Is­land of the Dogs

THE CA­NARY IS­LANDS HOLD A SPE­CIAL CHARM FOR THOSE WHO PUR­SUE BLUE MAR­LIN. BY JOHN BROWN­LEE

Power & Motor Yacht - - IN THIS ISSUE -

The Ca­nary Is­lands are bucket list fod­der for an­glers with a pas­sion for pur­su­ing big blue mar­lin.

TThe is­lands of the eastern North At­lantic Ocean have long been as­so­ci­ated with some of the world’s best mar­lin fish­ing. The wa­ters off the Azores, Madeira, Cape Verde and the Ca­nary Is­lands have all pro­duced spec­tac­u­lar catches of blue or white mar­lin at one time or an­other, and diehard bill­fish an­glers have trav­eled here for decades to get in on the ac­tion.

But of these fas­ci­nat­ing des­ti­na­tions, the Ca­naries ar­guably get the least at­ten­tion. Madeira and the Azores have well-es­tab­lished, well-doc­u­mented fish­eries that come and go in terms of pro­duc­tiv­ity, as most fish­eries do. But while the Azores of­ten pro­vide some of the best white mar­lin ac­tion found any­where, Madeira and the Ca­naries can of­fer re­li­able shots at some of the big­gest At­lantic blue mar­lin in the world.

The name “Ca­nary Is­lands” comes, not from the brightly col­ored song­birds as some may think, but from the early ex­plor­ers who landed on the largest is­land and were greeted by packs of very large dogs. There­after, the is­land be­came known as Ca­nariae In­su­lae, Latin for “Is­land of the Dogs.”

I jumped at the chance to fish the Ca­naries with friends last sum­mer, to see if we might recre­ate some of the leg­endary bites of yes­ter­year, of which we’ve all heard. My good friend Rich An­drews had a boat at Lan­zarote—the north­east­ern-most of the seven is­lands in the Ca­nary chain—and we were ea­ger to see what would await us off­shore. The large ma­rina at Puerto Calero, just to the south­west of Puerto del Car­men, served as our home base.

Lan­zarote dif­fers from other is­lands in the Ca­naries for sev­eral rea­sons: First, it’s vol­canic, look­ing like a lu­nar land­scape with lit­tle na­tive veg­e­ta­tion. In ad­di­tion, the de­vel­op­ment of the is­land oc­curred un­der the in­flu­ence of the late artist César Man­rique, a na­tive of Lan­zarote who con­vinced reg­u­la­tors to limit high-rise build­ings, pro­hibit bill­boards and adopt a uniquely Span­ish ar­chi­tec­ture across the is­land. In­deed, al­most

all of the build­ings on Lan­zarote look quite sim­i­lar to one an­other.

Capt. Car­los Gar­cia of Cor­pus Christi, Texas, joined us in Lan­zarote. Gar­cia has fished with top blue mar­lin crews around the world, most no­tably in Ber­muda, and has lots of cock­pit ex­pe­ri­ence with big blue mar­lin. Gar­cia grew up with an­other well-known Texas mar­lin ex­pert, Capt. James Roberts, who went on to skip­per the fa­mous French Look moth­er­ship op­er­a­tion in the 1990s.

Roberts laid the ground­work for much of what we know about Lan­zarote fish­ing when he and French Look owner Jean-Paul Richard first vis­ited the area in 1993. They set up camp at Calero, as we did, and be­gan fish­ing the north­east­ern point of the reef off Lan­zarote, near the is­lands of Roque del Este (East Rock), and Isla de Ale­granza.

“It’s a weird fish­ery over there be­cause you never know what’s go­ing to hap­pen,” Roberts said. “You never know when it’s go­ing to start or when it will end.” But as it turned out, they hit it right and ex­pe­ri­enced an in­cred­i­ble bite.

“All of the blue mar­lin over there are big, qual­ity fish,” Roberts said. He and his crew fished from a 40-foot game boat in chal­leng- ing con­di­tions, mak­ing the 40-mile run from Calero to the reef near Roque del Este most days in rough seas. “We got the crap beat out of us a lot of days,” Roberts re­called.

At one point, they char­tered a 72-foot yacht so they could an­chor in the lee of Isla Gra­ciosa, on the north­ern shore of Lan­zarote. It be­came their tem­po­rary moth­er­ship and put them much closer to the ac­tion. Roberts had to learn the winds and tides of the area, which dif­fer from what he’d been ac­cus­tomed to else­where.

“The cur­rent goes to the south, so we had to fig­ure out how to take ad­van­tage of that,” he ex­plained. But be­ing a nat­u­ral fish­er­man, it didn’t take Roberts long to do just that. They be­gan see­ing big fish, and lots of them, and then the flood­gates opened.

Over a pe­riod of roughly 60 days be­tween July and Septem­ber 1993, Roberts and his crew caught and re­leased 67 large blue mar­lin, an al­most un­heard-of feat at the time. “Four, maybe five of those were over 1,000 pounds for sure,” Roberts said, “and a lot more were very close if not granders.”

With this epic bite fore­most on our minds, we set out to see if we could ex­pe­ri­ence the hot bite these pi­o­neers had 25 years ear­lier.

Gar­cia and I manned the cock­pit as we headed north to­ward the sec­tion of reef known lo­cally as “The Boule­vard,” a steep drop-off run­ning east and west from Isla de Ale­granza to a sharp point of reef north­east of Roque del Este.

Along the reef line, we en­coun­tered huge flocks of se­abirds feed­ing in­tensely on large schools of sar­dines. Por­poises and small tu­nas crashed through the bait pods as well. But de­spite putting out what we knew were proven tuna lures, like feathers and cedar plugs, we never got a tuna strike.

We spent two fish­less days trolling the reef, ex­plor­ing new ter­ri­to­ries and sec­tions. Much of our plan came from dock­side con­ver­sa­tions with for­mer In­ter­na­tional Game Fish As­so­ci­a­tion Trus­tee Jose Luis Beis­tegui, a Spaniard who keeps a beau­ti­ful Spencer in Lan­zarote. Beis­tegui and his crew fish this area as much as any­one, and gave us in­dis­pens­able ad­vice.

On our third day on the reef, we had just turned away from a flock of birds when Gar­cia said calmly, “There she is.” A large blue fin cut across the sur­face be­hind the right rig­ger lure, and in what seemed like an eter­nity, we waited to see if the fish would strike.

In a huge boil, the mar­lin en­gulfed the lure, the line popped from the out­rig­ger clip and we were on. An­gler Ray Dorado set­tled into the fight­ing chair and be­gan bat­tling what would turn out to be his first blue mar­lin. The fish never re­ally jumped and soon set­tled into a deep rhythm, but with Gar­cia’s pa­tient coach­ing, Dorado ap­plied con­sis­tent pressure, and af­ter a rel­a­tively short fight, she sur­faced be­hind the boat, ex­hausted.

Gar­cia and An­drews wired the fish and even­tu­ally got a “snooter” on it for pho­tos. In­cred­i­bly, the hook fell out on its own. As we all cel­e­brated, we re­leased the mar­lin and she swam down, out of sight, tired but okay. Great de­bate en­sued as to the size of the blue. Gar­cia said 800 pounds, oth­ers thought it smaller, but we all know it’s no­to­ri­ously dif­fi­cult to es­ti­mate the weight of a big blue mar­lin.

Re­gard­less of its ac­tual weight, it re­mains a tremen­dous catch. It turned out to be the only blue mar­lin we saw dur­ing our short trip, but that didn’t mat­ter—I’m al­ready try­ing to get back. As James Roberts said, “You never know when it’s go­ing to go off at Lan­zarote.” I want to be there the next time it does.

Capt. Car­los Gar­cia of Texas. Left: Puerto del Car­men sprawls along the Lan­zarote shore­line. Blue mar­lin fre­quent the wa­ters of the Ca­nary Is­lands; heavy tackle is re­quired.

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