.
Charter Cost (in U.S. dollars): For a day trip out of Cairns, expect to pay about $1,000 to $1,350; for a live-aboard, about $1,500 to $1,800 per day. Smaller motherships - in the 60-foot range - start at about $1,800; larger, more luxurious boats (in the 100-foot range) will run as much as $4,000 to $6,000 per day. (All prices are per boat.)
Accommodations: No shortage of hotels in Cairns, with a range of prices. You can find basic rooms for $30 per night or pay five to 10 times that rate for the Hilton or similar digs. Lots of good eateries around town.
Other Fishing Opportunities: World's fastest fishing for little black marlin, right along the reef, primarily in July and August, just before the big mamas come to town. You can find some good sailfishing mixed in. The vast reef also provides great light-tackle opportunities for trevally, grouper ("coral trout") and more - try jigging or casting big poppers.
Cost to Get Here (from Los Angeles): Including flight from Sydney to Cairns, figure at least $1,200.
KONA, HAWAII, U.S.A.
Kona offers not only a real shot at marlin weighing 1,000 or more pounds, but also almost immediate access to the fishing grounds, a huge first-rate fleet, and a long season in what must qualify as the world's calmest conditions for big fish. Also, U.S. fishermen enjoy the ease of going to another state versus another country.
The Odds: According to best records, the fleet of about 100 charters has weighed in an average of two granders per year over the past few decades; this doesn't include fish released and those hooked but lost, says Kona's resident marlin-fishery expert (and Sport Fishing contributor), Jim Rizzuto. The 1,065-pounder taken in August of 2003 marked last year's third grander. At press time, this year had seen one grander taken (a 1,006-pounder with Capt. Sean Cleaver on July 3), but with a number of bigger fish reported hooked and lost.
Species and Size: Mostly blues, the odd black. (In fact, only two or three 1,000-pound blacks have been caught here over the decades, but they can show up; a 760 was taken in July aboard Capt. Gene Vander Hoek's Sea Genie II.) A rough average for blues off the Big Island might be 200 to 500 pounds, though in most years the fleet will catch more than a hundred topping 600 pounds. Kona boats take about as many stripes as blues, the stripeys running about 50 to 70 pounds.
Release: Including striped marlin, a knowledgeable guess would be a 30- to 40-percent release rate. Billfish have always been considered food fish in the islands and widely still are, though gradually more and more skippers are releasing marlin.
Distance to Fish: Advantage Kona: Depths fall off dramatically right outside Kailua Harbor, and blue-water marlin grounds begin after a run of just minutes. Granders have been caught within five minutes or so of the harbor mouth, as was a 1,285 in July 2003.
Length of Prime Season (for Granders): Six months: April through September. Granders have been taken in other months as well, except October and November (though Kona granders have been hooked during those months - and caught around other islands in the chain).
Conditions: Hard to beat - generally calm-water fishing all year; winds usually 5 to 15 knots, often variable. (Occasionally finding smooth water may require a bit of a run.) Only a few days in most years might anglers consider the waters unfishable "and there's usually someone fishing on those days, too," Rizzuto says.
Charter Availability/Quality: You can choose from roughly 100 charter boats. The majority of these are outstanding and equipped to handle granders. Moreover, there's a great deal of camaraderie and cooperation among the fleet, so if a boat lacking a really experienced deckhand hooks a monster, a nearby boat will ferry out another deckie within 15 to 20 minutes. "Happens all the time," Rizzuto says.
Charter Cost: Also tough to beat anywhere: Smaller boats (28 to 31 feet) can be had for as little as $350 per day or as much as $900. The smooth waters allow even smaller boats to get in on the action - granders have been towed in after being whipped by anglers in private 16-foot skiffs off Kona.
Accommodations: Kona's loaded with options. Anything decent will likely run you $100 or so per night, but you can go higher - much higher, given inclination and finances.
Other Fishing Opportunities: Kona offers good shots at three billfishes - blue marlin, striped marlin and spearfish. In fact, Kona completely dominates light-tackle world records for spearfish, with 4-, 6-, 8-, 12- and 16-pound class records in both men's and women's classes caught here. In all, during some of the better seasons, boats may enjoy 12 to 15 shots per day at various billed critters. But wait, there's more. These waters can be filled with yellowfin tuna (`ahi) that offer arm-rubberizing action. Wahoo (ono) are usually around and at times in great numbers. For big specimens of both albacore and bigeye tuna, try night fishing. Fishing near bottom and/or near shore, you can tangle with Kona's carangid thugs: amberjack and giant trevally, which can hit three digits.
Cost to Get Here: (from Los Angeles): $600 to $700 at the low end.
CABO FRIO, BRAZIL
For anyone serious about hunting half-ton marlin, Cabo Frio has proven its potential for shots at huge blues. Indeed, the all-tackle world-record blue of 1,402 pounds was taken just up the coast, off Vitoria, in 1992, and two blues over 1,200 pounds have been weighed in during the past few years. That's despite very little sustained effort beyond the one annual tournament held here. At the same time, outside of that tourney, finding a real charter boat may be impossible (the lack of a public marina has discouraged full-time charters), and hiring a private boat has plenty of drawbacks. Even with a good, safe boat, the fishing grounds are a long, usually rough run. On the other hand, at amazingly reasonable prices, you can enjoy a great Brazilian beach resort on the off days. A nearby alternative this year is Guarapari, a bit farther north, where at press time Capt. Jo Franck planned to operate from mid-December through April. The run to the fishing grounds from Vitoria is a kinder, gentler 25 miles.
The Odds: The lack of directed effort makes it somewhat hard to assess the odds. No doubt of big fish here, but with only one real charter boat operating (for the first time) in 2002-03 for just four months, it's difficult to compare. Most stats (and many granders) come from the annual two-day tournament held here each January; that suggests perhaps 30 or so days of trolling per grander. In most years, at least three or four granders will be hooked among 20 to 40 boats. In 1999 and 2002, says Rio marlin enthusiast Eduardo Baumeier, warmer water temperatures accounted for particularly large marlin, though he adds that "in 2004, we had a run of smaller fish. The three fish weighed in at the tournament went 796, 842 and 860." That marked the first time in 11 years of the tournament at Cabo Frio without a grander.
Species and Size: All South Atlantic blues, of course, averaging in the 500- to 600-pound range, with 300 to 800 pretty common.
Release: The annual tournament once accounted for many dead marlin, but mortality of undersized fish is declining as the sponsoring Iate Clube do Rio de Janeiro's rules have increased minimum weights to 250 kilograms, or about 550 pounds (it's considering raising that minimum to 660 pounds for 2005), and added penalties for killing undersized fish. Rio resident and marlin meister Andy Hahn estimates that in recent years around 90 percent of tournament marlin have been released, but says weekend fishermen probably release at a somewhat lower rate - Baumeier estimates 70 percent overall.
Distance to Fish: Sit back and relax: Plan on a run of 45 to 70 miles to reach prime grander grounds along the continental shelf.
Length of Prime Season (for Granders): Two and one-half months: mid-January through March - summer in Brazil. The big girls are a possibility starting in October, though more small fish remain on the prowl then. April through September sees little blue-water effort here.
Conditions: Unfortunately, that long run often isn't smooth - 5-foot seas are typical, thanks to strong east winds, with seas to 10 feet not rare. You may want to take a pass when they get even lumpier, waiting until things calm a bit. Of course, you might luck out and catch one of those rare, flat-smooth days, too. Situated fairly far to the south and bathed in rather constant ocean winds, Cabo Frio can experience surprisingly cool weather.
Charter Availability/Quality: Here's the rub. So far, there's been only one real, dedicated charter operation. In 2003, Franck came over from the Azores during his off-season to run a charter boat out of Cabo Frio during its on-season. Franck and his crew provided top-notch skill and service, and this year he's operating out of nearby Guarapari with a shorter run.
Charter Cost (in U.S. dollars): Franck's rate has been about $1,500 per day.
Accommodations: You'll find places to stay are as plentiful as boats to charter are scarce. Cabo Frio's a major tourist draw for vacationers, many from Brazil's interior cities looking for some beach time. So accommodations abound. No five-star hotels - but no five-star rates, either. The favorable exchange rate means lots of Brazilian reales for your buck: $30 to $100 will get you a decent spot.
Other Fishing Opportunities: On good days, anglers may raise several blue marlin - plus white marlin turn up now and then, and sailfish can be numerous in November and December (and a mere 15 or so miles offshore). The usual cast of other blue-water pelagic players is available. For any interested bottomfishers: Big snowy and gag grouper await 10 to 50 miles out.
Cost to Get Here: (from New York): $800 to $1,000 should get you to the area.
General Information: www.brazil4you.com.
For U.S. anglers who live along the Eastern Seaboard, Bermuda offers one of the closest viable grander options, sitting about 600 miles east of North Carolina. Although its landmass totals only about a third that of Washington, D.C., this very British subtropical island has become a major center for finance and tourism - with at least some of those tourists keen on tangling with big marlin. Bermuda boats have hooked a number of blues better than 1,000 pounds, most recently during the July Fourth World Cup event when Capt. Andrew Dias brought in a 1,189-pounder.
The Odds: Veteran skipper Allen DeSilva figures he averages about two granders hooked per season (roughly 50 days). Once again, some years are hot (e.g., 1995, when three were released and many more lost); and some are not (the following year, no granders were hooked). Even when not hooked, granders are frequently seen. But the bigger ladies here must be watching their girth; DeSilva says more often than not, they prove reluctant to eat.
Species and Size: DeSilva guesses the average Atlantic blue here runs 150 to 300 pounds, but at least one out of every five or six will beat 500. Getting several shots per day at these smaller blues is common. In fact, 2003 proved to be an outstanding year for DeSilva for total numbers of marlin caught.
Release: At least 90 percent of marlin caught in Bermuda are released.
Distance to Fish: Lines in can start just 5 miles offshore (but a 10-mile run from the dock).
Length of Prime Season (for granders): Two and one-half months: mid-June through August. For five months, November through March, the odds of hooking a grander are minimal.
Conditions: Most of the time during grander season, expect hot, sunny days and fair winds generally no more than 15 knots, with seas pretty friendly and at times nil.
Charter Availability/Quality: Generally, about 10 charters will operate during prime grander months. Perhaps half of these will be first-rate boats with skilled crews experienced in and ready for handling a grander.
Charter Cost (in U.S. dollars): $1,000 to $1,500.
Accommodations: Bermuda has no shortage of places to stay. Bargains can be a bit scarce, though, with even modest lodging running $150 or so per night.
Other Fishing Opportunities: White marlin may be common, though they're not often targeted. For sheer action and a major workout, pursue yellowfin tuna, which are often abundant around Bermuda for anglers trolling or stopping to chunk.
Cost to Get Here (from New York): Roughly $600.
"World-class marlin fishing with a European flair" - that's how Andy Hahn (this magazine's senior editor plus an Azores fishing veteran and enthusiast) describes the Azores. The pursuit of memorably massive marlin is generally on the minds of anglers heading out to blue water from Horta on the island of Faial, about 900 miles west of Portugal. "Nine islands surrounded by extensive banks - [as a] holding ground for marlin, [it's] fantastic!" says Capt. Jo Franck, who probably knows these waters better than any other charter skipper.
The Odds: Franck and Hahn agree that 20 to 25 days might be a rough estimate of the time a boat would have to put in trolling for every grander hooked. Franck says the middle of August seems to produce the majority of Azores granders. Hahn points out that this is not a numbers fishery, but it offers quality. When it comes to blues, he says, "Most often, either you raise big fish or no fish." (For details on fishing the Azores, see Hahn's "Granders in the Garden" in the February 2001 issue of Sport Fishing.
Species and Size: The Atlantic blues here average a healthy 600 pounds.
Release: Nearly all marlin are released.
Distance to Fish: Whaddya, kidding? Says Hahn, "There's blue water in the [Horta] marina!" Indeed, lines in can produce strikes just a few minutes from castoff. On the other hand, if granders are your game, Franck says he's likely to run 25 to 50 miles - where several productive seamounts await.
Length of Prime Season (for granders): Three months: July through September. Don't rule out the big gals in October or possibly even into November; ditto June. But December through May isn't the time to look for four-figure fish in the Azores.
Conditions: Hard to average out, Franck says. "We can have four seasons in a day!" So you might enjoy a flat day here - but better to plan on working in some fair seas and hope to be pleasantly surprised.
Charter Availability/Quality: Three full-time charter ops, two of which are top-notch and equipped to handle your grander (one of those operations, to be sure, is Franck's).
Charter Cost (in U.S. dollars): $1,100 per day, give or take.
Accommodations: Take your pick from the three hotels on Faial, and figure on paying around $125 per night.
Other Fishing Opportunities: Think white: In fact, if you like light-tackle billfish sport, target white marlin, which can be so thick that some skippers consider them a nuisance - especially when they hook themselves on the hefty lures put out for big blues.
Cost to Get Here (from Boston): $650 to $700.
"When I saw this place in 1996," says Capt. Peter Bristow, "I thought I'd died and gone to heaven! As far as I could see, 200-pound bigeye tuna were busting, along with giant bluefin crashing mackerel. My first day on the ocean we caught an 800-pounder 20 minutes out of the harbor. I made immediate plans to relocate to Madeira!" Like the Azores, this mid-Atlantic island near Portugal can be a good bet for big fish. Although Capt. Peter B. Wright has caught heaps of black marlin granders over decades of fishing and skippering around much of the world, his only blue grander came from Madeira. Besides that, Wright says, "It's perhaps the nicest island you could ever live on and still have a great time even if the fishing sucked while you were there!" Madeira's also considered a very safe destination, Bristow points out. Capt. Roddy Hays is also a fan: "Calm water, the chance at really big blues, a clean marina, good accommodations, English spoken widely, no inoculations needed ... what more could an angler ask for?" And Stewart Campbell, who has fished the world over for billfish, cites the best big-marlin fishing he ever experienced at Madeira in 1995-96. "We weighed in two over 1,000 pounds and released five [more about that size]," he says.
The Odds: Capt. Dickie Howell figures he puts in 40 to 50 days for each Madeira grander hooked. Hays' estimate is slightly higher. Howell also notes that the big gals, which made Madeira a hot commodity with the grander-hopeful crowd, seem to have been generally absent during the past six years. Bristow says 1998 was the first of six years of La Niña-driven cold water. However, that cycle seems to be changing. In 2002, Bristow's fish ran 700-plus. "I released two definitely well over a grand," he adds. After returning to Madeira from Ascension Island in the spring of 2003, Capt. Trevor Cockle reported releasing an estimated 950 and hearing of a grander taken. Bristow and Wright agree that the presence (or absence) of bait is the most important factor. And Bristow says, "There's been more bait here this year than in the last six put together."
Size and Species: All blues, of course. Even if the number of granders is down from that of the early '90s, Madeira still boasts big fish. Howell and Hays suggest an average size of 650 pounds, though Bristow's recent experience puts that a bit larger. "Even when it's slow off Madeira, the fish are still big," he says.
Release: That seems to depend on who's offering the estimate, but probably approaches 90 to 95 percent now, with a release mindset on the upswing among Madeirans.
Distance to Fish: Less than a mile from port to grander country - lines can be in just 15 minutes from the marina.
Length of Prime Season (for granders): Four months: late May through September. Odds of lucking into a four-figure fish in October through midspring are slim.
Conditions: Seas rarely get big and often stay calm; Bristow says even when it's windy, skippers can usually fish the lee of the island's 6,000-foot elevation since that's where the fish are - held there (as off Kona) where warm-water eddies form.
Charter Availability/Quality: Shop around: Of seven or eight operations currently based in Madeira, no more than a few are likely to be well-equipped to handle your grander.
Charter Cost (in U.S. dollars): $500 to $1,000 per day.
Accommodations: Lots of choices, both in number and in quality. Plenty of five-stars but even modest (and modestly priced) accommodations offer pretty high standards, with rooms from $50 to $80 easy to come by.
Other Fishing Opportunities: Some white marlin should be around, plus occasional spearfish, but blues remain the big draw. Occasionally bluefin tuna show up to generate interest in a hurry. Bigeye (big bigeye - up to 300-plus pounds) prowl in the summer, and, says Hays, there's the potential for good swordfish action in May and June. Wright says he also enjoyed jigging squid for calamari and bait at night - just look for the bright lights of the squid-boat fleet. Spearfish may be common (Bristow's even had double-headers), and 30- to 60-pound wahoo can be plentiful from September through December and great fun on 20-pound spinning tackle.
Cost to Get Here (from New York): Figure in the vicinity of $1,000.
Of all the great grander grounds listed here, only Ascension remains largely an unknown, all of its secrets yet to be fully revealed. It was "discovered" by serious big-game interests only three or so years ago. After just one partial season among a handful of sport-fishing boats, the several granders caught (and, except in a few cases, released) captured world attention. But only the serious need apply: The logistics of reaching this remote military outpost remain daunting. (For details on fishing Ascension, see "Jurassic Park for Marlin" in the March 2003 issue of Sport Fishing.) Capt. Trevor Cockle says other world-class skippers such as Jody Whitworth and Roddy Hays agree that the largest marlin they've seen in their careers came during visits to Ascension.
The Odds: During October through February of 2002, Cockle hooked an average of one grander per month. Although he did not fish the island during 2003, he says local boats still reported seeing granders. From his season fishing Ascension, Cockle estimates that one of every 15 to 20 marlin seen during prime months is grander size, and that three boats working the grounds raised 20 or so granders in just a couple of years. "This is an exciting new fishery, and we've only begun to tap its resources," he says. "It's the kind of place where anything can happen any day of the year. When current conditions are favorable, the beast of a lifetime can be seen at Ascension."
Species and Size: All that's grand is blue, with an average from Cockle's first season here probably 600 pounds. One thing all experienced skippers who've fished these waters agree on: For whatever reason (probably an abundance of bait), the big marlin that prowl Ascension are, well, just plain portly. Says Cockle, "These fish are fat!" - a term Matthias Henningen of Atlantic Charter also uses to describe Ascension's marlin. Cockle says that from March through May, an average might be more like 250 pounds. He also emphasizes that these rough estimates are from only one season and made without the perspective that many successive years can offer.
Release: Only a few marlin have been weighed in; most have been released.
Distance to Fish: Prime grounds lie from just 1¼2 to 5 miles from the harbor.
Length of Prime Season (for granders): Five months: September through January, figures Cockle. His expectation that the warmest-weather period of autumn (March through May in the Southern Hemisphere) would produce smaller fish has been generally borne out - but he notes that grander-size blues have been spotted and caught during those months. From fishing Ascension the past two seasons, Henningen figures November through February to be the most reliable time for the big gals, though he also notes that numbers of marlin pick up in March and April. Cockle adds, "It has been recently proven that granders can be seen here at any time of year." He notes that in April 2002, Roddy Hayes reported seeing three granders in one day. In July of this year, the Harmattan caught a grander just after lines out during the World Cup tournament. April normally brings huge amounts of bait to the warming waters around Ascension, which, in turn, brings in great shoals of skipjack and yellowfin.
Conditions: It seldom gets too rough to fish Ascension, varying from occasionally flat seas to 5-footers. Ascension is far enough south to be generally cool; overcast skies tend to be the norm.
Charter Availability/Quality: So far, two or three operations seem determined to fish here, seasonally. All of them
are outstanding in equipment, crews and knowledge.
Charter Cost (in U.S. dollars): $1,200 to $1,500 per day.
Accommodations: There's just one option on this sparsely populated island: the Obsidian Hotel in Georgetown. Visitors pay about $100 per night for a room. The hotel's staff can take care of car rentals and airport transportation for guests. (Future plans include possible expansion of the hotel.)
Other Fishing Opportunities: Big tuna and swordfish have been taken here. Best bet for these marlin alternatives: September through January, when waters cool. Mahi mahi can be numerous. "It's not uncommon to catch them while at anchor in front of Georgetown," Cockle says.
Cost to Get Here (from New York): The only way to fly in, so far, is the weekly British Royal Air Force Tri-Star flight from Brize Norton field outside London. Only 20 seats per flight are open to civilians, and it's pricey - about $1,500 round trip (in part the result of a poor exchange rate in Europe for dollars - though travel with a party of at least six for a price break); add to that the cost for flight to London, and figure well over two grand. For more information, call Andrew Weir Shipping in London, 011-44-0-20-7265-0808 or fax 011-44-0-20-7481-4784.
General Information: www.ascension-island.gov.ac/visitors.htm.
|Cairns, Australia / black||1,347||men's 80||1979|
|Cairns, Australia / black||1,323||women's 80||1977|
|Cairns, Australia / black||1,124||men's 50||1969|
|Cairns, Australia / black||1,079-2||men's 30||1980|
|Cairns, Australia / black||1,057-2||men's 20||19765|
|Kona, Hawaii/ Pacific blue||1,376||men's 130, AT||1982|
|Kona, Hawaii/ Pacific blue||1,166||men's 50||1993|
|Kona, Hawaii/ Pacific blue||1,103-8||men's 30||1987|
|Azores/ Atlantic blue||1,190-7||men's 80||1993|
|Azores/ Atlantic blue||1,146-6||men's 130, AT||1988|
|Cabo Blanco, Peru/black||1,560||women's 130, AT||1953|
|Cabo Blanco, Peru/black||1,525||men's 130, AT||1954|
|Vitoria, Brazil*/Atlanic blue||1,402-2||men's 130, AT||1992|
|Madeira/ Atlanic blue||1,059||women's 80||1995|
|St. Thomas, USVI/Atlantic blue||1,073||women's 130||1982|
|Sodwana Bay, S. Africa/ Pacific blue||1,112||men's 80||2002|
*near Cabo Frio
BONUS: Other Contenders
Dean Butler, a professional guide who has worked and fished this far-Pacific island destination extensively, says that Vanuatu is "a real newcomer to the grander hot-spots circuit." A lack of serious charters and effort dedicated to big fish have made assessing Vanuatu's potential somewhat difficult. But big fish - very big fish - have been encountered in these scenic islands. Local fishermen working from skiffs have brought in huge marlin in recent years. One was weighed in three chunks and totaled more than 1,000 pounds. The other, caught years ago, was never weighed but from photos appears to be closer to 2,000 than 1,000 pounds! Best chances for big blues and occasionally blacks seem to be May through November, but big fish have been encountered throughout the year. Expect lots of 150- to 300-pound fish after a run out of 7 to 15 miles or so. Seas tend to be moderate, but it can get windy (with southeast trades blowing June and July) - and at such times skippers can usually find lee shores. Three or four full-time charter boats serve Vanuatu; figure on paying $800 to $1,200 per day of fishing. For a diversion, be advised that wahoo action can be tremendous, along with tuna - yellowfin and dogtooth. (For details on fishing Vanuatu, see "Riddle of the Vanuatu Blues" in the August 2002 issue of Sport Fishing.) For general information: www.vanuatu.net.vu; www.vanuatutourism.com.
Since 1999, Johan Zietsman's Blue Marlin Fishing Charters has explored the waters off Ghana for blue marlin. The largest taken so far weighed in at 1,283 pounds (1998). Zietsman recounts the loss of a marlin in 1997 that he estimated at boat-side to be 23 feet; after a battle that had the 35-foot Bertram Silvercloud backing for much of 10 hours, the fish was lost at the wire - for about the 30th time. Zietsman is convinced the behemoth qualified as a double grander. Since then, at least eight other granders have been weighed in or estimated and released, with the most recent (at press time), a 1,076 taken last April. Ghana's good for numbers of smaller blues as well. Since 1999, Zietsman says, anglers have caught 616 blues, averaging about 500 pounds, in 707 fishing days. Expect to run out 10 to 30 miles before putting lines in. Prime season: April through mid-June and September through November. Ghana has also become a hot spot for monster yellowfin and bigeye tuna. One landmark in that fishery: angler Candace Meyer's 370-pound bigeye taken last July with Capt. Clay Hensley, a women's 130-pound line-class record. Ocean conditions are usually favorable, barring tropical storms in the spring. Three charters now operate actively, with day rates of $1,000 to $1,600, but packages are also available. Your choice of accommodations is limited to the one hotel on hand, the Manet Paradise. Stars (figure two) and cost (figure $50 per night) are minimal. Recently, surprising numbers of very large yellowfin - into the 300s - have been showing up off much of this coastline, including a pending men's record 385-pounder on 50-pound caught last April. For general information: www.africaonline.com.gh/tourism; www.africaguide.com/country/ghana/.
Bom Bom Island (Principe)
This island in the tiny west African nation of Principe is known for huge Atlantic sails, but marlin estimated at grander proportions have been caught and released, according to Capt. Brad Philipps, who has many years' experience there. Interestingly, he says many of the big blues here were probably sub-granders just because they were so long and skinny - and aggressive, unlike the fat, more lethargic fish he encountered in Ascension. Still, the average is a respectable 450 to 650 pounds, he says. A run of just 2 to 8 miles puts you in range, and conditions are almost always fishable, with seas generally a few feet at most. The prime season is short - late June through August - which leads Philipps to suspect the area's part of a migratory route. Several charter boats should be available, in recent years running about $800 per day for a 32-foot Blackfin. Philipps says he and Capt. Clay Hensley may park the Hooker in Bom Bom next July and August. Bom Bom Island Resort, the only show in town, has garnered a reputation as a first-class treat - clean and elegant with great food and beaches. But getting there requires a considerable commitment in expense and time. For general information: www.bom-bom.com.
The destinations listed here are by no means the only places you're likely to catch a grander. Many other popular fishing spots hold out a real chance at a grander, such as St. Thomas (U.S. Virgin Islands) or Mexico (Cabo San Lucas, the East Cape, Mazatlan). Just last July, for example, anglers aboard Cabo's Mucho Loco III fought a grand gal for eight hours, and a large black that may have been in the grander range was taken here this past summer. Even the waters well off our mid-Atlantic states have potential - some big blues have been taken off North Carolina. Then, too, the Cape Verde Islands could produce. Stewart Campbell has never caught a grander around the Cape Verdes, but it was here, in years of global crisscrossing in search of big game, that Peter B. Wright, Charles Perry, Barkey Garnsey and Campbell all got a look at what they say was perhaps the biggest marlin any of them have seen before or since. "And we've seen and/or caught fish over 1,200 pounds. This fish was far bigger," says Campbell. Marlin well over the 1,000-pound mark have been taken off northern New Zealand. In the Eastern Pacific, Panama and Ecuador certainly have potential for marlin of monster proportions.