It was January when Bransford first fished along Jenny Louise. This was the peak of the Australian summer, and water temperatures ranged as high as the mid-80s, more than 10� above the temperatures marlin seem to prefer.
It was not until the end of the Australian autumn, as the waters began to cool and calm, that Bransford had a chance to really fish the area. He noticed that the number and variety of fish on the shoal increased rapidly as winter approached. He found big dolphin and tuna among the wahoo and mackerel. By late July and early August small marlin began appearing on the inside reef and sailfish migrations moved through the area in great waves. But the big fish, the monster marlin, did rot show up until late August.
A month later, on September 25, 1966, Bransford radioed from the Sea Baby that the first black marlin weighing over 1,000 pounds ever to be caught off the coast of Australia was on its way back to the dock at Cairns. It had been taken by a young Floridian named Richard Obach who had drifted into Cairns, hired on as Bransford's mate, and happened to be the only one in the cockpit when the fish struck. (Bransford's client that day was below, being seasick.) Obach's fish, at 1,064 pounds, topped the world's record in the 80-pound-line class by 230 pounds. It was a suitable start for a new sport.
In November 1966, Jack Taylor, an experienced big game angler from Melbourne, fought a black from the Sea Baby for four hours and 40 minutes. The double line was on the reel at least 15 times. Eventually the rod-tip guide bent under the pressure and snapped. The fish, Bransford is certain, would have been a new world's record. He is equally certain that there are black marlin in the waters off Jenny Louise that are so large they will make the 1,560-pound record fish look dainty by comparison.
I was there when the third of this season's triumvirate of 1,000-pounders was caught in October. It weighed 1,001 pounds as compared to 1,156 and 1,208 for the two taken within a week of each other at the end of September. This made it the smallest of the four 1,000-pound-plus fish taken off Cairns since the big game fishing began there little more than a year ago, but it was the biggest creature I have ever seen pulled from the sea.
What makes the size of this fish even more difficult to relate to trophies of normal dimension is the fact that while it was being fought by a Melbourne builder named Robert Oliver, it was joined in the water by three other giant marlin. One was at least half again as large as the fish on the line; the others were close enough to be over 1,000 pounds. These fish certainly provide ample evidence that the marlin are there. But, remarkably, the anglers are not. One of the reasons there are so few boats fishing out of Cairns is that there is a notable absence of facilities for mooring and docking them. All waterfront property in Cairns to 100 feet beyond high-water mark is owned by the Queensland government, which has shown no enthusiasm for parting with it. As a result, Dennis Allwood, a 26-year-old former airline pilot, has had to moor his boat to an abandoned tanker a half hour's run from the nearest place he can take on passengers. Allan Collis for a time was literally up a creek with his boat Marlan. He has recently wangled a more advantageous spot not far from the city dock.
Sooner or later, as word of the fishing off Cairns spreads and anglers from around the world descend upon the city, the problem of anchorage—and the variety of minor frictions which have arisen—should be worked out. The problem that will be more difficult to solve is how to land the giant fish that are there. The bigger a fish gets, the bigger the odds against landing it. "This is not like other sports in which you are competing with people," Bransford says. "It is not even like other fishing. Here you must first outwit a creature that has lived in the ocean 30 or 40 years. He has acquired a lot of knowledge in that time and he wises up very quickly to lures and baits. Then if you do induce him to take the bait, you still have to hold him. Most anglers are not up to landing a fish this big—physically or in terms of experience. Generally it is a mistake by the angler, the boat, or the crew that eventually loses the big fish.
"But even when there are no mistakes, we still lose many more than we land. There are fish in these waters that are just too big for the gear we are using. When a fish gets up to around 3,000 pounds, 130-pound tackle is pretty much inadequate.
"I know," he concludes, "there are fish that size here. I have not only seen them, I have been tied to them."