Clash of the Titans

Marlin! It’s a magic word for saltwater anglers and recognised as the fish of a lifetime. I’ve been lucky and fished for, and caught, both striped and blue marlin in Mexico. But that was some time ago, and I thought my chance to fish for them again was now forever gone.

However, during a short 3-day trip to Costa Rica and the amazing fishing resort of Crocodile Bay, a chance to fish marlin once more came out of blue. I was in Costa Rica with PENN for the worldwide introduction of the PENN Clash fixed spool reels. To mark the event angling editors, journalists, and PENN staff from all over the world assembled at the resort to witness the reels in action against hard fighting game fish.

I’d already sampled the inshore fishing catching roosterfish, jack crevalle and rock snapper on the 5000 and 6000 Clash reels. The first day, while we fished inshore, a few boats had gone out to the offshore grounds, and though marlin were raised, the fishing for the past few days had been tough. I pondered what to do. Should I stick with the inshore fishing, or go offshore on the chance of a marlin? I had good photos from the inshore fishing already, so decided to chance going offshore and would be teaming up with my travelling companions Robert Valkeneer, EMEA PENN Brand Manager, and Dutch angling journalist Toine van Lerland.

The day dawned humid, and warm, and it was going to get hot with a clearing sky and little breeze to cool you down. We motored out some 50 miles in to the azure blue Pacific, which was just a lazy sea with a gentle swell. Frigate birds hovered over us, gliding effortlessly without a wing beat, scanning the ocean for prey. Small storm petrels danced between the swells, flirting with the water, yet never touching it, and flying fish darted from the ocean to briefly fly before splashing back through the surface.

We fished light rods and Clash 5000 reels with small jigs 100-feet deep looking to catch bait. I took my turn and caught several bonito and a single small yellowfin tuna. These were bridle rigged by the crew and fed out on four rods. Two in the stern rod holders, and two on the outriggers. I was given the starboard outrigger to fish.


Bridal rigged bonito bait

We had several false strikes. The marlin came to the baits, the skipper saw them, but they played with the bait, ripping it from the outrigger clip, taking line, but when you struck, the fish just spat the bait. It was frustrating as the other boats were struggling to get any takes at all.

We were low on bait, so I jigged some more and caught a small bonito about 3lbs. This was rigged by the crewman and put out on the outrigger. I felt more confident that a marlin, somewhat reluctant to really feed in the conditions. may just be enticed to fully take in the smaller bait.

The bait had been out about 15-minutes. The boat was steadily pushing forward at about 6-knots, gently pitching as it rode the swells. I was watching the teaser lures dancing in the waves, and occasionally saw my bait scatter water on the surface. I saw a small splash behind my bait, then heard the outrigger clip ping as the line pulled out and a fish took line.

I was lifting the rod out of the rod pod in a flash, poised to strike, but letting line pour from the reel. I let more out than would be normal, but I wanted the fish to have all the time it needed to take the bait fully in. When I thought it right, I let the drag tighten to the fish and felt the weight of the marlin, now far away.

Mike fighting a Marlin

I was expecting the marlin to jump. They mostly do. This one did not. It stayed deep, took a little line, circled, then it sounded going deeper and deeper taking line slowly. The fish was working hard against the drag, slowly, ever so slowly tiring. When line stopped leaving the reel I worked the fish hard. Getting as much line back as I could.

I felt the fish rising upwards in the water column. Now it showed itself, rising vertically from the surface, water flowing off its metallic sides, bill thrashing the air, mouth wide open and you could see the bonito still in its mouth, then smashing down sideways back in to the sea. It was a long way off. It went deep again.

Mikes jumping Marlin

Mikes Marlin Fight

It stayed deep, me taking a little line back, it, in turn, taking line from me. It was a strange fight, so much so, the experienced captain said the same. “Strange fight, this marlin, Senor!”

Again I worked the fish hard, slowly getting line back on the reel. The fish was close now, very close. It was coming up, and right by the boat it threw itself from the water in three high jumps, the last seeing it crash back in to the sea but remain on the surface, bill thrashing side to side. The leader knot came down through the rod rings and the crewman was on the leader…then the marlin turned and shook its head…and I watched the hook simply flip out of its mouth. The fish swam down, its flanks disappearing to a faint white smudge, then it was gone.

It would have been nice to have got a shot with the head of the marlin out of the water prior to release, but it was not to be. However, because the leader knot was inside the rod, they class the fish as caught. The captain congratulated me, and said the fish was 300lbs, but I felt that he was maybe being kind to a tourist, and I’d be happy at somewhere around 250lbs.

The day was not over. After two or three more missed strikes, Toine hit a good marlin that took a lot of line, then porpoised on the surface several times. It looked a good fish, then it too went deep. But this marlin was more animated making short runs and circling, then dashing off ripping more line from the reel. Toine is an experienced big game angler and fought the fish hard, making it work and tire itself.

Toine van Lerland fighting a marlin (1)

Toines Marlin 1

Toines Marlin 2

This fish too, went deep and hung in the water column, then came up, danced on the surface, turned and danced some more breaching through the surface making white water. It went down, then came up maybe 50-yards astern of the boat. It leapt several times, head thrashing side to side and porpoised off across the surface. It was its last dance. It came up through the surface column on the port side and I looked at it deep down in the water. A mid brown flanked fish with lighter and darker bars down the side. A big eye, and that savage looking bill swinging side to side as it swam. Toine played it to the back of the boat, the crewman took hold of the leader and the hook pulled free to release the fish. Again no head photo, but we had the fish jumping, which was just as good. This fish was between 300lbs and 400lbs. A great fish!


That was it. Literally as the fish was released, the captain turned the boat for home and gunned the throttles, as we had more than two hours to run to reach Crocodile Bay. There was one other marlin caught that day, but to get two on our boat, and miss so many half-hearted takes, we’d been very lucky. The next day, no marlin were caught by the boats that ran offshore!

During my trip to Costa Rica, I was away from home for 152 hours, and travelled for 52 of those hours, but it was the trip of a lifetime, with my second blue marlin forever etched in my memory.



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Categories : Fishing Reports, marlin fishing