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Vol 46 | Num 1 | Jan 1, 2021

2020 Year in Review Chum Lines Fish Stories Fishing Well is the Best Revenge Ship to Shore The Galley Issue Photos
Fish Stories

Article by Capt. Franky Pettolina

Welcome to the Coastal Fisherman 2021 Winter Edition everybody!!! Hard to believe I am typing that as I sit at my desk on Christmas Eve (Old Ebenezer Budd gave me a deadline of Christmas for my column so here I am in my Santa hat sipping egg nog out of a Marty Moose commemorative cup with an RV in my front yard…. In his defense I was given the deadline back in the first week of November… Procrastination, the gift that keeps on giving the whole year round Clark…)
Those of you that follow my column may remember that back in the final regular season issue of the paper I wrote about catching a tagged white marlin. For those of you that need a memory jog, here is a snippet.

“Personally I have never been shy, or quiet, about my opinion of ICCAT. I will not go into that here, so as not to lend any bias to the forming of your opinion. Likewise I will hold my tongue and curb my keyboard when it comes to my thoughts on tagging. Over the years I have tagged many fish, and been involved in the recapture of many tagged fish. Somehow however, this was the first tagged white marlin I have ever caught off of Ocean City. Brooke Duvall has been fishing with me since 1997 and his resume includes trips to Australia, Cabo San Lucas, Costa Rica, the Galapagos, Guatemala, Isla Mujeres, Kona and Venezuela, along with all of the East Coast hot spots. This was his first tag recapture ever! We are both anxious to hear about the travels of this particular white marlin once ICCAT responds to our recapture correspondence. I will share that information in the Winter Issue of the Coastal Fisherman, along with some other tagging stories… “

I will hold true to my word and update you on what I have found out about that white marlin recapture. Surprising as it is, I did not procrastinate in trying to find out about that fish’s history. We caught it on September 16, and I began my quest to find out where that bugger had been caught just a few days later. There is a phone number on the tag that says to call with information. There is also the word “reward”. HA!!! I called the number. The automated reply instructed me to enter a prompt to report my info. The prompt led to me promptly being disconnected. I tried several more times before trying the other prompt option which only got me slightly further. Unfortunately by further I mean that it got me to another automated response that was only good for satellite tags. One big dead end!

As luck would have it, a few days later I was speaking with Elliot Stark, former editor of In The Bite magazine. He has gone on a different career path with his own sporting travel oriented website and he writes freelance articles for a variety of publications. It just so happens that the reason he was calling me was to get some quotes for an article on the Billfish Foundation and their tagging program! He got an earful of quotes right away I’ll tell ya! Thankfully Elliot and I are pretty good online and over the phone “friends” so he took my verbal barrage in stride. He even offered to help solve my problem for me. Turns out that he is buddies with someone in the ICCAT tagging program and he forwarded my number to that fellow. He never gave me the guy’s name though… hmmmm…

Lo and behold, not ten minutes later I received a text from the ICCAT chap. He was sitting in a meeting so he couldn’t talk, but asked me for the tagging info and he would get me the results. I sent him a photo of the tag and all of our recapture information. This was on the 2nd of October. I felt good that we would soon know some history on our fishy!
I should have remembered that it was October 2, in the year 2020. Of course something would go awry. IT WAS STILL 2020!!! Not two hours later the fellow from ICCAT informed me that they had not received any information on that tag being placed on any fish. He also told me that the tag had been sent as part of a bundle of tags to an address in Greensboro, NC, nine years earlier. 9 YEARS! Not to worry though, there was a physical address on file for the person who requested the tags. Guy from ICCAT was going to try and find him and get me the scoop.

A few days later, with no scoop arriving, I requested the name of the tag recipient as maybe I would have some luck firing up the old coconut telegraph. A marlin fisherman in NC? If I didn’t know him I would have to know someone who did. Unfortunately the ICCAT dude was not at his desk at the time of my query, so I got “Bobby something or other” with maybe five possible last names. Then nothing else for two months.

On December 6th, out of the clear blue sea, I was texted by the Man from ICCAT. I now had the name of the tag owner to work with! It took a whopping ten minutes after I posted “Does anybody know so and so” on social media to have a contact for the guy. A private message was sent through FB messenger and my new wait began.

This wait didn’t take long. I found out that Bobby owned a boat that was based out of Pirate’s Cove in North Carolina but also spent time at most of the billfish hotspots in the Atlantic. They even come up to OC for the White Marlin Open and the Mid Atlantic. We had a great online exchange. We talked about people, places, and fish that we had known. Turns out we have many mutual friends, and we were even dock partners in Mexico years ago. What I also found out is that Bobby and his crew do not tag white marlin. Ever. They save the tags for blue marlin exclusively. He thought it might have been possible that his crew would have loaned the tags out to someone else on the docks somewhere. We chatted a bit more and made plans to meet up for a drink next time we were in the other’s neck of the ocean. And thus ended my quest for information on my first ever white marlin tag recapture out of Ocean City. I wish there was more to tell.

I used to try and tag every billfish caught behind the Last Call. It was disappointing when the hook pulled or the leader broke before a tag could be placed. One of my white marlin that was tagged in July off of OC showed up in Caraballeda in Venezuela two Decembers later. That was cool stuff! There is a plaque on my wall from back in the early 90s for tagging the most marlin during Ocean City Marlin Club tournaments for that particular season. It is a nifty wooden plaque with a carved marlin sporting a yellow wooden tag. It also has a piece of the bill missing because I dropped it during the move from my old house to my current townhome. The piece of missing bill, however, is a good segue for me to explain why I no longer tag fish with such frequency.

We tend to catch white marlin pretty quickly. They do a bunch of jumping on the leader, with the boat going rapidly in reverse, spray and smoke filling the air. In order to get a safe and accurate tag shot the fish has to be much much calmer. This means that you either need a great deal of luck or you have to tire the fish out more. Tiring the fish out is bad. We want to release them as quickly and safely as possible, without adding any stress to the fish. Blindly swinging a 5 or 8 foot tag pole at a fish jumping 5 or 8 feet in the air leads to tags in the fish’s eye or other vital spots. Just not a good scenario no matter how you think about it. It may even jump into the side of the boat and break its bill off… See what I did there?
The White Marlin Open, along with many other tournaments, used to offer bonus points for tagging a fish you released. For the reason above that practice has gone by the wayside. I agree with that move. It is just better for the fish.

I always liked finding out where my fish have been. It would have been cool to find out where that white had traveled before Brooke wound it in back in September. I am betting it had some good old fashioned North Carolina barbecue in its tummy. That is probably the story I will stick with.

Talk to y’all again in the spring. Make the most of this offseason and hopefully 2021 is a more normal year for all of us! §


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