I mean, it really does stink. The diesel fumes are literally sickening. When you are using lures, you troll for these fish at a very fast pace. The boat creates some sort of a vacuum as it plows through the wind, and the smell of diesel fuel swirls in to fill it. The fisherman has nowhere to hide. So he breathes in the exhaust gas and eventually almost passes out. The captain, up on the flying bridge where he's inhaling nothing but fresh sea air, looks down and thinks, "Isn't that nice, they're all sleeping."
And let's face it, there's a lot of dead time in any kind of fishing. Maybe 5% of the time are you actually catching fish. But the quality of the dead time in marlin fishing is so poor that you might just as well pass out. You can't converse without shouting, so loud are the engines. You can't listen to the lapping of the waves or the singing of birds. There's no peace, no silence. No exercise. Nothing very interesting to look at, Just wave after endless wave, and once in a while there's a distant roiled speck which might, or might not, be a school of baitfish working the surface.
We never found any baitfish working the surface, though the captain was continually looking for them. That is the other thing about trolling for marlin: It is the captain who does the real fishing. The captain decides how fast to go, where to go, when to go. There is no casting involved. No stalking of the prey. On the contrary, the commotion caused by the engines actually lures the marlin to the surface, the great fish thinking it has stumbled on a huge school of baitfish. The marlin is without fear of the boat.
The actual fight is a tremendous show and very exciting. But it is the captain—and the marlin—who are calling the shots. The fisherman just hangs on and cranks. If he is too slow—or even if he is not—the captain can choose to back the boat to the fish and speed things along. It is his choice whether to kill the fish, or to release it. It is his fish. The fisherman in the fighting chair is a body.
I bring this up now by way of explaining what happened later. At least I think there's a connection. But this much is certain: A lot of people have caught and killed marlin without knowing how they have caught them or why they are killing them. It's not just marlin. Lots of trout fishermen are like that too. I don't happen to think that's so great.
That evening we tried to wash away our troubles in the Café Sport. Five days of "the finest marlin fishing in the world" had yielded one lone dorado. It was not that we had never seen bad fishing before. We had all experienced similar stretches of luck.
The thing was, our hopes had been so high, what with Mullins's article about the Angler's El Dorado; the 869-pounder caught by the South African the first morning; the story of Oh Magnífica. We had felt that this would be the week. Seeking a scapegoat, we turned on Mullins, tearing his character to shreds as he slept innocently, presumably in England. It greatly improved our mood.
Not for long, though. Ted Fleming joined us later that night, and he as much as told us that the marlin were gone. An American who's from South Dartmouth, Mass., Fleming had his own charter boat on Faial. In 27 days of fishing that summer, he had caught more than 50 marlin (and he had released all of them). But he feared they had moved out with this latest northeaster. "I have chartered 16 years, fished for marlin all over the world and never caught one in water under 73 degrees until last week," he said. "We caught three here in water 68.5 degrees. They're cold-water marlin, these here. It makes them very aggressive. The weight and muscle and tenacity of these fish amaze me. But the water temperature's dropping every day. These fish don't get here and stay here. They're moving through."
We asked if he had seen the fish they called Oh Magnífica.
"I heard about it," Fleming said, winking. "But I happen to know, for starters, it'd take two days to chop off a marlin's bill with a hatchet."