From April 9, 2002

DSC_0001Tell me I’m wrong.  The largest billfish ever caught in Hawaii by a lady angler was boated on April Fool’s Day 2002 on the Catchem I.

One week ago today (April 1, 2002), Paula Pattinson reeled in a 1,036-pound blue marlin while skipper Chuck Haupert steered, husband Hugh cheered, and the rest of the Kona fleet provided support (moral and, in one case, physical).

“One of the best things about running my charter fishing boat is the people that I get to meet. Hugh and Paula Pattinson have fished with me for 11 years as good clients and even better friends,” Haupert said.  They’ve been open to fishing for almost anything that might be biting rather than just trying to catch blue marlin, which has meant some nice action with ‘ahi, mahimahi, and striped marlin as well as some husky blues.  They are the kind of people you really want to do something special for.  Like maybe catch a grander?

“Both are accomplished anglers who choose to follow the IGFA rules,” Haupert said.  And, for a while, it looked like this one just might put Kona in the IGFA record book once again.  No lady angler has a Pacific blue marlin record for a grander.

It happened on a promising morning with an uncharacteristic (for Kona) dark sky with some light rain. “Hugh and Paula had settled in to their morning routine of reading two papers, doing the crossword puzzles in ink, having a bite of late breakfast, then catching some zzzzz’s,” Haupert said. A nearly perfect warm-up for the strenuous events ahead.

Haupert was trolling two 80-pound class rods short and two more 50-pound class rods long.  A grander on either would be a world record if Paula could bring it in without help.

“We had been working Kaiwi Point in and out of the 1000-fathom line when out of the corner of my eye I saw a large tail swimming behind the purple softhead,” Haupert said.  First order of business was to wake up the designated angler (it was Paula’s turn) and convince her this was no April Fool’s day joke.

“Big fish – big fish on the long corner,” Haupert yelled.  Fortunately, it was looking at a lure on an 80, which would give Paula a lot more chance of catching it than she’d have against a monster on the lighter 50-pound line.***SoftheadPile1

“It was an impressive bite,” Haupert said. “The fish had worked to get her head up and out of the water so she ate the lure with one huge lurch forward.”

The first jump was at the boat, which gave all aboard a clear sight of her huge shoulders.  Then another jump toward the boat with a roll that turned her upside down to show an enormous belly.

“All of this seemed to be playing in slow motion less than 30 feet away,” Haupert said.

Haupert fishes with no crew, which has obvious disadvantages in a battle with a huge fish, but it does give his clients a chance to play a bigger role in the fishing operation.  “Hugh cleared the long rigger as Paula took the rod to the chair as she backed off the drag.  The fish headed away from the boat on a slow steady run.”

After the other short bait was cleared, Haupert could turn and chase the fish with only one lure still left in the water.  The veteran skipper says it is dramatic to back down on a fish but, for his 30 foot Force, not nearly as effective.

The fish stayed under the surface and out of sight, complicating Haupert’s efforts to pick the most effective chase route. “It was nervous time,” the skipper recalled. “I hadn’t seen the fish jump and  could only hope that it was where I thought it was.   That was the first of a lot of things to go right.  Even though I couldn’t see it, the fish always stayed near the surface and never dove.

“With the throttles up we were probably going at the same speed as the fish,” Haupert said. That maneuver puts a belly in the line, which the boat and fish were dragging sideways.  “I was concerned about putting too much pressure on the belly.  But I figured that Paula might have the chance to put some very easy line back on the reel if we could get in front of the fish. That part went right, too.  After 10 minutes we had less than 200 yards of line in the water and 15 minutes later we are back to the mark showing how far the line was set at the start. And that’s when the real fight began.”

Successful fights follow a simple five-word rule: Get close and stay close.  But once you are close, it is hard to close the battle without a strong pair of hands to grab the leader for the end game.

“I knew that Capt. Mike Holtz on the Jun Ken Po was in the same area and gave him a heads-up that Paula was “legal” (everything according to IGFA rules) on a nice fish, and I might be needing his deckie  Dave Bertuleit to give us a hand.”

Another thing went right.  Holtz was on a half-day charter and said “no worries, the cavalry is coming.”  Still, Haupert called him back 20 minutes later to say, “this is no April Fools joke,” just to make sure.

“To this point everything had been perfect,” Haupert said. “The right fish for the right people on the right tackle at the right time.  The fight settled in to a battle of wills with the huge marlin swimming in a slow figure-eight pattern behind the boat.  Paula had the drag lever advanced to the button (about 26 pounds of drag) and then worked it upward over the next hour to full.”

With Pattison applying maximum power, Haupert maneuvered the boat to try to break the pattern of slow figure-eights.  Pattison would get the double line on the rod and then lose it.  Despite the frustration, Haupert felt she was beating the fish bit by bit.

But each time Haupert tried to set up the fish to be taken on the starboard side during the first loop of the figure-eight, it would switch back under the boat.

“I asked Paula whether she could take even more pressure and she replied that she was fine with whatever it took to get the fish,” Haupert said.  With the lever already advanced to full, the only way to get more is to turn the pre-set drag knob, which can be impossible to do with just your fingers when the lever is at sunset.  Pattinson worked on the pre-set with a pair of pliers (IGFA rules say only she can change the reel settings), but the increased drag proved to be a mixed blessing.  It was hard on the fish but even harder on the angler.

“Mike called to say he was on the way to drop off Dave,” Haupert said.  The north wind was blowing 15 knots or more, and roughing up the seas, but the deckhand made the transfer safely from bow to bow.

At 2:45 pm, the catch was still IGFA legal and Pattinson still wanted to go for the record and “get this one straight up.” Bertuleit said, “back down and get me the leader.”  But after 15 more minutes of figure-eights and the double on and off the reel again, Pattinson made a crucial call. “Let’s just catch it.  My back is hurting now”.

“I’ve been told that you can’t move a fish of this size by pulling on the leader,” Haupert said.  You have to push the boat into the fish.  Paula abandoned the IGFA legal stuff by telling Dave “Grab the double line and give it a go.”

Bertuleit grabbed the double line on the port side of the boat, walked the fish past the transom and up the starboard side, took triple wraps on the line and leader, and steered the fish into gaffing range.

“It was a truly amazing thing to watch,” Haupert said. “Something I would never have been able to accomplish alone.”

The veteran lady angler’s catch is a remarkable milestone in a career of successes, most of which have been on much lighter tackle.  Haupert ticked off a list of her previous accomplishments.  “She has caught over 12 blue marlin, most following IGFA rules. Her previous biggest weight 412 pounds.  She earned an IGFA five-to-one certificate for an 80 pound striped marlin on 16 pound test.  She caught a 174 pound ‘ahi on 50 and a 34 pound mahimahi on 12 pound spinning gear.  And she always brought me a great lunch.”

(Note Pattinsons are from Walnut Creek, CA and the fight lasted three hours).

  1. Jim Rizzuto

    I think there is a compliment somewhere in this response from m88, so “Thank you.” For reference, I have been writing for publication since 1961. Jim