A Grander Slam!

4th attempt, Great Barrier Reef – mission accomplished

The target was clear enough. After having had the incredible luck of catching a Pacific blue marlin weighing 1,238 lbs. (an IGFA world record) in 2007 off the Island of Rodrigues in the Indian Ocean with skipper Yann Collas and then following up in 2011 with an Atlantic blue marlin of 1,150 lbs. in Cape Verde waters with skipper Zak Conde, my fishing mates kept nagging at me to make angling history by catching a black marlin of over 1,000 lbs. – a so-called called “Triple Grander Slam”. No single fisherman had ever achieved this in his lifetime. Everybody said it was so easy – one trip to the Great Barrier Reef and the first Grander Slam for an angler would be under my belt...

Back then I didn’t have to think about it too long. The idea was good and the target right in front of my eyes. In reality things turned out a lot differently. Even on the Great Barrier Reef grander marlins don’t just jump into your boat. In the high season between the beginning of October and the end of November, there are some 20 boats a day hunting big black marlins in an area of 200 square miles. During this period some are indeed caught there. If you are in the right spot at the right time and then have the great fortune to find a really big fish prepared to take your bait, if you manage a hook-up and fight the fish until it’s at the side of the boat and do everything in compliance with IGFA regulations, you’re there. The fact that everything has to go right (captain, crew, angler, boat, material, all your knots, timing, sharks and plenty of good luck) is a completely different kettle of fish. Fish of this size never forgive the slightest mistake or lapse in concentration, both of which can make the difference between success and failure.

During my first attempt five years ago I hooked up with a really big black marlin in the 1,000 lb. category, along with several smaller ones, in the course of 12 days’ fishing. After a grueling 45 minute battle both bait and hook came flying towards us and the marlin was off like a shot. During my second and third attempts we didn’t see a single fish of this size and “only” caught fish weighing up to 850 lbs. – the disillusionment was correspondingly great.

At long last, at my fourth attempt, I managed to catch a black marlin weighing in excess of 1,000 lbs. in compliance with IGFA regulations and thus became the first big-game fisherman in the world to achieve a Grander Slam.

With Tim Richardson (Australia) as skipper and owner of the 49 foot FV “Tradition”, his two crewmen with worldwide experience, Nicolas Bovell (Canada) and Mike Tarmey (USA), and myself as angler we got the long-awaited strike from a grander black marlin at 5.15 pm on our very first day at sea while fishing Ribbon Reef No. 5. It was a huge fish far above the weight we had been aiming for. The basic rule when fishing the Great Barrier Reef is to get the fish alongside the boat as quickly as possible. If you take too long, there is a great risk that your marlin will be attacked by the numerous members of the shark fraternity that infest the reef and you will end up pulling a length of empty fishing line out of the sea.

When our wireman Nicolas Bovell had the fish on the leader for the first time and the marlin shot out of the water right in front of us, we all realized that this was indeed the fish we had been looking for. We had it by the leader several more times before Mike Tarmey was able to set the gaff. The marlin then thrashed the surface, sending spray way over Tradition’s bridge. Nicolas then tried to set a second gaff but was unable to get a clear shot. The marlin then twisted a couple of times from the right-hand to the left-hand railing, and finally under the boat. Unfortunately, the leader then fouled the propeller and snapped. This gigantic fish was thus only being held by a gaff which the fish promptly bent open enabling it to escape. A plea to Messrs. “Top Shot” – we need stronger gaffs!!! Although we had caught the fish according to the rules, we had hoped to get it on board and have it weighed on certified scales. Unfortunately we were unable to do this so we finished day one on the Great Barrier Reef with very mixed feelings. On that day we could have used another two pairs of hands, first of all to take an early opportunity to set a second gaff and secondly to have somebody take photographs as permanent souvenirs – Scotty (of Aqua Paparazzi) – we missed you!

On the ninth outing we were to get a second chance roughly 25 miles north of Ribbon Reef No. 10. The sea was extremely calm that day and of a deep blue hue. We were the only boat far and wide at this wonderful spot. Towards noon a huge marlin shot up from the depths out of nowhere, grabbed our mackerel bait on the long rigger and was hooked immediately. The fish never went deep and Nicolas had it by the leader in some 15 minutes or so. It then performed several tremendous jumps directly in front of us, some completely out of the water. This was clearly also a huge marlin far in excess of 1,000 lbs. Tim countered using all his skipper’s skills by reversing Tradition and we managed to get the marlin by the leader a couple of times. Mike had the gaff in his hands, waiting for a suitable opportunity to gaff the marlin correctly. Without a 100% accurate gaff shot we would have had no chance of getting the fish on board. After the fish made a few more jumps on the leader, the hook and half a mackerel flew towards us and this magnificent fish was free. We had caught this fish according to IGFA regulations, too but again we had very mixed feelings at the end of the day.

In 12 days at sea on the Great Barrier Reef we had a total of 34 marlin strikes and of these we were able to catch and tag 19 black marlin.
The largest of these fish were conservatively estimated at + 1,100 lbs., + 1,100 lbs. 850 lbs. and 750 lbs. One of the fish in the medium size category weighed some 600 lbs. while the remainder were in the 100 to 200 lb. range. A further marlin of about 500 lbs. was savaged by sharks after a fight lasting only 10 minutes and all we had for our efforts was a length of mangled monofilament leader.

Many will ask whether I have achieved my personal goal. Everyone who knows me will know that I fish in a sportsmanlike manner and would dearly like to complete my mission one day with an officially weighed grander black marlin that would really bring tears of joy to my eyes. The Great Barrier Reef probably wanted to me to return someday and there is no doubt I will be trying again.

My thanks go to Tim Richardson, Nicolas Bovell and Mike Tarmey. We were a great team and had a tremendous time on the legendary Great Barrier Reef.

In these weight classes there is a huge difference between a so-called released fish and one lying dead on the deck. This was made very clear to me on the Great Barrier Reef more than once. Fishing for these giants entails absolute teamwork and the slightest of mistakes can make the difference between success and failure. Naturally, a stroke of luck is part of it all or as the saying rightly goes: “Que sera, sera”.

When the big fish struck, everybody was on their toes so we were regrettably unable to take any photographs with our professional cameras. The only pictures we have were taken by our running GoPros. As we all know, fish photographed with this equipment always appear to be quite small due to the perspective. You can believe me, they were huge ☺

PS: As we focused entirely on marlins, we had hardly or effectively no time at all for fishing with the poppers or the tons of jigs we had brought along with us so bycatches of reef-dwellers failed to materialize.

Stephan Kreupl, November 2015