It’s been a year since Gary White caught the big blue marlin. It weighed 1,023 pounds. White, a Richardson, Texas, surgeon, had never fished for marlin, much less landed what big game fishing enthusiasts call a “grander,” a fish weighing 1,000 pounds or more.
His fishing trip to Kona, Hawaii, unfolded in a series of events that White doesn’t believe were coincidental. When he told his friends all that happened, they urged White to chronicle the story. The short book, co-written with Gene Vanderhoek, captain of Sea Genie II, is called Mom’s Fish.
There’s a spiritual thread connecting the story, but that’s not unusual in epic tales from the sea. White was supposed to be accompanied by his longtime friend Raybourn Smiser, but Smiser had to cancel at the last minute when his mother suffered a stroke. It was Smiser’s research that turned up Vanderhoek, one of Hawaii’s top captains .
White fished for two days with no fish. A marlin never even made a pass at the baits on the first day. Things perked up a little on the second day when the baits raised three fish, though none were hooked. The boat’s mate, Chris Choy, is also a licensed captain.
It was an emotional outing for Vanderhoek, whose mother had just died as the fishing trip began. When White found this out, he tried to talk Vanderhoek into going back to the harbor, but the captain told White that his mom wanted him to be on the ocean.
On day three, as the boat trolled through blue waters, Vanderhoek took phone calls of condolences and made his mother’s final arrangements. White was silently praying for a big fish, not for himself, but for Vanderhoek and his mother.
Marlin are common in Hawaii during the peak fishing season and in the right fishing areas. Vanderhoek was trolling over a 1,000-fathom line (6,000 feet deep) in an area famous for big fish.
For most anglers, any blue marlin would seem big and White had never caught one at all. A grander is rare. Vanderhoek’s boat had landed three, the last one in 2006.
About midday, the boredom of dragging baits through a seemingly empty ocean suddenly changed. White was with the captain on the flying bridge when a giant fish swirled on a bait. It made a splash that looked to Vanderhoek like a boat’s wake.
What White remembers is the water parting about 150 yards behind the boat and an enormous marlin jumping and trying to spit the hook. The fish was so long and so heavy that it never got completely airborne.
White also remembers what the captain shouted: “Oh, mom, it’s kind of big, don’t you think?” Then Vanderhoek shouted to his mate: “Monster fish, Chris. Get the gaffs. We’re gonna take this one.”
Most marlin are tagged and released, but Vanderhoek recognized the fish as a potential grander. His theory is if you don’t weigh it, you can’t say it, meaning you can’t estimate a fish’s weight and claim a catch-and-release as a grander. As it turned out, the fish was hooked in such a way that it would have died, anyway. Because of this, White, 61 at the time, had a short fight from such a powerful fish.
In less than 30 minutes, White had his first marlin. The fish also made Vanderhoek the first captain to boat and document four grander Pacific blues, including a tribute billfish summoned from the depths in memory of the captain’s mom.