LAHAINA - The Ikaika Kai put another 500-pound blue marlin into the Top Marlin stats - this one weighing 536.4 pounds by wahine angler Jerry Mae Heiter. She was fishing with Capt. Neil Preston and deckman Jimmy Francis.
Jimmy set up the pattern as they left the MC-Buoy located 13 miles off the southwest corner of Lanai. As they headed toward Maui, Jimmy was in the tower, spotting a few aku breaking the water ahead. All of a sudden, Neil shouted out, "There he is," as a marlin popped up behind the long rigger position.
Jimmy looked back and saw the swirl on the lure as the marlin took a swipe at it. Neil left the helm as Jimmy came down from the tower to the bridge. Neil reeled the long rigger tag line down to the rod tip.
From left, Jerry Mae Heiter, Capt. Neil Preston and deckman Jimmy Francis with their 536.4-pound marlin caught on the Ikaika Kai. Photo by Donnell Tate.
The marlin came back up on the lure, its back out of the water. It made another swipe at the lure but missed it again. The next time, the marlin came from underneath the lure, head out of the water. Neil free-spooled the tag line back out to the end, dropping the lure backward into its face, with the marlin grabbing the lure.
The marlin started jumping all over the surface, ripping out the 60-pound test line off the 50-class reel in a hurry. Neil started clearing lines as Jimmy reversed the boat full-speed past the short side of the pattern. Neil picked up the remaining lures off the bow as they got after the fish.
The marlin settled down for a brief moment, pulled some more line and then started jumping again. It was very acrobatic the first 15-20 minutes, staying on the surface about 400 yards out. Neil was back on the helm reversing the boat after it, with Jerry Mae getting most of the line back. About ten minutes later, they had the marlin to within 100 yards.
Suddenly, the marlin took off on a reel-screaming death run straight down. It stopped about 400 yards deep and just sat there motionless. The line started to slowly roll off the spool, pinging and crackling at a steady pace. Jimmy had to back off the drag on the fish because of the light test line. The spool was getting smaller and smaller.
Jimmy "thumbed" the spool a couple of times to stop the line loss. He told Neil, "I can stop it, but it's done."
They just couldn't put enough pressure on the marlin to pull it up. Their only other choice was to hand-line the marlin up.
At that point, Jimmy pushed up the drag to 23-25 pounds of pressure, putting as much heat on the 60-pound test line as he dared. Neil and Jimmy took quick rotations as they switched off hand-lining every 10-15 minutes for the next hour-and-a-half. The trick to hand-lining a dead fish is to never let it sink out; keep it coming up and stay on it, never stopping until it reaches the surface.
Neil just happened to be hand-lining at the time the marlin came up. She was completely tail-wrapped, backward and dead, he mentioned. Neil pulled it in, grabbed the tail and used a hand gaff to get the head around going in the right direction.
Neil said, "If it would have been rough today, we wouldn't have caught that fish. We would have busted it off in the up-and-down swell trying to hand-line it up.
"We just got fortunate. It was nice weather, and Jerry Mae did an excellent job." She was one of the best female anglers Neil has seen in a long time.
Everybody was tired from the fight and hand-lining, so they decided to leave it in the water, tie it off the stern and tow it back to town.