As the gaff sank into the side of the 120-pound striped marlin, I was a bit conflicted. This isn't the sort of fish we put in the icebox in Florida, my home state. A tag and a kiss goodbye is generally the most damage done to just about every brand of billfish hooked in the United States. However, I wasn't in the U.S., and this fish represented a hell of a lot more than an "atta-boy" from a holier-than-thou American sportfisherman. This fish represented seven days of breakfast, lunch and dinner for Victor's family, Jose's family and Marta's family, all working laborers in Mazatlan, Mexico, at the docks of Nautica Costa Bonita marina.
"Wasn't that cool seeing that marlin almost jump in the boat?" asked Chappy Chapman of Inside Outside Charters (www.insideoutsidecharters.com), my host for the trip, as his first mate laid a wet towel atop the billed beast at my feet.
Understatement of the decade.
We had already been bit twice, saw four other marlin tailing or free-jumping in the distance, and one fish was accounted for. It was only a little after 9 a.m.
"Cool indeed!" I returned.
The first wave of marlin had arrived off the coast of Mazatlan just three days prior to my mid-May charter.
"They are a little late," explained Chapman. "But it's just going to get better as the water warms up. If you want to catch a marlin, there's no better place to be right now than Mazatlan," he continued.
And it seemed he was right. By the end of the day, we saw no fewer than 23 marlin. We had nine bites, hooked six and landed three … an exceptional day of billfishing by anyone's standards.
Chapman found the fish holding in 240 feet of water (16 miles offshore). His trolling spread consisted of a giant jet teaser in Mahi color, naked skip jacks that we had caught earlier (one weighted, one not), and one skirted mullet. Chapman trolled until an enormous blue sickle tail was spotted jutting from the very calm Pacific Ocean. Once a fish was sighted, Chapman would kick the boat into high gear to get the spread in front of the fish.
Once the marlin committed, chaos would ensue. And it seemed most of the day was chaotic.
Well before we started trolling, Chapman had asked if I minded harvesting a marlin.
"The only reason I ask is because each angler is allowed to keep one per day, and these guys out here depend on fish to survive. The meat they take home is a huge part of their annual salary," he explained.
I certainly wasn't in any position to question the harvest limits or motives of Mexican anglers. So, I left it in Chapman's hands.
"Plus, as you will notice, there are thousands of marlin out here right now. Mexican sport fishermen have been harvesting these fish forever. They only keep enough to eat, so you shouldn't feel guilty. We release a heck of a lot more than we keep."
So, harvest a striped marlin we did. And, in turn, Chapman left the fish in the hands of four families that sometimes wonder where their next meal will come from.
Justifiable homicide? I think so.