The day started earlier than usual as my first mate and I had entered into a local east coast KDW fishing tournament called the Big Dog Fat Cat. It’s a wonderful event and for a good cause – all proceeds go to the local animal shelters. With a tournament start of 6:30 a.m. we picked up our bait then positioned ourselves almost straight out of the inlet and right on the ledge. Two live baits out and a slow bump troll over the edge produced a massive strike with a big goggle eye getting crushed – fish on! Nothing screams the reel quite like a big wahoo or kingfish and we began to chase this obvious tournament-sized fish down. Ten minutes into the battle the fish suddenly reversed direction and the fight changed completely. I could feel the heavy weight of a powerful predator coming up the line. I got that sickening feeling I always get just before reality hits home – we’d been sharked. With forty prime time minutes gone off the clock and the kingfish fleet moving in I decided to change tactics and head for the reefs further south. It’s a place that always has enough current to congregate bait along with big schools of blue runners and bonito – prime feeding grounds for big fish.
We began our drift with live bait in 220 feet of water and just off the ledge south of the inlet. Bonito were busting everywhere pushing frantically to the surface. These were nervous fish not acting like predators but like prey. Something was feeding heavy on them. I always carry a few large baits for this situation. Bonito can’t eat them and the big fish can. In this case it was a big blue runner on an 8/0 circle hook with an eight-ounce weight down 40 feet — I knew something big was on the hunt. It had exploded near the surface just a few minutes before. Five minutes into the drift our stand-up rod doubled over and the reel began to scream. We knew we were into a big fish.
This fish was massive and immediately came out of the water, not to jump but to take stock of the situation. Only a large apex predator does that. She didn’t like what she saw and the water exploded as she rushed the boat as if to strike then went under. It was a race to the horizon that set my Shimano 12/30 class reel screaming in distress. Quickly I backed off the drag and got water on the reel, which was heating up fast! My first mate got the lines cleared, motors running and the chase was on! After a long run she turned around and shot quickly towards the boat. I reeled frantically to keep pace and tension on the line. Bum-rushing then attempting to spear us, she again turned and sounded, towing us eight miles for two and a half hours before again stepping up the fight! It became a close-quarters slug fest and she was shaking her head furiously. She began flexing her powerful body back and forth causing the tip of the rod to jump up and down. With 30-pound test main line and 50-pound leader, I held my breath and waited for something to give, but everything held as it should — the fish gods were definitely with me. She slowly quieted enough for me to pressure her towards the boat and I quickly grabbed the leader. The catch of a lifetime was official!
I have newfound appreciation for this apex predator as it took everything in our arsenal to turn the tide in my favor. Once the fish realized this was an epic battle for freedom, she did things only a high-intellect predator would do to get free. Now I know the hype is real. On light tackle aboard my Worldcat 22-foot center console, she really got to show her stuff. When she finally came broadside, I was happy to release a still very healthy and ticked off 400-pound blue marlin!