Waterman's Journal

Nov 24, 2015

IGFA Great Marlin Race: Satellite Tagging SoCAL Striped Marlin

Words by Captain Evan Salvay

Southern California billfisherman are a tenacious bunch. Occupying a 100 mile stretch of offshore water that serves as the northernmost outpost for Striped Marlin, the relatively few souls who trade scopes of chovy for ballyhoo have long suffered through cursed “La Ninas” and the endless hours of empty trolling spreads that accompany them. 2014 and 2015 offered a welcome respite from several slow seasons, with the latter resulting in historic opportunity for captains, crews, and owners from San Diego to Santa Barbara. What slid into the Bight was atypical, and drew comparisons to Baja’s holyland, Mag Bay. It started early, and is lasting late. With some boats nearing an unprecedented 100 releases on the year, the great marlin season of 2015 will not soon be forgotten, and for good reason.

striped marlin [Mate Jeff Walker fights the Striper to leader]

Our first Striped Marlin hunt on the “Hawk”, my recently acquired 29 ft. Crystaliner, brought us north to the 17 (Hidden Bank). It was late August, and the sportfishers had all started to mobilize north, above Catalina, above SBI. Secret channels hummed with hookups, but the crowds were still light. Out went the jigs, a mix of coggins and cranes. It wasn’t long until we got covered up. Vartan, Jeff, and myself went 3 for 8, in water we seldom fished. It continued that way for weeks, all north of the little one. Doubles turned into triples, double-digit weekends became the norm, and the water that birthed modern sportfishing became enveloped in billfish euphoria.

striped marlin [Striper lit-up at leader]

By mid September, the Striped Marlin volume had locked itself into the shadow of Anacapa and Santa Cruz islands. Beautiful 73-degree cobalt blue water, flush with mackerel, squid, and other desirable forage, welcomed what seemed like every pointer south of point conception. It was magical. Everyone was getting bit. As SoCal to the south burned with tuna, wahoo, and blues, the northern expanse offered up consistently rarely encountered in our waters. Pick your poison, it all worked. Jigs, slow troll, drift, deep dropping; there was zero shortage of low hanging fruit. I vividly remember one morning in early October where the spots of feeders were almost indiscernible from nearby marauding porpoise pods. Dozens, if not hundreds of fish up at a time, ready to accept mackerel off the bow. All less than a mile off Santa Cruz, hugging the drop-off, mingling with the cod. It was surreal yet very real; it was the new normal.

Satellite tag [Satellite tag locked and loaded]

November brought wind, and lots of it. If there is a downside to El Nino, it’s the volatility of the weather. Yet even with system after system slamming the zone, the Striped Marlin migration proved resilient. Finally it started to turn around, sliding into the same zone the season started at. Again, the fire intensified, and many boats had their best days, us included. It was on one of those scorching November days that we deployed our first satellite tag in the flank of healthy Striper. The tag was part of the “Great Marlin Race”, a collaborative project between the IGFA, institutions of higher learning, and industry leaders such as PELAGIC. In 240 days, the tag will pop up, and broadcast it’s hosts journey to some white paneled lab, where undergrads in lad coats will decipher the meaning of its tail kick north, before board shorts and tan skin charge towards the horizon looking to do it all over again.

striped marlin [Jeff Walker preps the marlin before the tag is deployed]

It is now Thanksgiving, and the marlin season we all dreamed of is beginning to ebb. Expect a final showing off Cat, far to the west, and a hop to the South. Yes, some fish will certainly stick around for months, maybe even the entire winter, but the boats need their yardwork, and the crews need their rest. The flags will fly from the outriggers, until their owners see it fit to bring them down. Now is the time to bask in the glory of what was, because it was very special. There will be another season. There will be many more fish. I do not know if there will ever be another 2015.

The IGFA Great Marlin Race (IGMR) is a partnership between IGFA and Stanford University that pairs recreational anglers with cutting-edge science to learn more about the basic biology of marlin and how they utilize the open ocean habitat. The goal of the program is to deploy 50 pop up archival tags (PAT) in marlin at billfish tournaments around the world each year. This effort will increase understanding of distribution, population structure and biology of marlin and engage anglers and the general public in the research process. By increasing our understanding of where these animals go and how they use the pelagic ecosystem, we will provide valuable information to the resource managers and policy makers responsible for ensuring their long-term conservation.

striped marlin [Mission complete]

Tag sponsors, anglers and the general public will be able to view the migration routes of tagged marlin through Google Earth-enabled maps on the IGMR website where pop-up tag locations and animal tracks are displayed. In addition, all tag data will be available to scientists and fisheries managers via an open access system. The tag data generated from this program will improve our understanding of billfish migratory behaviors in several ocean basins simultaneously, and improve our understanding of the underlying oceanographic features that shape the connectivity of populations across the globe. This type of information can then be used to enact better international conservation measures for marlin around the world.

Pelagic Gear has been working with the IGFA over the past decade to help promote fishing conservation and marine research, so when the opportunity arose to be a part of The Great Marlin Race, Pelagic gladly hopped onboard. Pelagic sponsored one of the fifty pop up archival tags (PAT) that have been deployed all over the world in hopes to gather new data that will help marine scientists understand more about these amazing fish.

Check out Captain Evan Salvay's profile to see more of his adventures VIEW PROFILE >>>