We straggled up the hill to the hotel. There were six in our party. Four were Brits: Kingsley, Hornsby, Nigel Kirk and Wilfred Wild (I know this was his name because I read it on the charter papers. As best as I can recall, the man said not a word the entire week). Two were Yanks: photographer Bill Eppridge and me. The Englishmen had fished with Arménio before, going after bigeyed tuna, which run through the Azores between mid-April and mid-July. The marlin run starts in August and lasts until mid-October. It was now the third week of September, so there was reason to hope we were smack in the midst of the run.
We ate dinner that night at our hotel, the Estalagem de Santa Cruz, a converted 19th-century fortress that overlooked the harbor. Inevitably, the talk was of fishing. Hornsby owned his own fishing charter boat in England, operating out of a place called Gosport Hants, and specialized in catching shark on light tackle. That is how he met Kirk, who was a builder by profession. Kirk had set the world record for porbeagle shark on four-pound-test with Hornsby—107.7 pounds. Kingsley, the proprietor of a bicycle shop, claimed to be the only Englishman ever to have caught a tarpon weighing more than 200 pounds, a feat he accomplished off Gabon, West Africa.
To me, these were impressive credentials. I was primarily a trout fisherman. Small trout. Quite small. The three of them had traveled all over the world for practically every sort of fish that could be caught: roosterfish, sailfish, jewfish, bigeyes, rays, dorado, codfish, bream, flounder, mullet and conger eels, to name but a few. In the utterly unsnobbish manner of the British angler, they were not above any sort of piscatorial tomfoolery: bottom fishing, night fishing, surface trolling, snagging, fly casting, bait casting or chumming with dough balls, and anything they hauled in was considered cracking good sport.
Yet even this group considered the marlin to be the top of the evolutionary ladder for game fish, and the Brits had been planning this trip for more than a year and a half.
"A few years back the Azores were the hottest spot for marlin in the world," Kirk told us. "In one 32-day stretch, Arménio caught 50 fish. One marlin landed for every three hours fishing time."
"I say, Kirk, where do you get your figures?" Kingsley asked skeptically. "From Arménio? The man who drove off the Atlantic's biggest marlin with a hatchet?"
"You don't believe him, then?"
"Paaah!" Kingsley scoffed.
"Load of rubbish."