June 4, 2023
The biggest barrier reef on this planet lies alongside Australia’s northeastern coast within the Coral Sea.
Jillian Mitchell/Alamy

Every spring, the pristine grounds alongside the northern Nice Barrier Reef expertise one of many world’s biggest pure wonders. The nutrient-rich Coral Sea currents set off every kind of resident and pelagic species to assemble and spawn on this a part of the world, and it’s right here the place we will witness some actually astonishing sights. Hundreds of large trevally journey in a spawning aggregation so tightly packed that they seem like a indifferent a part of the reef, inflicting some skippers to panic when approaching such a ball of big fish that they rapidly flip away till they’ve labored out what they’re truly seeing. Large 1,000-plus-pound feminine black marlin tail down-sea within the firm of a number of smaller males in their very own spawning dance. In the course of the 2018 ­season, one vessel caught 144 black marlin in simply two months—starting from 200 to 1,250 kilos—­making this, undoubtedly, essentially the most prolific black marlin fishery on this planet.

When It All Began

Many anglers nonetheless ask, “How was this unimaginable fishery found?” It’s an attention-grabbing query, as a result of earlier than the early Sixties, nobody actually knew about it—few native fishermen ever ventured out previous the sting of the Nice Barrier Reef. They fished largely the within grounds, that are made up of scattered reefs and coral heads the place juvenile black marlin, sailfish, and every kind of mackerel and backside species have been considerable. It wasn’t till two marine biologists, learning the Japanese longline statistics within the Pacific, delivered to gentle the staggering catch charges of enormous black marlin within the Coral Sea.

A map of Australia and the Great Barrier Reef.
By the Nineteen Seventies, the information had unfold all over the world: Australia’s Nice Barrier Reef was the ­hottest vacation spot for large black marlin.

Their papers and maps, entitled The Distribution and Relative Abundance of Billfish within the Pacific, have been launched in 1965 by US Institute of Marine Science in Miami scientist John Howard, together with Dr. Shoji Ueyanagi from the Nanki Regional Fishery Analysis Institute in Japan. Their data confirmed that the catch charges and measurement ranges of black marlin caught have been astonishing. Together with marlin, large numbers of large yellowfin and bigeye tuna have been additionally being landed. This scientific report naturally had fishermen alongside the japanese coast of Australia gasping in disbelief.

Watch: Tempt a black marlin with this swimming mackerel.

Bransford’s Grander

An American captain named George Bransford had been stationed in Cairns throughout World Struggle II and had spent his leisure time speaking to the native fishermen, who advised him there was an abundance of black marlin in these waters. Bransford’s love of the Nice Barrier Reef noticed him transfer again to Cairns from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, within the early Sixties, the place he had been working a constitution boat. His first job was to construct a gameboat. He quickly met Alan Collis, a neighborhood fisherman and boatbuilder. In 1964, they launched the 32-foot Sea Child. In 1965, when Bransford heard in regards to the Japanese longline reviews, it solely confirmed his earlier ideas that there needed to be spawning grounds someplace alongside the reef. And because the seize graphs and maps accompanying these scientific papers confirmed, the outer reef was alive with black marlin. Large ones.

Bransford’s first enterprise offshore was in September 1965, and he had no hassle catching every kind of small tunas and mackerels for bait. Sea Child caught two black marlin across the ­250-pound mark, and likewise noticed a few a lot bigger fish. That day, round 2:00 p.m., considered one of their baits disappeared down the throat of an actual monster, and fishing solely 80-pound-test sort out, the battle was fairly one-sided, to say the least. The large marlin merely dominated the combat and couldn’t be chased down. The combat took them effectively out to sea, and Bransford estimated that they have been 30 miles off the reef when the road lastly parted after eight hours. Within the pitch-black darkness, they have been fortunate to see the navigation gentle on Euston Reef to information them again to the sting.

Two men stand beside a large world-record black marlin.
The fish that began all of it: Capt. George Bransford and deckhand Richard Obach with a 1,064-pound world-record black.
John Ashley Assortment

After a number of extra unsuccessful journeys that yr, the sight of the enormous marlin made Bransford solely extra decided than ever to catch one. With a number of modifications to the boat—together with a greater combating chair—they ventured again out to attempt once more.

On September 26, 1966, with new deckhand Richard Obach aboard, they connected with a big marlin that Bransford thought was a lot smaller than the beast they’d struggled with the yr earlier than. After a two-hour combat, the marlin was lastly gaffed and secured alongside. Once they tried to get it into the boat, they’d hassle lifting its head out of the water. They needed to tow the marlin all the best way again to Cairns, the place it later weighed an astonishing 1,064 kilos. On 80-pound sort out, the fish was a brand new IGFA world file.

Infamous Cairns

It didn’t take lengthy for the sport-fishing world to search out out about this record-breaking black ­marlin, and a few Aussie anglers have been fast to get to Cairns the next yr. Arthur Stewart ­completely annihilated the Australian 130-pound-test file with a 1,156-pound black marlin, a file that was short-lived when one other Aussie, Basil Mitchell, weighed a 1,208-pounder. Instantly, the little sugar-cane city of Cairns was on the world’s big-game-fishing stage. And even with a number of vessels organized to come back up from the southern states, there merely weren’t sufficient succesful boats to cater to the inflow of anglers from all over the world.

A fishing crew on the Sea Venture sport-fishing boat.
Capt. Dennis “Brazzaka” Wallace and actor Lee Marvin connected on Sea Enterprise.
John Ashley Assortment

Various vessels have been now underneath ­development in Cairns, and within the late Sixties, Sydney’s Caughlan household ordered the primary 40-foot Woodnutt gameboat to be constructed. It was known as Kanahoee and was skippered by Alan Collis, who didn’t take lengthy to christen it with a grander of his personal. On the similar time, one other vessel was constructed by none apart from Capt. Peter Bristow. The mighty Avalon went on to be an actual marlin machine, and considered one of Bristow’s heavy-tackle anglers was the extremely expert JoJo Del Guercio, who weighed 18 granders in simply six seasons on the reef.

Heavy-tackle data fell like dominoes, and the 80-pound file that began all of it was crushed by Invoice Wilkie with a 1,077-pounder. This was damaged once more the next season by Sydney tv character Bob Dyer with a 1,138-pounder. Dyer’s file was rapidly knocked off by Mead Johnson, former vp of the IGFA, with a 1,218-pounder. Ultimately, in 1976, Buster Could landed a 1,347-pounder—a file that also stands immediately.

The 130-pound file modified ­dramatically as effectively when New Zealand’s Sir William Stevenson weighed an enormous black, solely to have it knocked off by Guercio with 1,281-pounder. Each have been taken on Bristow’s Avalon. By 1973, extra data tumbled earlier than the primary black marlin over 1,400 kilos was captured by Garrick Agnew, his being a 1,417-pounder, which was then toppled by Michael Magrath’s 1,442-pound beast.

A black and white image of two people fishing on the Avalon sport-fishing boat.
Capt. Peter Bristow constructed and skippered Avalon on the reef for a lot of ­seasons.
John Ashley Assortment

Sort out in Query

A lot of the heavy sort out in these early days was insufficient, even with 130-pound-test line. Notably, the outdated star-drag reels simply couldn’t apply sufficient strain wanted to boost an enormous black from the depths. When Penn launched the 130 Worldwide, and later, its two-speed mannequin, many captains converted to them for his or her improved power and reliability. The person who lower his enamel on these early Penns and fine-tuned the drags to carry out even higher than off-the-shelf variations was none apart from the sort out ­grasp himself, Jack Erskine. He was additionally a nice rod builder, and the magnificent 130-pound-class rods Erskine constructed to deal with the giants not solely seemed good, however they carried out brilliantly as effectively. Erskine additionally designed and constructed a heavy-tackle bucket ­harness, which many different sort out producers quickly copied. Erskine was a perfectionist, whether or not on the water with a rod in his hand or at his lathe, machining intricate drag plates.

No Gentle-Sort out Information Had been Secure

With such a cross-section of black marlin ranging in measurement from tiddlers to monsters, it wasn’t lengthy earlier than the Cairns grounds attracted the world’s most interesting light-tackle anglers. 5 who instantly come to thoughts are Kay Mullholland, Marg Love, Bob Oliver, Peter Mahood and Mike Levitt—all who’ve held, or nonetheless maintain, world data for blacks off Cairns. I used to be at Lizard Island in 1982 when Mullholland weighed her near-grander on 20-pound-test, a fish that weighed 998 kilos and continues to be the present world file. She additionally held the 50-pound world file with an 874-pounder from 1976 till Stephanie Osgood blew it away in 2014 with a black weighing 1,111 kilos. Oliver has held the 30-pound file with a 1,079-pounder since 1980, whereas Mahood has held the 20-pound-test file with a 1,051-pound beast since 1976. I fished with Levitt a number of instances and was shut by in one other boat photographing him in motion when he broke the 12-pound file in 1981 with a 737-pounder. In 2001, Levitt was again in motion when he broke the 16-pound world file with a 631-pound fish. The opposite attention-grabbing Cairns world file that has stood now for 50 years is the 1,124-pounder taken on ­50-pound-test by New Zealander Eddie Seay.

A sport-fishing team on the water with a black marlin.
A pleasant black caught on Capt. Luke Fallon’s KEKOA. Whereas the ­fishing is cyclical, 2019 was an excellent season for each measurement and variety of marlin.
Kelly Dalling Fallon

Lures vs. Bait

Cairns has historically been a natural-bait ­fishery, however within the mid-Nineteen Eighties, a number of vessels began utilizing synthetic lures. One captain, Peter Kirkby, ran plenty of profitable vessels in Cairns and positively led the cost within the lure division. Kirkby developed his personal black Hypalon ­rubber heads that he machined on a lathe to a form he preferred; some had a scooped-out face, and others a flat face. These softheads smoked like loopy, and he began trolling them at a bit slower than regular velocity of round 6½ to 7 knots. The large marlin beloved their motion, and Kirkby’s success quickly had different skippers . Kirkby gave away plenty of his lures to his buddies to attempt; a number of captains additionally began utilizing the Mould Craft softheads. The primary grander taken on a lure occurred in 1991, when Capt. Laurie Woodbridge on Sea Child IV nailed a 1,041-pounder on a Mould Craft Large Vary. When Woodbridge retired, his deckhand, Capt. Ross Finlayson, took over the helm, and an enormous black took a liking to the Mould Craft Tremendous Chugger he was pulling. Weighing in at 1,257 kilos, it’s nonetheless the biggest black marlin ever taken off Cairns on a lure.

Enter the Circle Hook

Within the late Nineties, the Cairns fishery noticed one other attention-grabbing change. Earlier than the beginning of the 1999 season, Capt. Peter B. Wright strolled down the Cairns dock handing out Mustad circle hooks to the captains and crews—most of whom didn’t wish to change their strategies as a result of J hooks had been used for the reason that fishery started. Utilizing ­circle hooks would imply altering the bait-rigging strategies, and hooking the fish was one other challenge to think about altogether. I’ll always remember what Capt. Dennis “Brazzaka” Wallace mentioned to Wright on the time: “They’re bloody tuna hooks, Peter. What the hell are you pondering?”

A Cairns black marlin breaking out of the surface of the water.
A Cairns black erupts from the not-always-calm ocean floor.
Will Drost

After a number of seasons, many crews had perfected how one can rig their swimbaits with circle hooks by anchoring them a number of inches away from the bait’s head and utilizing a lead weight stitched within the stomach to maintain the bait swimming upright. Rigging the skipbaits required only some small modifications, and as an alternative of the hook getting stitched tight to the bait’s head, they discovered that it labored higher a number of inches away as effectively. Moreover, many crews discovered that circle hooks labored significantly better with heavy monofilament leaders as an alternative of the outdated dependable 400-pound-test ­galvanized single-strand wire.

Learn Subsequent: Be taught to make one of the best of what you could have with regards to rigging baits.

Getting the circle hooks to set was actually a studying curve, and a few captains grew to become so pissed off that they switched again to J hooks, however a lot of the fleet persevered. After a number of seasons, they’d lastly sorted out the adjustments wanted to get the circle hooks to work. Lately, most everyone seems to be utilizing them and, like many different locations, the tournaments in Cairns and Lizard Island have made them obligatory.

A sport-fishing team in the cockpit of a boat.
Capt. Peter B. Wright (on left) teaches the proper heavy-tackle method throughout an Australian session of Marlin College in 2014.
John Ashley

The Trendy Fleet

The outdated dayboats working out and in of Cairns have all however gone, and even the mothership numbers have fallen lately. Right this moment, nearly all of the fashionable battlewagons are outfitted for dwelling aboard and supply a snug keep out on the reef for a number of days or as much as per week or so. The little nation city of Cooktown—north of Cairns—is the place lots of the constitution boats work from, and the city is about up with an excellent service for gas, water and ice, in addition to a normal retailer that delivers high quality meals and drinks all the way down to the dock when wanted. The great half about working out of Cooktown is that it’s near Lizard Island and the magnificent Ribbon Reefs. Throughout nearly all of the season, the chew occurs alongside these reefs, and so they additionally make for excellent night anchorages. Staying alongside the Ribbons, you’re simply minutes away from marlin fishing, plus the realm provides excellent popper-fishing for large ­trevally and bottomfishing for every kind of tasty species. Among the finest dive websites are right here as effectively, together with the at all times in style Cod Gap off Lizard Island.

Whereas the timeframe for reopening Australia for visiting anglers from the USA and Europe stays up within the air proper now, the fishing stays simply pretty much as good as ever off the Nice Barrier Reef. It’s the chance to catch the black marlin of a lifetime.

The Wealthy and Well-known

Within the Nineteen Seventies and ‘80s, anglers from everywhere in the world lined as much as fish for black marlin out of Cairns, together with many well-known celebrities. Amongst them have been actors Lee Marvin, Wilbur Smith and Ernest Borgnine. Two of the world’s finest golfers—Jack Nicklaus and Greg Norman—turned up, and every caught granders on the reef. The president of McDonald’s, Fred Turner, andformer President Jimmy Carter additionally got here to fish. Aussie tycoon Rupert Murdock visited, and rockers Tim and Jon Farriss of the band INXS beloved their time on the reef, catching large black marlin from their very own 35-foot Bertram.

This text was initially printed within the August/September challenge of Marlin.