Sep 17, 2009

The Ultimate Fish Story

by Bill Shedd
Guy Harvey 1200 lb Black Marlin Tag in Panama

Guy Harvey 1200 lb Black Marlin Tag in Panama

This is the ultimate “fish story” because it involves a monster fish (1,200 plus pound black marlin), a world class angler (Neil Patrick) who graciously gave up personal glory and a potential IGFA world record for the sake of science and conservation, and the unbelievable feat of a man (Guy Harvey) who swam down to attach a second fishing line so the majestic fish could be brought up quickly enough to be tagged and released unharmed.

In late January of 2005, Guy Harvey traveled to the Tropic Star Lodge in Panama to tag black marlin and to film the process for his popular television series “Portraits from the Deep.” Guy’s series is not your typical fishing show, as it combines awesome fishing footage (both from above and beneath the water) with the science and conservation of various fish species in a way that only Dr. Harvey can present it. I felt privileged when asked to join him as “guest angler.”

The tags we were to use — Pop-up Satellite Archival Tags (PSAT), which are the latest in modern technology and cost $4,000 each — served as part of a broader research program in cooperation with the Pfleger Institute of Environmental Research (PIER) in Oceanside, CA. Designed for use in learning more about the movements of pelagic game fish in the world’s oceans, the tags are attached to fish prior to their release, after which the sophisticated transmitters record data such as depth, water temperature and location. Following a programmed length of time, the tag pops up to the surface, where the information is sent to a satellite and then on to the researchers at PIER.

After a couple days of fishing Panama’s Zane Grey reef, we had successfully caught and tagged, with the PSATs, a couple of black marlin up to 425 pounds. Working with other boats in the Tropic Star fleet, we also successfully transferred (then tagged) a marlin from another boat to our own, which was an action-filled event in itself. While all of that was enough to make for a fantastic trip, it paled in comparison to what was about to happen next.

Jumping-MarlinNeil Patrick, fishing aboard a neighboring boat, hooked up with a big fish the following morning. Early on in the battle, we had
boarded his craft with the PSAT tagging gear and camera, but returned to our boat when it became apparent that he was in for a lengthy struggle. During that visit, we talked with Neil about Guy’s interest in swimming down to the fish and attempting to attach another line from a second rod by means of a snap swivel. That, of course, would disqualify Neil’s catch as a potential IGFA world record, but if it could be accomplished, would improve the chances of attaching the PSAT to a still healthy fish.

Neil Patrick is both a true gentleman and accomplished angler. As an IGFA Trustee from Australia, he is no stranger to big fish, having caught three marlin over 1,000 pounds. After fighting this fish for three-and-a-half hours on 50-pound class tackle, Neil thought the black had world-record potential, and felt he had a good chance of eventually bringing the fish to the boat. However, he was also aware that the additional time required to land this beast on 50-pound could tire the fish to the point where it might not survive, or at least would not be a good candidate to receive the PSAT. Neil called us on the radio. He had decided in favor of science and conservation and gave Guy the go-ahead to try his plan of attaching a second line.

Never before had a second line been attached in this way to a leader still underwater.

If it was ever to be done, Guy Harvey would be the man to do it. I grabbed an 80-pound outfit, belt and stand up harness, and with a cameraman and tagging crew member, jumped on to Neil’s boat. Guy put on his tanks, grabbed his submersible camera, and on the first trip down, filmed the monster marlin underwater.

Then surfaced, gave up the camera, and after taking the snap swivel on my line, swam 40 feet into the depths to attempt what I thought was the impossible. It is tough enough to simply attach a snap swivel in the heat of an extreme moment while standing on the deck. In this case, Guy had to do so while swimming at a speed of over three knots, dragging my line with him, and at the same time, avoiding the fish and Neil’s line. Even the most accomplished waterman would never think of attempting such a thing, but to Guy it was no big deal.

As Dr. Harvey approached the fish, Neil and I could feel the marlin accelerate away from him. Guy came to the surface and said that he had gotten close and that he thought the feat could be done…but he had to rest first. Never one to give up easily, Guy was finally successful on his sixth attempt. I wound down tight to the fish and Neil and I just laughed out loud as she now pulled both lines off the reels.

Bill Shedd Reeling In The Marlin

Bill Shedd Reeling In The Marlin

The first time the mate grabbed the leader, the fish went off right at the boat, resulting in Guy, now back on our original boat, getting the action shots seen in this story. On that first jump, the fish was so impressive that all to be heard was ooooohs and aaaahs from both boats — followed quickly with various profanities, loud noises and laughter. After Neil and I had teamed up on the fish for 25 minutes (a battle that lasted for a total of four hours), the PSAT was attached and we watched the great fish swim away in excellent shape.

The exact weight of the black marlin is not known, of course, because it was released. However, because of Guy’s clear photos from both above and below the water, plus an accurate length of the fish, we can make an educated guess as to the weight. Earlier in the day another boat had hooked and broke off this same marlin. In Guy’s underwater photos, the leader is clearly shown alongside the fish. Since we know the standard leader is just under 15 feet, we can determine the short length of the fish to be 13 feet from the lower jaw to the fork in the tail. With that short-length information, several experienced big game captains and other experts who have been involved with 1,000-pound “granders” examined the photos. The general consensus was that the fish weighed more than 1,200 pounds.

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2 Responses to “The Ultimate Fish Story”

  1. Although black marlins are not yet endangered, we should not add them to this endangered list. The participation of Guy Harvey and Neil Patrick, in the name of science and the conservation of our marine life, is to tag the black marlins and release thereafter unharmed. I noticed Dr. Harvey donned in marine suit [probably one of his lines of sports wear] during the shoot out in the Panama sea.

  2. Mark Grubb says:

    Thanks for the great effort to all that played a part in saving this fantastic fish, Having done many hours underwater diving i can appreciate how hard it would have been for clip to be attached,I can only imagine the feeling on both boats when the plan came together.
    Fantastic team effort well done.

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