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Back in Black

A profile of the Lizard Island Black Marlin Classic and two if its regular anglers – Parke Berolzheimer and Andrey Grigoreiv written in 2009 by Kelly Dalling Fallon.
A profile of the Lizard Island Black Marlin Classic and two if its regular anglers – Parke Berolzheimer and Andrey Grigoreiv written in 2009 by Kelly Dalling Fallon.

The line rose slowly and steadily and then the surface of the ocean bulged ahead of the boat and the fish came out. He came out unendingly and water poured from his sides. He was bright in the sun and his head and back were dark purple in the sun the stripes on his sides showed wide and a light lavender. His sword was as long as a baseball bat and tapered like a rapier and he rose his full length from the water and then re-entered it, smoothly, like a diver and the old man saw the great scythe-blade of his tail go under and the line commenced to race out.
The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway

IT’S DAY 1 OF THE SHELLCOVE 23RD LIZARD ISLAND BLACK MARLIN CLASSIC. It has been a long day, the weather not particularly friendly, though Parke Berolzheimer and his team on board the custom built 47ft O’Brien gamefishing vessel Castille III do not complain. They have already caught and released two fish including the first marlin of the tournament. Captain Dean Beech, a Lizard Island veteran, trains his keen eye over the 20lb mackerel he is trolling some 30m behind the boat. Suddenly he sees a flash of colour that he immediately recognises as a marlin appear behind the bait. As it takes shape, his shout diverts Berolzheimer’s attention to the fish, which by now has launched itself at the bait. It’s a big one, a mighty 1000lb black marlin.

Berolzheimer strikes the fish to set the hook (this involves increasing the drag and the resulting increased tension on the line enables the hook to be lodged firmly into the fish’s mouth), and then manoeuvres himself and the 130lb line-class rod and reel outfit to the game fish fighting chair in the centre of the cockpit. He braces against the rocking of the boat and the weight of the rod and reel that is weighed down by the drag of the line on the fish. The reel screams as the line runs out. Locking on his harness, she jumps out of the water several times in a “greyhounding” motion away from the boat. Berolzheimer locks his knees tight and uses his full body weight to hold against the fish. As she sounds (goes deep), he begins to regain line using both his own body’s motion in the chair as well as the boat expertly manoeuvred by Captain Beech.

And so it goes for 45 minutes, a see-saw battle between angler and fish, the fish takes line and Berolzheimer painstakingly regains it. He is running on adrenalin. Likewise, the big fish swims effortlessly downsea as the boat follows and the American strains to slow her down. They are careful not to tire her out too much: the aim is to release her in the best possible condition.

As they bring the fish alongside and the crewman’s tagshot is accurate. The other crewman reaches in to cut her loose and Berolzheimer can see the orange tag below the dorsal on her large flank as she swims away.

It’s over and Berolzheimer savours the moment. Yes, this is why he comes back again and again.

Every year in September, giant black marlin return to the warm waters of the Great Barrier Reef in Far North Queensland – the biggest of them (female, sorry Mr Hemingway) more than 13 feet long and up to and over 454kg (1000lbs) in weight, along with smaller males to 170kg (350lbs). They’ve come from all over the pacific (unbeknownst to us where exactly they spend the other 9 months of the year) to spawn, attracting in the process smaller male fish (up to 170kg/350lb) and a posse of international anglers.

Very little is known about black marlin, which according to Dr. Julian Pepperell, one of the world’s leading authorities on billfish, is due to the fact that they are the least common of all marlin species. The Cairns aggregation is one of just a few locations around the world where they are known to be present in numbers (other locations such as Central America and off Kenya and Mauritius also attract big game anglers.) They are more common near large landmasses, seemingly preferring waters on or near continental shelves. More tagging of black marlin by recreational anglers has been undertaken in this area of the Australian coast than anywhere else in the world.

The ShellCove Lizard Island Black Marlin Classic is one of the last bastions of gentlemanly sport, where prize money is not a consideration. Rather anglers compete for the thrill of the contest between man and fish, and the pleasure of this pristine fishing destination.

Big game fishing is one of the most exciting and exhausting things a man can do. The battle is often a roller coaster of emotion – excitement, anxiety, fear, and jubilation. While it is a very physical battle – through the rod and harness a 1000lb marlin can be pulling against the angler up to the maximum breaking strain of the 130lb line used – modern technology of tackle and game equipment aids the angler significantly and at the end of the fight with a big fish, a novice angler may ‘collapse’ in exhaustion from the emotion and adrenaline rather than the physicality of the fight.

October 2009, and 27 boats, their crews, and 72 anglers have gathered for the tournament. I arrive by boat (many come by air as the island has an airstrip) to observe the event as part of the crew on board the charter boat Reel Chase. We have skirted the beautiful Ribbon Reefs along the Great Barrier Reef north from Cairns, its long stretches of reef with small occasional openings.

The current is coming from the north, bringing with it heaps of tuna, mackerel and plenty of other pelagic baitfish. The water temperature is a co-operative 26C.

I have attended this tournament for five years running, and there are several familiar faces. Many have travelled far to be here – from the US, Japan, Canada, Russia, the UK & New Zealand as well as every state of Australia. I greet Parke Berolzheimer a 46 year old President & CEO of Duraflame, Inc. from Stockton, California who has been fishing the Great Barrier Reef for 16 years and says Lizard Island is his favourite place in the world. It is the allure of the big black marlin, and the chance to catch the largest, that brings Berolzheimer back to the reef again and again. Although he regularly fishes other marlin hotspots across the globe (he fished 120 days last year) and despite having already released several grander class fish (the common term for fish weighing in excess of 1000lb), Berolzheimer insists he’ll return to Lizard Island until he “runs out of money or dies”.

The American prefers to stay in the resort (other competitors may choose to live aboard a private fishing vessel, charter boat or mothership) to which he returns at the end of each day’s fishing. The island is a relatively short 19km, 30-minute run from the outer edge of the reef at the northern-most tip of the tournament’s fishing grounds. Often the fishing is best in this part of the reef.

I spot Andrey Grigoreiv, 38 from Moscow in Russia, Head of Operations for Benetton Group in Russia and states of the former USSR, who is fishing this year in his fifth tournament. Despite our language difficulties, Grigoreiv and I take the time to catch up every year. He first visited in 2003 to fish (outside of the competition) and fell in love with the area. In 2004 his teammate caught the last fish weighed on the Lizard Island gantry at 1068lbs, although it took Grigoreiv another year before he caught one for himself. In 2005, in a tournament pre-fish he caught and weighed his very first black marlin at a massive 1051lbs.

Grigoreiv chooses once again in 2009 to live and fish on board the 47-foot Moana III with Captain Daniel McCarthy. He describes living aboard as one of the best life and fishing experiences there is to be had. The boat anchors overnight in the lee of the reef, usually less than 10 minutes from where competitors have been fishing. As the Russian explains, living aboard gives you the freedom to fish anywhere along the reef and “there is nothing like waking up with the sun rising over the nothingness to the east, going for a snorkel in the morning and then sharing a beer or two with your tired crew at the end of the day’s fishing and chatting into the late hours. All this week you live with the nature and ocean and you live with your team, becoming one family.”

As the captains, crew and anglers converge on Lizard Island’s Marlin Bar on the beach of Anchor Bay for the first night’s briefing, the atmosphere is heavy with anticipation. Rumours and pre-fishing stories abound. I’m happy to share what I know and it contributes to the buzz. It seems that in the week leading up to the tournament the fishing has taken a turn for the better. Just three days ago, 5 grander class marlin were released in a single day in the vicinity of Number 10 Ribbon Reef. There hasn’t been such a great days’ fishing recorded in several years.

The main feature of the Marlin Bar, and hence its name, is the full mounts of an 1194lb black marlin which hangs from the ceiling in the centre of the bar. In October 1986, Australian angler Bob Connellan returned to Lizard Island for his second season and with current Lizard Island Gamefishing Club President and Tournament Director Bob Lowe on board Ardesea, caught and weighed this fish, his first grander (Bob actually gaffed the fish). Well-known taxidermist, the late Ian Pike from Cairns, was immediately sent for and he flew straight to the island to make the mold. However, just a month later, Connellan caught an even bigger fish (1291lb) which he decided to mount as well. And so he ended up donating the mount to the marlin bar where it has hung ever since.

Competitors won’t be gathering together like this for the next seven days, until the presentation night. With the fishing grounds stretching over 100 nautical miles of reef, the boats will be spread far and wide, each captain keen to find the best fishing for his team.

GRIGOREIV AND his team are not on the scoreboard until Day 2 of the competition, but he is not disappointed, he knows it is only a matter of time and luck. He enjoys all there is about marlin fishing including the slow trolling which may go on for hours or even days with out a strike. Particularly, he enjoys the bite, the moment of uncertainty and then confirmation that it’s the right species.

Grigoreiv describes the battle as not just a duel of angler and fish but of the crew as well. Each fish is different and he briefly wonders about the battle ahead. Maybe it will be a slow and lazy fish, staying on the surface, head shaking and no jumps while the boat sneaks up on it for a tag shot. Other fish run berserk, seemingly more airborne than in the water. Or perhaps it will go deep, just pulling and pulling without a glimpse.

The first minutes are adrenalin-powered for Grigoreiv, too, and he thinks of almost nothing, hoping, almost praying that the fish stays hooked before settling in for the fight. And it does, after a short fight this fish, too, is tagged and released in good condition, a good size, about 500lbs. Relief turns to satisfaction and Grigoreiv settles back down to wait for the next bite.

In 1966, Captain George Bransford and angler Richard Obach landed the first 1000lb black marlin in these waters off Cairns. Almost overnight, a charter industry was created. By the early 1970s it was firmly established, with more than 90% of all 1000lb class black marlin (considered the holy grail of angling) coming from this region. International celebrities have fished here including legendary actors Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine, a US president (Jimmy Carter), well known golfing identities Jack Nicklaus and Greg Norman as well as more modern actors such as Charlie Sheen and David Hasselhoff. As a child I was lucky enough to get an autographed jersey from a young Ayrton Senna who fished Lizard Island for two years when he was just a ‘young gun’ on the Formula 1 circuit.

Although it tends to be a male dominated sport, there are a number of dedicated female anglers around the world (out of 72 anglers fishing this tournament, 9 are female). And if you take a look at the record books, the lady anglers certainly fill the pages with equally magnificent big fish captures. Some say that the heaviest all-tackle marlin capture record should actually belong to Kimberly Wiss who weighed a 1,525lb black marlin (35lb shy of the all time record held by Alfred C. Glassell Jr of 1,560lbs) after more than 150lbs of freshly eaten squid came out of the fish’s mouth when it was hung up-side-down to be weighed!

The Lizard Island Game Fish Club was established in 1986 aiming to support the anglers who fish this remote part of the Great Barrier Reef. The club promotes and encourages tag and release fishing and, since 2006, its annual tournament has been tag and release only, meaning that no fish are purposely killed and weighed, instead being released in the best possible condition with a research tag attached. In the entire history of the event, only a minute portion of the fish hooked have ever been weighed (approx 0.5%) reflecting a commitment to the future of the species and the destination.

Competitors in the Lizard Island Black Marling Classic have two options for accommodation during the week, choosing to stay in the resort or at sea.

In 2008, Lizard Island Resort was voted the top hotel in Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific the 2008 Travel + Leisure World’s Best Award. The relationship between the resort and the gamefishing club has been central. Tournament Director and Lizard Island Game Fish Club President Bob Lowe says, “Gamefishermen put this place on the map in the first place, and through the tournament, with the cooperation of Lizard Island Resort, we’re continuing to do so.”

Aside from the marlin fleet, the island is frequented by ocean going yachts and other vessels who at this time of the year also come to enjoy the pristine blue waters, coral gardens and sparkling white beaches.

Berolzheimer brings a group with him to the island each year and tells me there’s always been something for them to enjoy – great food, good people, exploring, snorkeling, diving, hikes and the beaches.

By the completion of the ShellCove 23rd Lizard Island Black Marlin Classic, there have been 255 strikes and 186 hook-ups for 125 black marlin tagged and released, one of the best results in years. Six fish were in the 1000-1200lb class; 14 were between 800-1000lb. Bob Lowe call it one of the best results in years. The results cement the Lizard Island Black Marlin Classic’s position as the world’s premier, heavy tackle black marlin tournament.

The champion boat in 2009 was Mauna Kea skippered by Captain Chris ‘Sharky’ Miles, who has now won three of the last five tournaments. His team released 11 black marlin for the week, all for first-time Lizard Island angler Darryl Mosley from Brisbane who takes home the trophy and tackle prize but more significantly earns the respect and envy of the entire fleet. Runner-up champion angler is Mike Dobbins from the Gold Coast. Mike is also a Black Marlin Classic regular who brings his own 60ft Hatteras Hattitude north each year. Champion Lady Angler was won another novice angler, Karen Weaver on Maitai who released two marlin.

It has been a long hard week but every one of the fleet has seen spectacular black marlin action. For the anglers who seek these big fish, it also cements their resolve. Both Berolzheimer and Grigoreiv agree they will be back in 2010. The anticipation has already begun.

View the Article Back in Black PDF with pictures here

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