In angling, as in life, you have goals.
One of mine has been to catch and release a blue marlin. I've caught plenty of sailfish, a white marlin as well as a swordfish two summers ago. But the blue marlin -- necessary to complete the coveted bluewater grand slam -- has eluded and haunted me for many, many years.
Interestingly enough, during the last few years, I wanted that blue marlin more to honor my father than for myself.
For years, catching a blue marlin has been near the top of Andy's bucket list.
Years ago, we'd fished for them off the Florida Keys and the Bahamas. But seemingly luck was against us.
We lost a 500-plus-pounder off Bimini in 1968 when a ball-bearingsnap swivel, linking the fishing line to the leader, incredibly broke. In 1970, with me at the helm, my father battled a fish in the 275- to 300-pound range on spinning tackle spooled with 20-pound-test line.
We fought that fish for almost four hours. But when he got it to the boat I mistakenly gaffed it in the stomach and not the back. The fish lunged. Both the gaff and the hook pulled, and the big blue swam away. Heck, I was only 15 years old and didn't know better.
Today, of course, we wouldn't even think of killing a blue marlin unless it had world-record potential -- and even then, I'd do some serious soul searching.
Despite other opportunities, we never did catch the coveted marlin.
Andy's father Stuart Newman reels in his post-90th-birthday sailfish. (Photo by Andy Newman, Florida Keys News Bureau)
Although my father continues to fish at age 90 (he caught and released a nice sailfish the day after his last birthday in April), I doubt that his doctor (or my stepmom) would approve a lengthy battle with a blue marlin. So it was up to me to score the achievement for both of us.
Not long ago I tagged along on the Catch 22, owned by Richard Stanczyk, with Richard's brother Scott Stanczyk at the helm. I hoped to catch a few dolphin fish and perhaps a blackfin tuna.
I knew we'd also spend time fishing in deep water for swordfish. After all, the Stanczyk family and Florida Keys light tackle guide Vic Gaspeny pioneereddaytime swordfishing -- and Vic recently reeled in his unparalleled 200th swordfish.
With enthusiastic encouragement from the Catch 22 team, Andy fights his blue marlin.
As we settled into the swordfishing routine, I retreated to the cabin to sleep. A swordfish is on the bucket list for all serious saltwater anglers, but I'd already caught mine and still remember the soreness. One swordfish is enough for me.
Later Richard came into the cabin and we chatted.
At some point, I reminded him the blue marlin was still on my bucket list.
The day continued without a swordfish hookup. After the seventh unproductive drop, mate Hunter Barron attached the electric drill to the Shimano reel to crank up the bait from the bottom about 1,500 feet below. (All swordfish caught on the Catch 22 are cranked on a manual reel. The electric drill is only used to crank up an uneaten bait from the deep.)
With about 200 feet of line to go, the rod suddenly bent over.
Carefully Andy battles the blue closer and closer to the boat.
Richard screamed for me to get into the fighting chair, a barbershop-like seating apparatus tailored for big-game fishing.
He knew this wasn't a swordfish and somehow surmised it could be a blue marlin.
I grabbed the rod and began to crank. Before long, the familiar pain seared my arms.
About 10 minutes later the fish broke water.
"It's a blue marlin!" hollered Scott.
Suddenly, my pain departed.
"Get the bucket for Andy!" Richard shouted, referring to a harness, attached to the reel, that an angler literally sits in to help distribute pressure from the arms to the body. "After all, this fish is on his bucket list."
The fish took line and I got it back. We played that game for about another 10 minutes. Finally the fish gave up and Hunter grabbed the leader for the official release.
At last, Andy scores a successful catch and release of his "bucket list" blue marlin.
It weighed about 135 pounds. As blue marlin go, that's not very large. And since our fishing tackle was suited for a 300-pound-plus swordfish, it didn't stand much chance of getting away.
But for me, that didn't matter. I could finally take the blue marlin off my bucket list.
That night, I sent my dad a photo of the fish.
"Yep, same features as the blue we lost in 1970, but it's not as big," he wrote back. "Must be a grandson."