Marlin on The Spear

By Kevin Glen

Editor’s note: this is a long-form piece originally printed in Field Ethos Journal 2022 Volume 1.

Maybe it’s a generational thing, but I’ve always had an obsession with being the first to do something. But in our ever-expanding world, firsts are becoming rare—and especially rare in the world of spearfishing. One goal enticed me from the first moment I heard about it though: Landing a marlin in California waters with a speargun.

When a buddy first mentioned it half-joking, I dug in and did some research. As far as I could tell it had never been done; the state records for all the marlin species were still unclaimed. Hell, the divers I talked to weren’t even sure it was legal. So I went to a Fish & Game office and asked. Sure enough, it was legal, but they’d never heard of anyone doing it.  

Now I was really intrigued.

I watched every video I could find about how guys in other parts of the world targeted these fish, and even how the hook-and-line boats caught them in California. I invested in a larger speargun and the terminal gear I’d need to land a fish that big. Then I started making trips.

A buddy had access to a 17-ft. Boston Whaler in San Diego, and while it wasn’t much of a pure marlin boat, it was what we had, so we started taking it out as often as we could. We put countless miles on that boat, mostly shooting yellowtail and dorado off paddies, but always hoping to catch a glimpse of that magical tailfin.

I’ll never forget the day it finally happened, though nothing went as expected.

It started like any other day while heading out with jokes like, “Today’s the day Kevin finally bags his marlin,” and some other ribbing. Though my friends loved the thought of this goal, no one actually expected it to happen.  

After running 10 miles offshore I spotted a fin in the distance. We motored over to take a look but discovered it was just a Mola mola. The ocean nerd in me couldn’t help jumping in anyway to take some pictures and swim with this massive ocean sunfish.

As the fish was towing me around I noticed some bonito schooling up beneath it, so I swam to the boat to grab a speargun. After all, even a bonito will save a slow trip. For this small tuna species I grabbed the smallest gun on the boat, a 110cm aluminum railgun.  As I swam back to the action, the bonito took off in a very uncharacteristic way.

When I heard the sound of birds overhead I glanced up and witnessed water erupting 20 yards ahead. I kicked hard to see what all the fuss was about. As I approached the commotion, I saw more bonito—mostly blurs—whizzing past me fast enough that I began to get nervous. These fish were fleeing for their lives, and I guessed a big mako—one of the most fearsome predators on the planet—would appear at any moment.

Good graces, it was no mako.

I first saw it charging out of the blue, hot on a fish’s tail and all lit up. I thought fast; all my marlin gear was in the boat; I had only a small gun and a float with me. Far from ideal. But I also realized that I might never get such a chance again. I told myself I’d only take the shot if it was perfect.  

As if reading my mind, the big striped marlin slowed when it saw me. I punched a dive and let myself drift down to its level. The fish kept coming, white stripes flashing like lightning in the clear water, moving fast. Fifty feet, 20, then 10…still on track to swim right beneath me. I lined up and squeezed the trigger.

Then to my horror, when the shaft struck, the fish immediately turned toward me. That was the risk in taking the leading shot angle and not waiting until the fish passed. I took the additional risk for the better shot at the brain, but now this marlin had every intention of impaling me, just as I’d done to it. Everything that happened next happened fast. 

As it sliced toward me, I caught the bill of the marlin between my two hands like a football, and redirected it away from my body. The momentum of the fish took us both the rest of the way to the surface, where I wrapped my hand under its head and into its gills; I prepared myself for the fight of my life.

It wasn’t until that exact moment that I realized the fish was already dead. My shot had landed perfectly, directly in the brain, and any movement after that had just been the last muscles firing; the throes of death.  

I had done it. I was the first spear fisherman to take a striped marlin in California—though for now the record still remains unclaimed. Not having a fish hold or an ice chest large enough for it, we decided to run straight back to the dock and get the fish processed to best preserve the meat, so we were never able to get it to a certified scale. And that’s OK. Who knows, maybe one day striped lightning will strike twice.

Editor’s note: If you’re into spearfishing and other water-bound adventure, check out @fieldethoswaterman on IG.

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