When most people think of our closest neighbors here in the United States, they think of Mexico and Canada. But our next nearest is the Bahamas. The most westerly of this island chain is a small fishing village named Bimini. It lies just 55 miles east of Miami and is known for its gin clear water, epic diving, great fishing and fresh conch. People come from all over the world to visit Bimini by ship, plane and seaplane. But the majority come over on sport fishing boats from South Florida.
Bimini has a history that spans many centuries. From its original settlers, the Lucayans, to Ponce De Leon, who was looking for The Fountain of Youth, to the British, to the descendants of slaves, who mostly occupy the islands now. During Prohibition, it was a hub for rum runners. The expression, “The Real McCoy” was coined there, referring to the high quality whiskey run by a man of the same name. Ernest Hemingway spent some years visiting Bimini and fished the waters around it extensively. His time on the island inspired him to write “Islands In the Stream” and “Old Man and the Sea”.
In the 70’s and 80’s, the local economy was boosted by extensive drug smuggling operations. It’s close proximity to the US made it an ideal stop for smugglers. Efforts by various US law enforcement agencies have mostly shut it down today. In the last decade or so, a resort was built on the northern tip of the island. They’ve even tried to run a cruise ship over from Miami. But the fact is, the people of Bimini mostly live on money brought in from sport fishing. I have been making the trip over myself for work and for pleasure for many years. It’s a humble little place with a less than booming economy, but I have a deep love for Bimini and it’s people. They do things at their own pace in “island time”, but their quick wit and zest for life is contagious.
One day in the fall, I received a text from an old friend. The text read, “Bimini Thursday. You in?” I had the day free, so I immediately replied the affirmative. We talked later that day and firmed up the details. That quickly, I was headed to the Bahamas! I pulled up to Ricky’s house in southern Miami at 7 am that Thursday. His brand-new, custom built, 32′ Seavee center console was parked on its trailer in the street out front. His two buds, Christian and Anthony were loading gear and tackle into it. Ricky greeted me with a big hug. As it is when you have a good connection with someone, it was as if I hadn’t seen him in two months, rather than two decades. I met the guys as I handed them up my duffel bag. They were both warm, friendly and giddy with excitement. We all were all pumped and ready to head out!
After a five minute drive, we were at the boat ramp. We dropped the boat in and were underway in no time. The seas were calm and the morning sun was glistening off Biscayne Bay beautifully. When we reached the end of the channel, Ricky threw the throttles forward and off we went! The Seavee hummed along at 45 miles per hour as the stereo pumped some “old school jams” from our high school days in Miami. We chatted and caught up, reminisced and joked and told Christian and Anthony a couple of our more memorable stories. In what seemed like no time, land was on the horizon. By 9 am we were pulling into Bimini harbor.
When you enter Bahamian waters, you’re expected to check into customs as soon as possible. You’re also required to get a fishing permit if that’s what you plan on doing. Getting caught fishing there without one, will cost you thousands of dollars in fines, or even your boat. Ricky grabbed our passports and walked them over to customs to check us in. His easygoing nature is contagious, and in no time, he had the officials laughing at his jokes and wishing us good luck. He jumped back aboard, we pushed off and headed out of the harbor.
Ricky had been listening to reports from some friends and had fished the area three weeks prior, so he had an idea of where it was he wanted to fish. After a thirty minute run, he powered down and said, “Alright boys. Let’s hit it!” The guys jumped to it like well-oiled machines. There was a whirl of activity as they scrambled in hatches and compartments, pulled out rods, tackle and lures. They had obviously fished together before and to say that they knew what they were doing would be a big understatement. In no time, they had four, Shimano Tiagra 50-wide, bent-butt wahoo combos running four different lures, four different distances behind the boat.
We started cruising at fifteen knots, zig-zagging along the drop-off of the bank, between 200 and 500 feet of water. The seas were calm, but there was some kind of pressure front coming through. There’s no way to describe it, but when you’ve fished for a certain species long enough, you can just feel when the conditions are right. It’s like you can smell it in the air. All I can say for sure is, at that moment, it just “felt fishy”. Ricky glanced at the gps, and said “Alright boys, we’re in the money area. Look alive!” We couldn’t have been more excited.
Not two minutes later, line began ripping out of the port flat, rod. Ricky kept our speed, hoping for a second hook up, but none came. The line was ripping out at an alarming rate, but I reminded myself that each reel held a thousand yards of 120 pound test line. Finally, he dropped the throttle down to about eight miles per hour. Christian reeled the fish, while Anthony and I cleared the other three lines. When we had gotten them out of the way, we concentrated on getting the fish in the boat. When we had it close to the boat, I grabbed the leader and hand over handed it until the fish was in range for Anthony to gaff it.
With a swift jerk of his upper body, he stuck the wahoo behind its gills with the gaff and yanked with all of his might. The fish flopped heartily over the transom and forty-five pounds of angry wahoo slammed onto the floor in the stern. The boat erupted with hoots and hollers as we all rejoiced at our catch. We had drawn first blood and wet the decks! We took some quick photos before Anthony dragged the wahoo forward to put it in the ice box. With one fish on board, we cracked celebratory beers while we put the lines back out. It was time to get after it!
With the decks washed clean of blood, we deployed all four of the lines and resumed our high speed trolling. Ricky watched our track on the gps as he zigged and zagged his way along the edge of the drop off. After a while, he made a slow U-turn and began making his way back towards the area that we had gotten the first hit in. My anticipation grew as I watched us inch closer and closer to the mark on the gps. Suddenly, the starboard, forward rod began screaming line. “I’m on!”, yelled Christian, as the reel in front of him peeled out line.
Like the sound of a Gatling gun, the port side flat went off and was ripping out and an alarming rate. Anthony ran across the deck to begin clearing out the starboard, flat line. Right before he reached it, it began to tear out with awe-inspiring speed. We had a triple hookup! It was a scene of mayhem as we cruised at 15 knots, dragging three, 40-50 pound wahoos behind the the boat. Ricky realized that we had our hands full, so he slowly eased off on the throttle to a cruising speed of about seven miles per hour.
I manned the port, forward combo and began to reel in the lure so that we could make space to begin landing the fish. A minute or so into our reeling, Christian said, “Mine got off!” He immediately switched up, ran across the boat and manned the port side flat with a wahoo on it. So now, Ricky was driving, each of the guys had a fish on and I was trying to reel up my lure and clear it out of the way. I had my lure almost to the boat when suddenly, “BAM!”, my lure got smashed as I was reeling it in! Now we had a triple hookup going again!
The three of us continued to wind in our fish for about ten or fifteen minutes, until we started to discuss who was going to gaff their fish first. Before we could come to a decision, the fish on my rod EXPLODED! I mean it went from a big fish to a nuclear submarine! It was ripping out so hard, that frankly, it was almost intimidating. We were all a bit dazed by the goings on around us, but I was able to yell, “Hey Ricky, a sharks’ got my fish. I’m going to try to break it off and save the line on your reel.”
He agreed that it was a good idea, so I grabbed the drag knob and slammed it forward to where it was practically locked. To our amazement, the line did not even slow down. This is a HUGE reel with 120# braid on it, and it was absolutely jammed tight, but the fish didn’t slow down a bit! My eyes must have been as big a saucers as I watched the line rip out against a locked reel. I’m sure I looked like I was seeing a ghost. All I was thinking was, “We’ve got to break this shark off so we can get as much of line back as we can”. For our sake and for the sake of the shark.
Time stood still as I saw that the reel was still screaming and the spool was depleting rapidly. I looked at Ricky and said, “Dude, I’m gonna stop this damned shark. I’m stomping on this f*%#ing reel!” He said, “It’s your call Dave, but don’t hurt yourself. I’ve got more line, but you can’t replace your toes!” I appreciated his concern, but I had a plan. I stepped up to the gunnel and pressed my foot-filled Croc shoe on top of what was left of the spool of line. It still would not stop peeling out line! In desperation, I stood up and put most of my body weight on the reel. A whisp of smoke came up from my croc from the friction, and I felt heat in my toes! Suddenly, the line stopped paying out and the the reel bucked from side to side wildly.
What the four of us saw, 250 yards behind the boat will be seared into our memories for the rest of our lives. Out of a white-water of froth came a BEHEMOTH blue marlin. Its profile was as wide as two men standing side by side and its eye was the size of a tennis ball! The beast launched completely out of the water and into the bright blue sky. It came down with a splash that would have emptied a small swimming pool!
With shaking hands, I reached down and eased some of the pressure off of the bail, just as the line began screaming out again. My panic was almost overwhelming as the spool was getting close to being empty. I looked at Ricky and saw that he was every bit as rattled as I was. “Take the boat out of gear!”, I pleaded. We were in a heck of a pickle. We were traveling seven miles per hour one way with two 50 pound wahoo and a 750 pound marlin hooked up and going the other way! The tension was almost unbearable, when suddenly, “POP!”, the line with the marlin on it busted.
A wave of emotion flowed over me as I locked eyes with Ricky. What I saw in his reflected mine; a mix of excitement, shock and disappointment. There was dead silence in the boat. It was as if time had stopped. Finally, Ricky exclaimed, “F*%k it guys! I don’t care if we don’t catch another fish! That was the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen! That just made my trip!”
That snapped us back to reality. We got back on the combos, reeled in and gaffed the the two wahoo we had on and boated them. We fished for another 90 minutes and boated three more big fish. At that point we decided to pack it up and head back to Bimini. When we arrived at the dock, we unloaded our gear, got settled in, and cleaned ourselves up. The four of us went down to Sue and Joy’s shop and rented a couple of golf carts. From there, we bounced around the island in them. We went for ceviche and Kalik beer at Stuart’s Conch Shack, bar hopped a bit, had sushi for dinner at the Hilton and did a little bit of gambling at the resort casino. Needless to say, when we got back to the condo, we were spent.
The next day, we packed up, loaded our gear in the boat and headed out. We were very bummed to have to leave, but we all had responsibilities back home. The weather was beautiful and we knew we would have a nice crossing. We stopped and did some deep dropping at a spot Ricky knew. The bite was on and we caught quite a few big, beautiful yellow eye snapper. When we had boated our fill, we stowed our gear, headed west and punched it across the Gulf Stream. We were tired, and knew we had a lot of boat and fish cleaning ahead of us. But we were stoked. We had had a great trip to Bimini and a fantastic 24 hours. We also had the memory of a lifetime of the one that got away!