We've gone through this debate before about where best to fish for BIG Atlantic Blue Marlin. And venues like Bermuda and Vitoria (Brazil) regularly feature and, of course, they are readily accessable to 'Stateside anglers.
But, once in a while, places like Madeira, La Gomera (Canary Islands) and Faial in the Azores get a mention. (It's interesting to see where the likes of anglers like of Stewart Campbell fish.)
But then there's Ghana. And even further south, and mid-way between northern Brazil and Angola, a tiny British dependency - Ascension Island.
Now that the God's Will/God's Favor operation has been sold again there're literally just two game boats that operate out of there - Harmattan and Shy 3.
Their 2007 season started at the beginning of February and some big fish are starting to show. Two of our Club - Sportfishing Club of the British Isles - members have just returned from there. In their week's charter they released seven fish, four of which were estimated at 800 or better - the largest, 'there or thereabouts', called by the skipper at '950 plus'.
Ascension is good (although I didn't get any marlin when I went there a few years back), but I've had more luck in the Azores. In the last 3 years, totalling about 18 days of actual fishing (from memory) myself and my brother have had marlin of 1,200+ (released), approx 1,000, 980 (weighed), 700, 650, 600, 550 and 300 lbs. So, 0.44 fish per trip at an average size of 747 lbs, including one potential world record-sized fish caught, another estimated 1,200 lost after 1 1/2 hour fight (it died on us), several others lost in the range 500 - 8/900 lbs, often after spectacular jumping fights - which always makes it easier to bear losing the fish. So we have amazing memories of trips to the Azores; but I have had a totally blank year, too (2001) and it does vary. The benefit of Ascension is that if the marlin are not biting, there is plenty else to do; amazing tuna fishing, amberjack, oilfish, sharks, wahoo... In Azores, the only likely ' bycatch' is white marlin.
And you're absolutely right, on its day the banks around Faial and the Princess Alice can produce literally enormous Marlin, and average weights are high.
I suppose why I haven't fish there now since '99 has been somewhat a lack of consistency. I recall that particular year I fished for 8 days in prime time for very meager rewards - just two Whites.
But in terms of back-up on that particular trip we went world record 'hunting' on a reef in the channel between Faial and Pico. On the first night we attempted it one of the owner's partners broke the Ladies 6lb record for Bluefish. And a few days later the temptation was too much and I landed a big spent fish on 6 which we though would make it. Unfortunately there were no sensitive scales available to weigh it that evening and, the next morning, it was ounces light.
As to other back up species very occasionally now BigEye, Yellowfin and Bluefin do turn up. And the BigEye and Bluefin can be monsters. Not fun in that deep water!
But back to the Marlin. I'll always remember my first trip there. It was October '86 and Double Header had literally just arrived. And unfortunately the Pescateur boat we'd chartered was out of action. We got to fish Double Header I recall literally just for the cost of the fuel! And that first day out, it only proved a half day due to a prop change, we had 10 strikes from Blues including one Double Header. Um...how many skippers would suggest October was prime time for Blues? Any rate during that trip, to another boat, the best one day catch was five Blues and, on what was D.H.'s first exploratory trip off Sao Jorge, we had the first ever rod and line caught Broadbill.
But five, on subsequent trips, was far from being the best return. On one particular day D.H. and a boat called Cecilia ended up releasing seven apiece.
And in '88 we got the skipper of Cecilia, Ted Legg, to venture the 46 miles out to the Princess Alice. Up to that point I'm fairly certain no other boat had sport fished out there for Marlin. But the Tuna skippers I'd spoken to talked about seeing them out there frequently.
Any rate that first day we released three from 10 strikes and I also had two big Bluefin look at lures - there's a 19 fathom pinnacle we found out there. Of course it didn't end there and, three weeks later, D.H. had the world record 1146 pounder on 50. Interestingly they only gaffed it because the skipper though it would make 800 and establish a European line class record. Those Azorean fish used to be short, very thick set fish.
But back to 'monsters'. I know that over the course of those first five seasons Don Merten (D.H.'s skipper) and Ted Legg encountered enormous fish - way, way bigger that 'conventional' granders. Fish so big that it was impossible to get them to estimate weights. Were they Black Bart's tu tus? They describe their power and liken their build to Bluefin, but weight estimates never. One in particular I recall, with a very experienced heavy tackle angler - Mel Immergut - in the chair, they fought for seven hours before, with the drag 'screwed up', the fish started jumping and the line popped. They'd leadered that fish on three occasions but had been unsuccessful in turning its head.
But I suppose back to my initial point it's just, in my opinion, become inconsistent. Will Ascension go the same way? Possibly. Certain although they had some big fish this year it was a slow season by Ascension standards.
Thanks for the response. Yes, I agree the Azores can be patchy; but I found Ascension patchy too, and I know some of the skippers find it the same way. Although the marlin are there, there is so much food it can be difficult to get them to take a lure solidly.
As to the biggest fish I got (release capture) in the Azores, you can read the story 'what I wrote' at the following link if you are interested; 6 1/4 hours with the drag locked up after having set the preset to max. Pain, pain, pain.
Thanks for the link Adrian. Superbly written. Certainly the emotion, despair and PAIN of that long battle came over well. And of course congratulations on your BIG fish.
Proliferation of bait in Ascension can certainly be an issue. I've seen vast shoals of YFT in the Pacific, off places like Isla Coiba, but nothing yet to match those off Ascension feeding on the Scad and Grouper fry. Literally acres and acres of feeding fish.
Somewhere, and I'll try and track it down, there's a well written bit by Roddy Hays about the day he raised three 'granders' off Ascension. They only hooked the one. And what did that come on? The shotgun 30lb outfit that they had out for any Sailfish or Whites that came into the spread! One of the fish Roddy believes was the largest he'd ever seen, and he'd seen lots of big fish particularly in Madeira.
I have to say the last couple of times I personally went to Ascension we focused on the month of April when there was more of a mix of fish sizes, but also importantly numbers. That certainly made Bait 'n' Switch fishing eminently practical.
Just one last point about 'by catch' in Ascension. In 2004 our Club Secretary, Denis Froud, chartered Harmattan for the Marlin World Cup. Eleven minutes after 'lines out', they'd continued fishing Denis hooked into his 'grander'. (It wouldn't have won that year. Another bigger 'grander' came from Bermuda.) But earlier in the day he'd released a Spearfish and a White and had an abortive strike from a Sailfish. There can't be many places in the world where you can get a 'Grander Slam'! And, of course, earlier in the week he'd taken a world All Tackle record Galapagos Shark, from in on Bird Island, and lost a huge Six Gill.
Your final point about the endless search for the monsters. Madeira certainly had a reasonable year last year as did La Gomera in the Canaries.
But, over the last few years, a number of our members are focussing on Sao Vicente and Sao Nicholau in the Cape Verde Islands. Leaving aside the abortive 'Palm Beach releases' from smaller males it's producing multiple numbers of releases in a day and reasonable numbers of 600lb plus fish. From memory our best last year was estimated at 950, and best 8 day charter result - 19 Marlin from 37 shots.