2012 Giant Black Marlin Season Recap by Kelly Dalling Fallon
By the time mid-September rolls around each year, the small Cairns-based charter fleet has swelled to more than 20 odd vessels with captains from as far away as Bermagui in NSW returning with their gameboat charges. This year was no different, with the horizon of local marinas from Cairns to Port Douglas becoming a landscape of outriggers and tuna towers.
Already the usual early comers, such as Capt. Adam Jordan on Iona 2 had begun fishing, but much of the buzz for remainder of the fleet on the docks preparing their boats and tackle for a busy season ahead, was still about the light tackle fish, as well speculation over reports of an above average Hawaiian season and what that would mean for us.
As always, joining the professional marlin fleet along the reef over the next months, was a flotilla of private vessels from far and wide. This year they again travelled from far away including the USA (Lady Columbo), New Zealand (Hook ‘N Bull) and Sydney (Gale Force) to join the hunt for the giant black marlin.
One thing you can always say about Cairns, regardless of a great or slow season, is that the big fish are just what dreams are made of. And that was more than evident again in 2012 when the big girls consistently made themselves known as the season progressed, to the delight of many an angler who had travelled here for that very reason.
During the early weeks, members of the fleet hit the reefs closest to Cairns such as Linden Bank, and worked their way north along the Ribbons looking for the main body of fish. The key difference this year being that this year, at this time, the light tackle season was still in full swing. With the light tackle more consistent in the early weeks, a few chose to hedge their bets with a morning on the baby blacks inshore, and an afternoon outside the edge for the big girls.
It wasn’t until October 5 that whispers of the first really good day’s fishing hit the radio waves. Capt. Darren “Biggles” Haydon, running the Calypso in 2012, had the fish corralled at Linden Bank where he released 4 that day, including two solid fish at 800lbs each and missed at least one more in the very big fish category. Biggles called this his best days fishing at Linden Bank ever, and he continued his good run on this spot over the next few days.
This set a pattern for the rest of the season, with big highs, periods of really good fishing, followed by lows, when it was tough going for no apparent reason other than that the fish just weren’t biting. Despite the cool water temperature (cooler than average for the majority of the season), conditions were pretty ideal with good wind, water quality and a southerly running current, but very choosy fish – picky with short bite periods, mostly quite late in the day. But the big fish continued to make up for it time and time again.
Capt. Bill Billson on Viking II was one of the few who enjoyed some consistent early season fishing and also marked his 4th ‘grander class’ marlin of the year by mid-way through the Lizard Island tournament in late October. It was another big fish year for Lizard Island and signified another high in the cycle, with a total of 84 tags among the 26 boats competing. This number included 8 giant black marlin estimated in excess of 1000lbs, caught during the 7 days of tournament fishing. Put another way, that’s more than one grander marlin a day – now that’s exceptional fishing!
The 2012 tournament also saw a continuation of the Great Marlin Race which in 2011 pitted the Australian giant black marlin against the Pacific blue marlin of the Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament (HIBT). The black marlin came out on top last year with two of the five Lizard Island blacks outdistancing the first place blue marlin from Kona. This year, only one tag was placed during competition fishing, with the remainder redistributed and placed over the following weeks. And it turns out we once again have some great race contenders, with two of the five placed into grander class female fish. Capt. Daniel McCarthy’s Moana III launched his tag into a fish that he estimated at1200lbs in the first few days of November. This was shortly followed a few days later by another tagged on board Iceman that Capt. Bobby Jones also put at over 1000lbs.
A short lull in the fishing after the tournament, as the fleet once again spread wide along the reef, was broken by another flurry of big fish in the Middle Ribbons and led by Capt. Hayden Bell on the Release. One particularly large specimen was fought by Hayden’s angler, Martin Hirsh from New York late in the afternoon. As many other members of the fleet watched on, the big fish provided plenty of above-the-water action. Once again, the radio waves were abuzz, with many calling this fish the biggest they’ve seen in years. – Tim, Scott Kerrigan got a ripper series of this fish behind Release that they were trying to gaff.
The big fish baton was passed next to Capt. Chris “Sharky” Miles on Kanahoee who was making his way down the reef, from Number 10 Ribbon south to Cairns. As another who consistently put his anglers onto some hot fishing in 2012, it was no surprise to see him taking a detour east instead of south. On several occasions he was last seen backing out to sea as he put his lady angler Amanda Thompson onto several really nice fish including two that he each put over 1200lbs!
Many other boats also moved south towards Cairns assembling at the bottom of Linden Bank. In fact, as November progressed, it seemed like the entire fleet was there. Save for Capt. Corey Hard’s Askari, which worked out terribly good for them. They experienced some exceptional fishing over a few days on the bottom Ribbons, peaking on a day when they were the only boat in sight. The solo angler, Sunshine Coast doctor Lee Brown, perhaps getting better fishing than he could have even hoped for releasing 7 from 10 black marlin up to 800lbs that day alone. Easily the single best day’s fishing of the 2012 season!
Many boats raced to the spot the very next day to share in the spoils, but the fishing had turned off and moved south in earnest. And over the next couple of weeks, the fishing on the southern grounds from St. Cripsins Reef, right through to Jenny Louise Shoal was the only relatively consistent fishing to be had. While it was not terribly stand out fishing across the entire fleet, there was always a ‘lucky’ boat having a good run amongst them. Capt. Ian “Wobbles” Ford on Hot Shot experienced ‘2 times 2’ big fish days there. By late in the month it came round in turn again for another lucky solo angler, this time on Capt. Ross Finlayson’s Top Shot. In a hot run over 4 days fishing, Rick Benitez from the USA caught 6 marlin including four that Ross put in the ‘goosebump’ category.
Frustrated by slim pickings on the edge for the other boats, another pair of captains ventured wide of the reef for a looksee. This endeavour paid off for both in spades (as well as the remainder of the fleet who followed them out the next day) as they found huge schools of yellowfin tuna up to 150lbs, as well as big eye tuna, just 20 miles out from the edge. While the tuna aggregation is a common event at this time of year, it has been a least a couple of seasons since it’s been within striking distance of the fleet like it was in 2012. Close enough to fish by day, and still make comfortable anchorage behind the reef at night, albeit making it a long day’s fishing.
Both boats found the fish from that very first day out wide. Capt. Brad Craft’s Castille finished with three from five that first day releasing a 950lb beast for angler Katie Ripper, and missing another big fish that Brad called the ‘sea monster’. The next day he saw an incredible 14 fish, raising them in pods in numbers at a time, for another 3 successful releases.
Likewise, Capt. Luke Fallon on KEKOA found significant sea bird activity which lead him to pack attacks of yellowfin tunas on the lures, as well black and blue marlin. Starting with two from five on day one, he went on to release 10 from 15 in just four days fishing there, including several nice fish in the 700-900lb+ range.
With the bite drying up on the edge, the rest of the fleet were quick to join in on the fun. And plenty saw some exciting action on the aggregation over the next few days on both the tuna and marlin, with a swim with a whale shark or two thrown in for good measure. Some boats were by now wrapping up their seasons and this run enabled them to end their year on a high. Capt. Daniel Carlson on Little Audrey putting on hold his return to Sydney for a couple of days of hot fishing on the aggregation.
Another, Tradition’s Capt. Tim Richardson, had already put one of his crew on the plane home to the USA. Not one to squander last minute opportunities and with just a couple days of charter left, he found a replacement and headed out to the aggregation as well. On the last day of his trip, Tim put his angler Stetson Gath onto another true giant black which was eventually weighed in at 1220lbs!
The water temperature, which usually heats up considerably as the season progresses, remained ‘cool’ right through November leaving many to speculate as to the possibility of a continued late run of fish. But speculate is all many could do as an abrupt end to fishing at the end of November in recent years fishing, took its tool on late season bookings. And as the calendar flipped into December, most of the fleet had already returned to Port for the very last time.
Capt. Steve Ahlers on Hellraiser was one of the very few fishing right through to the middle of the month and reported seeing marlin every day. He added his final big fish to his season tally on December 6th. This fish that he put at over 900lbs, was the last big fish of the season, marking the end to yet another big fish year on the Great Barrier Reef.
While 2012 won’t go down in records as anything spectacular in terms of the final numbers caught, it ensures that Cairns holds onto its title as the home of the giant black marlin. Even when the fishing is comparatively slow here, the next bite could be your fish of a lifetime. Ask any one of the lucky anglers in 2012, it happened to them.
Next season, it could be you!