How times have changed


hen I started billfishing, the only num­ber on the char­ter dock that meant any­thing was the com­mis­sion from the taxi­der­mist. No­body counted their bill­fish that I knew of. After that, the only sta­tis­tics we re­ally en­joyed were the num­ber of sail­fish or the weight of the dead mar­lin we caught dur­ing a tour­na­ment and the cash we made from win­ning a few of them.

I re­mem­ber in the early 1980s in St. Thomas, a deck­hand told me he had caught his 1,000th blue mar­lin. I con­grat­u­lated him on the achieve­ment and also for be­ing able to count to a thou­sand. A few min­utes later, I felt a cold drink poured over my head — I thought he might have en­joyed my hu­mor, but I prob­a­bly de­served the ru­mand-Coke shower. That was my first real ex­po­sure to in­di­vid­u­als who counted each bill­fish they caught.

Over the years, it seems like ev­ery­one knows not only how many bill­fish they have caught but also how many of each species. Then there are the pro­fes­sional re­sumes for the cap­tains and crews. We all put our tour­na­ment re­sults on our re­sumes, but I have even seen some with the amount of money peo­ple have won in their fish­ing ca­reers. Amaz­ing.

It has also changed the way we talk. I was out fish­ing the seamounts last month, and we had caught a few and missed a few. One boat called an­other on the ra­dio and

Wasked how they were do­ing. The cap­tain’s an­swer was that they had seen 24 mar­lin, had six bites and caught three. Later that day, this same cap­tain had seen more than 30 and still had only caught three or four mar­lin. I had to factcheck this guy, and my friend rolled his eyes at that one.

I’ve heard plenty of fish­ing re­ports since then, and most are all about fish they had seen, not what they hooked and lost or missed en­tirely. Very few cap­tains re­port their ac­tual catches on the ra­dio these days. Why? One cap­tain said that it’s be­cause their catch ra­tio is aw­ful due to in­ex­pe­ri­enced an­glers, and they do not want to share it on the ra­dio.

There are many ways to count your bites too. It’s pos­si­ble for one sail­fish to eat your flat line, a short rig­ger and then the long rig­ger, and miss the hook all three times. Yes, you might be zero for three, but it was only one fish. And yes, it is very hard to tell if it was only one in­stead of two or three. Most of us old­timers would say that we are three for seven, mean­ing we had seven bites and caught three. In Hawai­ian tour­na­ments, they ask for your re­port ev­ery cou­ple of hours and you an­swer with three num­bers, like 1-1-0. This means you have seen one, had one bite and no catch.

I was in the air­port this past week­end, and some peo­ple struck up a con­ver­sa­tion with my group. They said they caught 17 mar­lin in five hours. They had fished next to us for two hours, and we only saw them stop a cou­ple of times. I asked them what boat they had fished on and then had my cap­tain call the cap­tain on that boat. His an­swer was five blue mar­lin and a cou­ple of tuna and mahi. It seems like even the char­ters want to tell ex­tra-large fish sto­ries with their num­bers too.

I just met a young cap­tain who had al­ready caught more than 1,000 blue mar­lin in just a few sea­sons in Costa Rica. What a great ac­com­plish­ment at any age, but in your 20s?

I still like the old days when we would fly flags to let the com­pe­ti­tion and our peers know what we re­ally caught at the end of the day. But then again, I have heard of a cap­tain or two fly­ing a flag with­out catch­ing a mar­lin, just to keep his frag­ile ego in line with the rest of the dock.

I have kept count of the IGFA world records I have been in­volved in, but you do not want to know my over­all num­bers — they would be too de­press­ing. We al­ways spent way too much time hooked up on that damned light tackle, only to lose the fish way too of­ten in the end. But that’s fish­ing.

Now that I am in Costa Rica, I have promised my­self that I am not fish­ing for num­bers. I do not care if some­one catches 20 blue mar­lin and we only catch 12. We are go­ing to take our time with each one, not get any­one re­ally wet and make sure we get some good pic­tures. Our me­mories may fail, but the pho­tos bring back those great ex­pe­ri­ences, re­gard­less of the num­bers.

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