Tales of the Angler's El Dorado, New ZealandCHAPTER I
THE VOYAGE TO NEW ZEALAND, 1925
There is always something wonderful about a new fishing adventure trip--for a single day, or for a week, or for months. The enchantment never palls. For years on end I have been trying to tell why, but that has been futile. Fishing is like Jason's quest for the Golden Fleece.
The most humble fisherman has this in common with fishermen of all degrees. Whatever it is that haunts and enchants surely grows with experience. Even the thousandth trip to the same old familiar fished-out stream begins with renewed hope, with unfailing faith. Quien sabe? as the Spaniards say. You cannot tell what you might catch. And even if you do not catch anything the joy somehow is there. The child is father to the man. Saturdays and vacation times call everlastingly to the boy. The pond, the stream, the river, the lake and the sea. Something evermore is about to happen. Every fishing trip is a composite of all other trips, and it holds irresistible promise for the future. That cup cannot be drained. There are always greater fish than you have caught; always the lure of greater task and achievement; always the inspiration to seek, to endure, to limb always the beauty of the lonely stream and open sea; always he glory and dream of nature.
When I fished under the stark lava slopes of the Galapagos and in the amethyst waters around Cocos Island and around the White Friars I imagined each was the epitome of angling, that I could never adventure higher and farther. But in this same year, 1925, when we shot the wild rapids of the Rogue River and cast our flies where none save Indians had ever fished, the same elusive and beautiful thing beckoned like a will-o'-the-wisp. It is in the heart.
On December thirtieth, when Captain Laurie Mitchell and I stood on the deck of the Royal Mail S.S. Makura, steaming out through the Golden Gate bound for the Antipodes to seek new waters, the same potent charm pervaded my being. There was a Lorelei calling from the South Seas; there was a siren bell ringing from the abysmal deep.
San Francisco Bay at that hour was a far cry from the turquoise-blue water of the tropics. A steely sun made pale bright light upon the ruffled bay; gray fog shrouded the dome of Mt. Tamalpais; from the northwest a cold wind drove down on the bare brown hills to whip the muddy water into a choppy sea. The broken horizon line of the beautiful city of hills shone dark against the sky. A flock of screaming gulls sailed and swooped about the stern of the vessel.
A big French freighter kept abreast of the Makura through the Golden Gate, then turned north, while we headed to the southwest. The Royal Mail ship Makura was no leviathan, but she certainly was a greyhound of the sea. In less than an hour I saw the mountains fade into the fog. That last glimpse of California had to suffice me for a long time. We ran into a heavy-ridged sea, cold and dark, with sullen whitecaps breaking. I walked the decks, watching as always, until the sky became overspread with dark clouds, and a chill wind drove me inside.
That night after dinner I went out again. The sky was dark, the sea black, except for the pale upheavals of billows which gleamed through the obscurity. The ship was rushing on, now with a graceful, slow forward dip and then with a long rise. She was very steady. Great swells crashed against her bows and heaved back into the black gulfs. There was a continuous roar of chafing waters. An old familiar dread of the ocean mounted in me again. What a mighty force! It was a cold, wintry almost invisible sea, not conducive to the thrill and joy of the angler. It was a northern sea, gusty, turbulent, with rough swells. I leaned over the rail in the darkness, trying to understand its meaning, its mood, trying to be true to the love I bore it in tranquil moments.
Next morning when I went out the decks were wet, the sky gray, except low down in the east where rays of sunlight slipped through to brighten the cold gray buffeting sea.
I noted several sea birds following in the wake of the ship. They were new to me. Dark in color, marvelously built, with small compact bodies, sharp as a bullet, and with long narrow wings, they appeared to have been created for perfect control of the air. They sailed aloft and swooped down, skimmed the foamy crests, rode abreast of the rough seas, and dipped into the hollows, all apparently without slightest effort of wing. I did not see them flap a wing once. This is a common habit of many sea birds, especially the shearwaters, but I had never before seen it performed so swiftly and wonderfully. These birds had a wing spread of three feet, and must have belonged to the shearwater family. Lonely wanderers of the barren waste of waters!
Morning and afternoon swiftly passed, the hours flying with the speed of the Makura over the waves. Toward sunset, which was only a dim ruddy glow behind the fog banks, the chill wind, the darkening sea, the black somber fading light all predicted storm. The last daylight hours of the last day of 1925 were melancholy and drear. I was reminded of November back in Lackawaxen, Pennsylvania, where so often I heard the autumn winds wail under the eaves, and the rain pelt the roof--mournful prelude to winter.
This rough sea was like that of the north, where off the rugged shores of Puget Sound the contending tides are raw and bold. The winter twilight quickly merged into the blanket of night. Then out there in the opaque blackness the sea roared by the ship, tremendous and inscrutable, with nothing to inspire love, with everything to confound the soul of man. What was the old year to the sea, or the new year soon to dawn with its imagined promise, its bright face, its unquenchable hope? Nevertheless, the thought that overbalanced this depression was of the magic isles of the South Seas, set like mosaics in the eternal summer blue, and the haunting Antipodes, seven thousand miles down the lanes of the Pacific.
All morning of the the third day out the Makura sped on over a lumpy leaden sea, mirroring the gray of the sky. How tenaciously the drab shadow of winter clung to us! Yet there had come some degree of warmth, and on the afternoon of this day the cold wind departed. When the sunlight strayed through the fog, it gave the sea its first tinge of blue; but the sun shone only fitfully. There was no life on the sea, and apparently none in it. Neither bird nor fish showed to long-practised eyes. I wondered about this. We were hundreds of miles offshore, out of the track of the schools of sardines and anchovies that birds and fish prey upon. Still there should have been some manifestation of life. How vast the ocean! Were its spaces and depths utterly barren? That was hard to believe.
Sunset that night was rose and gold, a gorgeous color thrown upon a thin webbed mass of mackerel cloud that for long held its radiance. It seemed to be a promise of summer weather. Sunrise next morning likewise was a blazing belt of gold. But these rich colorings were ephemeral and deceiving. The sky grew dark and gray. From all points masses of cumulous clouds rose above the horizon, at last to unite in a canopy of leaden tones. A wind arose and the sea with it. The air still had an edge.
All day the Makura raced over a magnificent sea of long swells rising to white breaking crests. The ship had a slow careen, to and fro, from side to side, making it difficult to walk erect and steadily. The turbulent mass of water was almost black. Its loneliness was as manifest as when calm. No sail! No smoke from steamer down beyond the horizon! No sign of fish or bird! I seemed to have been long on board. The immensity of the sea began to be oppressive. That day and the next we drove on over a gray squally expanse of waters.
The time came when I saw my first flying fish of the trip. It was an event. He appeared to be a tiny little fellow, steely in color, scarcely larger than a humming bird. But for me he meant life on the ocean. Thereafter while on deck I kept watch. We had sunshine for a few hours and then the warmth became evident. The sea was a raging buffeting rolling plain of dark blue and seething white. We were a thousand miles and more off the coast, where I felt sure the wind always blew. We were in the track of the trade winds.
On the sixth day the air became humid. We had reached the zone of summer. Every mile now would carry us toward the tropics.
I saw some porpoises, small yellow ones, active in flight. They were a proof of fish, for porpoises seldom roam far away from their food supply. I wondered if they preyed upon the tiny flying fish. Swift as the porpoise is, I doubt that he could catch them. As we sped south I noted more and more schools of flying fish, rising in a cloud, like silvery swallows. Presently I espied one that appeared larger, with reddish wings. This was a surprise, and I thought I had made a mistake as I had not a really good look at it. Not long afterward, however, I saw another, quite close, and made certain of the red wings. Then soon following I espied three more of the same species. They certainly could sail and glide and dart over the rough water.
We ran into a squall. Rain and spray wet my face as I paced the deck. Out ahead the gray pall was like a bank of fog. The sea became rougher. Our wireless brought news of a hurricane raging over the South Seas, centering around the Samoan Islands, where tidal waves had caused much damage. What had become of the tranquil Pacific? Late that afternoon we ran out of the squalls into a less-disturbed sea.
Captain Mitchell met two widely-traveled Englishmen on board, brothers, by name Radmore. They came from the same part of England where Captain Mitchell was born; and it must have been pleasant, as well as poignant, for him to talk with them. He introduced them to me, and I found them exceedingly interesting, as I have found so many Englishmen. I did not need to be told that they had been in the war.
I was particularly interested in their voyage to New Zealand, which was for the same purpose as ours--the wonderful possibilities of adventure, especially fishing, to be had in the Antipodes. The elder Radmore had been often to New Zealand, and in fact he knew Australasia, and island seas to the north. He was a big-game hunter, having had some extensive hunts in Burma, India, the Malay Peninsula and British East Africa. He said game of all kinds had increased enormously during and since the war, especially in Africa. Tigers were abundant in Burma and seldom hunted. What the fishing possibilities might be in the waters adjacent to these places he had no idea. No sportsman had ever tried them. I conceived an impression of magnificent unknown virgin seas, so far as fish was concerned. What a splendid thrill that gave me!
Radmore told me many things, two of which I must chronicle here. The pearl fishing off the New Guinea coast: it was new pearl country, comparatively. In fact, New Guinea is still one of the little-known islands. Next to Australia it is the largest in the world, and it has many leagues of unexplored coast line. Radmore told me that at one time rare pearls could be cheaply procured from the natives, who had not yet become aware of their value. A can of peaches bought a $16,000 pearl! The Radmores, coming into San Pedro on the S.S. Manchuria, had their attention called to my schooner Fisherman anchored in the bay. They said if they had that ship they would surely go to New Guinea.
On a voyage from New Zealand to England, round the Horn, Radmore had seen a remarkable battle between a sperm whale, or cachalot, and two great orcas. This conflict had taken place in smooth water close to a reef along which the ship was skirting. The whale was on the surface, apparently unable to sound, and he beat the water terrifically with his enormous flukes. The sound was exceedingly loud and continuous, almost resembling thunder. The orcas threw their huge white-and-black bodies high into the air, and plunged down upon the back of the whale. They hit with a sodden crash. The cachalot threshed with his mighty tail, trying to strike them, but they eluded it. The commotion in the water seemed incredible. This battle continued as long as the watchers could see with the naked eye, and then with glasses. The captain, who had sided that route for forty years, said that was the third fight of the kind he had seen.
Radmore was certain the whale was a cachalot, or sperm. Personally, I incline to the opinion that it was some other kind of whale. Andrews and other authorities on whales claim that the whale-killers and orcas let the cachalot severely alone. He is more than a match for them. Armed with a terrible set of teeth and a head one-third the length of his ninety-foot body, the cachalot would appear to be impervious to attacks from sea creatures. On the other hand, other whales are helpless before the onslaught of these wolves of the sea. They become almost paralyzed with fright, and make little attempt to escape their foes. This is the naturalistic opinion on the subject, and I incline to it, although I admit a possibility of unusual cases. The wonderful thing about the narrative for me was to think of seeing such a battle and photographing it.
On the morning of January sixth before daybreak we crossed the equator. I went out on deck before sunrise. Sea and sky were radiant with a pearly effulgence. There were no reds, purples or golds. White and silver, gray and pearl predominated, which colors intensified as the sun came up, giving a beautiful effect. All around the horizon the trade-wind clouds rode like sails. They had the same ship-like shape, the same level bottoms and round windblown feathery margins as the trade-wind clouds above the Gulf Stream between Cuba and the Keys but not the color! Sunrise off the Keys of Florida is a glorious burst of crimson and gold that flames sky and sea.
We were now in the southern hemisphere, and I felt that it would be interesting for me to note the slow march of the sun to the north. On the equator the sun always sets at six o'clock. So far the voyage had been remarkably free of glaring white sunlight. This day when we crossed the equator we had alternately bright sunlight and soft gray-shaded sky.
Sometimes the ships of the Union Line pass within sight of the high peaks of the Marquesan Islands. I could not but feel what marvelous good fortune for me that it should be my lot. As it turned out, however, we did not pass close enough to the Marquesans to see them. I had to satisfy myself with the thrilling fact that somewhere short of a hundred miles beyond the horizon lay these gem-isles of the Pacific, alone amid the splendid solitude of this purple sea.
The night we entered the Tuamotu Archipelago, or Low Islands, I had a striking sight of the planet Venus, so extraordinarily beautiful and incredibly bright in that latitude. The great star was exceedingly brilliant, yet not white; it had color, almost a gold or red, and left a shining track over the waters almost like that of the moon. Sometimes it seemed like a huge lantern hung close to the ship; again it retreated to the very rim of the world. Then how swiftly it went down into the sea! Another phenomenon I had noted lately was the singularly swift sunset, and the extreme brevity of light afterward.
There are two kinds of islands in the South Pacific, the low and the high. The former consist of atolls with their circular ridge of white sand above the coral, fringed with cocoanut palms; and the latter, mountains of volcanic origin, are characterized by high peaks densely overgrown with tropical verdure. The Paumotus are a vast aggregation of low islands, or atolls, sprinkled all over a great range of water. Yachts are forbidden to adventure in this perilous archipelago. The charts cannot be trusted, the currents are treacherous, the winds more contrary than anywhere else on the globe. Yet the course of the S.S. Makura ran straight through the archipelago. Probably many atolls were passed close at hand, wholly invisible from the deck; and it was only at the latter part of the long run through, that the course came anywhere near the clustered islands that gave the place its name.
My first and long-yearned-for sight of an atoll came about midafternoon on January eighth. I saw with naked eyes what most passengers were using marine glasses to distinguish. It was a low fringe of cocoanut-palm trees rising out of the blue sea. What a singular first impression I had! Instantly it seemed I was fishing off the Florida Keys, along the edge of the Gulf Stream, and that I knew my location exactly because I could still see the cocoanut palms of Long Key. I found myself saying, "They are about six miles in, unless these Pacific cocoanuts are much higher trees than those of the Atlantic."
This islet, or atoll, was the first of many of the Tuamotu Archipelago that were soon to rise gradually out of the heaving blue floor of the ocean. They appeared like green growths on a Hindu magician's carpet. Most were small with just a few trees fringing the sky line; but some were long and large, with thick groves of cocoanut palms. It was impossible, of course, to distinguish these atolls from the Keys of the Florida Peninsula or the islets of the Caribbean Sea. The great beauty of an atoll cannot be seen from afar. The ring of coral sand rising just above the sea, the ring of cocoanuts round it, the ring of turquoise-blue water inside, the ever-framed lagoon, blue as the sky, serene and tranquil, with its sands of gold and pearl, its myriads of colored fish, the tremendous thundering of the surf outside--these wonderful features could not be appreciated from the ship.
I went up on the third deck where I could see the strips of white beach and the bright-green band of palms. These Paumotus surely called with all the mystery and glory of the South Pacific; but our ship passed swiftly on her way and soon night blotted out sight of the fascinating atolls.
Next morning I was up before dawn. The ship was moving very slowly. I could scarcely hear any sound of swirling waters. I went out on deck in the dim opaque gloom of a South Pacific dawn. The air was fresh, cool, balmy, laden with a scent of land. On the starboard side I saw a black mountain, rising sharp with ragged peaks. This island was Moorea, the first of the Society group.
Soon dead ahead appeared the strange irregular form of Tahiti. It made a marvelous spectacle, with the rose of the east kindling low down in a notch between two peaks. Tahiti was high. I watched the day come and the sun rise over this famous island, and it was indescribable. We went through a gateway in the barrier reef, where the swells curled and roared, and on into the harbor to the French port, Papeete.
Seen from the deck of a vessel Papeete was beautiful, green and luxurious, with its colored roofs, its blossoming trees, its schooners and other South Sea craft moored along the shore. The rise of the island, however, its ridged slopes of emerald green and amber red, its patches of palms, its purple canyons streaked with white waterfalls, its ragged, notched, bold peaks crowned with snowy clouds--these made a spectator forget that Papeete nestled at its base.
I spent a full day in this world-famed South Sea Island port, the French Papeete. It was long enough for me! Despite all I had read I had arrived there free of impressions, with eager receptive mind. I did not wonder that Robert Louis Stevenson went to the South Seas a romancer and became a militant moralist. It was not fair, however, to judge other places through contact with Papeete.
The French have long been noted for the careless and slovenly way in which they govern provinces. Papeete is a good example. There is no restriction against the Chinese, who appeared to predominate in business. Papeete is also the eddying point for all the riffraff of the South Seas. The beach comber, always a romantic if pathetic figure in my memory, through the South Sea stories I have read, became by actual contact somewhat disconcerting to me, and wholly disgusting. Perhaps I did not see any of the noble ruins.
Every store I entered in Papeete was run by a crafty-eyed little Chinaman. I heard that the Chinese merchants had all the money. It was no wonder. I saw very few French people. I met one kindly-looking priest. All the whites who fell under my gaze seemed to me to be sadly out of place there. They were thin, in most cases pale and unhealthy-looking. It was plain to me that the Creator did not intend white men to live on South Sea Islands. If he had he would have made the pigment of their skins capable of resisting the sun.
This was the early summer for Tahiti. It was hot. New York at 99 degrees in the shade, or Needles, California, at 115 degrees, would give some idea of heat at Papeete. It was a moist, sticky, oppressive, enervating heat that soon prostrated. I always could stand hot weather, and I managed to get around under this. But many of the ship passengers suffered, and by five o'clock that evening were absolutely exhausted.
What amazed me was the fact that this heat did not prevent the drinking of liquor. Champagne and other beverages were exceedingly cheap at Papeete. I found out long ago that a great many people who think they travel to see and learn really travel to eat and drink, and the close of this day on shore at Papeete provided a melancholy example of the fact. If I saw one bottle of liquor come aboard the S.S. Makura I saw a hundred. Besides such openly avowed bottles, there were cases and cases packed up in the companionway for delivery.
Captain Mitchell, Mr. Radmore and I visited the hotel or resort made famous mostly through Mr. O'Briens book, White Shadows of the South Seas. Luxurious growths of green and wonderfully fragrant flowers surrounded this little low house of many verandas; but that was about all I could see attractive there. It appeared different classes of drinkers had different rooms in which to imbibe. Of those I passed, some approached what in America we would call a dive. It is all in the way people look at a thing. The licentiousness of women and the availability of wine rank high in the properties of renown.
The Tahitian women presented an agreeable surprise to me. From all the exotic photographs I had seen I had not been favorably impressed. But photographs do not do justice to Tahitian women. I saw hundreds of them, and except in a few cases, noticeably the dancers, who in fact were faked to impress the tourists, they were modestly dressed and graceful in appearance. They were strong, well built though not voluptuous, rather light-skinned and not at all suggesting negroid blood. They presented a new race to me. They had large melting melancholy eyes. They wore their hair in braids down their backs, like American schoolgirls of long ago when something of America still survived in our girls. These Tahitians had light-brown, sometimes nut-brown and chestnut hair, rich and thick and beautiful. What a delight to see! What pleasure to walk behind one of these barefooted and free-stepping maidens just for the innocent happiness of gazing at her wonderful braid! No scrawny shaved bristled necks, such as the flappers exhibit now, to man's bewildered disgust; no erotic and abnormal signs of wanting to resemble a male! Goodness only knows why so-called civilized white women of modern times want to look like men, but so it seems they do. If they could see the backs of the heads of these Tahitian girls and their long graceful braids of hair, that even a fool of a man could tell made very little trouble, and was so exquisitely feminine and beautiful, they might have a moment of illumined mind.
The scene at the dock as the S.S. Makura swung off was one I shall not soon forget. Much of Papeete was there, except, most significantly, the Chinese. No doubt they were busily counting the enormous number of French francs they had amassed during the day. The watchers in the background were quiet and orderly, and among these were French ladies who were bidding friends farewell, and other white people whose presence made me divine they were there merely to watch a ship depart for far shores. A ship they longed to be aboard. I could read it in their eyes.
In the foreground, however, were many Tahitian women and some half caste, with the loud-mouthed roustabouts who were raving at the drunken louts on board the ship. It was not a pretty sight. Near me on the rail sat an inebriated youth, decorated with flowers, waving a champagne bottle at those below. I did not see any friendliness in the uplifted dark eyes. This was only another ship going on down to the sea; and I thought most of those on hoard were held in contempt by those on land.
I did not leave Papeete, however, without most agreeable and beautiful impressions. Outside of the town there were the simplicity and beauty of the native habitations and the sweetness of the naked little Tahitians disporting on the beach. There were the magnificence of the verdure, foliage and flowers and the heavy atmosphere languorous with fragrance. There were the splendour of the surf breaking on the reef seen through the stately cocoanut palms, the burn of the sun and the delicious cool of the shade. There were the utter and ever-growing strangeness of the island and the unknown perceptions that were gradually building up an impression of the vastness of the South Sea. There were the splendor of Nature in her most lavish moods and the unsolvable mystery of human life.
I saw many old Tahitian men who I imagined had eaten human flesh, "long pig", as they called it in their day. The record seemed written in their great strange eyes.
Birds and fish were almost negligible at Tahiti. For all the gazing that I put in I saw only a few small needle fish. Not a shark, not a line, Wit a break or swirl on the surface! There were no gulls, no sea birds of any kind, and I missed them very much. I saw several small birds about the size of robins, rather drab-colored with white on their wings, black heads and yellow beaks. They were tame and had a musical note.
On the next day out from Papeete we saw steamship smoke on the horizon. It grew into the funnel of a ship, then the hull, and at last the bulk of the sister ship of the Makura, the Tahiti. She passed us perhaps five miles away, a noble sight, and especially fascinating because she was the only traveling craft on our horizon throughout the voyage.
A little after daybreak on the following morning I was awakened by the steward, who said Rarotonga was in sight. From a distance this island appeared to be a cone-shaped green mass rising to several high sharp-toothed peaks. Near at hand, in the glory of the sunrise, it looked like a beautiful mountain, verdant and colorful, rising out of a violet sea. I noted the extremely sharp serrated ridges rising to the peaks, all thickly covered with tropic verdure. The island appeared to be surrounded by a barrier reef, against which the heaving sea burst into white breakers.
Schools of flying fish, darting like swarms of silver bees, flew from before our bows. That was a promising sight, for usually where there are schools of small fish the great game fish will be found. Here, as at Tahiti, there was a marked absence of birds.
After Papeete, the weather was delightfully cool. The Makura anchored outside the reef, half a mile from shore, and small launches with canoe-shaped lighters carried cargo and passengers through a narrow gate in the reef to the docks.
Rarotonga was under English control, and certainly presented an inspiring contrast to the decadent and vitiated Papeete. At once we were struck with the cleanliness of streets and wharfs, and the happy, care-free demeanor of the natives. They looked prosperous, and we were to learn that they all owned their bit of cocoanut grove and were independent. We drove around the island, a matter of twenty miles more or less. The road was level and shady all the way, with the violet white-wreathed sea showing through the cocoanut trees on one side and the wonderful sharp peaks rising above the forest on the other.
There were places as near paradise as it has been my good fortune to see. Flowers were as abundant as in a conservatory, with red and white blossoms prevailing. Children ran from every quarter to meet us, decorated with wreaths and crowns of flowers, and waving great bunches of the glorious bloom. They were bright-eyed merry children, sincere in their welcome to the visitors. Some of the native houses were set in open glades, where wide-spreading, fern-leaved trees blazing with crimson blossoms were grouped about the green shady lawns. The glamour of the beautiful colors was irresistible. The rich thick amber light of June in some parts of the United States had always seemed to me to be unsurpassable; but compared with the gold-white and rose-pink lights of Rarotonga it grew pale and dull in memory. The air was warm, fragrant, languorous. It seemed to come from eternal summer. Everywhere sounded the wash of the surf of the reef. You could never forget the haunting presence of the ocean.
After our trip round the island we spent a couple of hours on the beach with the natives. This was in the center of the town. A continual stream of natives strolled and rode by. Their colored garments added to the picturesque attraction of the place. On the reef just outside could be seen the bones of a schooner sticking from the surface; and farther out the ironwork of a huge ship that had been wrecked there years ago. They seemed grim reminders of the remorselessness of the azure sea. The atmosphere of the hour was one of sylvan summer, the gentle and pleasant warmth of the South Seas, the idle, happy tranquillity of a place favored by the gods; but only a step out showed the naked white teeth of the coral reef, and beyond that the inscrutable and changeful sea.
We bought from the natives until our limited stock of English money ran out. Then we were at the pains of seeing the very best of the pearls, baskets, bead necklaces and hatbands, fans and feathers, exhibited for our edification. These natives found their tongues after a while and talked in English very well indeed. What a happy contrast from the melancholy shadow-faced Tahitians!
It was interesting to learn that liquor is prohibited at Rarotonga. If any evidence were needed in favor of prohibition, here it was in the beautiful healthy wholesome life on Rarotonga. Indeed, everyone appeared charmed with the beauty, color, simplicity and happiness of this island. "By Jove! Rarotonga is just what I wanted a South Sea Island to be!" was the felicitous way Mr. Radmore put it. Absolutely this charm would grow on one. It might not do to spend a long time at Rarotonga. But I decided that some day I would risk coming for a month or two. We learned that at certain seasons fish were plentiful, especially the giant swordfish. Among he other islands of the Cook group was one over a hundred miles from Rarotonga, rarely visited by whites, and said to be exquisitely beautiful and wonderful.
One of the passengers who boarded the Makura at Rarotonga was was Dr. Lambert, head of the Rockefeller Foundation in the South seas. He was an exceedingly interesting man to meet. He had been eight years in the islands, and knew the native life as well as anyone living. He called Papeete an uncovered brothel; and indeed had no good word for any of the French islands. It was of no use, he claimed, to try to interest the French in improvements; and therefore he had not been able to let the Tahitians and Marquesans benefit by the splendid work being done by the foundation.
Dr. Lambert clarified many obscure points in my mind. He was a keen close student, and he had been everywhere. Those writers who had recorded the havoc done by syphilis had simply been wrong. There is little or no syphilis in the South Seas. The disease, haws by name, has been mistaken for syphilis, but it is not a venereal disease.
Drink introduced by the traders has always been the curse. In those islands like Rarotonga where the sale and trading of drink have been prohibited the natives have recovered their former happy and prosperous estate. Immorality among the young people remains about the same as it always has been, but the natives do not regard such relation as anything to be ashamed of. It is simple, natural, and has ever been so. The married woman, however, is usually virtuous.
On Tuesday, January thirteenth, we crossed the 180th meridian, and somewhere along there we were to drop a day, lose it entirely out of the week! I imagine that day should have been Tuesday, but the steamship company, no doubt for reasons of its own, made Saturday the day. How queer to go to bed Friday night and wake up Sunday morning! Where would the Saturday have flown? I resolved to put it down to the mysteries of latitude and longitude.
There was another thing quite as strange, yet wholly visible, and that was the retreat of the sun toward the north; imperceptibly at first, but surely. I saw the sun rise north of east and set north of west. As the Makura rushed tirelessly on her way, this northward trend of the sun became more noticeable. It quite changed my world; turned me upside down. How infinitely vast and appalling seem the earth and the sea! Yet they are but dots in the universe. Verily a traveler sees much to make him think.
DESTINATION: BAY OF ISLANDS--THE ANGLER'S EL DORADO
There were two pearl traders on the Makura who had boarded the ship at Rarotonga. One of them, Drury Low, had not been off his particular island for fifteen years. He was a strange low-voiced new type of man to me. I think he was Scotch. He lived at Aitutaki Island, one of the Cook group, said to be the loveliest island in the South Seas. His companion's name was McCloud. They gave me information concerning a great game fish around Aitutaki Island. They excited my curiosity to such extent that I got out photographs of yellow-fin tuna, broadbill swordfish, Marlin swordfish, and sailfish. To my amazement these men identified each, and assured me positively that these species were common in the Cook Islands. They also described to me what must be a sawfish, native to these waters. The yellow-fin tuna was called varu in the Cook Islands, walu in the Fijis, and grew to large size. Low saw one caught recently weighing one hundred and six pounds, and knew of others over a hundred. These were caught on hand-lines, trolling outside the reef. Recently a large one was hooked, and bitten in two by a shark. The smaller part that was hauled in weighed over two hundred.
The traders told of a Marlin being caught on a hand-line. It was a leaping fish, and over nine feet in length. McCloud then told of the capture of a sixteen-foot sail-fish, on a heavy hand-line. It took half a day to subdue this fish. A sixteen-foot sailfish, if at all heavy-bodied, would weigh at least five hundred, most likely more. I saw a picture of a fish that closely resembled the wahoo. They called it a kingfish.
To establish the fact of these great game fish in the South Seas was something of paramount importance to me, and the cause of much speculation. What might it not lead to? How incalculably are our lives influenced by apparently little things!
Never shall I forget my first absolutely certain sight of an albatross. it was on the afternoon of January fifteenth about two o'clock. I heard some one speaking of a wonderful bird following the ship, so I at once ran out. Wonderful bird? How futile are words! When I saw this sea bird of Ancient Mariner fame I just gasped, "Oh! Grand!" But then I have an unusual love for birds.
The albatross had a white body and brown wings that spread ten feet from tip to tip. They were a lighter color underneath. The breast, back and head were pure white; the body appeared to be as large as that of a goose; the head had something of an eagle shape, seen at such a distance. From head to tail there was a slight bow, sometimes seen in sea gulls. But it was the wing spread, the vast bow-shaped, marvelous wings that so fascinated me. I had watched condors, eagles, vultures, falcons, hawks, kites, frigate birds, terns, boobies, all the great performers of the air, but I doubted that I had ever seen the equal of the albatross. What sailing! What a swoop! What splendid poise and ease, and then incredible speed! The albatross would drop back a mile from the ship, and then all in a moment, it seemed, he had caught up again. I watched him through my glass. I devoured him. I yearned to see him close. How free, how glorious! I wondered if that bird had a soul such as Coleridge would endow him with. If dogs were almost human in their understanding of men, why could not wild birds have something as unusual? The albatross had always haunted me, inspired me, filled me with awe, reverence.
Late in the afternoon I espied another albatross, or at least one that on nearer view looked different. I climbed to the top deck and went aft to the stern rail, where I had an hour of delight in watching him from an unobstructed vantage point. The markings differed enough to convince me it might be another albatross. The body was flecked with brown, the neck ringed with the same color; the head like that of a frigate bird, only very much larger; the bill yellow, long and hooked. There was a dark marking on the white tail; the backs of the wings were dark brown, almost black, and the under side cream white except for black tips. He surely was a beautiful and majestic bird, lord of the sea. Where he swooped down from a height, he turned on his side so that one wing tip skimmed the waves and the other stood straight up. He sailed perpendicularly. He was ponderous, graceful, swift. A few motions of the wide wings sent him sailing, careening, swooping. He appeared tireless, as if the air was his native element, as no doubt it is, more than the sea. Once he alighted like a feather, keeping his large wings up, as if not to wet them. When he launched himself again it was to run on the water, like a shearwater, until he had acquired momentum enough to keep him up. Then he lifted himself clear.
Sunday morning at ten, January seventeenth, I sighted land. New Zealand! High pale cliffs rising to dark mountain ranges in the background swept along the western horizon as far as I could see.
While watching an albatross I was tremendously thrilled by the sight of an amazingly large broadbill swordfish. He was not over three hundred yards from the ship. His sickle fins stood up strikingly high, with the old rakish saber shape so wonderful to the sea angler. Tail and dorsal fins were fully ten feet apart. He was a monster. I yelled in my enthusiasm, and then ran for Captain Mitchell. But on my return I could not locate the fins. The fish had sounded or gone out of sight.
This was about fifteen miles offshore; and it was an event of importance. Swordfish do not travel alone.
Wellington, our port of debarkation, was a red-roofed city on hills surrounding a splendid bay. It had for me a distinctly foreign look, different from any city I had ever seen before; a clean, cold, tidy look, severe and substantial. From Wellington to Auckland was a long ride of fifteen hours, twelve of which were daylight. The country we traversed had been cut and burned over, and reminded me of the lumbered districts of Washington and Oregon. One snow-capped mountain, Tongariro, surrounded at the base by thick, green forests, was really superb; and the active cone-shaped volcano, Ngauruhoe, held my gaze as long as I could see it. A thick column of white and yellow steam or smoke rose from the crater and rolled away with the clouds.
Auckland appeared to be a more pretentious city than the capital; and it likewise was built upon hills. It is New Zealand's hub of industry. From Auckland to Russell was another long day's ride, over partly devastated country and part sylvan, which sustains well the sheep and cattle of the stations thereabout. Farms and villages were numerous. The names of the latter were for me unpronounceable and unrememberable. They were all Maori names. At Opua, the terminus of the railroad, we took a boat for Russell. We were soon among picturesque islands above which the green mountains showed against the sky.
Russell turned out to be a beautiful little hamlet, the oldest in the island, and one with which were connected many historical events. I he hay resembled that of Avalon, having a crescent-shaped beach and a line of quaint white houses. It is a summer resort, and children and bobbed-haired girls were much in evidence. The advent of the Z.G. outfit was apparently one of moment, to judge from the youngsters. They were disappointed in me, however, for they frankly confessed they had expected to see me in sombrero, chaps, spurs and guns. Young ladies of the village, too, were disappointed, for they had shared with people all over the world the illusion that the author Zane Grey was a woman. I found there in the stores, as at Wellington and Auckland, the English editions of my books.
Alma Baker, the English sportsman, arrived that night with his family, from Sydney, Australia. There were a number of Auckland anglers at the hotel. We were pleased to hear that several Marlin swordfish and two mako had already been taken at Cape Brett. The paramount interest in my trip, of course, was in the fishing; and I exhausted both anglers and boatmen with my curiosity and enthusiasm. Tackle, fish, methods, boats--everything was entirely new in all my experience. Salt-water angling was a development of only a few years there, and had not progressed far. It was plain that their rods, reels, etc., had been an evolution from the English salmon tackle. The rods were either a native wood called tanekaha or split cane with a steel center, and from seven to eight feet in length. The reels were mostly the large single-action Nottingham style from England, and were mounted on the under side of the rods. Guides and tips were huge affairs, and few and far between. Leaders, or "traces", as they were called, were heavy braided wire, twenty or thirty feet long, and the hooks were huge gangs, or three hooks in a triangle. The swivels were disproportionately small. Up to the year 1925 the anglers had used rod belts, but lately had developed swivel chairs, with a fixed rod seat. They used a short heavy gaff, which was hooked round the tail of the fish, and if it was a shark he was harpooned in addition. The harpoon was really a crude heavy tozzle, mounted on a four-foot club. One of the New Zealand anglers brought out his tackle for our edification. Captain Mitchell and I surely handled it with thoughtful curiosity. We had to admit that these New Zealand anglers had performed some mighty achievements landing three-, four- and five-hundred-pound fish on such rigs. It looked like most of the energy exerted would be wasted.
Both anglers and boatmen explained their methods of fishing. They used dead and live bait. Trolling had been attempted at times, and persistently by some anglers, but it was never successful. Their best method appeared to be drifting with tide or wind, with live bait sunk ten or fifteen fathoms. One boatman told me he had caught twenty-four Marlin, three mako shark, and one thresher shark, moss of which had been foul hooked, during the season of 1925. It was my opinion that this circumstance could be laid to the three-hook gang, and the drifting method. I was especially curious about this drifting with bait down deep, which was something I had always wanted to try on broadbill swordfish.
We were two days at Russell, part of which time was taken up by a severe storm. When it cleared off the weather left nothing to be desired. Some one showed me a picture of New Bedford whaling ships at anchor in the bay. In the early days of whaling this place had been a favorite station for whalers, sometimes as many as thirty ships being anchored in the bay. What fishing days those must have been! Whaling had not entirely played out, and during our stay at Russell there was a small whaling steamer there. The captain had fished with the New Bedford and Nantucket whalers in those early days. He was most interesting. The season of 1925, just ended, had netted him some fifty-odd whales, mostly finbacks. What was of vastly more interest to me, he told of seeing schools of large round bullet-shaped fish lying on the surface offshore some fifteen or twenty miles. He said they had mackerel tails and silver bellies. That sounded decidedly like tuna. We were keen to learn more, but that was all the information available. The boatmen told of small tunny taken off Cape Brett. One of the scientific booklets on New Zealand fish mentioned long-fin albacore up to two hundred pounds caught by market fishermen. These were undoubtedly the Allison tuna. We listened to numerous stories about the hooking of great fish that never showed, and either broke away or had to be cut off after hours of fighting. Altogether the experiences and impressions of these anglers and boatmen proved the remarkable possibilities of a new and undeveloped fishing resort. The boats reserved for Captain Mitchell and me were quite different from any we had ever used. They were close to forty feet in length, and eleven or twelve feet in beam. The cockpits were deep; so deep that we had to build platforms upon which to mount the fishing chairs we had brought from Avalon. It looked to us then that we would have our troubles fighting fish from these wide cockpits. On the other hand, the boats promised to be very seaworthy and comfortable. The Marlin was the widest boat, with rather high deck, and I decided it would be best for the motion-picture man and his equipment. The launch I was to use had the name Alma G.
We had to get permission from the New Zealand government to take these boats out of their district adjacent to Russell. The marine laws, and all laws, for that matter, were very rigid. Colonel Allan Bell and the Minister of Marine came to Russell to do all in their lower to help make my visit to New Zealand waters a success. The Minister, at the earnest solicitation of Colonel Bell, finally agreed toy allow us the privilege of taking our boats anywhere, but declared he would not grant that permission again. We were fortunate indeed.
Deep Water Cove Camp, about fifteen miles from Russell, was the rendezvous where anglers stayed while fishing the waters adjacent to Cape Brett. It accommodated ten or twelve anglers. I decided to follow my usual plan of being independent of everyone and having a camp of my own. We had brought our own tents, and we bought blankets. What wonderful blankets they were, and cheap! I never saw their equal. We outfitted at Russell, and soon were ready to start for Urupukapuka, an island belonging to Mr. Charles F. Baker, one of the leading citizens of the town, and said to be the most beautiful of all the hundred and more in the Bay of Islands.
As we ran down the bay, which afforded views of many of the islands, I decided that if Urupukapuka turned out to be any more striking than some we passed, it was indeed rarely beautiful. Such proved to be the case. It was large, irregular, with a range of golden grassy hills fringed by dark-green thickets and copses, indented by many coves, and surrounded by channels of aquamarine water, so clear that the white sand shone through. We entered the largest bay, one with a narrow opening protected by another island so that it was almost completely landlocked. The beach of golden sand and colored sea shells stretched in graceful crescent shape. A soft rippling surge washed the strand, and multitudes of fish, some of them mullet, splashed and darkened the shallow waters. The hills came down to enclose a level valley green with grass and rushes, colorful with flags and reeds. A stream meandered across the wide space. On the right side were groves of crimson-flowering trees, the pohutukawa, in Maori. This tree was indeed magnificent, being thick, tall, widespreading, with massy clumps of dark-green foliage tipped by crimson blossoms. Beautiful as was this side of the bay, I decided to pitch camp on the other.
The hillside there was covered with a wonderful growth of the tree ferns, which plant has given New Zealand the name Fernland; a tall palmetto-like tree which the men called cabbage trees; and lastly tall marvelous titrees. These stood up above close-woven thickets of the same flora. The foliage was very fine, lacy, dark green, somewhat resembling hemlock, and having a fragrance that I can describe only as being somewhat like cedar and pine mingled. How exquisitely strange and sweet! Trees and their beauty and fragrance have always been dear to me. The hills back of the bay were mostly bare, graceful, high, covered with long golden grass that waved in the wind.
These were my first impressions of our camp site on Urupukapuka. How inadequate they were! But first impressions always are lasting. These of mine I gathered were to grow.
When Mr. Alma Baker arrived, he pitched his camp under the crimson-flowered pohutukawas across from our place at the edge of the titrees. We worked all day at this pleasant and never-wearying task of making a habitation in wilderness. Never am I any happier than when so engaged. This nomad life is in the blood of all of us, though many comfort-loving people do not know it.
After dinner we climbed the high hill on our side. Fine-looking woolly sheep baa-ed at us and trotted away. The summit was a grassy ridge, and afforded a most extraordinary view of islands and channels and bays, the mainland with its distant purple ranges, and the far blue band of the sea. It was all wonderful, and its striking feature was the difference from any other place I had ever seen. Seven thousand miles from California! What a long way to come, to camp out and to fish, and to invite my soul in strange environment! But it was worth the twenty-six days of continuous travel to get there. I gathered that I would not at once be able to grasp the details which made Urupukapuka such a contrast from other places I had seen. The very strangeness eluded me. The low sound of surf had a different note. The sun set in the wrong direction for me, because I could not grasp the points of the compass. Nevertheless, I was not slow to appreciate the beauty of the silver-edged clouds and the glory of golden blaze behind the purple ranges. Faint streaks or rays of blue, fan-shaped spread to the zenith. Channels of green water meandered everywhere, and islands on all sides took on the hues of the changing sunset.
I was too tired to walk farther, so I sat down on the grassy hill, and watched and listened and felt. I saw several sailing hawks, some white gulls, and a great wide-winged gannet. Then I heard an exquisite bird song, but could not locate the bird. The song seemed to be a combination of mocking-bird melody, song-sparrow and the sweet, wild, plaintive note of the canyon swift. Presently I discovered I was listening to more than one bird, all singing the same beautiful song. Larks! I knew it before I looked up. After a while I located three specks in the sky. One was floating down, wings spread, without an effort, like a feather. It was a wonderful thing to see. Down, down he floated, faster and faster, bursting his throat all the while, until he dropped like a plummet to the ground, where his song ended. The others circled round higher and higher, singing riotously, until they had attained a certain height; then they poised, and began to waft downwards, light as wisps of thistledown on the air. I had never before seen larks of this species. They were imported birds, as indeed many New Zealand birds are. I 'hey were small in size. The color I could not discern. What gentle, soft music! It was elevating, and I was reminded of Shakespeare's sonnet: "Hark! hark! the lark at heaven's gate sings."
They sang until after dark; and in the gray dawn, at four o'clock, they awoke me from sound slumber. I knew then I had found a name for this strange new camp. Camp of the Larks!
>HUNTING THE BIG GAME FISH
Both of my two boatmen were experienced at the New Zealand game of sea fishing. Arlidge was an engineer and Williams was a whaler. Both had been through the World War. In fact Captain Mitchell's two men had also had that experience. They could tell some yarns about that fight. Warne had been a cripple on the deck of a hospital ship which was torpedoed by the Germans. He was one of the few to be saved out of hundreds of sick and wounded soldiers. Those Germans left a record no civilization can ever forget. Evolution, the progress of mankind, the development of soul were left entirely out of their reckoning. How could they ever do anything but fail?
A circumstance related by one of the boatmen fascinated me. He was watching a torpedo, like a graceful, gliding fish with a white wake, come straight for the ship upon which he stood. How terrible it must have been to see!
Williams, the whaler, was a man nearing middle age, a brawny, powerful fellow who looked as if he could gaff and hold a heavy fish. And it certainly turned out that he could.
These men were all bewildered with my array of fishing tackle. They had never dreamed of such gear, and were tremendously interested. Like all good fishermen, they were boys at heart.
The second morning after our arrival in camp I was up before five. The tranquil bay, the burst of melody from the larks, the soft rose and pearl of the sky, the bleating of sheep from the hills--these and the many other details of my environment were exceedingly heart-satisfying. At six-thirty we were off toward the fishing grounds. Mr. Baker's boat had not arrived and he said he wanted to work around camp and overhaul his tackle. We ran among islands little and big, rocky and wooded, grassy and green, and on out the winding channel into the sea. Still we did not yet lose the land. A mountain range rose on our right, and terminated in Cape Brett, one of the great promontories of New Zealand. It was rugged and bold, showing the hard contact with wind and sea. A white lighthouse towered on the steep slope, a lonely sentinel, significant of the thoughtfulness of men.
We ran out to Bird Rock, which was a ragged black ledge rising a hundred feet or more above the thundering surge. This island was about even with the cape. Farther out was Piercy Island, a magnificent mountain of rock, begirt by a white wreath of foam.
Flocks of small white black-headed gulls were flying above a school of working fish that ruffled the water. Here and there were other patches, large as an acre. The place looked fishy, and here the boatmen began trolling with hand-lines for bait. They used a small gig, dark in color, shaped like a canoe, which they called a dummy. I rigged up a light tackle and put over a spoon, which the boatmen claimed would not be looked at by the kahawai. As luck would have it, however, I was the first to hook and land a kahawai. It was a lively fish, gray and green in color, shaped somewhat like a salmon. It had large scales. The mouth was small and delicate, which fact I soon saw accounted for the number of kahawai hooked and lost.
The fish were not biting well, so the boatmen ran out to Piercy Island, perhaps a matter of two miles. It towered just off the cape and was indeed an imposing spectacle. Black rock, green bush, wheeling gannets, white surf, roar and boom--all these thrilling things were old and familiar yet ever new.
When we ran under the looming shadow of this huge monument I laid aside my rod. That action was a considerable tribute for me to pay any place. I saw gray patches of fish on the surface, acres of kahawai. They all swam head out of the water, closely pressed together, and sending up little bursts of spray. Suddenly there was a white splash across the school, swift as light, and then a crash of water as thousands of kahawai leaped to escape some prowling enemy. This place did look fishy. My boatmen began to hook and haul away on kahawai but they lost three fish to one they landed. The hooks were too small and sharp, and the men pulled too hard.
As we ran closer under the rock, near the line of black shadow, the water showed beautifully clear. There was not any perceptible swell in this protected lee. Riding the surface were hundreds of fish of varying hues, most striking of all being a wonderful cerise. Then there were purple fish, yellow fish, and gray kahawai, all scattered everywhere. The boatmen gave me the Maori names of these fish, but these names were so similar and so long and strange that I could not remember them. Besides, they surely were not the proper names. Fish and birds in different places usually have local names but there is really only one correct name for any species. The boatmen called a shearwater, the kind I have seen all over the Pacific, a mutton bird.
Toward the end of Piercy Island a grand cave, the largest and highest I remember, ran through the rock in a tunnel fully a hundred yards long. It looked forbidding and dark, but it was really easy to run through. Even in the darkest part, where the water looked black, I saw the pale gleams of fish. On the outside, where the sea piled up on the cliffs, there was thunderous roar.
Practically all the fishing by anglers had been done near and around this rock. No anglers had ever run out to sea to any extent; and trolling, such as is the practice of American anglers, was practically unknown. The use of teasers behind the boat had never been heard of; and the fact of drawing Marlin swordfish up to the surface was quite incomprehensible to these boatmen.
We put over a couple of teasers and headed out to sea. The morning was fresh, cool, pleasant, with scarcely a ripple on the water. There was a slow swell running. We passed some shearwater ducks, and then a flock of large gannets. They looked like boobies to me, being large and long-winged, with yellow heads, bodies mostly pure white, and wings black-edged. We ran out four or five miles, until the shore line to the north showed rather low and dim. Cape Brett, however, loomed up black and clear, a reliable landmark for fishermen to watch.
We saw a big black fin, which even at a distance I knew to belong to a hammer-head shark. I did not have any particular yearning to catch him, but as sharks were counted by the New Zealand anglers and as I was in need of work, I dropped him a kahawai. He promptly took it, and I as promptly hooked him. I got about five minutes of work out of the loggy creature when he bit my line off; whereupon Captain Mitchell ran up, and seeing the shark surfacing again he handed him a bait.
Presently I had the pleasure of seeing the Captain hard at work with bent rod. I left him then and ran on out to sea. In an hour or more he caught up with my boat, and sure enough had the hammer-head on the stern. "Hooked him in the tail!" yelled the Captain; and I called back, "All right, Lucky Mitchell!" That sobriquet of Lucky I had once given to Frank Stick, and it surely was deserved; but as Stick was not in the Captain's class for luck I had to switch the honor.
We ran around outside for several hours without seeing any fish, and then headed back toward the cape. Presently I saw a swordfish jump, and I called out. The fish leaped three times. He was fully a mile away. We turned back and ran out at full speed. When we reached the place where I thought he had jumped we slowed down, and I began to troll a bait I had cut from a kahawai. My boatmen looked skeptical; but we had not completed our second circle when Arlidge let out a great yell and dived for the right teaser. Then I saw a big Marlin seize the teaser, break it off and throw it out. I let my bait back. He followed us, a wavering dark shape, coming closer, then dropping back, and again sheering toward us. I slacked off more line, and had a comfortable assurance this fish would bite. He was hungry, and he did bite, a good, hard, hungry tug. I let him run a hundred feet, and then struck. How those boatmen yelled! Captain Mitchell ran close. But the Marlin did not leap; he came up presently, made a swirl on the surface, and got free of the hook. I judged him to be a large Marlin, around three hundred pounds. The disappointment was keen, of course, but there was much satisfaction in having raised him by the teasers.
After that we trolled around for a couple of hours without raising a fish; then we went in to the cape, where we found six other boats all fishing by the drifting method, and quite close together. I began to make observations with much curiosity and great interest. My boatmen caught a kahawai, hooked it through the back and dropped it overboard, letting out about seventy feet of line. Then we drifted. I did not feel that anything much would happen, so I contented myself with watching the other boats. I wondered about the long light rods, especially the native wood, tanekaha. Through my binoculars I could see anglers, rods, reels and lines quite distinctly. The tackle looked hopelessly inadequate, wholly miscast, as they say in motion pictures. But I was out to see and learn, and I was not preoccupied with my own ideas.
By and by somebody yelled, and we saw by the commotion on one of the boats that a fish of some kind had taken a bait. I waited. The boat was quite near. Finally the angler elevated his rod. How amazing to me that he did not strike! The rod bent a little, the line ran out, and the boatman headed his boat away from the scene of disturbance. Presently the fish came up, a Marlin of average size, and began what my boatmen called "breaching". That is the whaler's term for a whale breaking on the surface. This Marlin did not perform as do our California Marlin. He leaped about half out, and threshed on the surface while the boatman ran the boat away in the opposite direction.
"Now they'll lose that fish pronto," I soliloquized. And sure enough they did.
During the next two hours I saw two other swordfish lost in the same way. Another angler, fast to another fish, drifted away almost out of sight. I heard next day that he caught his, a small Marlin. Small in those waters meant one hundred and seventy-five pounds, as the smallest ever caught weighed one seventy-one.
Nothing happened to me. I was amazed to find after three hours that my kahawai was still alive and apparently little the worse for the brutal way in which he had been handled. I let him go and watched him swim away; then we ran back to camp.
It was indeed a pleasant camp to return to. We got back at six, when the sun was still above the hills, and the valley seemed full of golden lights and purple shadows. There was no wind; not a ripple on the bay. The larks were holding a concert. We had a supper that was most satisfying to me, after a week of traveling through cities and villages where I could not get the kind of home cooking I like. And that sunset! As I sat in camp, I felt that it was indeed good to be alive. My face felt warm from the heat of the sun. At dark we went to bed. When I looked out of my tent window I could see the Southern Cross and the Pointers that pointed to it. How strange and beautiful! This constellation of the southern hemisphere is more famous with mariners than the Dipper or other heavenly bodies, except perhaps Polaris.
I was up before sunrise. The grass held a thick coating of dew so thick my shoes were wet very quickly. The dew glistened from every blade and rush and leaf. The windless night accounted for such a precipitation.
At seven-thirty we were on the fishing ground near Bird Island, trolling for bait. Captain Mitchell had his teasers out, and suddenly he yelled and pointed! I looked in time to see a Marlin back of the left teaser. The Captain had no bait ready, so lost a good chance for a strike. Again we ran out to sea. There was quite a goodly swell and a ripple, making it fine for trolling. I expected results. We made for outside, and went fully twelve miles. I sighted two sunfish, recognizing them easily by the peculiar side movement of the big fin. The other boat sighted a mako, but ran too close and put it down. On the return we traveled at quite a clip, too fast to troll, but I let out the teasers. From my place on deck I soon saw a waving purple fin, off to the starboard, and yelling to the boatmen I hurried aft; but I did not get to the teasers as quick as the swordfish. Four Marlin, one of them a monster, rushed the teasers; and two of them got hold. I pulled one teaser away while Arlidge pulled the other. Meanwhile Williams had dropped a kahawai overboard, with my hook in it; and as a Marlin rushed for it I grasped the rod hurriedly to get the tangled line clear. Just in time! The Marlin took that big six-pound bait, and went off with it. I was most curious. What would he do with it now he had it? Arlidge had thrown the clutch and we drifted to a stop. The Marlin took a good deal of line. After a while I decided he had enough, so I struck him. I pulled the big bait away from him, just as I had imagined I would; but he came back after it, and that time I let him have it longer than I ever let even a broadbill play with a bait. Then I hooked him, coming up solid on a taut line. There was considerable excitement on my boat and on Captain Mitchell's.
The Marlin came out clear, showing himself to be one of the striped variety and around two hundred pounds in weight. Everybody got busy with cameras. He did not give us much of an exhibition, coming out only five times, and the last time not wholly out of the water. I brought him to the boat in sixteen minutes. He belonged to the same species as those we catch at Catalina. The little remoras, or sucking fish, were clinging to him, and dropped off as we hauled him astern.
We trolled about for two hours trying to raise another or find the school we had raised, but were unsuccessful. Then we made for Piercy Rock.
I found the same boats there as we had seen the day before, all close together, all drifting with live bait overboard. I tried it again, and kept my eyes open. Some angler hooked a fish and went off to the north. The last I saw of him he was miles away. One of the boatmen on another boat called to us that his angler had fought a mako for two hours, and had lost it. During my first drift by the rock I saw one boat hook and lose a fish. Before I left another got fast and ran off with his quarry. Of course, these anglers could not stop or hold a fish with the kind of tackle they used. I suppose they made it a process of exhaustion.
Next morning a launch visited our camp and reported that one of the Deep Water Cove anglers had fought a shark for eight hours. The head and tail were brought to us for identification. I called it a common sand or ground shark. It must have weighed over five hundred. I wondered how many of the heavy fish hooked at Cape Brett and never landed belonged to some such class. Probably most of them. Drifting with bait deep down could never be anything but shark fishing. At least most of the fish hooked would be sharks of some variety.
During our first two days' fishing we had raised six Marlin, one of which I caught. That looked favorable for trolling with teasers. This first Marlin weighed two hundred and twenty-six pounds, a long, slim, graceful fish. The largest of those we raised was twice the size of this one.
Late afternoon of the second day was calm and still--not a stir in the titrees nor a ripple on the bay. The water reflected the rose-red trees and the golden hills in an effect that seemed more like a fairy enchantment than mirrored sea and land. After supper I climbed the hill to watch the sunset and the moonrise. The breathless stillness was something entirely new in my experience near the sea. No sound of surf! No moaning out on the bar! As the white moon soared above the hill the slopes and swales of grass took on a silver tint. I lingered to see and feel until I was so sleepy I could stay awake no longer.
Morning came, still, soft, rosy, balmy, colorful. Larks, up with the break of day, poured forth their perfect melodies. The grass was heavy with dew. Mullet and garfish were breaking the surface of the still water near the beach. Wide circles waved away and disappeared.
Beyond the bay the ocean, placid and smooth, resembled a mill pond. There was, however, a long low scarcely perceptible swell, which my watchful eyes detected. We ran out to the rocks for bait, and caught half a dozen kahawai in as many minutes. I saw a huge kingfish, so the boatman called it. He came up and lunged for a kahawai on the trolling line, making a sousing splash at the boat. If he was not a regular old yellowtail, belonging to the family seriola, then I missed my classification. The boatmen call this species kingfish; but kingfish belong to the mackerel family, and there was no mackerel about this fish. He looked to weigh close to a hundred, and made me keen to catch one.
Outside of Cape Brett we found the sea one vast, glassy expanse. What a day to hunt for broadbill swordfish! I had not seen a better day in all my swordfishing at Catalina. Moreover, the air was pleasant, the shore line strikingly clear. I did not expect to see a broad-bill swordfish, but I certainly could not help looking for one on such a sea as that. Birds were scarce. There was no sign of small fish on the surface. We ran out several miles, and all the while I perched on the deck, scanning the sea near and far, all at once I saw fins. I called out and stood up. We thought the fins belonged to a Marlin. Then we saw two more fish farther on, and formed the same conclusion about them. Suddenly the one nearest came up higher, showing his dorsal fin. I stared. I could not believe my eyes. Surely that brown-hooked rakish leathery dorsal could not belong to a broadbill swordfish, one of my old gladiator friends way down here in the Antipodes! But it did.
"Broadbill!" I yelled in wild excitement. "Look!...Three broadbills!"
Leaping for my tackle, I called for Arlidge to run around in front of the nearest fish. "Careful!" I warned. "Not too close!" At that he got close enough to scare a Catalina broadbill out of a year's growth, but the consequence was not so dire here. Williams threw hook baited with an eight-pound kahawai hooked through the back. I deplored that, but it was too late. I let out a hundred feet of line. The swordfish came on at my left, not quite an equal distance away. We glided ahead of him, and I dragged the bait fairly close to his path. Suddenly he saw it. He dove. I waited tensely. Indeed, the others on board were tense, too. Nothing happened. I thought he had passed us by. Then he swirled up, showing half his bronze body, huge, glistening. I thrilled all over. He had lunged for the bait. I knew he would hit it, and so I called out. Did he hit it? Well, he nearly knocked the rod out of my hands. How that peculiar switching up of the line made me tremble! No other fish in the sea can give a line that motion.
The swordfish struck again, again, and the fourth time. It was great. I could scarcely realize the truth. Then he took the bait and made off slowly at first, then increasing his speed until he was going fast and my line was whizzing off the reel. When we had half of it off, two hundred and fifty yards, I shut down on the drag, and as R.C. would say, "handed it to him".
In a moment more I knew I was hooked to a real old Xiphias gladius. He came up and showed his enormous shoulders, his high dorsal and half of his tail. Then he sounded.
The fight began, and, as I wanted to excite these boatmen who had scarcely ever heard of a broadbill, I performed rather violently and strenuously, which soon told upon me. I got out of breath and slacked up, until the fish ran out the line. He went down deep, which was disappointing as I wanted him to do some surface stunts. He never showed again. In half an hour I was wet with sweat and thoroughly warmed up. I fought him hard. Long before the hour passed I knew I had on a very heavy swordfish. I could not do much with him, though sometimes it appeared I had the mastery. At the hour-and-three-quarters mark I shut down on the drag and let him pull. Here I found to my surprise that he could tow the boat. It was not a small boat, either. That, I knew, would be hard on him; and thereafter, when I needed a rest, I let him drag us a bit. Three-quarters of an hour of this sort of thing wore him out to the extent that I was soon getting line back and daring to hope for the best. He was so enormously heavy that I could not lift him more than a foot or so at each pump of the rod. He had been down a thousand feet. All this fight had taken place with the fish at a great depth, which was new in my experience. But every broadbill teaches you something new. Finally I was lifting this swordfish, beginning to feel assured that I might get him, when the hook began to rip. I felt it rip--rip--and come out! I reeled in the long line without saying a word. The boatman felt the loss even more keenly than I. Yet I could not help deploring the usual manifestation of my exceedingly miserable luck as a fisherman; particularly in this instance, because the capture of the greatest game fish of all the Seven Seas here in the Bay of Islands waters of New Zealand would have meant much toward the development of the resort.
Later in the day I sighted a big Marlin fin on the surface of a swell; and that pleased me, for it proved that these New Zealand swordfish ride the swells the same as in other waters.
About three o'clock we ran in to the cape, and took to drifting, along with the other boats. Here again I rested while I was fishing (which was quite unique for me) and at the same time I kept close watch on the other boats, my glass bringing them right under my eyes. We let tide and wind take us at their will; and when we got half a mile or so off the rock we would run back and drift over again. During three of these drifts, of about an hour's duration each, I saw four boats lose fish, Marlin I was sure. One boat went out to sea with a fish, and I did not see what happened. Later we learned the angler of this boat caught his Marlin. I saw two anglers of another boat hook a fish on two rods. Despite this they ran off with the fish. Finally I got so curious to see the result that I had my boatmen follow. When we came upon the two anglers they had brought up a two-hundred-pound mako and at the moment were quite busily engaged. They had harpooned the fish. I saw the huge iron sticking out. The boatman was beating the mako over the head with a hammer, and another man was stabbing at the fish with what looked like a narrow spade. My conclusion was that the mako was not having a very happy time. He certainly had no opportunity to make what we anglers call a grand finish. This mako, the first I ever saw, and then did not have a good look at it, appeared to be a wild game fish. I grew more interested to catch one and see for myself what were its fighting qualities and its particular physical features.
As we ran back to camp the sky was overclouded, and the wind keen. It came off the land and threatened storm. By nightfall a strong breeze was blowing. If we had not been so well protected by hills we might have had to hold down our tents. At intervals during the night I awoke to thrill at the sound of the wind, strange in this far-away country. When I crawled out at dawn my first observation was that the grass was dry. Not a drop of dew! My second observation was that neither wind nor lowering sky affected the larks. What melody! There must have been half a dozen right around camp, singing to make me remember the beauty of the new day and joy there is in life.
When we got outside of Piercy Rock that morning we found a choppy sea and one most uncomfortable to fish. Captain Mitchell lagged behind for some reason or other, so I slowed down and waited. When he came up I found the reason was that he had caught a Marlin, his very first, a fair-sized fish. I whooped my congratulations ending with, "Lucky Mitchell!"
We trolled that rough sea for several hours. No fins! No fish! Birds were plentiful, but they were wheeling around as if searching as hopelessly as we were. About eleven o'clock we ran in behind Piercy Rock. Seven other boats were there drifting. Schools of kahawai were shining on the surface, and flocks of gulls hovered near, sometimes alighting on the water, in the thick of the schools, evidently feeding on the tiny minnows the kahawai were chasing. The surge against the beetling cliffs was magnificent. Roar and crash and boom! Then a white cascade came pouring down from the bronze slant of rock, to disappear in the great gulf left by the receding swell. Soon the surge heaved in again, to swell and grow and mount high, and go crashing to ruin. Restless and eternal sea! How it chafed the rocks! Those great cliffs really looked impervious to the contending tide; but a second glance showed that the sea was wearing away the rock and in time, in the ages to come, would conquer.
One boatman passing us called to Williams that he had lost a Marlin. So this made eight or nine I had recorded in three days, out of eleven hooked.
By the time we had completed our first drift I had developed conclusions. I knew that Marlin or some other large fish were working along with the schools of kahawai, every now and then making a charge from underneath, which caused the kahawai to leap crashing on the surface. So I instructed my boatmen to keep near one of these schools, and I let my bait drift as close as possible. This was something I had not observed a single one of the other boats doing, yet it seemed the thing to do. Soon I had a strong pull on my line. My bait was ten times too large, and the hook was also large, at least for Marlin. So when I struck, it did not surprise me that I missed. I slacked the bait and sure enough the Marlin took it again.
This time I let him have it so long that he came up on the surface and ejected it. But he got tangled up in my line, whereupon began a pretty exhibition. I was afraid to pull hard for fear of cutting my line. The fish leaped and threshed and came at the boat. In the vernacular of the boatmen, he breached twenty-five times. By handling him gently I saved both fish and line. When we got him fast we discovered my hook and bait were over a hundred feet from the place on my line where the Marlin had tangled.
We ran back and caught another kahawai. While beginning another drift one of the other anglers hooked a fish and started out to sea. It sort of aggravated me to watch these boats run away with a fish.
Presently I saw another patch of kahawai acting suspiciously, so I stalked it, and soon had another strike. This fish was easy to hook; and as there were eight boats near by I exerted myself in my desire to have them see a rod bent. The result was that I brought this Marlin up in eleven minutes. He did not jump, which was due to his being badly hooked. Running back to the rock, I tried again, found another school of kahawai on the surface, and had another heavy strike. But this fish let go quickly. He must have felt the hook. Thereupon I called it a day and left for camp. Captain Mitchell's fish weighed one hundred and ninety-two pounds, and mine two hundred and fifty-two and two hundred and eighty-four, respectively. The larger fish was a fine specimen that I had judged to be around three hundred pounds in weight.
Though the late afternoon was stormy, all the boatmen went to Russell to see their families, and no doubt to talk fish, especially the broadbill battle. I could not very well quote some of their exaggerations, though the temptation is strong. But all of them had come out frankly in expressing their amazement and admiration and to endorse heartily our tackle and method.
Some of the anglers we had watched, and boatmen too, apparently did not know how to proceed when a fish took hold of their bait. I saw one instance that is worth recording, since it was both funny and tragic. Four men were in a boat near us. Manifestly a bite had been felt by one of them, for they all jumped up. The man with the rod held it up high, but he did nothing else. I saw the long tip bend and then nod. Evidently the line was paying off the reel. Promptly a fine big swordfish broke water several hundred feet astern. Then great excitement prevailed. All the men, except the angler with the rod, ran around in that boat. The engineer started the boat at full speed, slowed down, turned around, went fast again, and finally got the swordfish on the other side of the boat. I did not know what had happened to the angler, but I saw him leap up, trying to hold the long rod. It jerked down, bent to the water and then under the boat. In an instant more it sprang back straight. Then angler stood bewildered, while one of his comrades began to thread the broken line through the guides. All this happened in a half a minute or so. After it had happened they all sat down, probably for a conference. I wanted much to run over there and give them some instructions, but I managed to refrain.
My largest swordfish, two hundred and eighty-four pounds, had four fish in his gullet, two kahawai, a small blue shark, and a snapper fully seven pounds in weight. This last had a round hole straight through his body. Unquestionably, it had been made by the bill of the swordfish. The snapper had not been struck a side blow in the usual way Marlin kill or stun their prey; he had been rammed straight through. This was proof that the spearfish, or Marlin, can and do ram fish. No doubt they ram their enemies in battle, as the broadbills do.
An incident of the day that pleased me immensely was to run across a market-fishing boat manned by two sturdy dark-faced fishermen; a sloop, scarred by sea and weather, and with the name Desert Gold on the stern. We ascertained that it had been named after my book Desert Gold, the same as had one of the greatest race-horses ever bred in the Antipodes. I was touched, proud, tremendously pleased. I had met with innumerable instances of kindly recognition from my reading public in the Antipodes, but to discover an old sailboat, under the beetling brow of Cape Brett, named with one of my own book titles, was something singularly affecting to me. Those fishermen never guessed the true state of my feelings.
BOUNTY FROM THE SEA
The boatmen told me this story about a mako fight that seems incredible. Yet they staked their word on it, and offered confirmation from others. A mako took a kahawai, was hooked and fought awhile. He tore free from the hook, and in plain sight took another bait thrown to him. Then the battle went on again for an hour or more, when he broke the line. He came up near the boat. They threw him another kahawai and he took that. This time the tackle held and he was landed, a fish of over three hundred pounds.
I have heard some fish stories in my day, and this one ranks high. But I believe it. I have known such strange facts myself, really stranger than any homespun fabrications. The most bewilderingly preposterous and stunning fish stories sometimes are true.
On the afternoon of our fourth day the threatening weather developed into a storm. Next day we found a rough sea and squalls of rain, but we persevered for a while. Captain Mitchell hooked some kind of a heavy beast, as he called it, that soon got away; and later he raised a big kingfish to the teasers. This was the third he had brought up. I had no luck whatever, and about noon, when the wind increased to a gale, I ran in, and the Captain soon followed.
On and off it rained and blew all the afternoon. We had trouble holding down the tents until they got throughly wet. During the night, at intervals, the storm awoke me. The sound of surf, the wind in the titrees, the patter of rain, all were singularly pleasant. By morning the storm had passed and the larks were proclaiming the fact with joy.
The promise of a fine day was not fulfilled, however, and outside the islands the sea was lumpy, bumpy, humpy, and reflected leaden clouds. At rare intervals the sun came out, the sea turned blue, and there seemed to be some sense in fishing. These intervals, however, were few and far between. I was in for a hard day. Many, many of them have I had. The way to fish is to keep your bait in the water, and keep on going, or casting, or sitting still on a log, whatever the particular method of the hour, until you get a bite.
The Alma G., though the best craft in Russell, was an uncomfortable boat. Her motions were sudden. She w as a cross between a V bottom and a round bottom. I had to hold on to my seat, hour after hour, and to my rod also. I trolled until one o'clock without sign of fish or strike. Then I climbed on deck to look for birds or anything. We were miles out. Gradually we worked back toward the cape.
At last we reached the shelter of Piercy Island. Four boats were drifting on the lee side of the great rock. We caught a live kahawai and began to fish. The sun shone now and then, the wind blew a gale about as often. Two more hours passed, negative for me. No, not altogether that, for the smallest and prettiest gull I ever saw alighted on my boat, quite close to me, and regarded me with bright, friendly eyes. He had fluffy feathers, like spindrift, white as snow with a few specks of black. Presently he walked aft and perched upon the deck. Next, a bird I classified as a sooty shearwater swam up to us. He, too, was small and round, but precisely the hue of soot. The boatmen fed him bits of fish and then Williams reached down, picked him up and set him on the combing. I was amazed and delighted. New Zealand birds were indeed tame. This one looked insulted at having his feathers ruffled, but he did not show any fright.
Upon turning the corner of Piercy Rock I discovered Captain Mitchell frantically engaged with a Marlin swordfish that was running and jumping toward the cliff. I hurried to get my camera. When I came out with it I was just in time to see the swordfish make a long, high leap that ended against the stone wall. He splintered his spear, which I saw fly into bits. He ejected the bait and also the hook. Then hanging there in a niche, he floundered and beat and flapped until he slid back into the surge.
There did not appear to be any lee side to the island, as the wind whipped round all sides and increased in strength until nothing could keep its place in the boat, nor I safely hold my chair. So we beat back to camp.
When Captain Mitchell returned he expressed himself forcibly: "Rotten day! I saw four Marlin, and had two strikes. The second one after you left. We saw a big Marlin on the surface, and we ran ahead of him with a bait. He took it and swam off in plain sight, trying to get it in his mouth. I let him go with it. Then when I struck the hook didn't catch. The Marlin took the bait again, and though I let him have it a long time I couldn't hook him. Those kahawai are too big. They're a darned nuisance. There was a splendid fish, hungry as a wolf, and I missed him!"
"Right-o', as these boatmen say", I replied. "This kahawai bait is too large for anything but sharks. It is the wrong bait for swordfish. And this method of drifting is wrong. We've got to find a suitable bait and a better method. Weather permitting, we can troll, of course."
The situation indeed presented some perplexities. I was satisfied that the waters along the New Zealand coast were alive with these great game fish, and no doubt fish that were new and equally formidable. We had discovered in calm weather we could find broad-bill and also raise Marlin. These facts were significant and inspiring. But the whole job was a pioneering one and must take time, hard work and infinite patience.
That night I surely did not see the stars. With sky pitch-black, and strong southwest winds, it appeared the storm was not over. Morning broke calm, however, with rosy sky and placid bay; and we were in high hopes again. Yet by the time we got out to Cape Brett the sky had grown overcast, the sea ruffled and white. Behind the huge castle-like island there was a lee of considerable extent, where we proposed to fish a little despite the storm. Gale and sea grew more violent. The mainland was lost in a haze of rain. Around the yellow cliffs the surges rose grandly and burst with sullen boom. What a cork at the mercy of the sea seemed our boat! I began to try to convince myself that we should run in before the storm increased, and just then I saw a Marlin fin.
We followed him, trolling a bait, got ahead of him, and had the fun and excitement of seeing him swerve swiftly and flash green as he seized it. The other boat drew near. My Marlin swam on with the big bait plainly visible between his jaws. Captain Mitchell thought the swordfish had passed my bait, and tried to give him his. It took some yelling to show the Captain his error. Finally, some one in his boat saw the swordfish with my bait. At last I grew impatient, and jerked the bait away from that nonchalant beggar; then he rushed it.
I hooked the Marlin before he had time to swallow the bait, with a result I expected. He leaped. He plunged. He rose half out of the water and plowed over the sea directly at Captain Mitchell's boat. Those on board had some chances with cameras at close range, for my swordfish came out twenty-three times. After that he sounded. Then in rather short order I brought him in.
When we reached Piercy Rock again there were four other boats about, one of them Mr. Alma Baker's with Sid, the boatman of local fame. The sun was shining and the wind had abated, all happenings in such very short order that I thought after all the day might turn out well.
As soon as we secured another bait Arlidge sighted a mako. We trolled the bait in front of him. He shot under; and in another moment I felt a strong tug, then a run. When I struck I waited breathlessly to see the mako leap, but he did not. I found him fast and powerful. Nevertheless, I soon had him in for Williams to gaff. Then pretty quickly I learned something about mako! He put up a terrific battle, broke one gaff, soaked us through with water, and gave no end of trouble. The boatmen wanted to harpoon him, but this I would not allow. Such a game fish should be given the same sporting chance afforded to others. Eventually we subdued the mako and hauled him aboard, to find ourselves two miles out to sea.
That was the beginning of a day too full to be wholly recorded. The wind ceased, then blew hard again; the sun shone, then became obscured by clouds; the sea was both rough and smooth.
One of the Deep Water Cove anglers hooked a fish quite near us. I watched. Suddenly a blue-and-white fish shot into the air, high, higher, as if propelled by a catapult.
"Mako! Mako!" the boatmen yelled.
The mako turned over, cut the water like a knife and went out of sight; then leaped again, this time still more wonderfully. Down he went, slick, like a champion diver. Up again, high--fully thirty feet! I shouted in my excitement. He turned clear over in the air, and slid down into the sea. He did not show again.
"Well, that mako is some fish!" I ejaculated. And the boatmen were loud in their praise of what they consider their gamest fish.
During the next hour I saw three boats hooked to fish, all at the same time. Alma Baker's fish took him out to sea.
I saw another angler break one of the long limber rods. Captain Mitchell broke a line on another fish. We saw half a dozen Marlin tails during the afternoon. I got a bait in front of one fish. He charged it, but refused to bite. Three times he did this. He was pugnacious but not hungry. These Marlin had fed and were on their way out to sea, which is their habit in all waters.
It took the angler three hours to land his mako. During that time several other anglers lost fish. Captain Mitchell had a Marlin get fast in a loop of his leader and pull free at the boat.
About four o'clock I had a tremendous strike. When I hooked the fish Williams had a strike on my other rod, which he was holding. We though there were two fish. But after half an hour of hard work we found I had hooked the Marlin, and Williams had got it tangled in his leader.
Not counting three I landed, I saw ten fish hooked, and of these three brought in. My Marlin weighed two hundred and fifty-four and two hundred and eighty-five pounds respectively, and the mako two hundred and fifty-eight.
It did not take more than one quick glance at my mako, when I saw him out of the water, to pronounce him a remarkable, a terrible and even a beautiful fish.
No doubt ichthyologists would relegate him to the shark family, and I was compelled to do that also, but I never saw a shark before with any of this one's marked features. He actually had something of the look of a broadbill swordfish without the sword. Dark on the back, white underneath, round and massive of body clear down to the tail, with the flattened side protuberances very marked, thick to the juncture with the flukes, he indeed gave a first impression of being some relation to old Xiphias gladius.
It was in the head and tail that he differed so essentially from a broadbill, or any other kind of fish. The head resembled a bullet, coming to a sharp point, long and slim. The eyes were large, protruding and most singularly harmonious, with the huge jaw set far back and armed with the most formidable array of teeth nature could devise. They were long, crooked, white, sharp as needles, and many of them set irregularly. In life these teeth had the physical property of moving to and fro, like the teeth of a reaper. The boatmen claimed that when the mako lost a tooth he developed a new one very quickly, and that he had rows of them in reserve in the jaws.
The tail was a beautiful thing, spade-like, only curved, graceful, symmetrical. The upper lobe was larger, with a tiny notch on the upper outside; the lower lobe almost oval in shape, as were the dorsal fins. The pectoral fins were long, wide, massive.
Here was a sea creature, an engine of destruction, developed to the nth degree. I had never seen its like. Even an orca could not do any more ravaging among sea fish. Every line of this mako showed speed and power to a remarkable degree. He had five long, deep gill slits on each side of his neck. I was amazed and fascinated by this new fish. Mr. Morton, a New Zealander, who accompanied us as a motion-picture camera man, explained how the Maoris used to capture the mako, the teeth of which they prized most highly. The natives took spears, a rope, and a very long pole, and went in a canoe to places known to them to be infested with mako. A sting ray or skate was fastened on the end of the long pole and then was thrust down into water, in and out, until it had excited a mako. When they had teased the mako up to the canoe, which was easy, for this fish does not fear man, they manipulated the skate so that the mako in rolling over and turning for it would give the Maoris a chance to throw a noose over its tail. With this fast to the fish they had a swift and precarious ride. When they wanted to turn the canoe they got in the center. The weight all at one point in the center caused these Indian canoes to swerve. They would seldom Upset. By such dexterous means the Maoris tired out the mako and dispatched it with spears. I could not help but contrast their courage and enterprise with the Indians along the Mexican coast, who were afraid to venture out on the sea.
The fourth day of the blow was the worst of all. Still we went fishing. As before, there was a lee on the sea side of the islands. It was not so large as the day previous, nor so smooth, but we managed to make some kind of shift at fishing. We surely did drift. There were seven boats altogether. I was the first to raise a Marlin, a fine fish, that ran all over the place, leaping and smashing the water, and making us follow him out into the rough sea. I had all I wanted for three-quarters of an hour. The big swells made fighting the fish a most difficult and laborsome task.
In the afternoon Captain Mitchell hooked a heavy fish of some kind. I was near enough to ascertain that. His boatmen began to run away from the fish. I hurried out there, and found they were doing as I had seen most of these New Zealand boatmen do. The minute a fish was hooked, they would run the boat after it. The anglers do not get any chance to fight a fish in instances of this kind. I shouted for the Captain's men to throw out the clutch. With the boat stopped Mitchell got down to determined work on the fish, and it soon showed on the surface, a mako. We ran closer in the interest of picture-taking. But I was to find that photographing a mako had its difficulties. It did not seem possible to keep track of the fish. I heard the boatmen yell, and a second later the crashing plop of the mako as he fell back from his leap. But I did not see it. Some time after that he jumped again, too quickly for me to focus upon him. What a clear, swift, powerful leaper!
Captain Mitchell whipped his mako, after a good hard battle in a bad sea. The fish had chewed off one of our best wire leaders and would certainly have escaped but for a loop of the leader being round his tail.
We ran back to discover two other boats engaged on fish of some kind. Alma Baker was on one of them. Upon going close to him I found he had a long, slim, ugly blue-colored shark which his boatman was holding by the leader. I took a picture. I had to bite my tongue to keep from yelling to that boatman, for I knew he would break the brute off; and he did.
During the rest of the afternoon there were indications of a change in the weather, which we certainly welcomed. Upon arriving at camp we weighed our fish. My Marlin tipped the scales at two hundred and seventy-six, the Captain's mako at two hundred and ninety-four. The leader was a sight to behold and caused me much concern. We had prepared especial thirty-foot mako leaders, heavy wire that we had believed was indestructible. What would we do if we hooked some really big mako?
The wind kept deceiving us, veering and lulling, blowing a gale at night, falling in the morning and then rising again. It made heavy seas. On February fourth I lost two fish, one a hammer-head that first bit my bait in two, then came back for the second portion. He was cunning and I was rather careless. There is never any excuse for not hooking a hungry shark. In this case I did not wait long enough, so that when I struck the hook did not hold. My second misfortune was on a Marlin of goodly size, that I worked too strenuously, and the hook pulled out as I brought him into the boat.
The next day was fine and promising at dawn, but the sun and calm were only delusions. A northwester sprang up, and blew harder every minute. There were seven boats out and they had a sorry time of it. Nevertheless I had a wonderful strike from a Marlin that shot by the boat and came out in a beautiful leap before I had time to hook him, but the hook held. We had to chase this fellow out into the rough sea, where I had another hard battle with fish and swells combined. He took us a mile off Piercy Rock. One other boat got fast to a Marlin and went out to sea so far that we lost sight of it altogether. Pretty risky in a small boat! I asked my men how these fellows would communicate their difficulties if the boat broke down or they ran short of gasoline. They said there would be no way. No accidents had happened at this new fishing resort, so the serious side of the game had not received any consideration.
The gale increased, and I thought it best to run in. Before we got far I was indeed glad I had started. The sea was running "high, wide and handsome", as the cowboys sometimes call the bucking of a mean bronco. The Alma G. proved a seaworthy craft and gave me confidence. Her bow was under water a good deal of the time, and she became as wet as a duck in the rain. When we got in the green shallow water the swells ran tremendously high and swift. They lifted us and sped us forward, so that with the added celerity we were indeed racing. Exhilarating and thrilling as that was, I was glad to run in between the first islands to smooth water. My Marlin was a superb specimen of two hundred and sixty-eight pounds, long, slim, brilliantly striped and with a very long spear. If he had been fat he would have weighed far over three hundred.
About supper time a heavy squall swooped down into the bay. We had to exert ourselves hurriedly and strenuously to keep our camp from blowing away. Both the launches dragged their anchors and grounded on the bar at low tide, wherefore the boatmen were most actively engaged during the gale and a downpour of rain. For me it was all fun. To be out in a rainstorm always takes me back to boyhood days.
About sunset the clouds broke up into irregular masses, the gale subsided, patches of vivid blue sky shone through rifts, and an exquisite light, as if the air were full of dissolved rainbows, began to be manifest on all sides.
The phenomenon lured me to climb the high slope and wade through the wet grass to the summit, where I could face the glorious west. Rain blew in my face, a cool, misty rain that did not obscure my sight, though evidently it had remarkable effect upon the atmosphere. A strange transparent medium enveloped earth and sky. The sun had set below a strip of dark cloud. Behind that the intense blue sky reached to broken cumulus clouds, purple in mass, edged with silver, shot through with rays of gold. From this great flare of the west spread the beautiful light over range and islands, bays and hills. The slopes with their waving grass were crowned by an amber glow; the bay on the leeward side of the island was a deep dark green; that on the windward side a white-ridged purple. From over the far hill thundered the turbulent sea. To the south the mountains showed dimly through the pall of storm that had passed over the Bay of Islands. The whole panorama seemed to possess an unearthly beauty, delicate, ephemeral, veiled by some mysterious light.
To make the moment perfect there were larks above my head, singing as if the magic of that sunset inspired their song. My searching gaze located three--one near, scarcely a hundred feet above me; another quite far; and a third a mere speck in the sky. There were others I could not find. Those I watched poised fluttering on high, singing such a sweet plaintive song as was surely never equaled by other bird, both in melody and in meaning. They were singing in the rain; and to my intense astonishment I ascertained, quickly in case of the nearer larks and after hard peering at the third, that they had their heads pointed to the west. This might have been accident; but I was not one who could deem it so. Nor were they singing for any other reason save the joy of life! I watched them until they dropped, wafted straight down, to cease their songs as they neared the ground. Two of them alighted in the wet grass and did not arise; the third dropped out of sight behind the hill. Others were near, invisible, but wonderfully manifest by their music.
Darkness gradually gathered in the valleys of the island, and twilight fell upon the hill. The glory died out of the west, the intensity of color away from islands and bays. Rain still fell, mistily, cool, sweet to the face. When I reached the foot of the slope larks were still singing somewhere.
All experience must be measured as much by what one brings, to it as by what it gives. Grassy windy hilltops, above the sea or the valley, always have enthralled me. They must surely have had strange relation to the lives of some of my ancestors. This experience on a hilltop of Urupukapuka, in the Bay of Islands, seemed fraught with unusual appreciation of nature and clearness of the meaning of life. My fishing was the merest of incidentals. It must be a means to an end, or one aspect of an end. How many times, on some adventure in a wild country, or some fishing jaunt to new waters, have I been rewarded by a singular revivifying joy, similar to this I found on the wet, grassy top of Urupukapuka, the rich amber light filling my eyes, and the songs of the larks in my ears!
THE LURE OF THE GREAT STRIPED MARLIN
The government weather authorities of Auckland gave out the information that the gale we had been experiencing was owing to violent disturbances in the Antarctic. Personally, it was my first conviction that the upset of the sea occurred at Cape Brett, and right under my boat. I have attempted to fish some rough waters in my day, but this maelstrom around Piercy Rock had the distinction of being the worst. There was, however, one consolation--it beat the rough water of the Gulf Stream at Long Key, Florida, by a goodly margin. I had imagined the northeast trade-wind of the Gulf to be about the worst.
Captain Mitchell and I took the Radmores out, one in each boat; and needless to say we fervently prayed for the gale to lull or that the Radmores would react naturally and suggest we return to camp. But these English brothers had not only served in the British Royal Navy; they had traveled in ships all over the globe. The elder Radmore, who accompanied me, appeared to enjoy the spindrift flying off the waves into our faces and the pitching of the boat bow first, and the rocking counter motion from side to side like a cradle. There were seven other boats out, manned by anglers and boatmen apparently as crazy to fish as we were. Six hours of stinging wind, of scudding spray, of tossing seas, of dangerous ventures near the rocks trying to find calm water where there was none, of futile fishing and of most annoying and increasing discomfort, were added to my angling experience that February day. This was the eighth day of adverse winds and crisscross seas.
The following day we did not trust, for it dawned precisely like the one before, and a gentle breeze soon developed volume and power, and the low bank of gray cloud in the southwest soon overcast the sky. Yet at intervals the wind lulled and the sun shone warm. There were promises of better weather in a more or less remote future.
Hours in camp, however, were not wasted or idled. There were manifold tasks, including notes, tackle, photography, letters and exploring the many ramifications of the beautiful Urupukapuka Island. Though not a pretty comparison, to liken the island to the shape of an octopus was not too far-fetched. It had at least a dozen rambling arms, projecting out into the bay, as if to point toward the other islands. Some of them were a long way from camp, over grassy hills and down grassy canyons, and then out on waving undulating grassy ridges to promontories overlooking the sea.
There was one lonesome horse on the island, and I appeared always to encounter him on my walks. He regarded me with most evident surprise and concern; and he either was really wild or wanted me to think so. I observed, however, that as these meetings increased in number he grew less inclined to kick up his heels and go galloping off with flying tail and mane.
The locusts that sang their summer songs during the day were hard to locate in the titrees. At length, however, I got a glimpse of one, and he appeared black in color and rather small in size. Huge flies were present in considerable numbers, always buzzing and humming around when the wind lulled and the sun came out. They were not otherwise annoying.
We had a glimpse of quail in the reeds of the swale back of camp. I saw what I believed to be a swamp blackbird. In the dense grove of trees behind our tents there were sweet-voiced birds, so shy and illusive that I could not discover what they looked like. Then on a low, level slope I flushed a skylark out of the grass. It flitted and flapped over the grass as if it had broken wing, after the deceiving habit of a ruffed grouse when driven from her nest. This lark had answered to the same instinct, to lure the intruder away from her little ones. I soon found the tiny nest deep-seated in a tuft of grass, and surely safe from anything except the sharp hoof of a sheep. There were three young birds, not long hatched, with scarcely a feather. I slipped away to a knoll and watched for the mother bird to return; but evidently she saw me, for she did not come.
When we hauled a fish up on the beach, to weigh and photograph, there were always a number of large black-winged gulls that appeared so suddenly as to make me suspect they had been watching. They might have been attracted by scent. At any rate, they arrived and they were hungry. In the mornings, at daylight, I would hear them screaming on the beach, their notes at once piercing and musical. These gulls, by the way, were differently marked from any other I had observed.
Captain Mitchell related an adventure which I genuinely envied him. A giant albatross darted down behind his boat, while he was trolling a kahawai, and dived at the bait, tugged hard, then let go. Seen at close range the bird appeared enormous, austere and old, gray and white with black markings. He had a spread of wings that was incredible. The Captain let his bait drift back, in hopes that the albatross would take it and hook himself. What a catch that would have been! But the weird fowl of Ancient Mariner fame was not to be captured. Ponderously, yet with the grace of a swallow, he swooped down and circled once more over the bait, then sailed away with the flight so marvelous and beautiful to see.
Before sunrise the next morning I was up strolling along the beach, where I had been lured by the still soft dawn. No wind to speak of! It was a change vastly to my liking. At low tide the sandy crescent beach was fully a hundred yards wide and thickly strewn with shells. One of my myriad pastimes is gathering shells cast up by the sea.
This morning, however, my attention was distracted from my pleasant search by a crash in the water. I looked up in time to see one of the large white-and-black gannets fly right out of the water. The depth there could scarcely have exceeded a foot. Multitudes of little fish were leaping on all sides of the violent place from which the gannet had emerged. Most assuredly he had dived among them for his breakfast. I wondered how he could plunge down into that shallow water without killing himself on the sand.
Whereupon I watched him as he sailed away along shore, circling out around the boats, to turn back toward me. He was flying some forty or fifty feet above the water. About opposite my position mullet were breaking on the surface. No doubt that the gannet saw them! Suddenly he swooped down until he was scarcely two feet above the water. Then he bowed his wings and dived; quite the slickest dive imaginable! His white body gleamed under the water and must have covered a distance of six feet. Then he came up just as suddenly and in his cruel bill was a luckless little fish, which he swallowed kicking.
"I doff my hat to you, Mr. Gannet," I said admiringly, and indeed I suited action to words.
There is never an end to the marvelous things to be seen in nature. Always new, strange and wonderful things; not always beautiful! Self-preservation is the first law of nature, but it is a hard bloody business.
Too good to be true--the change in the weather! The breeze was soft, and clouds were few. We made skeptical remarks about how the wind would come up, gather strength and blow the tops off the waves; but it did not. All day the conditions improved. The gusts grew shorter of duration and farther apart. Warmer shone the sun. The sea gave evidence of calming down. It was enough for me to sit in my boat and be grateful for these welcome facts and smell the fragrant wood smoke that came from forest fires on the hills.
Twelve boats drifted around Piercy Rock that morning. We saw two Marlin fins the very first thing, before we had caught a bait. After we did catch one we could not locate the Marlin. During the morning two fish were hooked outside the rock, one of which, a small swordfish, I saw landed.
After lunch I had a strike. When hooked the fish ran three hundred yards as swiftly as an express train. Then plunging out, he turned straight back, with like speed. His dorsal fin cut the water for a hundred feet. Then I lost him. My line went slack. We thought he had broken off, with all the bag of line he was dragging. I wound in my line up to the double before I felt him right at the boat.
Then he began to leap, and by the time he had ended his beautiful and remarkable exhibition of pyrotechnics he had come into the air fifty times. He made every manner of leap except a somersault. The boatmen used up all the films on both my cameras. That tremendous burst of energy had exhausted the swordfish, which I soon landed.
Captain Mitchell had run out to sea, so far we could hardly sight his boat. When he came in his flag was flying. He yelled something unintelligible to me about fish, and he looked excited; but not until we arrived at camp did I get the gist of what had happened. He had lost a hammer-head, also a Marlin, had another strike, and then caught a swordfish that went down deep and never rose until he was beaten. Two of the strikes the Captain got by trolling in front of sighted fish. This method to me is a sure and fascinating one. With our luck and the change of weather we were once more happy fishermen. Captain Mitchell's fish weighed two hundred and ninety-eight pounds and mine two hundred and thirty.
The weather is always a paramount consideration with a fisherman, especially he who fishes on the sea. We had one fairly good day, compared with the last week or so, but that was not by any means calm. Still we were able to troll out to sea half a dozen miles. We raised a Marlin with the teasers, and he promptly took my bait. He gave a splendid exhibition of lofty tumbling and skittering around on his tail, wearing out his strength so that I subdued him in half an hour. He was the largest fish so far for me.
Later I had another swordfish smash at the left teaser, but he did not come back. Following that we espied a hammer-head fin. Remembering how the two hammer-heads had outwitted me, I tried this one. He bit readily; nevertheless I could not hook him. Finally he took half my bait and left. My conclusion was that this species of shark in New Zealand was very cunning.
Captain Mitchell lost a bait to a fish of some kind, and also fought a Marlin for a while, only to pull the hook. My Marlin, number nine for me, weighed an even three hundred pounds, giving me two pounds above Captain Mitchell's largest, a fact I made much of. "Well, Lucky Mitchell, I'm getting ahead of you," I averred complacently. "Better watch out, or I'll beat you as badly as you did me on the Rogue River in Oregon last fall...Never will forgive your catching seventy-nine steelhead to my twenty-five!"
That evening in camp was warm and pleasant and still. Ominous clouds in the west loomed up, however, and in the night a heavy storm broke. How the wind howled in the titrees and how the rain roared on my tent!
I remember with amusement an article sent me from some New Zealand newspaper. Two old gentlemen were discussing my visit and particularly the information that I was absorbing local color at Russell. One of them asked: "What you figure that air local color to mean, now?" His companion replied: "Aw, he's gettin' sunburnt. I know, because I've been at Russell."
Also I received a funny letter from a man who appeared somewhat annoyed at the tremendous importance apparently given me by the newspapers over my proposed swordfishing, and the amount of space given my tackle. In part he wrote: "See here, all this fuss about your coming seven thousand miles with high-priced new-fangled machinery to catch swordfish is sort of ridiculous. Sonny, I caught New Zealand swordfish before you were born, and did it with hairpins, too."
The old gentleman was as irate and sincere as he was ignorant. No doubt he meant the small silver fish, a few inches long, with a spear-like snout, my men called garfish and small boys misnamed swordfish; and he had no knowledge of the great broadsworded king of the seas.
An incident that I often recall as remarkable happened one day when we were running in from outside and had our flag flying. We stopped to maneuver round a fish. A big steamship, a freighter, was going to port, and, seeing our flag and queer movements, the captain altered his course and bore down upon us until he ascertained we were not flying distress signals. I appreciated the good captain's loyalty to the code of the sea and regretted having unwittingly alarmed him.
After nine days of intermittent gales, storms, calms and downpours, we had a beautiful dawn that promised a beautiful day. Sunrise was rose and silver, shining on the hills where grazing sheep were silhouetted against the sky.
For a change we ran north through new channels, between islands different from those I had watched every day as we went to and fro, and each one seemed to add something to my growing delight in the wonderful Bay of Islands.
Outside to the north we found schools of yellowtail around a buoy. They were small and more suited to use as bait. We caught a dozen quickly. Some we essayed to keep alive in a large galvanized iron tank I had made for the purpose. We found that it worked splendidly, though it gave Arlidge and Pete Williams a lot of excercise with buckets. North from the buoy stood a large monumental rock called the Ninepin. It reminded me a little of El Capitan, the great sentinel rock in the Painted Desert of Arizona. An ocean swell rose green and gold over the base of the Ninepin and burst into roaring white chaos against the cliff. Contending strife of sea and rock! It was always present. There were schools of fish round the Ninepin, but no kahawai. From there we ran straight out to sea ten miles, which distance brought us some five or six miles off Cape Brett.
At first I thought we were going to have a smooth, glassy sea, and had my eyes keen for broadbill fins. But a little breeze sprang up, ruffling the water. Still it was most wonderful compared with the last nine days, and I was accordingly grateful.
It turned out to be a great fishing day, the details of which were so many, exciting and confusing that I cannot recall them all. I trolled a yellowtail. This bait was not satisfactory, but it was better than a kahawai.
The color of the sea was deep dark blue, almost violet. Fleecy white clouds now and then shaded the warm sun. The breeze freshened. As I trolled along, suddenly I espied an albatross wheeling and sailing around our boat. I watched with absorbed and thrilling delight. During many years of fishing on the sea I watched many birds, but never so grand a bird as this albatross. He had the sailing, shooting, rising and falling triangular flight of a shear-water, with every characteristic of that bird magnified. I was struck with the amazing fact that here I had the marvelous privilege of watching the albatross of the Antarctic. Truly I was far from home. Early in the day I raised a Marlin, to be disappointed that the hook did not catch. Not long afterward, the teasers lured another from the purple depths. How he blazed in the clear water back of the boat, weaving to and fro before he hit the bait! The boatmen yelled. They surely were keen to catch fish. We got twenty-four jumps out of this swordfish. Not long after that I raised another and recorded eighteen for him. During the lunch hour, as the boatmen began to brew their tea, we let the boat drift. "Boys," I said, "I have a feeling you will miss your lunch."
Sure enough, before long I had a tremendous strike. I hooked something that felt like the bottom of the sea. Yet it made fast runs, short and long. We thought I had a mako, and I worked accordingly. But my exceedingly hard exertion was rewarded only by a huge ugly reremai shark that gave us trouble at the boat. We signaled for the Captain's boat, and when it arrived we said we needed a few more men. My boatmen wanted to load this shark on board. I was not keen about that, but I did not object. Finally they got the brute on the stern and roped fast, as they imagined. A while later, when I hooked another Marlin, the shark began to thump and thresh. I was knocked out of my seat, nearly losing my rod. One of the guides was knocked off. Arlidge rescued my rod, sustaining a bruised foot. The monster then flopped over in the cockpit, almost filling it. Peter roped him down again, whereupon I went back to work on the swordfish, which, marvelous to relate, had not escaped. I was afraid the shark would break loose again and toss me overboard. Arlidge did get a bump as he was working the clutch. He shouted lustily and left his post in a hurry. Eventually the reremai quieted down and I landed my swordfish.
Then we made the discovery that Captain Mitchell was fighting a heavy fish. We ran over to learn that he had fastened to another reremai. I had a lot of fun telling the Captain to pull the brute up quickly. He was certainly engaged a long while, and punished his tackle considerably.
On the way in to Cape Brett the Captain had a Marlin take hold, waltz around the boat on his tail and leap prodigiously to free himself at last. That ended a rather unusual day of bad luck for Captain Mitchell and good for me. We found we were more than an hour off the cape. I had raised six Marlin with teasers. Once while fighting one of them my bait slipped up the line, and two Marlin charged it. "All off, boys," I called, slacking my line. "Those birds will cut me off."
We could see the purple and silver blazes, the bright stripes of the swordfish, as they threshed around the bait. The left it, presently, and after all I saved my fish. This we regarded as the most exciting incident of an exciting day.
"Well," said Peter, his bronze face radiating enthusiasm, "the teasers are great. They raise the Marlins all right."
It seemed I had indeed established another fact--that the swordfish of the waters of the Antipodes could be raised to the surface by trolling. I was immensely pleased, for that must eventually change the whole fishing method around New Zealand. My fish weighed two hundred and eight, two hundred and twenty-four and two hundred and thirty-four pounds. The last one leaped twenty-one times.
We woke to a still better day, so far as weather and beautiful sea were concerned. It was, however, the thirteenth; and also I had reached my thirteenth Marlin! From a fisherman's standpoint, how was I ever going to overcome such monumental handicaps? I did not.
I had three beautiful strikes, and though two of them were extremely difficult strikes to handle, owing to the sudden long swift runs right from the start, I acted with all possible good judgment and skill. But not in any case did the hook hold. After all there is a great deal of luck about that. If a swordfish takes the bait between his jaws, not ravenously, and starts off with the head of the bait, containing the hook, toward the angler, it stands to reason that when the angler strikes he will either pull the bait out of the swordfish's mouth or pull the hook loose. Anyway, I did both things.
One of my Marlin was a big heavy fish, and he shot off in a curve toward Captain Mitchell's boat, leaping wildly with the bait swinging six feet from his head. He had tangled in the leader. I saw it through his jaws. There was an enormous bag in the line, as the swordfish had run straight off, then suddenly doubled back. I simply could not hook him.
The last Marlin of the four I raised by teasers was a contrary fellow and very cunning and obviously not hungry. He shot to and fro behind the bait, a beautiful striped tiger of the sea. His pectorals stood out like jib booms on a ship. We ran away from him, teasing him to follow, which he did, even passing my bait; but he would not take it. Finally he sheered away, blazing like a silver-and-purple shield, and faded into the depths. After that I caught a reremai shark of about three hundred pounds weight, which we cut loose.
The day was not entirely lost, considering the pictures we obtained, and the raising of four more Marlin by the teasers.
At the cape, a half dozen or more boats caught nine Marlin. One boat had five fish on; and twice it had a double-header, which is two strikes simultaneously. In each case only one swordfish was landed. The drifting method evidently was prolific of strikes that day. Also there must have been plenty of swordfish, for I raised mine seven miles off the cape. What strong entrancement gripped me, trolling those deep unknown blue waters out there! Any moment I might raise an enormous black Marlin or a great sailfish or mako, or even a broadbill, not to think of some new species of fish.
The next day was the best day of all up to date, and naturally we expected much; especially to sight the sickle fins of a broadbill. But despite a smooth sea all day, not a sign! The sun shone hot. For the first time I fished without a coat or vest.
At three o'clock Pete sighted the long, sharp tip of a Marlin tail. We ran over. He appeared asleep. Frank would have run closer, but I said, "If he is awake he'll see the teasers." When we got within two hundred feet, he woke up and swirled the water. Then he disappeared. In another moment, there he was behind the teasers, a great striped bird-like shape, quick as a flash. He was the largest I had seen up to then. Crossing behind the teasers two or three times, he sheered up, put his spear out of the water, and snapped in my bait. Away he shot! I let him go long enough, then struck, but the hook did not hold.
We saw the Captain have something of the same bad fortune. On the way in, near Piercy Rock, I sighted a mako. We caught him. Then a little later Pete sighted another, a larger one. We caught him. So the day ended well, after all. I had the fun of raising flag at the very end, and also of teasing Captain Mitchell and his boatmen.
My makos were small, as makos go, weighing one hundred and fifteen and two hundred pounds. I guessed the weight of the smaller at eighty-six pounds, and then made sure I had overestimated. These fish have the heaviest flesh of any I ever caught. They are tremendously well equipped to fight and destroy and live. While my men were gaffing the second mako, the first one, tied astern, bit the gaff rope through, and I almost lost this second and larger fish.
We left at daylight the following morning for Cavalli Islands, some twenty miles north up the coast. It was a delightful run in the clear, rosy, fresh morning. The sea was like glass. Everywhere schools of fish were darkening the water and sea birds were wheeling and fishing. We made the distance in a little over two hours.
The Cavallis are rough, rugged islands dominated by a large one reaching the dimensions of a mountain. The outer islands are all black rock, eaten to fantastic shapes by the hungry sea. There are two natural bridges, one almost equaling the superb arch at Piercy Island. This chain of islands reaches out miles into the open sea. Wash and boom of the surge are heard on all sides.
The point farthest out should have been a wonderful place for bait and fish, but we did not see any. Far offshore, schools of kahawai showed black on the bright water. As we ran out, I sighted a Marlin weaving in, his tail just showing. We circled him; and what a rush he made at the teasers! They had to be pulled clear in to the boat, and then he bumped his bill into the stern. Finally I jerked my bait over him. How he whacked at it! Then, securing it between his jaws, he flashed off.
This swordfish leaped seventeen times and took forty minutes of hard fighting to subdue. He was game and strong.
We headed for the southeast and trolled the miles away, now and then stopping awhile to drop down a live bait. But the sea seemed empty. Not until afternoon did I espy another Marlin fin. We got a bait in front of him, and he sailed after it. We were running fairly fast, and the swordfish, instead of weaving to and fro behind the bait, preparing to cross it, followed it precisely, trying to get it in his mouth. The bait was half out of water, which made the difficulty for the hungry Marlin. He afforded the boatmen much amusement, and I was thrilled and excited. For fifty yards or more he surged after my kahawai before he got it. Then he went down slowly and easily, turned to the left and kept pace with the boat. It was a wonderful strike. I waved for Captain Mitchell to come up on that side and be ready to photograph the swordfish. When I struck, he felt like a log, but he did not rise. We ran along for quite a distance. Then suddenly he plunged out, a very long, heavy, deep-striped Marlin, most wonderfully bright with silver and purple and green colors. His size amazed me and made the boatmen yell and rush for the cameras.
That swordfish leaped again and again, increasing his energy until it was tremendous. Soon he was throwing up so much water that I could not see him for splash and spray. Then he threw the hook, but even then kept on leaping. What a magnificent display! In all, he leaped clear eleven times; but he was on the surface during the whole short period after that first jump. I felt sort of stunned. This was the largest striped Marlin I ever saw, surely approaching five hundred pounds. There was no disregarding my bad luck. The loss affected me deeply, as my most cherished ambition for New Zealand waters was to catch one of those great Marlin.
A WORLD-RECORD FISH AND THE FIGHT WITH A BROADBILL
The fourth perfect day made up most happily for all the days of gale and rain. On the way in from the sea, we became aware of a strange effect in the sky. There was a haze through which the setting sun shone dusky red. Through it the mountains were a deep purple, and the water seemed on fire. As the sun sank lower, these lights deepened and intensified until the world of sky, earth and ocean was unreal, surpassingly beautiful, like a realm of dreams. Finally, the sun turned magenta, and then the glow on the placid waters was exquisitely lovely.
All this strange effect did not come from mere sunset, but sunset through smoke of fires. Not until then did I make the discovery that part of the golden grassy hills of Urupukapuka had been burned over. They were black, ghastly, smoking.
Upon arriving at camp, I found with some relief that only half the island had been burned over. The wonderful slopes back of our grove of titrees were still shining and silvery.
We took our climb up the hills as usual, and Mrs. Mitchell observed that the larks were not singing. How strange I had not been quick to note that! But it appeared I was waiting until we attained the summit, there to see and hear everything.
Alas! Not one lark sang for us. It was a melancholy omission. What had happened to the larks? These hideous black hilltops opposite answered that sinister question. The music of the sky the birds, the joy of life that they vented so freely, had been quenched by the fire, the creeping line of red, the blowing pall of smoke. No doubt the larks knew those dread signs.
Next morning I was not awakened by the singing of larks. When I awoke I lay still awhile and listened. The laughing gulls made a great clamor, but there were no high sweet thrilling notes from the bird of the skies.
The hills had to be burned over by the sheep herders so that new grass would spring up the quicker. Sheep raising was a business. Who thought of the little larks in their nests? Only the frantic mother lark; and some such dreamer and nature lover as myself. If Urupukapuka had belonged to me, there would not have been any burning of the waving grass on the silver hills.
As far as fishing was concerned, that day bid well to add more perfect weather to our mounting record. No wind! A warm hazed sun and a placid ocean! Captain Mitchell's boat was delayed longer than ours at catching bait. We were off Bird Rock while they were two miles behind, and lagging, I thought; but all at once I saw a big splash.
"Boys," I called, "the Captain has hooked something. Step on it and let's hustle back."
I saw more big white splashes, but not any distinct shape of a fish. When we got near the fish did not show. Upon reaching the boat I yelled through the megaphone, "What're you fast to Cap?"
The Captain appeared too busily engaged to reply, but one of the boatmen called, "Say, we've hooked the granddad of all the swordfish."
Whereupon I took my camera and climbed to the deck, motioning Frank to run closer. Presently I could see Captain Mitchell's line, and made a guess as to the whereabouts of the fish.
Suddenly the water bulged, opened with a sullen roar. A short, black bill protruded, then an enormous, glistening head, the massive shoulders of a grand black Marlin. Slowly he seemed to propel himself upward into the air, but he was so heavy he could not clear the water. I snapped my camera while I let out the most stentorian yell I ever uttered over a fish.
Suddenly the swordfish sank. The splashing water subsided; then it opened again, and precisely as before the giant came out. I was ready with my camera, and also with a bellow that equaled my first. Then the extraordinary thing happened the third time, after which the swordfish went down.
In the blaze of thrilling excitement I directed the boatmen to run behind the Captain's boat and let me jump aboard. Soon I was beside him, and I believed it was well. Both boatmen were white with nervous excitement and Captain Mitchell looked as if he fully appreciated the situation. So I took charge of the operation of the boat and advised Captain Mitchell as best I could. I also yelled to my boatmen to run close and use my cameras.
Then began a magnificent fight with a truly grand fish. His heaves and leaps and runs, and the sound of the water as he came out and plunged back, the wild words of the boatmen, the yells of my men, the swift judgment I employed through the various situations, and lastly the appalling beauty and wonder of that fish--all were registered in my mind, but never to be recalled clearly.
Yet I remember vividly my sensations as the Captain drew the wire leader to my hands, and I could not risk holding it. Time after time this happened. I held a little harder every time, until at last came that most frightfully strained moment for me when I heaved the swordfish closer, closer, closer, and at the same time told each man what to do. Up the grand fish came. Black! Huge! Not a stripe on him! He had a short, blunt bill, low, black dorsal, body as large as that of an ox, tail wider than a door. His eye gleamed, he rolled heavily; the leader and hook held. I heaved with all my might. "Gaff him!" I yelled, "over the back! Quick!"
When the gaff went in I leaped down and helped hold that wagging handle. The swordfish sent up mountains of water. Both Hodgson and I were lifted, thrown, dragged, but we held him while the other boatman lassoed the monstrous, looming tail.
Then I fell back, exhausted and spent, to congratulate the Captain. He was wet with sweat, dishevelled and almost at the point of collapse. The battle had not been so long as others I had engaged in, but it had been strenuous, and, through emotion, fearfully wearing on the nerves.
It took both crews to pull that swordfish upon the stern of the Captain's boat. Then we ran out to sea, as if such a capture was all in the day's work. Three miles out Captain Mitchell raised and hooked a striped Marlin that led him a chase. I was about to follow when I espied a sharp dark sickle tail above the water.
"We've got trouble of our own, boys," I said, pointing. "Run over to that one."
When within two hundred feet, the tail disappeared. In another instant the purple wings and bird-like shape of a swordfish appeared, as if by magic, behind our teasers.
We went through the usual exciting procedure, and things turned out well. It was only when this swordfish began to leap that a great difference manifested itself. He leaped out like a greyhound. He went high into the air, fully fifteen feet over the water, and all of thirty feet in a long curve. We had to chase him full speed. Each leap appeared more wonderful, higher, longer, until they were incredible.
He leaped seventeen times in succession, the last of which was marvelous in the extreme. I never had seen such an exhibition. So many leaps, such increasing speed, height, distance; such blazing of purple, silver, bronze; such quivering of body, wagging of bill, and sweeping of tail were surely the magnification of all other performances.
After that he slowed down, sank deep and gave me an hour of very hard labor. Then he made another display of leaping, showing seven more times.
When I finally had the Marlin on board our boat, I beheld the Captain approaching. His men signaled, and we were soon within hailing distance, but that did not suit the Captain. He had the boats come to a stop together. His face was beaming.
"Most extraordinary thing!" he exclaimed. "By gad! I never saw the like. Our teasers raised two Marlin, one the usual size and striped, the other a big black fellow. They charged the teasers together. Then the big black one flashed at the other, and rammed him terribly. I saw the bill go in. The struck Marlin leaped out terrifically, and the black devil followed him. For half a mile that struck swordfish leaped out every few seconds...most extraordinary thing I ever saw."
"Well!" I ejaculated. "What do you think of that?...I just had something wonderful happen too. Let's go back to camp before one of these fish sinks us."
Mitchell's black Marlin was as grand on nearer view as he had been while leaping; but the wildness and blaze had faded with his life. He was a fish of the most graceful lines that ever blessed my sight. Verily he was a black-opal-and-silver hue with leaden fins. Nowhere the slightest mark of a stripe! The large, round pupil of his eye matched the color of his fins and the cornea retained all the iridescence of his body. His fins were perfectly turned to the shape of delicate, pointed scythes, with which he had slashed through the seas. How wonderfully nature had combined his ponderous size and majesty with beauty and grace! His shoulders were magnificent, his depth incredible, his bulk carrying clear to his enormously wide tail.
There was a most remarkable contrast between this fish and the striped Marlin. First in the absence of purple stripes; secondly, in the short, heavy, blunt bill, it not being much longer than a foot; thirdly, in the low short dorsal fin; and fourthly, in the lower maxillary, which was also very short and which curved down, like a beak. This last feature is peculiarly that of a black Marlin. His pectoral fins were narrow, curved and very long. The queer little appendages between them, that in a sailfish are very extended in length and delicate as rapiers, were scarcely six inches long. They resembled feelers. What use could such a tremendous fish find in those two feather-like projections? I had no idea.
He measured five and a half feet in girth and twelve and a half feet in length; a remarkable length considering the shortness of his bill. His tail spread forty-seven inches, and he weighed six hundred and eighty-five pounds.
To that date, this was the world record for both flat and round bill swordfish. The time of the capture was something over two hours, a very short fight for such a marvelous fish. No doubt the effort required to propel his huge bulk into the air told greatly upon his strength. We differed as to number of leaps he made, but I remembered twenty-three. Never shall I forget one of them! It was breath-taking to see him, and nerve racking for me pulling on the leader and risking a break.
Fighting a great game fish is hard work, but it is not the hardest connected with the sport. With the strike and the following battle there is an excitement that makes time fly and labor seem nothing. Only when severe exhaustion and pain become manifest does the mind dwell upon the physical side of it.
I have encountered but few anglers who could stand this game for any great length of time. The way we fish for sailfish, swordfish and tuna involves a searching of the sea, running miles and miles to locate a particular fish or find where a school is surfacing. The glare of the bright water is perhaps the hardest thing to endure, unless it is the vain hunt, day after day, without sighting what you want.
Of course, in New Zealand waters we did not have this vain hunt, for we were always raising swordfish or getting strikes. We met, however, the other discomforts and endurance-testing features. Foremost of these was the rough sea. We had ten days of rocking boats, that each day, along in the afternoon, made things almost unendurable. Then followed nine perfect days which spoiled us. After that we struck a windy day. It appeared only a breeze when we started out, and deceived us. When we were miles offshore a strong wind blew down on us, kicking up a tremendous sea. At first the sensation of trolling over great blue white-crested roaring billows was most thrilling. There was the keen zest to see a swordfish come shooting through the swells at our teasers; and then the wonder of having him leap across the blue hollows and out of the curling combers.
Captain Mitchell did hook one that danced over the sea in a most amazing way. It was so rough, however, that I could not hold my camera level. In fact, I could not do anything save hold on to the boat.
That night I was worn out and as sore in body as if I had been beaten with a club. When I awoke I could not sit up. My back seemed broken. I had to work around sideways and finally got to a sitting posture, so I could dress. After some brisk exercise in the cool dawn I got rid of the soreness.
My Marlin swordfish, numbers fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, caught during the last few days prior to the windy one, weighed two hundred and fifty-eight, two hundred and seventy-eight, and two hundred and fifty pounds, respectively. I also captured a fivehundred-pound reremai, an achievement I did not care to repeat. He was a strong, heavy brute and hard to lift.
On February nineteenth we scoured the smooth opal sea all morning, and ran all over the territory we knew, looking for fins. But not a fin! We did not raise a Marlin either. At the lunch hour we stopped the engine and drifted. The English boatmen all loved their tea and it took half an hour to brew it, and another half hour to eat their lunch. My sandwich and apple required only about five minutes to dispose of. After that I put out a live bait, a big kahawai, and let out over a hundred feet of line, in the hope that while drifting I might get a mako strike.
It was warm and pleasant on the sea, and the gentle rocking of the boat was not conducive to a wide-awake habit. To try to keep from dozing I watched the gannets and shearwaters. Suddenly I saw a big white splash about a mile off. I watched. Then a huge mako shot up white in the sunlight, turned clear over and dived back into his element.
"Boys," I called, "I saw a mako jump. Hook up and run over there."
We did so, and stopped as near the place as I could calculate, where I put my bait down again. Nothing happened. I was slipping into a doze when I thought my line jerked through my fingers; still I could not be sure. After I had relaxed vigilance again the same thing happened.
"I'll be dog-goned!" I soliloquized, somewhat puzzled. "Did something happen or was I dreaming as usual?"
Some moments of tense waiting were unproductive. I had only imagined my line had jerked. So I settled back again in my comfortable chair, just about as content as a man could well be.
Then came a tremendous jerk on my line. It whipped out of my hand. My reel spun round, though I had the light drag on. Frantically I bent over to grasp the rod and free the drag. Then the line paid out swiftly in a wonderful strike.
"Gee, boys!" I shouted. "There's something doing here."
"Mako!" exclaimed Frank brightly.
"Sure that's a mako!" added Peter.
"Well, maybe so; but there's a familiar feel about the way this fellow does business," I replied grimly, watching my line slip off. "Signal to the Captain's boat."
By the time the Captain had run up close behind us I was hooked to a heavy, fast fish, and I had begun to suspect something too good to be true. Two hundred yards of line in one run! If that was mako work, I had to confess he was better than I thought him.
"Mako, and a big one!" yelled Frank, as we ran after the fish.
"Sure, that's the way a mako acts," said Peter, with great satisfaction.
"Ahuh! Well, you boys grab the cameras and look out," I replied. "This bird I've hooked is going to fly."
We were running full speed. My line was still slipping off the reel, and a long stretch of it had come to the surface. More of it showed.
"Look out! He's coming up!" I shouted. "Get ready!...Oh, it's a broadbill!"
I was not so astonished. I had been wondering. But I was tremendously elated, and tingled all over. The boatmen whooped, and from the Captain's boat behind rose wild yells of excitement.
"Watch sharp. He's coming out again," I called.
The second leap was enough to dazzle any boatmen, let alone two who had never seen a broadbill. It was a forward jump, quite high and long, allowing us time to see his bronze bulk, his wide, black tail, his huge, shiny head and waving sword. I though my boatmen had gone crazy; and the manifestations of the occupants of the other boat were no better.
The broadbill did not show again. After several long, amazing runs, that made us hustle to keep pace with him, he sounded, and the hard fight was on. He kept steadily out to sea, and gained line despite all my efforts and the help of the boat. After a while he sounded deep, fully a thousand feet, and there he anchored himself. I had the heart-breaking task of pumping him up inch by inch.
"Broadbills are alike, in any old sea!" I exclaimed, during this procedure. It took me half an hour to work him to the surface.
To make a long story short, I fought him with all the strength I had, and with all the play the great tackle would stand. Toward the end of the fight he sounded even deeper, and this time he quit down there. I knew it, but did not tell the boatmen. I laboured strenuously, with keen calculation and some conservation of strength, to lift him from the depths. How familiar the heaving chest, the wet face, arms, neck, breast, the aching back and blistered hands! Could it really be true that I had caught a broadbill, way out in New Zealand? At last I had him up so that we could see the gleaming pale color, then the massive shape, the long fierce-looking sword. What the boatmen said I could never remember, but it was a medley of whirling words. I had the swordfish whipped, and he gave little trouble at the boat.
Captain Mitchell and his crew came close to look and to yell, to congratulate me and give a few whoops for New Zealand waters.
We were about four miles off the cape. Loading the swordfish, we ran in to exhibit him to the seven or eight boats fishing there. I shall not soon forget the expression of those anglers. Such a marvelous and amazing fish as the broadbill had never been imagined by them. We went on to the camp, which we reached before sundown and in time for some picture-taking. We all made guesses as to the weight of my fish; and I, for once, hit it correctly, four hundred pounds even!
The boat crews were keen to take the fish to Russell to exhibit. I not only consented to that, but told them to have the broadbill cut up so everybody in the village could eat some of it. They returned with the glowing accounts of the week-end visit at home. The broadbill swordfish created a sensation in the little town; and as late as eleven o'clock at night people were inspecting the fish with torches.
A couple of days later--both of which were unproductive of everything but good luck for me--we came in to the cape about four o'clock. There were fifteen boats around the great rock, most of them near, some far off; and five of them were fast to fish, working out to sea with the anglers sitting comfortably in chairs on the bows. Not a bent rod among the five! Eight of the other boats had one or two swordfish on board.
This circumstance might not have been remarkable for Cape Brett anglers, but it was exceedingly so for me. Manifestly the Marlin had come in to feed that day. They were all small fish for those waters, and of a uniform size, around two hundred pounds. I had not the slightest doubt that large fish had been hooked and lost. We trolled twice round the island without raising anything, then proceeded to Bird Rock. The sun was now low and red in the west. The sea, colored like an opal, was without ripple. Acres of kahawai were darkening the surface, and myriad little white gulls were hovering and fluttering over them. The fish raised a white caldron on the water and a sound exactly like a brook rushing over stones. The birds were screaming. Every now and then the kahawai leaped as one fish to escape some enemy underneath, and made a prolonged roar in the water.
I trolled round, while Captain Mitchell let down a dead yellowtail for bait, and drifted. Soon he had a strike and hooked something heavy that moved away slowly, without showing. Another boat came along and followed the Captain's out to sea.
Meanwhile I tried letting down a live bait, which presently was seized by what turned out to be a forty-pound yellowtail. I tried again without reward. The sun was setting, the time nearly six o'clock, and Captain Mitchell was working farther out to sea. I began to suspect he had attached himself to another black Marlin or a huge reremai.
Suddenly I espied a thin long sickle fin quite near the rock. Not long did it take us to throw out teasers and draw a kahawai in front of the waving tail. It vanished. Next instant a purple-finned Marlin rushed our teasers, then my bait. He took it, spat it out. Then he flashed back, from one teaser to the other, then at my bait again. But he refused to touch the kahawai. I reeled in to put on a yellowtail. Meanwhile we were running quite fast, with the teasers out, and the Marlin knocking at them with his bill. It was great fun and most exciting. As we passed near a school of kahawai the swordfish left the teasers and sheered at the kahawai. They smashed the water. Then he came back at us and chased the teasers clear to the rudder. I dragged my yellowtail over his back time and again. Finally he left us. But presently he rose again farther out, making a ripple and showing a foot of his slender blue tail. We headed him as before, and precisely as before he charged us, this time going straight for my bait. He took it, went down, and came back for the teasers. I struck him and had a hard tussle with him, deep down. Captain Mitchell returned just as we were trying to lasso the tail of my Marlin, and had the fun of seeing us thoroughly drenched by the spouts of water.
"Lost my fish!" called Mitchell, tragically. "Big black Marlin. Hook pulled out. By gad! he was a lunker!...Terrible day of bad luck for me! Broke one rod, bent my reel..."
"But you hooked the fish," I interrupted. "I was watching, you lucky fisherman. Can't understand why your black Marlin did not jump aboard your boat."
We reached our little bay in the ruddy afterglow of sunset, and went ashore with our fish. They proved to be splendid specimens of the striped Marlin, mine weighing two hundred and ninety-two and the Captain's three hundred and two. He was disconsolate because I had not hooked the big black Marlin he lost. That was nothing to what I was.
MONSTER FROM THE DEEP
The Cavalli Islands strongly impressed me as being a remarkably favorable place for big game fish. I clung to that belief. We had not seen any kahawai or other schools of bait there, but as we had left early in the day I did not consider our failure as conclusive. So I planned to go again and stay overnight.
We went. I never shall forget that trip. We arrived there about the middle of the afternoon. What a difference from our former visit! The sea was alive with schools of bait. Big fish were smashing the water, gulls were screaming, all around there were continuous sound and the haunting moan and roar and wash of the restless sea.
I had my chance at a great black Marlin. He loomed a massive purple shadow behind my bait, became clear and sharp, a magnificent and appalling sight. He struck viciously at my bait--took it--sheered away--while I shook in my seat. But he felt the hook and threw it...That loss colored my thoughts for long. But the late afternoon and sunset were reward almost for any loss, let alone that of an incurable fisherman.
All day the smoke from forest fires had blown out over the sea, and that, with the gathering clouds, had prepared a beautiful veil through which the red sun burned. There were lights on the water that did not belong on land or sea. The shafts of rock stood up bronze and gold through the smoke. The schools of kahawai spread and rippled on the dark water, every now and then crashing a wide white area of spray that turned into a million diamonds of gold and fire.
Far out a storm gathered, a dark, violet cloud massed low above the horizon; and in the west the sun became lost in a haze of dusky rose. I seemed to smother in the fragrance of burning autumn leaves. My ears were filled with the low, sad surge of the sea. Sunset, twilight, dusk; then we ran round the main island to a protected bay.
After supper we went ashore in the dingy. A strong breeze had blown away the smoke and clouds, and from a clear sky the white moon shone. Again, for the thousandth time, I walked alone on a lonely beach, listening to the grating roar of the pebbles that the sullen surge drew down. Lines of Matthew Arnold's great poem, "Dover Beach", lingered in my mind.
Next day there were all kinds of beautiful weather--calm, still, hot, windy and squally, bright sunlight on a blue white-crested sea and dark purple shadows sailing like ships on the swells. All day I had in my charmed ears the song of the surge. That is to say, I heard this low music of the sea during those rather infrequent periods when I was not fighting a fish. Yet sometimes even then I was aware of the heave of the billows against the hollow cliffs and over the ragged reefs.
About two-thirty p.m. when I regretfully remembered we were a long three hours' run from camp, I had two swordfish and one mako aboard the boat. Captain Mitchell's boat appeared rounding the lower rock, where we had found bait so plentiful, and I thought I had better remind him that we must soon leave. Then I was rather glad to observe that he had just hooked a fish and was pumping away in his usual energetic manner. "Good!" I soliloquized: "I can't start back without the Cap!...Wonder what the lucky lobster has got fast to now...Looks slow and heavy to me."
I watched to see if the fish broke water, but it did not. Gradually the Captain's boat worked out. "Humph!" I said. "I'll have to follow him if that keeps up."
During the next hour I was pretty strenuously engaged myself, mostly on a fine Marlin that I caught, and for a short while on something heavy that I lost. Both my boatmen were keen on records, and wanted me, and incidentally their boat, the Alma G., to beat the best day's record for Cape Brett boats, and for that matter any of the fishing-resort boats. I had then already succeeded; yet it was not a difficult matter to induce me to keep fishing; not at that wonderful place!
When, however, the Captain's boat got several miles out I decided we must follow him. This we did, and in short order slowed down within shouting distance.
"Hey, Cap," I yelled, "don't you know we must start back?"
"Can't help it," he returned; "I've hung on to a wolloper."
"So I see. Well, hand it to him. I'll go back and keep an eye on you. If you don't come in soon, we'll hunt you up."
Returning to the vicinity of the rocks, where the surge boomed and the gulls screamed and the kahawai lashed the water white, I was soon engaged upon another swordfish. He did not appear obliging, for he took us in the opposite direction from the Captain's boat; and he fought me to a standstill for one hour.
The time was four o'clock. We could just catch sight of the Captain's boat; and when I had fished awhile longer all we could see was the mast. Both boatmen averred the boat was returning. I did not think so, but I waited until the mast disappeared.
"Mitchell is tangled up with another big fish," I said to the men. "Hook her up and let's find him."
We ran northeast four miles before I sighted the other boat, just a speck on the horizon. It was fully ten miles from the rock where Captain Mitchell had hooked the fish. This, of course, argued in favor of something unusual.
We sped on, and soon I sighted a big blue fin cutting the swells. It belonged to a swordfish of uncertain species and size. We threw out teasers and bait, and tore at full speed in his direction. The sharp tail showed only at the tops of swells. From that way of riding the waves I knew him to be a Marlin. Soon I espied his long, dark shape. We were fully three hundred feet distant; yet as Frank slowed down the engine that swordfish saw our shining teasers, and he vanished.
"Boys, he's coming!" I yelled. "Look sharp!"
The position of the boat was such that astern the water was dazzling bright with sunlight, making it impossible to catch a glimpse of either teasers or bait. But suddenly the line by which I was dragging the bait was ripped out of my hands.
"Wow! He's got it."
So incredibly swift was this swordfish that I had just time to grasp my rod when the line whipped taut. Like lightning in his swiftness the fish shot forward. I shut down on the drag, at the same moment telling Frank to go full speed ahead. Seldom, if ever, did I see or hear a reel whiz so fast. Almost like a rifle bullet the swordfish sped, never showing once on the surface. At four hundred and fifty yards, which he took in a few seconds while we were running at top speed after him, the hook pulled out.
Slowly I wound in my line. Both boatmen were downcast. They had never known a fish to take line like that. "Some swordfish!" I said, ponderingly. "And I'm inclined to think it was a black Marlin."
Half an hour later we ran up to the other boat, which for most of this time I had watched with great interest. But not until we arrived close did I find out anything.
First I saw an enormous fish tail sticking up out of the water and roped to the boat. The breadth of those black flukes, the huge thickness of the tail, sort of stunned me. I could not look. It appeared there were four very much exhausted and excited men on that boat, particularly Captain Mitchell. He was haggard, wet, dishevelled.
"Just gaffed him," he called thickly. "Had an awful fight. When he came up so I could see how big he was, it scared me out of my wits...Good Heavens! Take a look at that swordfish!"
I was looking with all my might, though all I could make out was the huge tail and the long shadowy shape hanging down. For a few moments, everyone except me talked at once, and nobody knew what was said.
Presently the four men, using a block and tackle, began to haul the black Marlin aboard the wide stern. As slowly the glistening opal monster was hoisted out of the water I was further amazed, staggered; and finally, when they got his shoulders and head clear, I was overwhelmed.
This Marlin was as large round as a hogshead, and so enormously long that tail and head projected far over each side of the eleven-foot beam stern.
Hoarsely shouting some rattled encomium of wonder and admiration, I subsided into my chair, suddenly weak. In my fishing day I had seen some great fish carried aboard or towed back to camp; but this one made comparison cheap. For twelve years, ever since I first knew about Marlin, I had dreamed of such a fish. Of course I was glad Captain Mitchell had caught it, just as I knew he was glad when I beat his tuna record with my seven-hundredand-fifty-eight pounder; nevertheless, the sight and realization of this black Marlin was a jolt. I knew it would weigh one thousand pounds.
We were twenty-five miles from camp. The sun was setting, the sea and wind were rising, and the moon showed pale in the eastern sky. Dusk mantled the waste of waters, the afterglow faded, the moon soared, making a brilliant track over the billows, and the dew fell heavily, almost as thick as rain. By eight o'clock we picked up the Ninepin rock, then Redhead, and lastly the lighthouse flash on Cape Brett. By nine we were in camp, wet, tired out, hungry as bears, and quite insane over the day. The stories of Captain Mitchell's boatmen, Bill and Warne, were interesting as phenomena of wild precipitant speech, but scarcely rational at that moment. The Captain, usually so cool and practical, like most Englishmen, was more wrought up than I had ever known him.
"We saw some bait close to that rock," he said. "We ran over close, and I threw my yellowtail over. It was dead, but I though I'd try it anyway. By gad! Something took it right off, slow and easy. I let that fish run off two hundred yards of line. When I struck he felt as solid as Gibraltar. I couldn't do anything with him. We followed him, but I fought for all I was worth. When you came out the first time I hadn't seen the fish, didn't know it was a swordfish, and had no idea it was so big. After you left it jumped half out. He looked mighty thick, even far away; but I didn't see him well. Later he jumped twice, and I thought the boatmen were crazy. Next thing another black Marlin came up, fully as large as the one on my hook. He shot by the boat and back again under my line. I was sure he'd cut it. No doubt this was the mate to the one I'd hooked. He seemed wild and mad. Oh! If you had only stayed with us! You might have caught him.
"Well, I worked harder than ever before, on any fish, even my big tuna, yet I couldn't stop the beggar. He was game, fast, incredibly strong. He would take short, quick runs, down deep and high up. Once he had off almost all my line; all except thirty yards. I had been fighting him nearly four hours when he took a last short run and stopped! After that I found I could hold him, lead him, drag him. Soon I brought him up. He looked so tremendous that I was scared weak. I had not dreamed of such a fish. I nearly fell out of my chair. Bill hauled on the leader, and Warne gaffed him. Then Bill reached over with a rope and got it round the fish's tail, but not in a loop or knot. Bill fell down in the cockpit, yelling for help. Crack went the gaff! Bang! Bang! Bang! The huge swordfish tail jarred the whole boat and half filled it with water. We were deluged. Warne got another rope and got that on the banging tail, same as Bill's. He was lifted off his feet and slammed to the floor of the cockpit. I left my rod and jumped to their aid. Then the three of us lay flat on our backs, feet braced on the gunwale, and strained every nerve and muscle to hold that fish. Morton had wit enough to grab another rope; making a noose, he threw it tight around the tail and then to one of the posts. Only when we had his tail in a noose did I recover...By gad! It was an awful fight!"
Not until next morning did I have a good look at this great Marlin, and though I had prepared myself for something extraordinary, I had not done it justice.
It was considerably larger than Captain Mitchell's six-hundredand-eighty-five pound swordfish, but of different shape and color; and not anything like the other for symmetry and beauty. In fact, this one hardly seemed beautiful at all. It was almost round, very fat and full clear down to the tail and solid as a rock. Faint dark stripes showed through the black opal hue. The bill was short and as thick as a spade handle at the point. The hook of the lower maxillary had been blunted or cut off in battle. Huge scars indented the broad sides--many of them. The length was twelve feet, eight inches; the girth six feet, two inches; the spread of tail, four feet; and the weight nine hundred and seventy-six pounds. It had to be taken to Russell and cut into three pieces in order to weigh it at all. What an unbelievable monster of the deep! What a fish! I, who had loved fish from earliest boyhood, hung round that Marlin absorbed, obsessed, entranced and sick with the deferred possibility of catching one like it for myself. How silly such hope! Could I ever expect such marvelous good luck? Yet I knew as I gazed down upon it that I would keep on trying as long as strength enough was left me. That ought to be a good many years, I figured. Oh, the madness of a fisherman! The strange something that is born, not made!
The stomach of the leviathan contained two kahawai and nine red snapper, all of large size. This old swordfish must have had to cruise round most of the day and part of the night to satisfy his enormous appetite. But how did he ever catch those swift little fish? He had to be faster than they. Considering his bulk and the displacement of water necessary when he moved, such swiftness seemed inconceivable. Perhaps he united cunning with speed, and maneuvered under a school of fish, suddenly to shoot upward and whack right and left with his bill. That was only a conjecture. We found many snapper in the stomachs of Marlin, and most of them had been speared. Nature knows how to endow her fish, as well as all other creatures, with the instincts and powers necessary to their self-preservation and reproduction.
Naturally the capturing of the first true swordfish in New Zealand waters, and the two enormous black Marlin, created a sensation all over the island. Some of my former remarks in Wellington, Auckland and Russell, that had been received rather skeptically, were recalled with sincerity; and New Zealand anglers began to wake up.
Peter Gardiner, one of the pioneers of sea angling in New Zealand, called on me at my camp, bringing his homemade tackle for my inspection. The reel was a ponderous affair, with levers and brakes that might have served for automobile clutches. The rod was of native wood, long, thick, clumsy; and the guides were huge rings, wrapped underneath. The line was a 36 Cuttyhunk, wholly unsuitable to the rest of the tackle. Mr. Gardiner, who had written to me in California about New Zealand fishing, proved to be a frank, intelligent and practical angler, anxious to learn all he could. I explained the faults of his tackle, and then showed him my own and how it worked. He was amazed and keen; but he could not quite see why the triple-gang hook was not better than the single hook. Only time and personal experience can prove this fact to anglers who have started wrong. The English are slow to change. Yet Captain Mitchell and Alma Baker, both conservative British sportsmen, had been quick to see the advantage of American method and tackle and to adopt them.
Following Mr. Gardiner's visit there were two more anglers who called on us from their camp at Deep Water Cove. They were from Sydney and had been fishing off Cape Brett for a couple of weeks.
One of them, Mr. Lamb, had a tale of woe to unfold. The day before he had hooked an exceedingly large fish, which upon breaking water proved to be a black Marlin of giant dimensions; but he could not do anything with it. His boat followed it out to sea for miles, while he labored all he could with his tackle. At last the fish slowed up and quit fighting; but it could not be lifted. The tackle was not equal to it. So the boatman cut the line!
"But, Mr. Lamb, did you expect to catch such a heavy fish with your kind of tackle?" I inquired. "If so, you attempted the impossible."
"I'm convinced of that, and have come over to find out where we can get such tackle as you and Captain Mitchell and Mr. Baker use," he replied.
Whereupon we had the pleasure of showing the great Coxe reels, the Murphy hickory rods, and the Hardy Bros. English tackle.
We had other news that day, quite pleasing in a way, though it concerned an angler's bad luck. Some men were returning from a trip out to Hen and Chickens Islands, south of Cape Brett, when one of them had a terrific strike. The fish came up, showing the long, sharp blade of a broadbill swordfish, and with one long rush it took all the angler's line. How familiar that sounded to my ears!
We had been so misled and enchanted by the perfect weather that we forgot there could be any other kind. To our dismay one sunset darkened sinisterly into storm. Next day the hard gale returned, reminding us of that past ten-day period we had found so irksome. We had wind and more wind. On the second night the gale abated, the clouds vanished over the hills, the full moon soared white and beautiful over the Bay of Islands.
We planned to take a three-day trip to the Cavallis, and were most eager and enthusiastic. Several times during the night I awoke, to be thrilled by the almost absolute stillness. With the tide far at ebb, there was not a ripple on the beach. The gulls did not, as usual, stir me at dawn. It was a roar of rain on the tent; I was flabbergasted, and thought I was dreaming. I arose to a dark-gray sky and beating rain. The wind came hard from the southeast, directly from the sea; and the boatmen said, "Dirty weather!"
Toward noon it cleared somewhat. The clouds broke, the sun shone, the wind lulled and our hopes revived. How strange that Captain Mitchell and I could not be happy except in the act of fishing! Alma Baker rather welcomed a windy day, so that he could attend to his correspondence.
After lunch Captain Mitchell and I started out. Once round the corner of the island bay we ran into a good stiff breeze. A big white-crested swell was running. The rents in the gray scud, showing the blue sky, closed ominously. Out at Bird Rock the sea swelled tumultuously. We saw four fishing boats from Deep Water Cove, all drifting. Each boat had a Marlin swordfish lashed to the stern. About the same time Frank espied a big blue fin cutting the waves. That surely belonged to a large Marlin. He disappeared, however, before we could get a bait in front of him.
We found trolling about in that heavy sea about as uncomfortable a procedure as imaginable for fishing. Still we persisted for an hour, while the other boats drifted, and the scud thickened, the gray mists gathered over Cape Brett, and dull rainbows flashed in the spray toward the sun track on the water. Finally we tried drifting with a live bait. Promptly I got fast to a small but hard-fighting mako. While we were loading it on the boat, Captain Mitchell passed and yelled that he had just had a strike.
"Had a bunch of piper on for bait," he shouted, hands to his mouth. "Good hard strike!"
Piper are small, slim fish that frequent the shoal waters of the bay. They are very good to eat. The Captain, however, had to try them out as bait.
It struck me again, even more significantly and forcibly, what a wonderful place for big game fish! The weather scarcely mattered. Probably if we had been out during the middle of the day we would have caught several swordfish. The rain set in again, and soon the Deep Water Cove boats left for camp.
I sat in my chair, with heavy coat on, and wrapped in burlap sacks, holding to my line, waiting for a bite. It seemed a rather ludicrous situation. The boat rose on the big swells; it pitched, it rocked, it smacked; it rode the great rollers that came every now and then. Spray whipped up from under the stern and wet my face. The harder gusts of wind brought stinging cold rain. It pelted me. The water ran off my hat and shoulders in sheets. Sometimes I could scarcely see. We drifted a mile beyond Bird Rock, then ran back to try again.
All the bad conditions increased. I grew wet and chilled. One hand was numb; but just as I was about to haul in and quit, something slow and heavy took my bait. A flash of fire, a tingle, a galvanic shock swept over me. Instantly the discomfort vanished, as if by magic. Marvelous fact, I had a strike! But the fish let go, and gradually I relaxed. I waited hopefully for him to take hold again, and waited in vain.
Soon all the annoying sensations returned, and I began to feel a little seasickish from the infernal toss and pitch of the boat. The rain poured down in a torrent. Still I fished on, a most miserable wretch. As many and many a time before, I wondered what made me do this. What fettered me to this unhappy state? How utterly absurd and perfectly asinine this fishing game in such weather! I would certainly start back to camp presently, to warm fire, clothes and supper; still I kept on fishing. I did not envy, any more than I could emulate, the myriad anglers who had recourse to strong, hot whisky, but I at least understood them.
While crouching there I suddenly remembered Stevenson's Lantern Bearers and my mind was illumined. The concrete fact of my actually being cold, wet and miserable had little to do with it. Only now and then was I conscious of such state. Like the little lantern bearers, boys at a game, sitting in the dark rainy night, with lighted bull's-eye lanterns hidden under their coats, I was almost oblivious to externals. The boy in me existed as always.
It was this then that nailed me to my martyrdom; this enchantment of the mind, this illusion. The shibboleth I might have cried out in the teeth of the rain was that I was fishing; that the fisherman is born, not made.
Five more days of rain and wind! Then came a change, or at least something to delude us. We went to the Cavalli Islands again, arriving about ten o'clock. The aftermath of the storm was manifest in the huge swells piling up on the rocks and the unearthly roar of waters. We tried drifting around the islands. Not a strike in four hours! Then we ran outside to find schools of kahawai on the surface, and swordfish everywhere. Captain Mitchell caught two, and I caught three. They were jumpers with a vengeance; and in those great swells it was something unforgettable to see the pyrotechnics. I got upward of one hundred leaps out of mine. The last of my triplets was a "long, lean, hungry soaker", as Frank called him, that had a broken bill. His performance of forty-one leaps, of all kinds and heights, was a truly wonderful example of swordfish agility. He was hard to whip, too.
This particular Marlin had roused my curiosity long before he was lashed to the stern. If it had been possible I should have let him go alive. He had an extraordinary build, very long, slender, round, with a spread of tail large enough for a five-hundred-pound fish; but his beauty was marred by the absence of his bill. It had been broken or bitten off long before, no doubt in terrible encounter with rival or foe.
Deprived of his weapon of defense and for procuring food, this Marlin might well have been expected to be thin, Rat, in poor condition. Nevertheless he was solid, fat, in splendid shape. He had been compelled to rely on his speed; and I surely could testify to that.
Another of my swordfish had a healed wound fully a foot long, back of the dorsal fin, where some huge shark had bitten out a piece. All these swordfish showed scars of battle, of the unremitting strife that goes on under the sea.
GOOD LUCK AFTER BAD
We heard from reliable authority that two large Marlin swordfish had been found dead some time ago along the beach of Whangaroa Harbor. No particular thought was given this, though the lengths of the fish were taken. The longest measured thirteen feet eight inches; the other over thirteen feet. These fish were almost certainly black Marlin.
As to the exceeding great size I was not so astonished as thrilled. R.C. and I both had seen black Marlin off the White Friars in Mexican waters, that were close to fourteen feet in length. A more accurate estimate could not be made, as we sighted the Marlin back of our teasers and under the water. My opinion as to the size of these fish has been ridiculed in certain quarters. Captain Mitchell's capture of a twelve-foot eight-inch black Marlin weighing nine hundred and seventy-six pounds is something of a vindication.
Now a great black Marlin a foot longer than the Captain's would be fully that much larger in girth, perhaps more. At the very least it would weigh three hundred pounds more. Shades of fishes! Once more I am reminded of the twenty-five-foot sailfish off Madagascar in the Indian Ocean. Always there will be bigger fish in the sea than are ever caught!
Alma Baker kept importuning me to join him in taking a trip to the North Cape, about eighty miles up the coast, where, the Maoris had informed him, there were huge mako and swordfish and a very game fish called ahiriri, never yet caught on a rod. The Maoris caught this fish on hand-lines, and claimed it jumped marvelously.
Captain Mitchell added his persuasion, and so, much against my judgment, for we had located big fish and it was not sense to leave them for mere possibilities, I consented to go, and we planned for about a five-day trip. In the end Mr. Baker, on account of threatening weather, decided to hold over awhile; but Captain and I went ahead.
On the way up, off the Cavallis, I landed a fine striped Marlin of three hundred and twenty pounds, and then a mako, just one hundred pounds less in weight. Captain Mitchell began badly, losing three fish.
That afternoon late we ran into Whangaroa Harbor. The entrance was narrow, between high walls; inside, a wonderful bay opened out, having many picturesque ramifications deep into the headlands. Dome-like peaks towered over the bay. The slopes on many sides were delicately green with tree ferns. Here and there deep canyons ran down rugged and rough to the water. Sheer perpendicular cliffs, yellow slopes, ragged walls of lava and glistening beaches of sand surrounded this beautiful many-bayed harbor. One little hamlet, consisting of a few houses, located miles inland from the entrance of the harbor, kept it from being utterly lonely and wild.
The next day was bad. We ran thirty miles north, trolling baits all the way, without a strike. Captain Mitchell said he raised several Marlin that refused to bite. Off the Kara Kara Islands we were joined by Baker, who had come on and was keen to continue to North Cape. But I did not care to place any more miles of rough sea between me and the place where I knew I could raise fish. Baker went on, while Captain Mitchell and I turned back.
Late that afternoon, just off Cape Karikari, we saw some favorable indications of bait, so halted there to fish awhile. I saw two swordfish tails cutting the swells, for the sea was heavy, but could not follow them. A little later, just as I got fast to a hard-fighting yellowtail, the boatmen both sighted an enormous fin. They yelled, "Black Marlin!" And there I was tied up to a bulldog yellowtail. The swordfish swam along not far from us. I labored frantically to haul the yellowtail in, so we could hurry after the Marlin. Meanwhile it swam leisurely toward Captain Mitchell's boat. At last I freed my line of its heavy incumbrance, and we shot away in chase of the black Marlin. I was just in time to see that fish rush after Captain Mitchell's teasers. It refused his bait, but took one Bill let out on the second rod. There was a mix-up when Bill tried to hand the rod to Captain Mitchell. Between them they bungled the chance and missed the fish. Imagine my consternation, dismay, then bitter disappointment! All the rest of that fruitless day this last proof of my lucklessness rankled in my breast. I fought the morbid suggestion. No such thing as luck, good or bad! So I tried to delude myself. Vain oblation!
That sunset we cast anchor in a perfectly sheltered crescent bay, with wide sand beach and canyoned bluffs on one side, and red chalk hills on the other. Outside, the surge boomed on the rocks; inside, the wash of the waves on the strand was soft and musical. Sheep bleated on the far grassy slopes. In the notch between the mountains on the mainland the sun sank shrouded by the smoke of autumn fires. How the sweet smell of burning leaves made me thrill sadly and longingly for the autumn fields of lands far away and days long ago!
A hermit thrush, caroling his lonely twilight song, added poignantly to my feeling. Then I heard a strange bird note, most striking to me. It was the low, sweet toll of a bell. I thought my ears had deceived me. But Morton, the New Zealander with me, told me the bird was the tui, a native songster of the island that imitated the real and rare bell bird. I listened for a long time, and at length was rewarded by another of the exquisitely clear and deeply sweet bell notes. But though I waited longer, no repetition came to my expectant ears.
Night found me weary and prone to the disenchantment of fishing. The motion of the boat was like a gently rocked cradle. My bed felt warm and snug. Outside, the haunting sounds of the sea and the distant clamoring of gulls filled my ears until they heard no more.
Before seven the next morning we were on our way back to the Cavallis, hopeful again, rested, full of eagerness for the long thirty-mile troll. But the morning calm was a delusion, the smooth sea a deceit, and the ever newly born hope of a fisherman without fruition. I trolled all day. Toward evening I raised a striped Marlin that was as cunning as an educated fox. He just wanted to play with the teasers. Captain Mitchell told me, when we again dropped anchor, that he had raised three swordfish just as tricky and wary as mine.
Morning broke dark, with lowering clouds, cool wind and a redness in the eastern sky. "When it is red in the morning, the sailors take warning!" goes the old saying. Nevertheless we undaunted and once more hopeful anglers ran off to the Cavallis to fish.
In the first place, it took a long time to catch bait. In the second, the wind freshened, the sea came up to meet the swell that had persisted for days. We could not find any fish near the rocks or close offshore, so we ran out four or five miles. We trolled, then drifted, trolled and drifted again. Finally Captain Mitchell hooked something. We ran close to watch. It was a heavy fish. The big swells lifted the boat, making a fight with a fish straight down something most exasperating. Captain Mitchell broke his black palm rod. By hard work he and his boatmen maneuvered to get the line on another rod and reel. Then the Captain, feeling sure of the hickory, began to haul on that fish very hard indeed. I cautioned him twice; but in spite of my warning he broke the hickory square off at the reel seat. After that he and the men hand-lined up a fivehundred-pound reremai. Two rods broken on an old shark! The Captain looked what he felt.
That was catastrophe, but nothing to what befell me presently. We went on trolling, and after a while I saw a flash of purple color back of the left teaser. Jumping up, I espied a large Marlin shape rather deep down and dark in color. I yelled for the boatman to haul in the teasers. "Looks like a pretty big fish," shouted Frank.
Then the swordfish went for my bait. He did not show very distinctly, as he kept well under on a slant. He seized the bait and flashed away with inconceivable speed. I felt his weight before I put on the drag. He practically hooked himself. Like an arrow from a bow he sped ahead of us as if the drag was nothing. Then he sounded just as swiftly, and suddenly came up to leap half out. "Black Marlin!" we all yelled simultaneously. Then for a moment we gave way to elation.
Peter had been up on deck, standing, and he had the best look at the fish. "Between four and five hundred pounds," he said. I thought the fish would weigh more than that. Fish seen in the water always look smaller than they really are.
With sight of that black Marlin and then the sudden tremendous strain on my rod, I was seized with wild exultation. I felt I had him solidly hooked. My sensations were thrilling in the extreme. Happy as a boy!
We ran along with the fish, and my line cut the water about fifty feet out. It appeared to curve toward the boat and to move faster. Suddenly the line whistled through the water. It was curving toward the bow, swift, swifter!
"Look out, Frank!" I yelled in alarm.
He threw on full speed just as my line shot squarely under the boat, high up on the surface. I had only time to throw off my drag and release my harness hooks. My line spun off my reel, then slacked. I felt it had caught on the propeller. Next I saw it trailing limp behind the boat. Catastrophe! I realized it with terrible intensity, but for an instant could not believe the evidence of my eyes. What a pang tore my breast! I was frantic in protest against such horrible sudden misfortune.
While I sank back in my chair, crushed, overcome, the boatmen drew in the line and disentangled it from the propeller. Almost a hundred yards was missing. Neither of them made any comment at first. As for me I went into the cabin and lay down, conscious of loss utterly out of proportion to the actual facts. It was only a fish! But the transition from sheer exultation to stark tragedy was too violent too swift for me to bear with equanimity. Bad indeed were those few moments in the cabin.
Nor was that quite the end of an imperfect day! The southwest wind increased to a gale, and we had to buck it for eighteen miles to get back to camp. I was thoroughly used up and bruised all over from the knocking about of the boat on the rough waters.
Ten years before this I had fought and lost the first black Marlin I ever saw, though I did not then know it under such name. This happened in Catalina waters. I never forgot that nine-hour battle. Then last winter I had my record encounter with one of these grand game fish. It lasted over four hours and ended in calamity. I had hooked three black Marlin in New Zealand waters, all of which had actually outwitted me. They appeared to be incredibly fast; strong, sudden and resourceful. Captain Mitchell averred that nothing but sheer luck saved both this fish. The larger black Marlin took all his line in one run and stopped with only a few yards left on the reel. He testified to the bewildering suddenness of their change of tactics, though fortunately neither of his fish darted under the boat. If my boatman had deliberately kept far away from this last black Marlin I hooked, we might have caught it. But we could not foresee such an apparently impossible move. It taught me, most bitterly, that no skill on the part of angler and boatman was equal to the supremest sagacity and rapidity of this wonderful black Marlin.
We were fishing around Bird Rock a day or two afterward. The swells were mountainous; and to troll in such a sea was futile. Nevertheless we made the attempt and showed perseverance worthy of a better cause.
Captain Mitchell took to drifting with live bait, and I followed suit. The change was restful, as the boat rode the long slow swells with ease and grace, and the motion grew exhilarating. After a time we saw a dark fin cutting the water close to the Captain's boat. His men saw it, for they waved with gestures of deprecation, meaning the fin belonged to a hammer-head. But really it belonged to a mako, which most assuredly showed its preying nature by charging my bait. I saw the fish in the top of a clear green swell, its sharp, vicious nose, prominent eyes, strange bullet shape, green and gold, and the motion of a tiger on the spring.
This mako was the largest I had felt. He astonished me. His burst out of a swell, straight across the deep hollow into another swell, was something electrifying and most beautiful to see. We were far behind time in trying to photograph him. But we made ready for a second jump. As he shot off with my line I knew neither Frank nor Peter would cover him with camera if again he leaped. Suddenly out he shot, not high, but low, straight across the sea in a long greyhound leap. My line went slack. Upon reeling it in I found my leader bitten off as cleanly as if it had been done by nippers.
"That was a big one. Four hundred!" Peter ejaculated. "Dod gast it! That fellow you wrote about, who said you were the most unlucky fisherman in the world, had it right-o!"
One other boat besides ours was fishing there; and it contained two boatmen who had no angler for the day and were fishing for themselves. Evidently they were enjoying it. When quite some distance away from us they hooked a fish and proceeded to run out to sea. Presently they came back; and we did not need to be told they had lost it. I had seen this identical thing happen many times. As the passed us one of them yelled lustily, spreading wide his hands:
"Big black Marlin! He rolled up once; wide as a door!"
It was simply impossible for me to evade the shock that was equivalent to a hurt. The thought of another grand swordfish breaking away from that flimsy tackle, with a triple gang hook in its stomach, made me positively sick. How many times had that identical thing happened in the half dozen years of New Zealand swordfishing? Hundreds, no doubt! Not one of those large Marlin had ever been captured on the kind of tackle used, and not one ever would be. While succumbing to despair I could only hope that time would educate these anglers to the futility of such method.
That incident took the heart out of the afternoon, and I was glad when the sea grew so rough we had to quit. At camp Captain Mitchell expressed himself vigorously, and when he said, "What a pity you couldn't have had that strike!" I threw up my hands.
"Never mind, old man, you're going to get your black Marlin," he added feelingly.
That night the strong wind beat the flaps of my tent, the titrees moaned, and the flags rustled. The tide surged in to the bank, low, sullen, full of strange melody. And it seemed to me that an old comrade, familiar, but absent for a long time, had returned to abide with me. His name was Resignation.
Daylight next morning disclosed gray, scudding clouds and rough, darkened water. We remained in camp and tried our hands at the many odd jobs needful to do but neglected. After a while the sun came out, and at noon the wind appeared to lag or lull. The thing to do was to go fish. I knew it, and I said so.
Out at Bird Rock we found conditions vastly better than we had expected. The schools of bait, white and frothy, were working everywhere, with the sea gulls screaming over them. High swells were rolling in, but without a break or a crest. Four boats besides ours were riding them. The clouds had broken and scattered, letting a warm sun shine.
We trolled around the rock, to and fro past the churning foamy schools of kahawai, and out farther, long after the Captain had taken to drifting. As last we raised a large striped Marlin. He was so quick that he got hold of a teaser. That made him wary, and though he at last swam off with my bait, he soon let it go. After such treatment we took to drifting. Pretty soon Frank called:
"They're waving on the Captain's boat."
"Sure enough," I said. "Guess he must have a strike or have seen a fish."
But when Bill appeared waving the red flag most energetically I knew something was up. It took us only a moment or two to race over to the other boat, another one for me to leap aboard her, and another to run aft to the Captain.
His face was beaming. He held his rod low. The line ran slowly and freely off his reel.
"Got a black Marlin strike for you," he said with a smile. "He hit the bait, then went off easy...Take the rod!"
I was almost paralyzed for the moment, in the grip of amazement at his incredible generosity and the irresistible temptation. How could I resist? "Good Heavens!" was all I could mumble as I took his rod and plumped into his seat. What a splendid, wonderful act of sportsmanship--of friendliness! I think he realized that I would be just as happy over the opportunity to fight and capture a great black Marlin as if I had had the strike myself.
"Has he showed?" I asked breathlessly.
"Bill saw him," replied Captain.
"Hell of a buster!" ejaculated Bill.
Whereupon, with chills and thrills up my spine, I took a turn at the drag wheel and shut down with both gloved hands on the line. It grew tight. The rod curved. The strain lifted me. Out there a crash of water preceded a whirling splash. Then a short, blunt beak, like the small end of a baseball-bat, stuck up followed by the black-and-silver head of an enormous black Marlin. Ponderously, he heaved. The water fell away in waves. His head, his stubby dorsal fin, angrily spread, his great, broad, deep shoulders, climbed out in slow wags. Then he soused back sullenly and disappeared.
"Doc, he's a monster," exclaimed the Captain. "I sure am glad. I said you'd get fast to your black Marlin."
After the tremendous feel of him, and then the sight, almost appallingly beautiful, my uncertainty ceased. He was there, solid and heavy. Whereupon amid the flurry of excitement on board I settled down to work, to get the hang of Captain's tackle, the strange chair and boat. None of these fitted me, and my harness did not fit the rod. But I had to make the best of it.
The swordfish headed out to sea, straight as an arrow, and though I pumped and reeled with fresh and powerful energy he gained line all the time. We had to run up on him so that I could get the line back. My procedure then was to use all the drag of reel and hands I dared apply. This checked him. He did not like it. Slowly the line rose, so slowly that we all knew when and where he would show on the surface, scarcely a hundred feet away. Frank and Peter, in my boat, were opposite, running along with us; and they were ready with cameras. Mitchell and Morton also had cameras in hand. What a long time that break was in coming! A black, blunt bill first came out. Then with tremendous roar of water the fish seemed to slip up full length, a staggering shape of black opal, scintillating in the sunlight, so wide and deep and ponderous, so huge in every way, so suggestive of immeasurable strength that I quaked within and trembled outwardly with a cumulation of all the thrills such moments had ever given me.
As he thumped back, sheets of green and white spread, and as he went under he made a curling swirl that left a hole in the water. Then he sounded, but he did not stay down long. That is one of the fine things about Marlin swordfishing. As he came up again at the end of that run, I had to have the help of the boat to recover two hundred yards of line.
The sun had come out hot. The seas were flattening. I began to sweat and burn, but never did an angler enjoy more such results of labor. This swordfish was slow. I could tell what his moves would be. Still, remembering the others that had fooled me, I did not trust him. With hawk eyes I watched the tight, singing line. If it curved the least at the surface I saw and gauged accordingly.
When we ran close again it was evident that the black Marlin meant to rise and come out. How wonderful to see the line rise! To expect the leap and know for sure! We were all ready, with time to spare. Yells of various kinds greeted his glistening bulk, his great wagging head. He veritably crashed the water. And he rose so high that he lifted my line clear of the water, straight and tight from fish to rod, ten feet above the surface. That was a remarkable thing; and I did not remember it having happened to me before.
He led us out to sea, and in two miles he flung his immense, gleaming body into the air ten times. Naturally this spectacular performance worked havoc with my emotions. Every time I saw him I grew a little more demented. No child ever desired anything more than I that beautiful black Marlin! It was an obsession. I wanted him, yet I gloried in his size, his beauty, his spirit, his power. I wanted him to be free, yet I wanted more to capture him. There was something so inexpressibly wild and grand in his leaps. He was full of grace, austere, as rhythmic as music, and every line of him seemed to express unquenchable spirit. He would die fighting for his freedom.
Whenever he showed himself that way I squared my shoulders and felt the muscles of Hercules. How little I suspected pride goes before a fall!
Again I maneuvered to work close to him, and this time saw the double line slip out of the water. That was an event we all hailed with a shout.
"How much double line?" I asked Captain.
"Only fifteen feet," he replied dubiously. "You see that line is short anyway. I couldn't spare more."
This was the beginning of the other side of the battle, the fearful, worrying, doubtful time that was to grow into misery. A great fight with a great fish rings all the gamut of the feelings.
Grimly I essayed to pump and reel that double line to my clutching thumbs. I got it almost to the tip of the rod. As the leader was only twenty feet long my black Marlin was close. I risked more, straining the rod, which bent like a willow.
"I see him," yelled somebody out forward. Captain Mitchell and Morton ran with their cameras.
Suddenly the double line swept down and my reel whirred. A quick wave heralded the rise of the swordfish.
"Look sharp!" I called warningly, as I released my drag.
As he had been slow, now he was swift. Out of a boiling, hissing smash he climbed, scarce a hundred feet from the boat, and rose gloriously in the light, a black opal indeed, catching the fire of the sun. But he could not clear the water. He was too heavy. I saw his great, short club bill, his huge, gaping jaw, his large, staring black eye, terrible to behold. My own voice dinned in my ears, but I never knew what words I used, if any. His descent was a plunge into a gulf, out of which he thundered again in spouting green and white, higher this time, wilder, with catapultic force--a sight too staggering for me ever to see clearly enough to describe adequately. But he left me weak. My legs, especially the right one, took on the queer wobbling, as if I had lost muscular control. If the sight of him was indescribable, then much more so were my sensations.
Tense we all were, waiting for another burst on the waters. But it did not come. My swordfish quickened his pace out to sea. Sight of him so close had acted as a powerful stimulant. Like a fiend I worked. Half an hour of this sobered and steadied me, while it certainly told upon my endurance. I had labored too violently. As many a time before, I had not kept a reserve of strength.
Suddenly with a crack the reel came off the rod. My grasp of it kept it from going overboard. "Quick!" I yelled frantically. "The reel's come off. Help!"
The situation looked desperate. I released the drag, letting the swordfish free of strain. Fortunately he did not rush off. While Captain Mitchell bound the reel seat on the rod I performed the extremely difficult task of carrying on without a bungle.
Naturally, though, I lost confidence in the tackle. I could not trust it. I did not know how much I could pull; and that with a new trouble, a slow rolling swell which made it almost impossible for me to keep my seat in the chair, operated to help the fish and wear me out. It took time to conquer this, to get back what I had lost.
Then the reel broke off again. As I was holding it, more than the rod, I lost my balance and half fell into the cockpit. All seemed lost. Yet, like the fool I was, I would not give up, but stung my companions to quick and inspired tasks, and then got the reel fastened on again. And in a short time I had gained all the line lost. My spirits did not revive to any degree, but at least grim disaster left me.
In the next half hour, strange to relate, encouragement did rise out of the gloom; and I worked so well and so hard that I began to imagine I might whip this great fish yet. To that end I called for my boat to come round behind us, so Peter could board us with my big gaff, and Morton could go on board my boat with his motion-picture camera. This change was made easily enough, and with Peter beside me I felt still more hopeful. I knew from the feel of my back, however, that I had overdone it, and should ease up on the rod and patiently save myself. But this was impossible.
Then the reel broke off the third time. I almost pitched both reel and rod overboard; but Peter's calmness and his dexterous swift hands had cooling influence upon me.
"You could fight him better from our boat," said Peter.
Why had I not thought of that before? This boat was new to me; and the location of the chair, the distance to the gunwale, the fact that at some turns of the chair I had no support for my feet, made all my extreme exertion of no compelling avail. After a little more of it, I again called for my boat to run close.
I released the drag, and holding the rod up, with Peter holding me, I made the change into the Alma G. without mishap. And then in my own chair I fell to fighting that swordfish as hard as I had fought him two hours before. He felt it too. Slowly his quick, free, tremendous moves lost something; what, it was hard to say. Eight times I got the double line over the reel, only to have it pulled away from me. Each time, of course, the end of the leader came out of the water. Bill, who had come on board my boat with the Captain, leaned over at last and grasped the leader.
"Careful," I warned. "One hand only. Don't break him off." Twice Bill held momentarily to the leader, long enough to raise my fluctuating hopes.
Peter stood back of me, holding my chair. The tremendous weight of the swordfish, thrown against the rod socket, pushed the chair round farther and farther.
"Mr Grey," said Peter, "what you want on that fish is your big tackle. If you pull the leader up again I can slip your line through the swivel."
"By George--" I panted. "Peter...you're...the kind of boatman...I want around."
Fired by this sagacious idea, I strained rod, reel and line, and eventually drew the leader up a foot out of the water...two feet...three, when Bill grasped it, and Peter with swift, careful fingers slipped my line through the swivel, knotted it and then with flash of knife cut the Captain's line.
"By gad! That's great!" ejaculated Captain Mitchell. "You'll lick him now."
Everybody whooped, except me, as I hauled away with the big rod that had killed so many big fish. I seemed to have renewed strength...I certainly saw red for the moment and swore I would pull his head off. In short order I had the leader out of the water again, closer and closer, until Bill once more grasped it.
This time he held on. Frank kept the boat moving ahead. We gained on the fish. Slowly he rose, a huge, shining monster, rolling, plunging. My heart leaped to my throat. Bill yelled for help. Peter, with gaff in right hand, leaned over to take the leader in his left. I could see how both men strained every nerve and muscle. That frightened me. How many great fish had I seen lost at the boat! The swordfish pounded the water white just out of reach. I ordered the men to let go; and with a thumping splash he disappeared and took line rapidly.
He seemed a changed swordfish. He ran off much line, which was hard to get back. He grew wild and swift. He had got his head again. Perhaps the stronger tackle, the narrow escape at the boat, had alarmed him. Anyway, he was different. He kept us going. But I felt master now. I knew I could whip him. My aching arms and paining back were nothing. His long runs did not worry me. Let him drag three hundred yards of line! But when he got too much line we shot ahead so that I could recover it.
So that stage of the fight went on and neared the end. I felt that it would mean victory. There are signs a fisherman can detect, movements and sensations which betray a weakening fish. I kept my knowledge to myself. How many mistakes fishermen make!
This period was somewhat after the third hour. It had not afforded me much relief, although a restored equilibrium certainly helped. The next action of significance on the part of Mr. Black Marlin was to sound. He had not attempted this before to any extent, but now he went down. I made no effort to check him. Indeed, that would have been useless. I watched the line slide off, in jerks, yard by yard; and through my mind went many thoughts, all optimistic. When a great fish sounds after a long fight it is favorable to the angler. At the depth of five hundred feet the pressure of water is tremendous, and the farther down then the greater proportionately. Broadbill swordfish often sound with their last flurry of departing strength.
My black Marlin continued to go down. I asked Captain Mitchell if his record nine hundred and seventy-six-pound Marlin sounded like that.
"Yes, only not so deep; and earlier in the fight," responded the Captain. "I don't like the idea of this fellow. He's getting too deep. Suppose he should die down there?"
"Well, I reckon the old tackle will lift him," I replied confidently.
Nevertheless Captain Mitchell's concern was transferred to me. It was too late to attempt more strain; indeed I had to ease off the drag. Slowly and more slowly sounded the swordfish, until he was taking inches instead of feet. Then, at last, he stopped taking line altogether. One thousand feet down! There he seemed anchored.
Hopefully I waited for some sign of his working back. None came. Then I braced my shoulders, heaved on my harness, and stretched my arm tackles in a long, hard lift. The old rod described a curve, till it bent double and the tip pointed straight down at the water. I waited for the spring of the rod, for the slow rise of the tip that always helped so materially to bring up a fish. The spring came, but so slowly that I had more concern added to my trouble. By dropping the rod quickly and swiftly winding the reel I gained a few inches of line. This action I repeated again and again, until sweat broke out hot upon me. All the same a cold chill waved over my back. I realized my gigantic task. The great swordfish had fought to the last gasp, and had died down at that tremendous depth. Now he was a dead weight, almost impossible to move more than a few inches at each lift. But still I felt perfect confidence in the tackle, and that by pushing myself to extremes I could bring this black Marlin up.
So I toiled as never before; and as I toiled all the conditions grew worse. It took both Captain Mitchell and Peter to hold my chair straight. The roll of the boat as it went down on a swell, added to the weight on the rod, pulled me from one side to the other, aggravating in the extreme.
Inch by inch! That old familiar amazement at myself and disgust at such senseless Herculean drudgery took possession of my mind. What emotions were possible that I had not already felt? I could not name any, but I was sure there were some, and presently I must suffer them.
When I timed a heave on the rod with the rise of the swell I managed to gain half a foot perhaps. If I missed the proper second then I failed to gain line. And as I lost strength the roll of the boat grew harder to bear. I was swung from one side to the other, often striking my knees hard. Then the chair whirled around so that I had no brace for my feet, in which case only the support of Captain Mitchell kept me in my seat at all. It grew to be torture that recalled my early fights with broadbills. Still I sweated and heaved and toiled on.
The moment arrived when I became aware that my rod was dead. It bent down to the water and did not spring up a fraction of an inch. The life of the great rod had departed on this giant black Marlin. If despair had not seized me, followed by a premonition of stark, tragic loss, I would have been happy that this wonderful Murphy hickory rod--which had caught the world's record tuna, seven hundred and fifty-eight pounds and also six hundred and eight-four, six hundred and thirty-nine; a host of other tuna up to three hundred and eighteen; nine broadbill swordfish and many Marlin--had bent its last on such a wonderful fish. But all I thought of was now I never could lift him!
Yet so intense was my purpose and longing that I found both spirit and endurance to lift him, inch by inch, more and more, until I knew that if I did not die myself, as dead as both rod and swordfish, I would get him.
All of a sudden Bill yelled out hoarsely and wildly:
"My Gawd! Look at that mako fin!"
We gazed in the direction indicated. As I was sitting down and hunched over my rod I was the last to see. The others, however, yelled, shouted and otherwise exclaimed in a way calculated to make one thrill.
"He's foolin' round that box of bait Peter chucked overboard," cried Frank.
"By gad!" ejaculated the Captain, breathing hard.
Then I saw at quite some distance the yellow box, and close to it a dark fin glistening in the sun, cutting the water swiftly, and so huge that I could not believe my eyes.
"Boys, that's no fin," I said. "That's the sail of a boat."
"Oh, he's a monster!" added Frank.
"Mr Grey, that's the biggest mako fin I ever saw," said Peter, who was the only calm one of the lot.
"Captain, there's your chance. Go after him," I suggested.
"No. You need me here, Doc. We can't catch all the fish. A fish on the line is better than two in the water, you know."
"I don't need you," I protested. "I've got this black Marlin killed, and I can lift him. Take my other big tackle and go hand a bait to that mako...Say, but isn't that some fin? Never saw one to compare with it."
Captain Mitchell still refused; and I actually had to drive him away from my chair. I yelled for the other boat to run close, and I saw that Peter put my other big tackle in Captain's hands.
"Good luck!" I shouted, as the boat sped away.
I could not forget my own fish, for the tremendous weight bore down upon my shoulders, but I just held on while I watched the Captain circle that mako. The big dark-green fin disappeared and then showed again. I had a feeling of something tremendous about to happen.
The intervening distance was close to a quarter of a mile. I saw the boat circle the fin, get ahead of it, slow down. Captain Mitchell leaned far forward with his rod.
Suddenly the fin vanished.
"Somethin' doin'," yelled Frank, "and there'll be more in a minute."
It appeared to me that the Captain was jerked forward and lifted. I saw a low, wide, swift splash back of the boat. Next, the rod wagged most violently.
"Boys, he's hung that mako!" I shouted, with wild delight. Captain Mitchell's ambition to capture a great mako was second only to mine regarding the black Marlin.
"There he is!" shrieked Frank.
A huge long round gold-white fish pierced the sky. Up, up! He had not raised the slightest splash. Up he shot, then over in the air--a magnificent somersault, and down, slick as a trick diver.
The enormous size of the mako, even at that distance, could not be mistaken.
"Oh, Peter, he's big or am I seeing things?" I implored.
"Big? He sure is big. That mako will go over twelve hundred pounds."
As Peter ended, a cream-white torrent of water burst nearer to us, and out of it whirled the mako going up sidewise, then rolling, so his whole under side, white as snow, with the immense pectoral fins black against the horizon, shone clearly to my distended eyes. His terrific vigor, his astounding ability, were absolutely new in my experience with fish. Down he smashed into a green swell. We all heard the crash.
With bated breath we waited his next leap; but it did not come. When we turned our fearful gaze back to the boat, we saw the Captain reeling in a limp line. The mako had shaken free or broken off. I sustained a shock then that I could liken only to several of my greatest tragic fishing moments.
The comments of my comrades were significant of their feeling. "Well, Mr. Grey," continued the practical Peter, "you've got a fish here that'll take some landing."
That nailed me again to my martyrdom; and somewhat rested, or freshened by the intense excitement. I worked prodigiously, and to some purpose. Presently, when the pressure became overpowering, and I felt that something in me would burst, I asked Frank to throw in the clutch and start the boat very gently, to see if we could not break the swordfish from his anchorage. We were successful, but I did not want to risk it again. The next time that ponderous weight became fixed, immovable, I asked Peter to reach down with one hand and very carefully pull on my line, so as to start the fish again. This, too, was successful, without too great a risk. Once started, the fish came inch by inch until I gave out momentarily and he felt like an anchor.
The Captain's return to my boat was an event. He looked pretty agitated. Among other things he said: "Great Heavens! What a fish! I was terrified. It seemed that mako filled the whole sky. He was the most savage and powerful brute I ever saw, let alone had on a line!"
"Too bad! It makes me sick, Captain," I replied. "I never wanted anything so badly as to see you land that mako."
Then I went back to my galley-slave task again; and in half an hour had the great black Marlin up. Never shall I forget the bulk of him, the wonderful color, the grand lines. We had to tow him in.
Sunset was at hand when we passed Bird Rock, where the black Marlin had struck. The sea was smooth, rolling in slow swells, opalescent and gold. Gulls were sailing, floating, all around the rock, like snowflakes. Their plaintive sweet notes filled the air. Schools of kahawai were moving in dark patches across the shining waters. Cape Brett stood up bold and black against the rosy sky. Flocks of gannets were swooping in from the sea. In the west the purple clouds were gold rimmed above, silver edged below; and through the rifts burned the red-gold sun. I watched it sink behind the low cloud bank; and at the instant of setting, a glamour, an exquisite light, shaded and died. It was the end of day, of another of my ever-growing number of wonderful fishing days!
My black Marlin might have been a brother of either of Captain Mitchell's. He had great symmetry, though carrying his weight well back to his tail. His length was eleven feet eight inches, his girth five feet six inches, and the spread of his tail three inches short of four feet. Seven hundred and four pounds!
THE POOR KNIGHTS AND SUNKEN REEF
Several times we had made preparations for a two-day trip out to the Poor Knights, picturesque islands twelve miles off the coast, but owing to high winds and rough seas we were not able to go until the middle of March.
Among the many Maori legends and stories we had heard was one that concerned the Poor Knights Islands, and which had made them renowned above other groups of islands on this ragged shore of New Zealand.
In the early days, so history records, a tribe of two hundred and fifty Maoris, men, women and children, took refuge on the isolated and almost unscalable Poor Knights. They had incurred the enmity of a large and powerful tribe. It happened eventually that a camp fire at night betrayed the whereabouts of the fugitives. They were surrounded and captured, every last one of them, and taken back to the mainland, to an encampment on a beautiful sandy beach. Here a great festival or feast was held, during which the captives were cooked and eaten. Only one escaped the massacre, and that one was a little child, a girl who had fallen or hidden under a pack during the frightful performance. She was saved and lived to be a hundred and three years old.
Such a tale, gruesome as it was, could not but add to our interest in visiting the Poor Knights; and, as luck would have it, the morning we started the sea was calm and smooth. From Cape Brett to the Poor Knights the distance was close to twenty-five miles. I sat or stood on the bow of my boat during the whole of the three-hour run.
Slowly the dark islands rose out of the sea. Upon near view they were seen to be quite large, high, and with bright-green domes above gray and yellow cliffs. The passageway between the two islands was dotted here and there with ragged jutting rocks. I was disappointed at the scarcity of birds and apparent absence of fish. At least we saw very little sign of bait or fish on the surface.
We trolled around the larger island, and while I fished I had opportunity to see the wonderful walls and heights at close range. These walls reminded me much of the canyon walls of Arizona, both in vivid hues and in the caverns, arches, shelves and bare blank spaces of rock. The sea had performed for these walls what the wind had worked upon the desert cliffs. How the surge rolled in, solemn and grand, to bellow into the black caves or rise green and white and thundering against the grim walls! There was only one place where the heights were surmountable; and that was a narrow cove and steep crack, up which the doomed Maoris and their relentless pursuers had climbed. On top there were heavily-timbered slopes and eminences, and no doubt many thicketed gorges where fresh water was available.
My impression of this larger island was of a wild and lonely fortress out in the ocean; and I imagined I espied the Maori scout who had seen the approach of the dreaded enemy. A few song birds that we saw and heard lent something softer to this forbidding yet beautiful rock. Patches of bronze grass contrasted vividly with copses of shining green. The presence of the sea seemed the most unforgettable thing. I could not rid myself of the haunting moan and boom of the sea.
I caught a mako and several large yellowtail. Captain Mitchell did not have any luck. Meanwhile the sky had become overcast and threatening. As there was no safe anchorage, we considered it wise to run for the mainland, and had not gotten far before a heavy squall burst upon us. Fortunately wind and sea were in our favor. The boatmen put up a sail, and that with the engine sent us along at record speed. It was fine to race over the green and white billows, with rain and spray beating in my face; to watch the sea birds skim the water, and the clouds over the mainland break to let silver rays and gleams shine through the mist.
We ran into the very bay that had become memorable through the massacre of the Maoris from the Poor Knights; and I walked along that wide, curved beach, where they say skulls and bones are washed up out of the sand to this day.
Before that week ended Captain Mitchell and I had one of our remarkable experiences. A heavy run of Marlin swordfish came in to the cape, and we happened to be there before any other of the boats arrived. The day was pleasant, with rippling sea, smooth in the lee of the great rock. Several large patches of kahawai and trevalli were working to and fro, showing signs now and then of pursuers underneath.
The details of that day would be too bewildering to force upon any readers, even if they were ardent fishermen. Captain Mitchell had his best bag, catching five swordfish, two of which gave him hard hour-long fights. He hooked one other Marlin which he lost, more by the fact of my being near than any awkwardness of his own.
Our two boats were rather close off the north point of the rock. Captain Mitchell, Peter and I all had strikes simultaneously, and all hooked our fish. They began to leap. I actually saw three large Marlin in the air between our boats at the same time. The Captain's fish ran round my line. Presently my Marlin leaped and tangled in his line. I released my drag, but Captain Mitchell did not release his, and as a consequence broke his line. He shook his fist at me, and I yelled back, "You should keep your fish away from mine!"
By noonday several other boats and yachts were on hand, full of enthusiastic anglers. Swordfish were striking everywhere. The schools of bait were on the run. I saw one man, fishing from a skiff, hook and lose two swordfish. Six other Marlin were hooked and lost from the two yachts. One other boat caught a fish during the several hours that I watched.
My own luck was remarkably mixed, good and bad, mostly bad. I actually hooked twelve swordfish, some of them over three hundred pounds. Four of these threw the hook at the first leaping run. Another I lost after nearly an hour's battle, and another let go of the hook before I struck. Two others came unhooked at the boat, after they had been whipped. I landed four. I was keen, of course, to beat Captain Mitchell, but it was just one of those days when the inexplicable happened. R.C. would have said, "Well, old top, you weren't shooting straight to-day," or else, recalling our baseball days, he would have said, "You're hitting off to-day. You're chopping at the fast curves and pulling away from the plate!"
After the heat of battle and rivalry was over I was heartily glad I had lost most of my fish. Captain Mitchell could be happy with his record. I would beat him next time. The other remarkable incidents in connection with this day were too many to remember or record. But I could never forget the way the Marlin flashed around my boat. We had two follow our lures when fishing for bait. I raised half a dozen Marlin with the teasers. We had two rise and take dead kahawai we had thrown away. I saw at least a dozen purple sickle tails stick out of the water. And lastly, Peter, fishing from the bow, had an enormous black Marlin follow his bait as he wound it in. Peter never uttered a sound at the moment. Later he told me that the fish was so huge it scared him. It swam round his dead bait and refused it and then went down.
Upon returning to camp I greeted Captain Mitchell in this wise: "Cap, you sure shot your bolt to-day. If you had fallen overboard you would have hooked a Steinway piano. And now, with our last few days at hand, you'll be funny. You won't be able even to catch cold!"
Of course I was only joking, but as it chanced that is exactly what came to pass.
We had three days left, and among the many places to go, absolutely unfished waters, except by ourselves, I chose two that we had named The Groaners and Sunken Reef. The Groaners were some ragged low rocks, off one of the points, and Sunken Reef was a wide ledge about ten fathoms deep. These places were four miles apart and not more than ten from a little cove on the mainland where we had a safe and quiet anchorage.
As it turned out we had scarcely any fishing at The Groaners, all of it being around and on Sunken Reef. I had discovered this reef by accident. Perhaps not wholly by accident, as several times the presence of gulls and schools of trevalli had made me wonder about this locality and spend some time there. While drifting I caught my hook on the reef, at less than ten fathoms. This was illuminating, and afforded my boatmen and me much satisfaction. Wherefore we hung around, while the Captain scoured the seas looking for that mako he wanted so badly.
I caught a forty-pound snapper on the reef and several yellowtail. About the middle of the afternoon big fish came in to work on the school of trevalli. Then things began to happen. Before sunset I had several striped Marlin, one of which weighed three hundred and eighty pounds, the largest of that species I had ever seen. The Captain reported nothing but barren seas.
"Cap," I said, "you ought to follow me around more."
"By gad! I'd be afraid I'd swamp the boat," he replied. "But I had one wolloping strike to-day."
Next day I took Morton with me for the avowed purpose of having him take some pictures of my boat. But my real intent was to hook him on to a swordfish. He had never tried for big fish and was crazy to do so. I thought to do him a good turn and incidentally have some fun.
Indeed, as a man always experiences when he attempts a kindly act, I had more pleasure and reward than I had bargained for.
Trolling over Sunken Reef I raised a good big swordfish, and I hooked him solidly. Then, as he came up rather sluggishly and wallowed on the surface, I thought it a good chance to put Morton on the rod. I did so and straightaway the fun began. The fish woke up and began to run and leap, so that we were compelled to follow. Morton had no idea what to do with rod and reel, but was not slow to follow my instructions. At first he could do nothing at all with the Marlin, and his expression was one of mingled awe, dread and wild delight. Both my boatmen were hugely enjoying the situation; and I observed that Frank ran the launch rather poorly for him. When the swordfish sheered toward us and threatened to ram the boat or leap into it, Morton was a spectacle to behold. But whatever his feelings he was game; he never spoke a word, and he worked valiantly with the tackle. His shirt did not quite come off, as I have seen happen with tenderfoot anglers, but it certainly came up around his neck. He was red and sweaty. His legs shook, and his left arm grew weak. I was afraid he would not last the battle out, but he did; and when we gaffed that swordfish I never saw a happier angler novice. Morton was not a born fisherman, but he was a made one.
About three o'clock the school of trevalli began to rise, foam over the surface, crash the water white and vanish as if by magic. Big fish again! We trolled around without raising another with the teasers. We needed live bait. The boatmen wanted to run way back to the islands for live bait. "Nix," I said. "This bait is what I want. Catch me a trevalli."
Frank vowed the trevalli would be too big. Peter did not commit himself, though he was dubious. But I knew. Trevalli could not be caught with a lure, so we had to run around the school and snag one. It was fully six or seven pounds, rather long in shape, oval and thin, and bright silver-- a very pretty fish. Once on the hook it proved to be an ideal bait, apparently none the worse for its predicament. Very soon I had a running strike. The next few minutes we were trying to catch up with a marvelously leaping striped Marlin, and while my companions essayed to photograph him in action, I was hard put to it to keep him from getting away. I was an hour on this splendid fish, again the largest I had ever seen of his species.
We returned thrillingly to Our Sunken Reef, to find conditions there more and more fishy. Soon I had another trevalli on for bait, and hardly had Frank stopped the engine when I had another great strike.
I saw my line sweep out swiftly and rise toward the surface. Then the bulge of a big fish! I clapped on my drag. What a jerk! I was almost dragged over the gunwale. That fellow hooked himself and at once broke water in a wide-flung splash, disclosing great breadth of shoulder and great depth. But for the long rapier-like bill I would have mistaken him for a black Marlin. He tore off line out to sea, and kept us guessing. After a while he leaped, a wonderful series of leaps, all low and heavy, which did not disclose his size. But I had that pretty well figured, and worked as if I had tied up with one of the black fellows. Not easy to land was that striped swordfish! I had all I wanted for a quick, violent fight.
It took the four of us to load him on the boat, a most gorgeous specimen of the striped Marlin; bronze-backed, silver-bellied, wide and deep and long, with vivid purple bands. He measured eleven feet five inches in length, and four feet two inches in girth. Even before getting these remarkable measurements I knew I had the world record for the striped Marlin. I knew he would exceed even the disqualified four-hundred-and-thirty and three-hundred-and-seventy-two pound Marlin taken in Catalina waters. My brother held the qualified record with three hundred and fifty-four pounds. "Well, old R.C.," I exclaimed, "I've surely got you trimmed."
As a matter of fact, this beautiful Marlin weighed four hundred and fifty pounds.
Back at Sunken Reef, just before sunset, we had a hard time catching another trevalli. They had grown wary. Big game fish were chasing them up and down. Then at last when I did get a trevalli it was a large one--too large I feared. Nevertheless, some great game fish, probably a mako or a huge black Marlin, jerked it off my hook before I could wink. What a tremendous strike! I was stunned. The bait had been hooked on securely. Only a fish with large, powerful jaws could have snapped him off without taking line.
That was the end of fishing for that day at Sunken Reef. We could not catch another kahawai, though we tried till dark. When we left, the school of trevalli were making white patches of foam on the black waters. Captain Mitchell's bad luck had prevailed. Nothing! Two more heavy strikes that took his baits were all he reported.
Our last day dawned calm, rosy, with quiet sea. This morning, after we had amply photographed and weighed the Marlin, I insisted that Captain Mitchell go with us to Sunken Reef.
"I want to end this trip right there," I added.
So we went together, caught our bait, and trolled out to sea. On the way to Sunken Reef I had a single leap out of another big striped Marlin. This inclined me to the opinion that a run of larger fish had come in, and the more I weighed the evidence the surer I was of it.
The sea was level and glassy. This was the fourth day without wind. Gulls, like white bits of cork, were floating all over the ocean. No sign of our school of trevalli. We trolled over Sunken Reef, and raised one swordfish that would not bite. That was number eighty-one to be raised by the teasers. We ran out to sea, and back in, and then we drifted for a time. No fish! After lunch we tried again, keeping the while a close watch on the gulls. It looked as if our last day was going to be unavailing, so far as fish were concerned. Finally we returned to Sunken Reef to find the trevalli working on the surface. We had several live baits which we proceeded to try.
My first strike resulted in a forty-pound yellowtail. When Peter hooked a larger one it gave him a tough battle in that ten-fathom water. Frank had immense glee in his brother boatman's vain efforts to subdue the fish. I was amused at their naive remarks, especially when the fish escaped.
Presently I had a running strike that I took to come from a swordfish. But the fish sounded deep, and before very long I recognized the telltale tug and jerk peculiar to the yellowtail. Moreover, he was mightily heavy and powerful. I tried to fetch him up, but failed, much to the delight of both boatmen.
"That's another big kingie," averred Peter.
I tried a number of times to haul this stubborn yellowtail up, and, failing, had to settle down to a real earnest fight that lasted three-quarters of an hour.
"Oh, what a corker!" yelled Frank, as at last I brought the fish alongside.
"Beats the one-hundred-and-ten-pound record," added Peter, with much satisfaction.
Not proof against such remarks, I stood and looked over the side of the boat, while Frank pulled on the leader. The calm, clear water afforded perfect vision. I saw a big fish head, broad, dark, with gaping mouth like that of a tuna. Then he rolled over on the surface, disclosing what seemed an impossibly large yellow tail. But how beautiful! Gold-tailed, green-backed, with the wonderful mother-of-pearl tints on the broad side, he was verily a magnificent fish. I thought of Hooper and Murphy, famous Avalon anglers, now dead and gone, who fished many years for yellowtail and considered it to be the equal of tuna. Next I thought gleefully of how thoroughly I had Captain Mitchell's eighty-pounder beaten. A little consolation was coming to me late!
This yellowtail, called kingfish by New Zealanders, was their favorite fish before Marlin were known. It was while fishing for kingfish that an angler accidentally hooked a Marlin. This misnamed fish attains immense size in these waters. In the Gulf of California the yellowtail grows to seventy-five pounds or more in weight, though I have no record of any caught. Mine weighed one hundred and eleven pounds, beating the world record by a narrow margin of one pound.
Captain Mitchell had hovered around Sunken Reef. But it appeared to me he was using dead bait, to his disadvantage. I was to find out presently, however, that live bait could be most extraordinarily hard to catch. The school of trevalli appeared only at infrequent intervals, and then to remain on the surface just long enough for some enormous fish underneath to make them flash into a roar of seething waters and vanish.
The little white sea gulls, in flocks of thousands, screamed and screeched their own protests at this summary disregard of their needs. They had to eat also, and their meals depended upon the trevalli chasing the tiny minnows to the surface. But now the trevalli were concerned with the matter of self-preservation.
We saw a colossal reremai fin on the surface, weaving behind the trevalli. And poor unlucky Captain Mitchell had the terribly bad luck to have that shark take his bait. By strenuous labor he got the leader to Bill, who promptly looped it round the bit. That relieved the Captain of this unwelcome weight, and also half of his leader.
During the next hour, while I unavailingly essayed to catch a live trevalli, I saw Captain Mitchell catch two small mako, which he handled as if extremely annoyed at getting fast to them at that important hour.
Suddenly I heard a plop. Then I saw a yard-wide round black that I thought belonged to a porpoise. Only it did not! A long dark-bladed tail swept up. Black Marlin! My yell roused the boatmen. We were too late, however, as the giant fish passed our boat scarcely thirty feet away. We followed him, saw him several times, lost him, found him again half a mile from Sunken Reef, and got a bait and the teasers in front of him. I went through all the familiar thrilling agonies, augmented by the possibility of a marvelous climax for this last day. But the black Marlin would not rise.
We went back to Sunken Reef. There we saw Captain Mitchell wildly running about, and when we got within hailing distance, Bill yelled, "We had hold of a big black Marlin. Threw the hook!"
At that I lost my intense eagerness and insistent breast-convulsing excitement. I realized there was not to be any climax. The wonderful last day had ended, as far as catching fish was concerned. Still I went on fishing, trying to catch a live bait, trolling a dead one, drifting also, and to no avail.
The sun began to redden between the purple clouds above the purple ranges. We had a long run to make back to camp. The day was done. I suffered one shock, one twinge, and conquered that inexplicable desire to keep on fishing. Slowly I reeled in my line, and peace came to me.
Peace with the realization of many things: of the marvelous success of this New Zealand fishing; of the delight in virgin waters; of the desire and determination to come back, to fetch R.C. and my son Romer; to fetch my ship the Fisherman, and fish these waters right! What a prospect! I think it was decided then and there. It saed me wholly from anything but gratitude and appreciation. I concentrated all my faculties for a few intense absorbing moments of seeing, hearing, feeling.
There gloomed the broad, dark sea. The swells were slow and low, and a gentle ripple ruffled the waters. The white gulls, like showers of feathers, were now rosy in the sunset glow. They ascended to fly over the frothy patch of water where the trevalli roared like a running brook, and screaming they alighted amidst the school. Suddenly the trevalli raised a splash and disappeared, only to reappear. The birds took to wing again. The air was full of moving fluttering specks of white. Crash! Another great swordfish had smashed at the school.
To make this scene perfect for me, and no doubt for the Captain also, a gigantic black Marlin rolled up to show a long, dark, straight fin, broad as a board. He went down. Then the acre of trevalli, a creeping acre of white seething foam, burst into a crashing splash. It vanished like magic. I watched and listened. No doubt the little gulls were doing the same. Behind me I heard the soft gurgling sound of water. The trevalli had come up again. Then the gurgle increased to a distinct roar, loud as that made by a tumbling stream. Then crash!
The battle went on there over Sunken Reef. It was life and death, something vital, beautiful, inevitable and unquenchable, and at the same time sinister and tragic. The black mystic waters rolled over this hidden reef and the inexplicable nature of the deep. My moments of watching and listening lengthened until the sun sank in magenta haze over the ranges. Then as we sped away over the darkening sea, campward bound, with the last great day done, I watched the white gulls hovering and wheeling in the strange afterglow of light