Black Marlin at No1 Reef off Durban by Andrew Henwood

Andrew henwood with a Black marlinIt was less  than a week ago that I was looking at pictures of a Black Marlin that was shot the previous Saturday at Salt Rock and wondering when, or more likely if, I would ever be lucky enough to bump into the undisputed king of the ocean - The Black Marlin.

 The Plan

Last Thursday, I got a call from John Little from Hamerkop Spearfishing Charters with word that conditions were looking good and would I be keen, or more likely, able to dive Friday morning. Fortunately I was, so the plan was for me and Pete Schoerie to meet John at his place at 4:30 and we would make the call then whether we would go south to Rocky Bay or Launch from Durban.

When we arrived that morning, John informed us that he had heard that the cuta had been on the day before off the bluff, so Durban it was! Half an hour later, after a quick stop to top up with fuel we arrived at DUC (Durban Underwater Club), took a few minutes to warm the motor, then headed for the water.

Cuda, Sharks and Yellowfin Tuna 

After some serious pushing and pulling due to the soft beach sand we were on our way and headed south around the harbor entrance. Five minutes later we were on the spot and kitting up. The water looked good and the feeling of anticipation started welling up inside. Pete opted to be top man first so me and john kitted up and jumped in. Unraveling my flasher I could see that the water was really good, clean but with a slight south north current. As I hit the surface after my first dive I looked down to see a fair size zambie swim under my flasher but it looked like he was just passing through so didn't take too much notice. Not long after I was down and looked over my shoulder to see a cuta about a gun length away. I boated him and shortly after John added another to the hatch. John saw another few cuta and while I was coming up from a dive saw the unmistakable silhouettes of a shoal of big yellow fin tuna on the surface on the edge of visibility about 20m away. As I got to midwater one saw me and started swimming straight toward me. It started to veer away about 8m from me to pass directly in front of me on my level. As it was directly in front of me, as close as I was going to get, I fired at it's head hoping to hit mid body only to see it flinch as my spear dropped just short. Damn, missed opportunity!

Shark Trouble 

It was at about this point when the zambie shark returned and started paying a bit more than a passing interest. Sneaking up behind us on the surface and we decided to move when it followed john up from a dive a meter or so from his fins and started opening its mouth only to turn away at the last minute. We weren’t going to land any fish with him around that’s for sure! A few hundred meters further on, John and Pete jumped in but the water had started to turn with a murky layer developing on the bottom. John saw a small cuta soon after getting in but after that it went quiet. Half an hour later saw us rethinking our game plan and we decided to head out to Number 1 reef straight off Durban Bay in search of better water which would hopefully hold fish.

 Top to Bottom @ No 1

As we were heading out toward number 1 the water started to take on that deep purple colour and we new it was crystal clean. Johns turn to top so Pete and I jumped in. A few seconds for my eyes to adjust then I could clearly see detail on the reef and angel fish swimming on the high point 22m below. There wasn't much current so John anchored and joined us but aside from a few reefies and a dusky kingfish that john managed to spear, it was pretty quiet so half an hour or so later found us searching for some more productive reef.

 Just the Right Conditions

As we hit the next mark I jumped in to have a look before anchoring and although the reef didn't have as much structure as the previous spot, the sea was full of bait fish - columns of blacktail above the reef, fusiliers, mackerel, bonito up to about 4kg so we decided to give it a go. We anchored then jumped in and I headed about 100m further out to locate the edge of the reef where I had seen all the bait while scouting minutes before. I got to the edge of the reef and found a decent bump about 40m long, 10m wide and came up about 4m off the bottom. I looked up to see a nearby fisherman tussling what I could see to be about a 5kg bonny and hot on it's heals was a blacktip. With the crystal clean water it was like watching an Imax show! The fisherman narrowly managed to boat the fish and the the shark moved under the boat in a vertical position looking straight up at the hull and it stayed there for about 20 seconds wondering where its breakfast went or maybe waiting for the fish to be released!

 Something to Remember

Focusing back on the job at hand, I took up position over the bump and did a few dives.  I was making my way back up from a dive and was at about 10m when I looked to my right and saw a sight that will stay with me forever, a marlin about 15 meters away swimming straight toward me. I froze and pulled my gun in. Not knowing which side he was going to pass me on, I moved backward which worked perfectly as he immediately angled right and slightly downward to pass directly in front of me slightly below my level. When I was as close as I was going to get I let rip with my 1,2 Rob Allen rail gun at a point just behind the gill plate that I thought his spine would be. A split second later two things were very clear....I didn't hit the spine and I needed to get a breath or two quickly!

 The Fight is On

I grabbed the line and made for the surface while getting pulled so hard through the water it reminded me of my younger years learning to water ski at midmar dam.  I only had a small 3 liter float and I new if I let my rig go chances are it would be all over. I tried to stay as far up the my 35m bouyline as possible, probably about 8m from my float, so each time I needed a breath I could let out a few meters and get to the surface then pull myself arm over arm back up the line to re-gain the few meters only to repeat the procedure ever time I needed air. After a what seemed like ages fish came up to the surface while showing no sign of slowing down, at least I was able to breathe easier. It was at this point when my head broke the surface I could see the boat a few hundred meters away still anchored with both john and Pete still in the water oblivious to what was happening.

 Sharks Join the Frey

Just as I thought I had my hands full some unwanted guests arrived on the scene. I looked to my right a nearly jumped out my skin as there was a big blacktip on the surface right next to me.... and a few more below.... then two big greys joined the scene and I could see more sharks coming up on the edge of visibility from deep below. I just remember thinking this can't be happening, the big black tip and the two greys took up position right at my fin tips. The scary thing was every time I tried to look back to see where they were my mask was nearly pulled off from the force of the water as the marlin was still determined to get to Australia with me in tow and all I could see was glimpses of my bubble trail with flashes grey as they darted back and forth seriously excited right at my ankles. Maybe this is where a break away rig would be useful because at least I would still have the gun to fend them off . Then again there was no way I would have been able to hold on to the bouyline with one hand and letting go at this point was not an option.  It was at this point that I tried to get John and Pete’s attention with renewed vigor and much to my relief I saw a figure climbing on the boat followed by another and new they had seen me. Quickly putting my head back in the water to check where the sharks were I was relieved to see they were loosing interest and there was at least a bit more water between us.

Dream Fish 

By now the marlin had started to slow down so at least I could keep a 360 degree look out with out my mask flooding. In the distance I could hear the familiar sound of a boat motor growing increasingly louder and not long after the boat was by my side. As they arrived I looked up and said "MARLIN!!" with that Pete was quick to join me in the water where he passed me his unloaded gun and held onto the buoy line while I loaded the gun. About 15m in front of us I could see the huge sickle shape tail beating steadily, clipping the shooting line with each swipe and I was determined to get a second shot in as I wasn’t sure how well the spear was holding or if any week points had developed in any of the lines, knots or crimps in my rig. I managed to pull myself up the line until I was directly above the fish. A few deep breaths later I dove down and placed a second shot in the shoulder which didn’t switch the lights off but I knew with that the fight was over. I got him to the surface and quickly dispatched him. It was only then that I could appreciate it’s size and I saw that my first shot was good hitting him high on the left shoulder and the spear exited through the centre of the right gill plate.

With John pulling from the boat and Pete and I pushing from the water we managed to get it in the boat and headed back to the beach. We weighed the fish at Durban Ski Boat Club where it tipped the scales at 125kgs. A personal best by a long shot!

Equipment I was using was a Rob Allen 1.2 railgun, 7mm spear, single 18mm rubber, 5m ghost line, 30m floatline, 3 liter Rob Allen Float.