Shore Diving a 158kg Black Marlin by Mark Griffith

Carring the marlin up the beachWhat happened to me on Saturday, the 17th of February, I’ll never forget. As this is probably one of the most significant dives I will ever have as a spearfisherman, I’m going to go on a bit. Here’s the long story…

Would you Shoot a Marlin?

In January this year, myself and two friends (Dale and Jarred) were up in Sodwana Bay for 10 days of pure spearfishing. We had some spectacular days of diving, with all of us bagging some great fish. On the last night we were at the lodge, eating pizza and talking fish. One topic of discussion, one I’m sure all spearos have had, was marlin. Looking at the huge billed fish on the restaurant walls, we asked each other the old questions: “would you shoot one?”, “where would you shoot it?” and “how many would you shoot?”

Back in Durban

A few weeks later, and back in Durban, I was looking forward to the weekend, not for diving, but the celebration of Andrew Clarkson’s 30th year. Andrew was the one who got me into diving some 6 years ago. Andrew is one of those freaks who is genetically predisposed to catching crayfish, with lungs the size of tractor tubes, zero feelings in his hands and no fear of the dark cracks that he sticks his long arms down. I suspect that it’s because of him that crayfish hide in holes.

Fair Conditions

Friday night was festive, with some good “distance” darts, Craig impressing us with his ability to drink vodka and still hit the dart board from any position, anywhere. In bed by 2, and what seemed like 10 seconds later, the alarm was buzzing. 7am and time to check the water. It looked pretty clean and the wind and surf had dropped so we kitted up and headed out. Diving with Andrew and myself that day was Pete, Andrew’s younger brother, his first time spearfishing. Not having any kit himself yet, Pete was using Andrew’s old 1m pre-rail rob allen, along with my 10m ghost leader and 5m boingy with Andrew’s rob allen flasher float.  Having leant out my leader and boingy I was left with 30m of straight floatline.  We headed out straight off our cottage, south of the main Salt Rock tidal pool.

Huge Shark

 The viz wasn’t as great as I’d hoped, but clean enough to dive. I had a bit of excitement when, on one of my drops, I tuned to see a HUGE shark 5m to the left of me. The friendly spots and stripes calmed my nerves, and seeing that there weren’t any prodigals, I swam with the 6m juvenile whale shark for a while. We got to the reef, about 50m north and out to sea of the shark nets. A big school of spadefish came through and I shouted to Pete to bang one. Misjudging the distance he missed so I dropped down, and after watching the 20 or so fish circle me for a while picked one out. “At least we have some fish for the braai tonight” I thought as I strung the fish.

No Questions Asked

 Mark with his marlinAbout 10 minutes later I dropped down to about 10m and hung there, waiting for couta(Spanish mackerel) to come through. Suddenly I caught sight of a big shape, recognizing it as a small black marlin. The question “would you shoot one?” wasn’t even asked as I chased after the fish, just keeping sight of the tail in the 6m viz. I recall seeing the flasher to my right and the fish suddenly turned, coming straight at me. About 2m away, he turned, presenting me with the most perfect broadside anyone could ask for. The question “where would you shoot it?” took a bit longer as I lined up, thinking to myself “you’d better shoot this thing properly!” Aiming my 1.2 railgun just behind the gill plate, around where I thought the spine might me, I pulled the trigger.

A Long Fight

The spear hit home, but instead of a blinding run, the fish just increased its pace a bit. I swam for the surface and grabbed my float. I shouted for Andrew “marlin, put a second shot in”. Being underwater he didn’t hear me, so I had to repeat myself a few times until he surfaced. Andrew tried to catch up but couldn’t keep pace with the fish as we headed out to sea. At this point I had no idea how secure my shot was, but with the fish towing me and my little 7-litre float out to sea I figured turn it or loose it. So I pulled with all I could, kicking against the direction we were moving until we finally got some slack and Andrew caught up. The joyride began with Andrew hanging onto the float while I tried to pull the fish up, slowly making up metre by metre before the fish would run hard again, dragging me down, forcing me to give it all back.

Fortune Favours the Brave

 Fortunately the fish towed us in big circles and didn’t find water deep enough to drag us all under. After a while we could tell the fish was tiring so Andrew and Pete took over the tug of war while I rested up with the second gun so I could put a second shot in. The fish was still very strong, pulling Andrew underwater again and again while I caught my breath. I dived down, down, down till I finally caught sight of my gun, and then the fish. Too deep, too tired I surfaced, asking for another 5m of slack. Down again with Andrew’s 1.3 railgun, this time I reached the fish, and this time I saw the size of the tail and I then realized how big it was.

Second Shot

 I got closer and placed the second shot in its head. This slowed it down quite a bit, but didn’t kill it so I surfaced and grabbed ol’ faithful that Pete was using. Swimming down I got a good view of the fish, lit up neon blue. Somehow I managed to put the third shot almost exactly in the same place as the second, equally ineffective at switching it off. “What now?”  I thought as we had no more guns left and a giant fish still swimming below us. Pulling on the gun lines the fish turned up and surfaced, lazily breaking the water. There were whoops of joy as we properly saw the size of the fish, and Andrew and Pete could get a look at what we had been fighting for the last 40mins. The fish lay on its back, tail and peck fins sticking out the water. And so we slowly swam the big fish in. Dragging the fish up the beach we finally managed to rest while a crowd of people gathered round to check out the unusual sight, and ask some interesting questions like “Is this your biggest fish?” It was just as well a crowd was there as we needed some help to carry the fish up the beach and load it into a bakkie.

My Biggest fish

After a frantic drive around the region we finally managed to find a scale big enough to weigh it at the Salt Rock Hotel. 158.5kg and 3m long, definitely my biggest fish! After the arduous task of filleting the fish, we enjoyed the fish braai with a few cold beers. I’ve got to give full credit to Andrew and Pete, without their help I wouldn’t have landed it, and thank God for such an incredible gift. Whether my house mates will get tired of marlin steaks before they get tired of my stupid grin, I don’t know, but the memories of that day will last a lifetime. It’s a pity to kill such a magnificent animal, but the last question, “Will I shoot another?” I’ll only be able to answer when the next one swims past.