Marsha Bierman's small fishing boat slides out of the crowded marina, past a sleek white 60-foot yacht and into the open sea. Watery late-afternoon sunlight glances off the ocean. Waves rumble and crash. This is Fort Lauderdale, and Bierman is about to tackle a tarpon.
Bierman is 53, and she has been game-fishing for 20 years. She's a vivacious woman with a reckless laugh, glittery earrings and an eternally watchful mien that might suit a lookout if her boat were plying the Mekong Delta in 1968 instead of the South Florida coast in 1996.
Suddenly something tugs at the bait and starts taking line. And just as suddenly Bierman jams the butt of her rod into the gimbal belt strapped low on her hips and launches into a sort of bump and grind. Back ramrod-straight, she bends her knees, thrusts her pelvis forward and pumps the rod in short arcs. A few seconds later she drops her pelvis back and cranks the rod a turn or two while lowering its tip. Applying drag with her free hand, she repeats this sequence over and over, never allowing the line to go slack or the fish to get away. At her side her husband, Lenny, shouts encouragement like a demented Lamaze coach:
"Way to short-stroke, Marsha!
"Pull its lips off!
"Pump, Marsha, pump, pump, pump!"
Within 10 minutes Marsha has yanked a 150-pound tarpon alongside the boat. The angry fish is squirming, jerking, wriggling. "Turn her loose," says Marsha. Lenny cuts the line and frees the tarpon into the dark, shadowy waters.
"Marsha is the Fisher Queen," says Lenny. "Or maybe the Fisher Princess."
"Thanks, Lenny," says Marsha. "But I think High Priestess sounds more regal."
Marsha is arguably the world's preeminent saltwater angler. She is probably the only one with her own publicist. And she is certainly the only one whose endorsement deals include boat shoes, vests, sunglasses, a Venezuelan resort and the Australian table wine Black Marlin. She is such a well-organized cottage industry that her flack has prepared a press kit stuffed with clippings, testimonials and a how-to video militantly titled Stand Up & Fight! In Panama in 1991, you learn, Bierman needed just 18 minutes to become the first angler to catch a "grander"—a fish that weighs more than 1,000 pounds (in this case, a Pacific blue marlin estimated at a little less than 1,300 pounds)—on 50-pound stand-up tackle. A year later she repeated the feat off the Great Barrier Reef by reeling in a black marlin grander; that 1,100-pound monster took all of 23 minutes.