Galapagos Mega-Marlin Mania
As I hung up the phone, my mind was spinning in disbelief. I was just offered the trip of a lifetime. Yes, I was sure I heard him correctly, nine action-packed days in mid-January down in the beautiful, balmy Galapagos Islands fishing the tropic waters overflowing with huge marlin. Pinch me! Suddenly, I had a million things to do!
Northeast Angling, based in New York, was arranging a pioneer fishing production filming on the waters off of San Cristobal, one of the many islands of the famous Galapagos Island archipelago. The President of the company, and host of the NEAngling television show, Captain Andy LoCascio, called me at work on a nippy day towards the end of November. He explained they were looking for an adept female angler to co-host the production, and as a prostaff for Yo-Zuri, I was in the running. I don’t know what I said that tipped the scales, but after a brief, pleasant chat, I had the part! It was settled, I was traveling with Andy and a skilled filming crew to the Galapagos Islands in the middle of the bitter winter. The itinerary included a production video fishing for colossal striped, blue, and black marlin, as well as several other filming, writing, and photography projects.
The Galapagos Islands:
The Galapagos Islands are famous for their role in the history books as the spring board for the theories of evolution developed by the renowned naturalist, Charles Darwin in the early 1830s. Well known for their unique endogenous wildlife and beautiful scenery, the Galapagos Islands are frequented by cruise liners bursting with visitors hoping to catch a glimpse of the fearless creatures who helped change the scientific view of the modern world.
This group of islands is an unspoiled and fiercely protected World Biosphere Reserve formed completely from volcanic activity, resulting in hundreds of miles of rugged black coastlines and landscapes. After passing under several flags, the Galapagos archipelago now belongs to the Republic of Ecuador, located just below the equator, 600 miles off the continent of South America. Our destination was San Cristobal, which is the most Western placed of the islands, and is the capital of the Galapagos, with approximately 6,000 residents. San Cristobal holds one of the few airports among the islands, and flights from the mainland are available only a few times per week.
After more than eight hours cramped in airplanes, we finally stepped onto the firm island turf of San Cristobal, our gracious home for the next several days. As the warm, humid air hit my face, my recollection that it was actually the month of January quickly dissipated. While we gazed about the strangely beautiful arid appearance of the land, our trusty filming crew took little time transitioning right into recording our Galapagos adventure. Our camera crew consisted of a lineup of experienced professionals. Tim Smith, assisted by Angela, was our primary still photographer. Tim also shared the filming duties with Scott Braun, who also is the post-production expert. Performing in front of the camera was a completely different experience. Every move, word and detail was carefully considered, and sometimes reconsidered many times! Overall, the filming team was incredible, working patiently with us, mostly me, to ensure every scene was optimal.
The second thing I realized after noting the incredible climate and the breath-taking scenery, is that I wished I had learned more Spanish! All of Ecuador, including the Galapagos Islands, is a Spanish-speaking country, and I am not. Unlike other tourist-type destinations, English is not a second language to the locals of the islands. I promptly learned several quick-study essential words, and faked the rest. Although I’m sure I provided them with much amusement, the people of San Cristobal were extremely friendly, and very patient with this English-speaking visitor.
The streets and villas of the island were modest, quaint, and very clean. Our hotel was a pleasant multi-roomed suite with modern amenities, overlooking an incredible view of the only harbor on San Cristobal. The water in the small harbor emanated a striking emerald-green color, sprinkled with several dozen moored boats of all shapes and varieties. As we strolled down to the harbor to get a closer look, we happened upon sea lions strewn about the streets, sidewalks, and even on the boats in the harbor. They barely gave us a glance as they lazily sunned themselves in any place of their choosing, while the locals leisurely stepped around them with little thought.
Out of this world! These are the only words that come to mind to describe our dining experiences on San Cristobal. We were spoiled each day with incredible dishes prepared from daily catches of lobster, shrimp, octopus, tuna, wahoo, freshly harvested vegetables, and even goat, the local’s mainstay. Every bite exploded with flavor. A full course dinner of fresh lobster (caught that afternoon) cost me every bit of $10.50, plus the tip!
My expectations were high. I was promised the marlin fishing off this South Pacific paradise would be nothing short of amazing and unless you are unimpressed with over 60 raises per day and mega-marlin literally schooling under the boat, then its true!
Although we were targeting any variety of billfish, the temperate waters off San Cristobal are known for its abundant large striped marlin. Striped marlin are one of the most striking of all the billfish, brilliantly colored with vertical pale blue stripes overlying a metallic dark blue color fading to a silvery belly, with a tall dorsal fin. Although not quite as large as their blue and black marlin cousins, these stripers, as the locals call them, are no wimpy marlin. Striped marlin are fast, and known to pack a powerful punch, and put even the best offshore angler to the test.
We left the dock before the sun was up, with the cameras rolling. The day was forecasted to be gorgeous, our seaworthy boat was rigged and ready for action, and the fish were hungry! During the short ride out to marlin territory, the camera crew gave me last-minute pointers and instructions as I slipped on my Blue Fever angling gloves, and suited up in my favorite Braid standup fighting gear. No chair for this crew! My standup gear consisted of a sturdy, well-fitting kidney harness, complimented with a carefully adjusted Power play belt, perfect for the biggest marlin this fishing frontier could muster.
As we powered down to a quick troll, the stand-up rods adorned with two-speed Shimano 50s dragging a variety of carefully selected large Black Bart lures, were set into action within a simple four-line spread. No natural bait is required. These brute marlin are so plentiful, and with almost no fishing pressure, the enticing hopping and diving action offered by the big Hawaiian-style lures are just the ticket for enticing a marlin feeding frenzy. And a feeing frenzy it was! I’m not sure which line went down first, but the one with 80-pound line peeling off the spool at lighting speed, was of most interest to me. I hooked myself into the reel, and settled in for my first Galapagos marlin fight. There is no small marlin in these waters, and this one was no exception. As the fish decided to add a little variety to his run, a giant explosion from the water followed by a grand display of grey-hounding and tail-walking solicited an excited “It’s a big blue!” from our host, Pete Santini. I grinned as I recalled the promise of plentiful big marlin, and turned to focusing on the task I was brought here to perform. The incredible strength of this 500-pound blue commanded my full attention as I swiftly pulled him boat-side in just under eighteen minutes. This beautiful beast was the subject of much marvel and photographs from our crew. He was handled with respect, and glided calmly away into the depths of the clear, untamed Galapagos waters. High-fives and quick critiques ensued, as we quickly regrouped for the next round, which took no time at all.
These waters certainly have no shortage of life. Beehives of sea-birds raining into pods of feeding billfish, pools of boiling baitfish, and free-jumping marlin were frequent scenes. On several occasions, as marlin were busily crashing and slashing our spread, I stared in amazement at dozens of huge marlin following contently alongside the boat, just like porpoises!
Round two was a double hook-up, which is an ordinary phenomenon for billfish in these parts. With barely enough time to refresh after the last marlin experience, all the lines took hits in a flurry, while two big striped marlin materialized out of the chaos to entertain our crew and challenge our abilities. The marlin duo put us to the test as they jumped, shook relentlessly, and crossed one another, prompting us to perform our own dance in the cockpit to keep up. The larger of the two fish, was my very first striped marlin, which presented an exceptional display of aerodynamics, back-dropped by the aqua-blue water. The fight was quick, and I smoothly pulled the still lit-up 250-pound striper to leader in 13 minutes. After some unbelievable underwater footage, this massive striper posed patiently as I gently held his bill for photographs of his well-deserved release. With over 30 billfish raises, eight impressive striped, blue, and black marlin to the boat, and a few others pulled off, we wrapped up leaving the marlin still biting.
Our next marlin fishing days ramped up in the same surreal fashion as the first, with little time for breaks. Dozens of raises, sightings and hooks ups with an assortment of mind-blowing, ultra-marlin kept the crew hopping with no complaints from this crew member. The warm sun on my skin, and all the big marlin I wanted…I was in fishing heaven…bring them on!
Our last day of fishing was spent targeting mostly “meat” fish such as tuna, wahoo, almaco jacks and mahi. Awesome specimens of yellow fin tuna ranging to well over 100 pounds, huge wahoo, and mahi are definitely worth affording the fishery some attention. Trolling artificial lures such as the Yo-Zuri Hydro Magnum, Black Bart big game lures, and simple cedar plugs, are perfect for enticing maximum action from the plentiful big game population off San Cristobal. As if all the trolling action was not enough, I was introduced to the amazing Shimano Butterfly Jig system consisting of Shimano’s new Torsa reel, paired with the matching Trevala rod. This combination creates a jigging scenario irresistible to wahoo, and schooling yellow fin tuna. Using such petite, but capable gear to apply incredibly heavy pressure on these fish is a novel, but liberating experience. We had the fresh yellow fin and wahoo for dinner!
The Land and Wildlife:
Although the fishing was absolutely incredible, we also experienced astonishing wildlife tours of the native Galapagos Island stars such as the legendary giant land tortoises, and endemic marine iguanas, all of which were completely unimpressed with our presence and chose to mostly ignore us. On other days we enjoyed the perfect weather as we embarked on amazing snorkeling adventures, and tranquil strolls exploring volcanic crater-filled lakes, and picturesque untouched lagoons blanketed with exotic plant life, and even more wildlife. My favorite wildlife specimen was the famed Blue-footed Boobie, a silly looking bird unique to the Islands, one of which stared blankly at me at close range for 20 minutes while I photographed him repeatedly.
Our amazing trip to this wonderland of fishing, and historic wildlife sanctuary only left us planning our return trip, which will not be soon enough! These magnificent sights and experiences left a lasting impression, reminding me of our incredible resources, nature preserves, and natural wildlife in need of our constant protection and attention. It’s worth it.