There are several easy ways to catch fish. One is with a net. Another is with a hand grenade. The hardest way is with a hook. Except for commercial longliners, hooks are largely the province of game fishermen, and they range in size from the bent pin the boy angler dangles at catfish and bullheads to the substantial barbs trolled on 130-pound-test line for giant billfish.
Hooks have caught some pretty big billfish, among them Alfred Glassell's 1,560-pound world-record black marlin and Cornelius Choy's 1,805-pound Pacific blue marlin (no record because Choy, a charter captain, set the hook for the three couples in his party and they took turns wrestling with the rod). Hooks also have missed a lot; it would be safe to say that for every billfish brought to the gaff or close enough to release, five shake free.
Is there a better way to fish for the marlin, the sail and the sword? Captain George Parker thinks so. A charter-boat skipper who first realized the potential of the now-famous blue marlin grounds off the Kona coast of Hawaii, Parker devised and is attempting to patent a "hookless lure" that he believes will not only revolutionize sports fishing but will make a considerable contribution to the scientific study of billfish migration.
Parker more or less disclosed his invention at the recent International Billfish Symposium in Hawaii. More or less is the operative phrase—he described the lure in general terms but refused to display it to the assembled sportsmen and scientists. Seldom has an unseen object provoked more furious debate.
The subject of lure variations had not been on the agenda, and Parker startled his listeners by introducing it. "Gentlemen, we don't have a very good mousetrap, do we?" he began. "Here at Kona we have six to nine strikes for every fish brought to gaff. But why do we use hooks? The billfish has hooks built right into its bill. Why not use a hookless lure that will be effective 90% of the time and will bring the fish to the boat harm-free?"
Parker then revealed that for the last four years he has experimented with a hookless lure of his own design. "We have taken more than 100 marlin on the lure," Parker said, "and have not lost a fish that struck it. The length of the fight is usually determined by the weight of the tackle—big fish can be taken on 80-, 50-, 30-, even 20-pound line. There is no blood in the water to attract sharks, and if the fish is released he has a much better chance of survival."
Elwood K. Harry, executive vice-president of the International Game Fish Association, immediately rose to attack the concept. "He's talking about an entangling device," Harry said. "There is nothing new in the idea. The whole question of the use of entangling devices came up eight or nine years ago. No angling skill is involved. Once a fish is entangled, he can't get loose. That isn't sport—it's commercialism."
Next, Dr. C. Richard Robins of the School of Marine and Atmospheric Science at the University of Miami suggested that it is the fight—and not the hook—that often kills released fish by creating unrepayable oxygen debt. "If the goal is to tag fish," Robins said, "a lure that would set the tag when the fish strikes and then break away would be desirable."
Parker was asked if he thought charter parties would accept the hookless lure, particularly if the fight were shortened and the fish released. "They have and they will," he said. "No one likes to pay $160 for a long boat ride and few strikes. Sometimes they won't even see the fish. Of course, they're not going to release all fish. Almost every fisherman wants a picture of himself with a big one hanging from the gantry. But I've found that most of my charters in the last few years have preferred releasing most of their fish.
"As for the IGFA," Parker continued, looking defiantly at Harry, "they are in business to protect old records made with fish taken on bamboo rods with cuttyhunk or linen lines. They have resisted every angling improvement—first nylon line, then monofilament, glass rods, the Hawaiian double-hook lure. Let's not give up a lure that gets the fish on the line. Angling is playing the fish, not setting the hook."