Fishing’s Most Incredible Catches

Four Light-Line Conquests That Extend the Boundaries of What Seems Possible

March 4, 2015
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For most of us, catching a 20-pound fish of any species on 4-pound-test line would qualify as justification for bragging rights. And why not? That makes it a 5-to-1 catch (i.e., fish weight to line strength). That’s no mean feat no matter what line size you might be using. And keeping in mind the considerable challenge a 5-to-1 ratio represents, welcome to the surreal world of big-game fishing on ultralight lines. It’s a world where — while following all International Game Fish Association rules to the letter — one angler and his team landed on 4-pound-test (actually 3.55-pound) not an impressive 20-pounder, or even a 200-pounder, but rather a ginormous 573-pound marlin, for a mind-boggling 161-to-1 ratio. The catches in these four most sensational light-line conquests range from nearly 100-to-1 to that 161-to-1, and you can find at more than a dozen catches topping 50-to-1. (Note: The author is indebted to the IGFA and to its world-records administrator, Jack Vitek, in particular for assistance as he researched this feature.) Pat Ford


Note that the ratios for fish weight in pounds to line-class strength in pounds as listed for each of four amazing records are based on the IGFA’s actual wet-strength tests of the line samples submitted by the anglers, not on the line-class weights stated on the spools by the manufacturers. Though these catches might seem unimaginable, all were caught within strict IGFA rules, and all have in common several factors that help make the impossible possible: 1) This is not about an angler and a fish; it’s about a team and a fish. Light-tackle big-game fishing is all about teamwork. An experienced crew to handle wiring and gaffing with a great skipper on a nimble game boat give an angler using 2- or 4- or 8-pound line the support needed to put a fish into the boat or release it. 2) Successful big-game catches on light lines are fish that strike and generally fight at or near the surface, most often billfish. Don’t look for any 50-to-1 yellowfin tuna or giant trevally catches. 3) This is not a dead-boat fishery. The ability to follow hooked fish (and do it expertly) is critical. Light-tackle big-game fishing has its critics as well as its proponents, but whatever one’s point of view, it’s a unique and specialized form of the sport, and certainly one of the most exciting to experience. Richard Gibson /
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161.4-to-1 573-pound Atlantic blue marlin Line Class: 4-pound Angler: Leo Cloostermans Actual Line Strength (Wet): 3.55 pounds Fight Time: 18 minutes Location: Azores Date: Aug. 10, 1995 With a full moon still shining overhead, the 43-foot Daytona Double Header left the dock at Horta, in the Azores, just after daylight on Aug. 9, 1995. Capt. Don Merten, his crew, and Dutch angler Leo Cloostermans (also owner of the boat) were looking to make some history. They were about to, in a big way. Cloostermans hooked up a marlin on 8-pound-test mono early on. But it wasn’t the marlin: “After several minutes of fighting, I could see this fish wasn’t big enough to break the existing 8-pound record, already held by Mr. Cloostermans,” writes Merten in an account of the catch. The next morning, just after 10 o’clock, shouts of “Marlin in the spread!” put everyone on alert, as Merten watched a fish he guessed to be around 500 pounds. “I called for 4-pound (test),” he says. “As the fish was being teased up, I saw much more color than I had, and considered asking for 8-pound.” But at that point, the team was pretty committed to the 4-pound. The fish’s pecs and tail glowed a bright blue as mate Scott “Chief” Lewis expertly kept the big Mold Craft Softhead just ahead of the fish. Then, after all teasers were cleared, the big squid rigged on Cloosterman’s wispy line went into the water. The fish broke the surface behind the bait and inhaled it. Courtesy International Game Fish Association
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With Double Header (shown at left, at roughly that time) in idle, Cloostermans fed line, then engaged the drag, set at .6 pound. Once Cloostermans came tight, the marlin “stayed visible, swimming just below the surface, down-sea, about 100 feet behind the boat,” Merten says. The pace was unhurried enough that Merten could gain a bit of line while backing down. Apparently the crew noted a considerable amount of blood coming from the fish, with one of the hooks ostensibly in the gill area. The fish started to jump, and Cloostermans backed off on the drag. “Then it changed tactics and, to everyone’s dismay, began to go down,” Merten says. Cloostermans engaged the drag to its preset maximum, and the team prayed the fish would head upward again. Merten recalls how completely quiet the cockpit became as everyone held his breath. Gradually the line angle changed as the big blue resumed its upward track. It came up just 30 feet behind the boat in a half-hearted jump. When it hesitated afterward, things happened quickly: Merten backed hard as Cloostermans cranked madly. Then “suddenly Chief had the leader, and mate Didier Armand hit the fish with the first and best (flying gaff) shot he had.” Mate (also a captain) Al Harmon followed quickly with a second gaff. Things got tense quickly as the two mates struggled to hang on until they had some control of the fish. At that point, Merten was able to climb down from the bridge to get gaff number three into the fish, and Harmon sunk the fourth, a straight gaff. The marlin proceeded to “beat the crap out of us” against the covering board, says Harmon, as Cloostermans unhooked his tackle from the snap-swivel. While clearly the angler couldn’t have landed the huge marlin without a skilled, dedicated and prepared crew, Armand insists that “we got this fish because Mr. Cloostermans did an unbelievable job of putting maximum pressure on the fish.” courtesy Kurt Lehr
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141.7-to-1 735.2-pound black marlin Line Class: 6-pound Angler: Enrico Capozzi Actual Line Strength (Wet): 5.19 Fight Time: 15 minutes Location: Port Stephens, Australia Date: Feb. 7, 2000 Conditions were far from perfect for light-line specialist Enrico Capozzi. He’d come to Port Stephens, with its reputation for abundant billfish, to set line-class world records. The windy, rough conditions that greeted him weren’t what he’d hoped for. Finally they got a break when winds lightened to 12 to 15 knots with seas not more than 5 feet. While fishable, to Capozzi — used to calmer conditions in the eastern Pacific — the sea was still inhospitable. Mate Dean Butler (; also a photojournalist who has contributed to SF ), used to Port Stephens waters, says, “We’d call it a calm day.” So on that February morning, with Capt. Craig Denham at the helm, the 43 O’Brien, Allure , headed offshore with Capozzi and crew — Butler and Darren Hayden.About 10 a.m., Denham shouted out his sighting of a big blue following their spread. Sure enough, and “after a slow and perfect tease by Butler, I pitched the 6-pound rigged mackerel,” Capozzi remembers.” Unlike the strike of Cloostermans big blue, this “was the slowest bite ever,” says Capozzi. Courtesy Enrico Capozzi
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Butler agrees, recalling that the marlin shadowed the mackerel for 20 to 30 seconds before moving up to eat it, with head and shoulders out of the water behind the boat. “The bait looked tiny in the fish’s mouth,” says Capozzi. He recalls that fish, once it had taken the bait, seemed initially “well behaved.” Butler elaborates: “The fish headed slowly back down to around 60 to 80 feet, and it seemed to all of us that it didn’t know anything was up — certainly not that it been hooked. I remember Enrico asking, ‘What the hell do we do now?’” But there was little to do other than follow the fish at its modest pace and “wait for it to make a move, when it would all be over,” according to Butler. However, he says that after 10 minutes of this, the line angle began to lessen. “The marlin swam slowly to the surface and across to the port side of the boat.” Then the team realized why: It was simply moving toward a group of skipjack tuna busting at the surface, presumably for another meal. At that point, “it became simply matter of keeping tight and gaining line,” says Butler, “as the skipper closed the gap.” Suddenly the marlin was right there, near the boat, at the surface. Capozzi recalls that Denham, trying to take advantage of the marlin’s proximity, backed hard, flooding the cockpit. But the behemoth remained just out of reach. Shortly after, the mate had another chance and got his wraps. “I believe that, for the first time, right then the fish knew it was connected,” says Butler, as he sank the gaff and the quarry went wild, breaking the 600-pound leader. The photo at left was taken just after, when several gaffs in total had been sunk. Courtesy Enrico Capozzi
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“That,” marvels Capozzi, “was a spectacular flying-gaff shot, and it went in solid. We had a total of four more flying gaffs ready, and this fish took every one of them.” Even with five people and five gaffs, “it took us more than an hour to get the marlin under control and then through the transom door, on deck.” As much as there’s no denying the skill and experience of this team that enabled the catch, there’s also no denying luck. “During my time fishing for records out of Port Stephens where I was involved in more than 45 world-record catches,” says Butler, “I never saw anyone as lucky as Enrico Capozzi,” with this catch and many others. Courtesy Enrico Capozzi
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Enrico Capozzi has set other astonishing records — such as this 159-pound, 13-ounce, black marlin on 2-pound line that he caught within a few days of his phenomenal 6-pound record in 2000, also out of Port Stephens, Australia; not so surprisingly, both records stand today. Courtesy Enrico Capozzi
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119.9-to-1 231.4-pound striped marlin Line Class: 2-pound Angler: Guy Jacobsen Actual Line Strength (Wet): 1.93 pounds Fight Time: 10 minutes Location: Middlesex Bank, New Zealand Date: April 7, 2008 Middlesex Bank, about 50 miles northwest of the upper tip of New Zealand — well beyond the famed Three Kings Islands — is no place for the faint of heart. Here (and I speak from experience), where the Tasman Sea clashes with the Pacific Ocean, currents rip and winds howl, creating big seas where some of the world’s largest striped marlin hang out. Guy Jacobsen, an Auckland resident, didn’t need one of the area’s fabled 400-plus-pounders, to make his day. Armed with merely 2-pound line on a Shimano Tyrnos 20, any large stripe could prove momentous on that day in March 2008 aboard Capt. John Batterton’s 48-foot G&S Hookin’ Bull out of Bay of Islands. The angler’s choice of boats/crew shows that he was serious: Batterton specializes in light-tackle big-game fishing and, in fact, has guided Jacobsen to four record catches for game fish at better than a 50-to-1 weight-to-line-strength ratio. courtesy Guy Jacobsen
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A quick check of IGFA line-class records shows that Kiwi angler Guy Jacobsen owns all light classes (2-, 4-, 6-, 8- and 12-pound) for striped marlin, all caught off northern New Zealand between 2005 and 2010. Among those records is this 231-pound stripe the angler and team beat on 4-pound. courtesy Guy Jacobsen
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Yet another of Jacobsen’s remarkable records is this 385-pound, 5-ounce behemoth striped marlin on 6-pound line taken in 2010. courtesy Guy Jacobsen
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98.9-to-1 150.3 mako Line Class: 2-pound Angler: David Kahlenberg Actual Line Strength (Wet): 1.52 pounds Fight Time: 38 minutes Location: Whale (Moutohora) Island, New Zealand Date: Feb. 22, 2010 Fishing’s most incredible catches are usually the effort of teams with many players. New Zealander David Kahlenberg’s 150.3-pound mako on 2-pound line would have been remarkable from a big convertible with a team of several pros. But there was neither a big convertible nor a large group involved — just Kahlenberg and friend Graham Beaufill on a 25-foot Senator aluminum trailer boat. The historic catch came after years of trying to figure out what others, successful at catching huge fish on very light lines, were doing, says Kahlenberg. He figured out the importance of gear — rod, reel and line — and drag settings. Eventually geared up properly, the angler got another chance on a February morning in 2010 when the pair made the run to Whale Island to try for a record-breaking fish. courtesy Dave Kahlenberg
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Right off they managed to get an estimated 180-pound mako to the boat on 2-pound line, but they weren’t able to sink a second gaff before the big shark chewed through the light-wire trace and was gone. “About an hour later, the 150-pound mako turned up in the berley (chum) line,” recalls Kahlenberg, “and we decided to try for it on 2-pound line.” (The pair had on board 2- , 4-, 6- and 8-pound rigs for record attempts, ready to suit various sizes of fish.) Kahlenberg quickly free-spooled out his bait, as the men searched for the shark. About 35 feet behind the boat, the mako appeared and took the bait. Then, to the dismay of Kahlenberg, it went pretty much straight down. Knowing makos might do just this, he had set up in 200 feet of water so a shark couldn’t go deep enough to spool him. With line that will break at 1½ pounds of pull, water pressure alone can part it, so Kahlenberg couldn’t make the shark stop; all he could do was keep the reel in free spool until it decided to stop. Then he pushed the drag back to its minimal, preset point. Fortunately, the mako on its own headed back topside, though it didn’t stay there long. For the next 35 minutes, Kahlenberg maintained what pressure he could as the fish moved up and down in the water column, generally around the boat. Finally the mako rolled, about 40 feet from that boat. “That’s when we backed down and Graham grabbed the trace.” He managed to bring the fish boat-side long enough for Kahlenberg to put down the rod and get a tail rope secured. Then came a head gaff, and the catch was a done deal.
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So you want to try your hand at joining the oh-so-limited 50-to-1-catch club? Here are some suggestions from three who are already in that illustrious clique — Guy Jacobsen, Enrico Capozzi and Dave Kahlenberg — that could help. GJ: It’s a team sport. Build a strong team and a team ethos. EC: Little things can trip you up; focus on details GJ: Practice, practice, practice (as a team). Pat Ford
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DK: Invest in great tackle — and make it better. For example, “pull a reel apart and polish the drag plate to make it (even) smoother.” You might need to backfill reels’ spools with tape before spooling up with such thin line so you have enough room for 1,000 yards, but not a lot more. (Some of Kahlenberg’s light-line arsenal is shown in photo at left.) DK: Don’t guess at your drag setting — not with such superlight lines. “If you’re guessing — just pulling the line and setting it where it feels right — things will just go wrong.” EC: A team must be ready to take advantage of any opportunity a fish gives them, at any point in the fight. GJ: Keep it light. “Use the lightest possible drag at all stages of a fight to minimize line stress. I often have to go to a two-thirds drag setting to start getting belly out of the line, but as soon as I start retrieving line, I’ll back off on the drag just to the point where I’m still able to gain line. DK: Besides a maneuverable boat in top shape, it should have good interior/exterior lighting. “After a 13-hour fight on 4-pound line, we lost a 300- to 350-pound mako because it got too dark to see; without deck lights, it was all over. I now have great LED lighting on my boat.” GJ: Above all, “retain a total belief that the seemingly impossible is possible.”

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