Let me paint you a picture: You are 60 miles offshore in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico. It is calm as a lake, almost too calm for typical early-March weather. The water temperature should be in the 60s, yet it is well over 70 degrees. The sun is beating down on you so much that you have to take your Grundens off, because you were getting soaked from the inside out. The water is crystal clear blue, the kind that you might see off of a Bahamian island or looking out off a cliff in Hawaii. It is eerily too out of sync for the time of the year and it was only the precursor to what was to happen that day.
We were targeting wahoo, the lit up speedsters that are as fun of a fight as they are great table fare. They are the typical target for this time of the year and can be found in a little cooler water temperatures than their pelagic counterparts. The spread that we had was set up specifically for these toothy critters - light fluorocarbon leaders, heavy ilanders behind big ballyhoos, and long-shanked hooks to ensure that we do not get short striked by the razor-sharp teeth these fish wield. Pulling a spread of five lines, we started making passes by the Okaloosa County FADs that were deployed in 2021 to increase sportfishing opportunities for anglers in the Northeastern Gulf.
Our first hour of fishing garnered us a single wahoo to show for it. The fishing slowed down for a couple more hours and it was becoming mid-day by now with the sun beaming down directly overhead. For anyone that has trolled for a while without a bite knows that it can get painstakingly boring waiting for it to turn on and we had a glimmer of hope when our shotgun reel was short striked by a wahoo and we dropped the bait right back to her and she took it. We were hooked up for a few minutes as the wahoo came to the surface doing tell-tale head shakes and eventually spit the hook a hundred yards from the boat. It was heartbreak for a boat that needed a good morale boost, but the bite injected a hint of adrenaline into our blood.
The spread was re-deployed and the boat turned back towards the FAD in hopes of tangling with the same fish or finding a school friend of hers lurking around in the same area. We passed the FAD and within seconds the short flat bait was annihilated and the line was peeling off of the smallest reel on the boat at a pace that would rival a formula one race car. We gave it a few seconds to take some line until we realized that this fish was like being tied to a freight train that was not going to slow down come hell or high water. Just as the thought of getting spooled crossed our mind, a massive blue marlin’s bill broke the flat-glass water, windshield wiping while she tried to get her whole body out of the water. The fish was every bit of 500+ pounds and angry - more angry than when five-year-old me left home without telling my Mom and she found me playing at a friend's house in the neighborhood.
Our reel was down to the last hundred feet and the fish had its way with us. The 60 pound fluorocarbon leader that was heavily undergunned ended up giving way after a full two minutes of screaming drag and increased pressure. We looked around the boat thinking to ourselves “what in the world just happened” while we let out some hoots and hollers after seeing one of the biggest fish of our lifetime. Safe to say, the boredom was broken and the bite was on.
We put the lines back into the water and pointed the boat towards the FAD wondering what that fish would have looked like boat side. I let out a pink and white ilander with a large select ballyhoo onto the left rigger, put the reel into the rod holder, and tightened the drag to the right spot. I looked up to check the bait to ensure it was still swimming properly and in the right spot in the spread, when a weapon of bill comes out of the water like a knife piercing the surface. In one smack, it knocked the ilander out of the outrigger clip. I picked up the rod and it immediately ate the bait broadside and peeled off straight towards the starboard side of the boat with its dorsal and tailfin breaking the surface with every pump of the tail it made. Drag started peeling and this time we had hooked the fish on the right rod with plenty of line to get the rest of the lines cleared and then steady the boat to fight the fish. We turned the boat away from the fish and it switched directions, tailwalking across the glassy water like Elvis across a dance floor.
I settled in for what would be an uneventful, but grueling 45 minute standup fight until the estimated 300 pound blue marlin showed itself 30 feet off the transom of the boat. The fish made a few darts back and forth while it was lit up in a blue color that words would not be sufficient to describe. Our hook pulled out of its mouth a few feet from being boatside and I crashed onto the cooler, feeling like I had been in a high intensity workout for the last hour. The boat let out a giant roar, knowing that what we had just seen made the entire day of oddities make perfect sense.