One of the aspects of sport fishing that clearly demonstrates the concept of outstanding personal achievement and the pursuit of the "impossible" is the hunt for billfish on fly - and blue marlin in particular. While the number of anglers who can count the accomplishment of taking a sail on the long wand is growing steadily every day, there are still only a handful of people who have ever hooked a blue marlin on a fly, let alone catch one.
The legendary fly-rodder Billy Pate spent many years pursuing blues with a fly rod before he was able to bring the first fly-caught blue marlin to the boat off the coast of Cuba in 1978. "I've had somewhere around 30 blues hooked up on the fly but have only managed to get one into the boat," says Pate. "Every single one of them sounded on me. They are a tough, tough fish."
Even with all the obstacles that can stand in the way of success, anglers find themselves pushing the limits of their tackle and stamina in an effort to heighten the already stratospheric thrill found in the sport of big-game fishing. It's this natural, competitive progression and man's innate urge to achieve that makes the prospect of defeating a blue marlin on fly such an appealing endeavor. However, it's those same long odds against success that keep the majority of us from even trying to catch a blue one on fly. And that's a shame, because not only is it possible to do, but it can be accomplished with more than a modicum of success when done in the right way with the right tools in the right place.
There's Going To Be a Fight
One thing you hear from everyone who's been lucky enough to have a blue marlin hooked up on a fly rod is that you are going to be in for an intense battle. Although it's not surprising that a large fish would put up such a struggle on light tackle, it seems that blue marlin still have a little bit extra even for their size.
Hal Chittum of Islamorada, and part owner of Hell's Bay Boatworks with buddy Flip Pallot, spent a few memorable days in Venezuela with Pallot this past May pursuing the blue dog on fly gear. "I've caught a lot of sails and big tarpon on the fly, but these were absolutely the toughest fish I've ever had on a fly rod," said Chittum. "They are so strong and have such stamina - they jump all over the place, come to the boat, and they are off again. I've never seen a fish do that before - they just fight to the bitter end."
Notice he said "these." Chittum became the first man to ever land two blue marlin in one day on the fly during that trip - and he actually did it twice! He and Pallot combined for an incredible seven blues in six days on the fly with Capt. Dave Noling on the Courtesan, and neither had ever caught a blue marlin on fly before that trip.
Globetrotting angler Nat Harris of Burlington, North Carolina, also found his first fly-caught blue in Venezuela. Harris, who cut his fly-fishing teeth catching sails in Guatemala, was surprised by the ferocity of the Venezuelan blues. "Sails are pretty easy, but when a blue marlin comes up, he's all business - he's not there on a social call," says Harris. Fishing with Brad Simonds on the Final Fantasy out of Marina Portofino, Harris hooked four blues and three whites on his first day out - and broke off every one of them.
"I just didn't know how to manage my drag with a greyhounding blue marlin on the other end. Simonds told me: 'You are now learning that a blue marlin is different than a sail.' So," says Harris, "since I already knew how to hook them, we upped the tippet to 30-pound and went out and caught one the next day. I never worked so hard in my life, but I can't wait to do it again."