LAHAINA - The Ikaika Kai landed a monster blue marlin weighing 915 pounds by wahine angler Charlotte Smith. She was assisted by friend Atul Madan and Captains Neil Preston and Kamal Pfeifle.
They raised their fish in 180 fathoms of water off the Palaoa Point Lighthouse on the southwest corner of Lanai. Neil was in the tower and saw the marlin come up behind the long rigger lure. It hung out there for a few seconds then disappeared. He could see the dorsal and tail fin - and the wide gap between them - showing that it was a big fish.
Kamal gave the 80-class, two-speed reel a couple of cranks off the rigger, then let it back out. As soon as the line came back up to the top of the rigger, the marlin was right back on it and piled on the lure.
From left, Atul Madan, Charlotte Smith, Capt. Neil Preston and Capt. Kamal Pfeifle with their 915-pound marlin. Photo by Donnell Tate.
The marlin didn't know it was hooked for about the first ten minutes. It was acting all lackadaisical, just pulling line at the pace Neil was motoring the boat forward until Kamal got the lines cleared.
Neil then slowly reversed the boat just following the marlin around as he watching it swim away on the surface. They got the rigger line rubber band back on the spool in about 2-3 minutes, getting to within ten yards from it.
Neil gave the boat a little throttle ahead to keep the line tight, because it was coming in so easy. Whether it was the whitewater prop-wash or the extra pressure on the line, the marlin suddenly lit-up and took off. It screamed out the 100-test line for 400 yards then started jumping.
The marlin got contorted as it snaked along in midair, then headed in a big circle, throwing a rooster tail of whitewater as it tail-walked everywhere, tearing up the surface for a couple of minutes. It finally settled down, with Neil reversing the boat after it.
The marlin was all over the place. It would take line in short bursts, then, all of a sudden, the line would go slack. Neil had to motor the boat ahead, because Charlotte wasn't cranking quick enough, where he could sit and let her catch up with the fish.
A couple of times, Neil was able to get the boat 50 yards from the marlin. It made several runs, a couple hundred yards real quick, out to where it felt comfortable, then stopped and start swimming around again. Neil was just trying to keep up with it.
For the next half hour, the marlin started to make big pinwheel circles on the surface. It was give and take for awhile. It would take 10-20 yards of line, and then they would regain the line as it circled back around toward the boat. All of a sudden, it stopped circling, peeled off 300-400 yards straight down and died.
After a two-and-a-half-hour fight, it was just too much pressure for Charlotte to handle any longer. Once they had established that the marlin was dead, Charlotte was pretty much done, so Neil got in the chair. Kamal grabbed the line and held on as Neil set the drag preset as high as it would go. Neil locked up the reel and pushed the drag lever to the top of the pin, set at 50-60 pounds, putting as much pressure on the reel and line as it would take.
Neil clipped himself into the harness and thumbed the spool as hard as he could, trying to stop the marlin's descent. There was so much pressure on the rod, that it was bent over the stern like a noodle, pulling Neil off the seat of the chair. He was finally able to get it slowed down and stopped.
Neil started working the fish, pumping the rod and gaining a little line. After about ten minutes, the screws that hold the gimble to the chair ripped out. The rod dropped with a crash, pinning it to the top of the rail and almost pulling Neil over the rail as he held on with everything he had.
Neil couldn't get out of the harness, so he waddled, hooked to the harness, out of the chair, with Kamal and Atul holding the rod as they helped him to the starboard gunnel rod holder. With the rod in the gunnel, Kamal put the reel into low gear, with Atul sitting on the rail behind the reel.
Neil went to the helm, figured out what the current was doing and reversed after the marlin. Atul started to "Portuguese pull" the line and crank as Kamal hand-lined the fish, getting maybe a foot of line at a time.
Three hours into the fight, they only had half a spool of line back on the reel. Neil started slowly idling the boat forward 10-20 yards, planing the marlin up, as Kamal held the line with both hands. With the fish coming forward, Neil then reversed after it, with Atul getting as much line as he could until they lost the angle.
For the next four hours, Kamal and Neil switched off hand-lining until their hands cramped up, then one took over on the helm to rest as Atul reeled in the line. One person couldn't keep the marlin from sinking. At several points, with the boat in neutral, both Neil and Kamal were hand-lining the fish as Atul cranked. When they lost their angle on the marlin, one of them would go to the helm, put the boat idle ahead, then come back down and do what they had to do to get an inch at a time.
There was a point, about six hours into the fight, when both Neil and Kamal were 98 percent sure they weren't going to get the fish. Surprisingly, Kamal looked at the reel and saw that they had three-quarters of the spool back on the reel.
Over the next half hour, it started getting a little easier to hold on to the line and pull. Before they knew it, the marlin popped up about 15 feet off the port side of the boat and laid there. Neil mentioned that the coolest thing was when it surfaced on the still water in the full moonlight. "Just to see that big silhouette and go, 'Man, we actually got this one,' " he said.
Kamal grabbed the leader on the port side stern and pulled it in one hand pull, reached out with a stick gaff and stuck the marlin where ever he could, ending the six-hour-and-forty-two-minute tug of war. They knew they couldn't get it in the boat. They tied the head up as high on the swimstep as they could, tied a fender to the tail and towed it back to Lahaina.
This is the largest marlin for Neil in 22 years of trying. The next day, both he and Kamal were all "bus up" from four hours of hand-lining and could hardly move their hands.
It is the largest marlin since 2008 and the third largest by a wahine angler since 1990. It is the seventh largest by a Lahaina Charter Sportfishing boat and the 14th largest for Lahaina and Maalaea harbors since 1972.