10 of the Greatest Fisheries

Ten legendary fisheries that changed the sport

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Many fisheries across the globe have, at one time or another, generated the sort of fishing upon which fables are built, producing big fish in numbers and attracting the attention of the world’s premier anglers. But among those, a few have gone down as truly special, often transforming the very way we fish and think about our sport. They give us something to dream about. Here are 10 such fisheries. Listed here in no particular order of importance, quite a few of these fisheries still produce to this day, while others have faded over the years. Still others were decimated long ago by commercial overfishing. But all share a common thread as legends in the rich history of saltwater fishing. Check out these 5 other legendary fisheries.COURTESY ZANE GREY INC. (LOWER RIGHT), COURTESY IGFA / IGFA.ORG
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1 Canadian Maritimes — Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick

Primary Species: Giant bluefin tuna Golden Era: 1930 to 1950, 1970s. In the late 1970s, the tuna apparently changed their migration. When the Asian taste for bluefin sushi evolved during the 1980s, prices rose, an industry was born, and Canada prohibited recreational anglers from catching giants. In the past few years, the country has allowed a regulated catch-and-release fishery. The History: During the late 1800s, harpooners began targeting giants that tangled their herring nets. Through the early 20th century, anglers started pursuing the bluefin, though they were not considered good table fare. Finally, in the 1930s, tackle makers caught up with the fishery, and IGFA founder Michael Lerner helped initiate the International Tuna Cup (Sharp Cup). Memorable Moment: Bluefin here average 700 pounds, but they get much bigger. The current all-tackle world-record bluefin — a 1,496-pound behemoth — was caught off Nova Scotia in 1979. More Information: Capt. Joey Gauthier (joeys​fishing​.com; 888-461-5639) and wedgeport​tuna​museum​.com **Caption: **An 857-pound bluefin is maneuvered alongside the boat during the 1949 Tuna Cup in Nova Scotia (top), while Maureen Marazzi caught a 881-pounder in 1971 (lower right); big fish are still caught today in this northerly fishery (bottom left).COURTESY IGFA / IGFA.ORG (TOP, LOWER RIGHT), CAPT. VINCENT DANIELLO (LOWER LEFT)
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2 Piñas Bay, Panama

Primary Species: Black marlin, blue marlin **Golden Era: **1960s to present The History: First discovered by the Schmidt family in the early 1940s, the famous Zane Grey Reef off Piñas Bay has stood the test of time as one of the planet's great marlin fisheries. Thousands of blues and blacks in the 300- to 500-pound range have been caught over the years, with occasional fish (mostly blacks) pushing grander status. Tropic Star Lodge, constructed in 1961, ranks as one of the world's premier big-game lodges, and fishing has remained excellent — for example, a record-breaking 96 marlin were caught in one week in August 2011. Memorable Moment: Tropic Star, then known as Club de Pesca, was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated in April 1963, which proclaimed Zane Grey Reef as "the world's best marlin grounds." More Information: Tropic Star Lodge (tropic​star​.com; 800-682-3424) Caption: Piñas Bay, looking out from the Tropic Star Lodge is one of big-game fishing's most famed sights (top) and has led to thousands of big black and blue marlin, like this one (lower left), caught by Dr. Rod King in 1963. Tropic Star has kept tradition alive through today, operating a fleet of classic Bertram 31s (lower right).COURTESY IGFA /IGFA.ORG (TOP, LOWER LEFT), PAT FORD (LOWER RIGHT)
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3. Bimini, Bahamas

**Primary Species: **Giant bluefin tuna **Golden Era: **1950 to 1970 The History: Considered by many to be the apex big-game fishery of the past 100 years, a short, sandy strip separating the Great Bahama Bank from the deep blue south of Bimini and alongside Cat Cay produced some of the sport's most legendary catches while refining many fish-fighting tactics of today. From May through June — when the wind blew out of the southeast — big schools of bluefin tuna migrating north moved across that strip, called Tuna Alley, creating an amazing sight-fishing experience in which boats attempted to intercept schools with a single trolled bait. When a fish hit, the goal was to keep it from going over the reef edge into deeper water. A good day produced multiple tuna, many in excess of 500 pounds. But with the bluefin's imperiled status today, the numbers of fish migrating through Tuna Alley are but a shadow of what their historic numbers were. Memorable Moment: While it's nothing like the days of old when the likes of Ernest Hemingway made Bimini an annual stop, a trip commissioned last June by Costa demonstrated that fish still occasionally pass through Tuna Alley. The participants — including the Merritt family and captains Bill Harrison and Ray Rosher — spotted several sizable schools of bluefin, and caught and released an estimated 800-pounder. Costa's documentary of the trip will be released in May. More Information: Bimini Big Game Club (big​game​club​bimini​.com; 800-867-4764) **Caption: **The planet's most amazing big-game fishery ever? It would be tough to top Bimini, Bahamas, from 60 years ago, where giant bluefin tuna were chased in shallow, crystal-clear waters (top). Ernest Hemingway (lower left) frequented Bimini during its heyday, and the area produced legendary catches (lower right).COURTESY IGFA / IGFA.ORG (TOP), COURTESY FASHION LICENSING OF AMERICA / IGFA (LOWER LEFT), COPYRIGHT CHARLES C. EBBETS (LOWER RIGHT)
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4 Islamorada, Florida

Primary Species: Bonefish Golden Era: 1940s to present The History: Islamorada is famous for many things, and while its bonefish sometimes take a back seat to other species, the fact remains that they grow to extraordinary sizes. "They grow faster in the Keys than in the Caribbean, sometimes three times faster," says Aaron Adams, director of operations at Bonefish Tarpon Trust. It takes more time and effort to catch a big one these days, but plenty of monsters still swim the flats here, says Capt. Vic Gaspeny, whose 14-pound, 6-ounce fish caught in 1985 held the 12-pound-tippet record on fly for 10 years. Memorable Moment: Just four years ago, Michael Swerdlow caught the second-largest bonefish ever on fly, landing a 15-pound, 6-ounce Islamorada tank that still stands as the IGFA 16-pound-tippet record. More Information: Bud N' Mary's Marina (budnmarys​.com; 800-742-7945) **Caption: **Over the years, Islamorada has produced many giant bonefish, like this 15-pounder (top). Yet another 15-pound fish, taken in 1961 by Nat Carlin with Capt. Cliff Ambrose (below left), flanked by a 13-pound, 2-ounce specimen caught in 1998 by Mark Cockerham (lower right).COPYRIGHT CHARLES C. EBBETS (TOP) COURTESY IGFA/IGFA.ORG (LOWER)
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5 Kona, Hawaii

Primary Species: Blue marlin **Golden Era: **1977 to 1984 The History: Kona, Hawaii, has been producing grander Pacific blue marlin for more than 50 years. But the late 1970s to early '80s was truly a special time. Unprecedented numbers of 250-pound-class yellowfin tuna poured through Kona in 1977 to '78, remembers longtime Hawaiian outdoor writer Jim Rizzuto, making for epic fishing, and also ­stirring the grander pot even more. Seventeen granders were taken from 1977 to 1984, with 10 exceeding 1,200 pounds. A 1,376-pounder caught by Jay de Beaubien in 1982 became the new all-tackle world record. It still stands today. Memorable Moment: Only two years after de Beaubien's big fish, Gary Merriman caught a stunning 1,649-pound Pacific blue (pictured, bottom left) with Capt. Bart Miller. But it was disqualified by the IGFA because the double-line and leader exceeded the maximum allowable length. Still, it ranks as the second-largest marlin ever taken on rod and reel. More Information: Capt. Kevin Nakamaru (fishing​northern​lights​.com; 808-960-1549) and Capt. Chip Van Mols (kona​grander​.com; 808-960-5954) Caption: Big crowds flocked to the Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament in 1979 (top). Only a few years later, Gary Merriman caught this enormous 1,649-pound blue marlin (below left), while Sandra Lee King caught a 737-pounder in 1981 (below right).COURTESY IGFA / IGFA.ORG
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6 North Sea of Cortez, Mexico

Primary Species: Totuava Golden Era: 1920 to 1950 The History: One of angling's greatest what-ifs — and one of fishing's saddest stories — revolves around the mighty totuava. A member of the drum family, the totuava lived in a tiny area in the northern Sea of Cortez where it schooled by the thousands. It looked like a monster seatrout and grew to the size of a yellowfin tuna. But before anglers could ever experience this amazing fish, a devastating hand-line fishery emerged in the early 1920s, which — combined with the damming of the fertile Colorado River a decade later — impeded spawning and wiped out the stock within 25 years. In its heyday, the average totuava weighed 100 pounds, with many more than 200 pounds and a few topping 300 pounds. Today, the species exists only under protection of the Endangered Species Act. It is angling's tragic story of what never was. Memorable Moment: Totuava harvest peaked in 1942, with more than 4.9 million pounds taken. As the 1940s progressed, harvest became increasingly more difficult, and the fishery quickly collapsed. ****Caption: ****One can only imagine what the totuava fishery in the northern Sea of Cortez was like. Only a smattering of old photos taken many decades ago tells the tale.COURTESY TONY REYES SR.
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7 Cabo Blanco, Peru

Primary Species: Black marlin (also huge swordfish, thresher sharks and Humboldt squid) Golden Era: 1950 to 1970 The History: The greatest giant black marlin fishery the world has ever known emerged in the early 1950s off the northern Peruvian coast at the junction of the Humboldt and Pacific Equatorial currents. Alfred Glassell Jr., Kip Farrington and Enrique Pardo pioneered the fishery, and helped establish the legendary Cabo Blanco Fishing Club in 1953. By then, Glassell had already taken the IGFA's first-ever legal grander. But in 1954, 16 more granders up to 1,540 pounds were caught aboard only two boats. Long runs were not required here. In fact, Black Marlin Boulevard lie only a couple of miles offshore, where baits were generally pitched to tailing fish. But a huge commercial fishery for anchovies exploded in the early 1950s, and the baitfish and marlin populations evaporated in 1969. Big fish still occasionally swim here, but the days like those of 50 years ago are but a distant memory. **Memorable Moment: **Alfred Glassell Jr. landed the all‑tackle world-record black marlin at Cabo Blanco on Aug. 3, 1953 — the 1,560-pounder jumped 49 times and remains the record to this day. **Caption: **The early 1950s in Cabo Blanco, Peru, produced the largest black marlin the world has ever seen. Early pioneer Alfred Glassell Jr. helped establish the Cabo Blanco Fishing Club (bottom left), and then landed the still-standing all-tackle record black: a massive 1,560-pounder (top). Bottom-right shows an 805-pounder and a 1,040-pounder taken in the same day in 1955.COURTESY IGFA / IGFA.ORG
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8 Puerto San Jose, Guatemala

**Primary Species: **Pacific sailfish Golden Era: Early 1990s to present **The History: **There’s no better place to catch big Pacific sailfish than off the southeastern coast of Guatemala. Three reasons explain why: Guatemala’s year-round abundance of billfish, its benign seas, and a who’s-who roster of captains and mates. After an exploratory trip, American businessman and conservationist Tim Choate put this country on the map in the early 1990s, relocating some of the top billfish boats and captains in Costa Rica northward into Guatemala’s largest port, Quetzal. It was there they discovered a sailfish paradise. Memorable Moment: An amazing bite occurred in March 2006, peaking on the 14th, when Capt. Ron Hamlin released 124 sailfish aboard Captain Hook; Capt. Brad Philipps released 51 on fly that same day. More Information: Casa Vieja Lodge (casa​vieja​lodge​.com; 800-882-4665) and Guatemalan Billfish Adventures (guat​billadv​.com; 512-535-1751) **Caption: **Guatemala remains without question the best fishery on the planet to catch a sailfish on a fly (top). New records were set quickly and often in Guatemala during the early-1990s (bottom).COURTESY PAT FORD (TOP), COURTESY IGFA/ IGFA.ORG (LOWER)
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9 Homosassa, Florida

Primary Species: Tarpon **Golden Era: **1970s through early ’80s The History: Throughout the 1970s, Homosassa was the place to pursue giant tarpon with a fly rod, each spring attracting Florida's top guides and the world's best anglers. Fed by numerous crystal-clear springs and rivers, the region offered perfect habitat, attracting giant schools of migrating poons that would slowly daisy-chain in the crystalline water, and offering ideal sight-casting opportunities to fish that approached 200 pounds. Today, big fish are still taken at Homosassa, but the sheer numbers are gone. Many feel that a decline in freshwater-spring outflow is the primary reason. Memorable Moment: In May 1982, Stu Apte set two IGFA world records in one day on 12-pound tippet, catching a 162-pound, 12-ounce fish in the morning and a 164-pounder in the afternoon. More Information: Capt. Mike Locklear (homosassa​fishing​.com; 352-422-1927) and Capt. William Toney (homosassa​inshore​fishing​.com; 352-621-9284) **Caption: **Light-tackle expert Norman Duncan caught and released this estimated 180-pounder on 12-pound tippet in 1972, during the earliest days of fly-fishing at Homosassa (top). Dr. Leonard Berg caught this 128-pounder in 1979 with Capt. Hal Chittum (bottom left).COURTESY NORMAN DUNCAN (TOP), COURTESY IGFA / IGFA.ORG (LOWER LEFT), PAT FORD (LOWER RIGHT)
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10 Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Primary Species: Black marlin (also off-the-wall action for giant trevally) Golden Era: 1970s and '80s. Still, anglers release dozens of grander blacks every year. Some speculate that heavy purse-seining for tuna in neighboring countries might be having a negative impact. The History: Capt. George Bransford landed the first 1,000-pound black marlin off Australia in 1966. Since then, an estimated 800 granders have been caught here. The Great Barrier Reef probably still ranks at the top of the list for anglers seeking a true trophy. The big fish come to the region to spawn from September to December. Memorable Moment: The largest black marlin ever caught on the reef was taken in 1973; it weighed 1,442 pounds. During the '70s and '80s, many anglers reportedly caught two granders in a day's time! More Information: Cairns Professional Fishing Association (cpgfa​.asn​.au; 07-4058-1958) and Al McGlashan (al​mcglashan​.com) **Caption: **The Great Barrier Reef remains one of the best fisheries to this day for grander black marlin (top). The monster pictured bottom-left was caught in 1991, while Nevile Green landed this huge 1,367-pounder in 1975 (lower right). Check out these 5 other legendary fisheries.DAVE FERRELL (TOP) COURTESY IGFA / IGFA.ORG (LOWER)