When Scott Mutchler caught a six-pound bonito while fishing in the Pacific Ocean on May 23, he was only just getting started. The 52-year-old data scientist from Jupiter, Florida, rigged the bonito on a large hook below a sliding sinker weight and sent it down deep. It was Mutchler’s seventh trip to Los Buzos Resort, located off Panama’s Pacific Coast, and he was targeting marlin from a kayak.
“I hooked the bonito with a 12/0 hook, using a four-ounce bank sinker to keep it down where the school of bait was swimming 100 feet below me,” Mutchler tells Outdoor Life. “Bait was scarce that morning, and I figured getting a bait down where the main school was made sense for any marlin feeding in the area.”
Mutchler didn’t have his bait in the water for long when another visiting kayak angler jumped a giant marlin, but the fish threw the hook on its first jump. A short time later, Mutchler saw his line zip sideways, and he thought for a moment that another fisherman had snagged his line.
“Then the line zipped back sideways in the opposite direction and a few seconds later a giant black marlin leaped out of the ocean and the game was on,” Mutchler says. “I yelled ‘Marlin!’ and my five fishing friends in other kayaks all scattered while I tried to get control of the billfish for the long fight I figured was coming.”
An experienced marine kayak angler with plenty of big fish to his credit, Mutchler knew just what to do as the marlin made its initial run and the 85-pound test line started peeling off his Penn Torque 60 reel.
“It’s imperative to get a big, hooked fish going straight away in front of a kayak bow,” he explains. “You gotta swing the rod tip to the bow of the kayak, so the boat turns toward the fish. You never want to be sideways or else the fish will tip you over.”
When the boat is lined up correctly and a heavy fish takes off, he adds, a kayak fisherman is in for a modern-day Nantucket sleigh ride.
Over the course of the fight, Mutchler says the marlin jumped at least seven times, all while towing his Hobie kayak through the deep blue waters of the Pacific at roughly 4 miles per hour. He would work the fish near the kayak, and the marlin would leap and dive deep before Mutchler could start gaining line again on his reel.
“I didn’t put a lot of pressure on the fish. He just pulled me along for about a mile against a strong current,” he says. “I would slowly bring him up by pumping the rod. It’s not like fighting a big fish with a lot of pressure from a large, heavy boat in a fixed position. A fish doesn’t make big screaming runs against a reel because he’s pulling you right along with him in the kayak.”
After raising the marlin several times during the relatively short, 45-minute battle, Mutchler was finally able to grab hold of the leader—making the catch-and-release official.
“The last time I got him slowly beside the kayak I grabbed the leader, then raised my hand and screamed for joy, and he leaped just a few feet in front of my kayak,” Mutchler says.
A video of the fight—including the fish’s final jump—was recorded and uploaded to YouTube by Adam Fisk, the operator of Los Buzos and a noted kayak angler himself. Fisk notes in the video description that he’s seen plenty of clients hook into huge black marlin from kayaks, but that Mutchler was the first one to successfully grab the leader and officially “land” the fish.