Marlin rammed our press boat:Photos and story from a photoforum member


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Jan 22, 2009
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This is Jon Schwartz. I'm a fishing & travel photographer and writer, and I specialize in big fish photos of marlin, sharks, tuna, and sailfish from above and below the waterline. I have a photography and fishing story that you all might enjoy, from the perspective of a photographer. It's a long and wild story but I will keep it kind of brief here and if you want to follow up you can go to my website or blog for the full story and pics: or
I am a freelancer, and I also teach elementary school. I do this on my spare time. I got into this in a roundabout way, by catching big fish like marlin from kayaks; I started writing about that, then taking photos and working with photographers and video people and TV people that wanted to document what I was doing, and then I picked up a camera and became hooked on photojounalism. I put down the rod and paddles and got way into the photographer and writer role. Best move I ever made!
I do a lot of work in Kona, Hawaii, because the fish get huge there, they are close to shore, and the water is often super calm. In many locations, it would be hard from a press boat to get shots of other boats hooked up to fish that are jumping, because the boats are very far offshore, spread out, and the water conditions might be very rough. In Kona it can happen very close to shore in lake like conditions, hence my constant visits to the location.
(N.B-I expect to get a bit of concerned responses from people that are against sportfishing and I can 100% respect that, but please take note of the facts in this paragraph: the fish are usually released, and if you go to my blog you will see how I support tag and release and the organizations that promote conservation of fish, and if you really are sincerely concerned about damage to stocks of pelagic fish like tuna and marlin, please know that longlines, miles-long strands of line with baited hooks, pose the greatest danger to these fish. In addition, the US is the world's biggest importer of marlin meat; I think it might be used in foods that we don't even know about, but that's another story and I would be happy to provide information and data on this). Ok. I am done being defensive!
So back to the story... what equipment to use? I usually use a 70-200 with either a D300 with MBD10 or a D700. The 300 is cool for the extra reach but not good in low light, as I find above 320 ISO it's too darn noisy. You know, the issue with shutter speeds wanting to be the highest, the ISO wanting to be the lowest, and for me, I like a certain f stop so I get lots in focus in case I am not spot on.
Well, I decided to rent a 300 f2.8 for this trip as well as a D3s- the D3s has a huge buffer so I won't have to stop and wait for the camera to "catch up" during an action sequence. Otherwise I would have simply used my D700. Of course I had everything else set up too, from a 28-70 up, and if I am on a boat that might catch something (I didn't expect these guys to try to catch anything on the press boat), I use even wider stuff too, and then go in the water when they are releasing it to get underwater photos too. Fun!
Anyway, yeah I bit the bullet and rented the gear. I figured I'd probably get a bunch of ok shots, but the odds of getting anything truly rare and tack sharp, full frame, were low. Then again if something insane happened and I was using a prosumer camera and lens I'd never forgive myself! The 300 f2.8 would only work in Kona because the calm water, as I mentioned, and as long as the fish is not changing too much distance with me on the press boat, I should be good, right?
Well, the press boat that I was on was actually made the press boat because the year prior, they had the least successful record in the tournament. No one wants to be the press boat- it's kind of an insult to the captain, and this particular captain is a longtime Kona fixture and beloved character named B.C Crawford. Like many captains in press boats from earlier years, he could not resist deploying at least a couple of lures. I had no problem with it, and who am I to tell this respected oldtimer what to do; he wouldn't listen to me anyway! We'd have to hope to get lucky to even see another boat in action because we were an older boat.
Most of the boats in the tourney have 6 or maybe even more lures out, so having 2 out, on a boat as slow and low tech as our press boat, with the boat's prior record, didn't really make me think we'd hook up. In fact I was thinking, why is the mate even deploying anything, what are the odds? Get real!
Day 2, I am on the boat, the fishing for the tournament is slow, and I have no good pics. I was thinking about the money I spent coming out to Kona, the money I'd blown on the rental of the D3s and the 300 prime, and I was so bored that I was falling in and out of consciousness. At least if I was on a tree stand waiting for a deer or lion or something it would be peaceful, but the drone and smell of the diesel engines is not all that serene, ya know? It got so boring that I started to question if I could ever board a press boat again. Maybe I am not cut out for this? Aaaargh!
I faded off into sleep...
I was then awoken by the sound of a reel screaming. I run out to the deck and the line is emptying off the reel. The deckhand, KJ Robinson, thinks it's a tuna (Darn! Why didn't I bring my underwater gear!! I need underwater photos of big tuna!) but then all of a sudden, close to the boat, a huge marlin starts going wild, greyhouding this way and that, throwing giant walls of whitewater in it's wake, and generally going completely nuts!! Of course I would do the same thing if I were the marlin. It wasn't surprising that it was doing this, but that it was doing this so close to the boat- REALLY close- and this was an unusually huge fish!
Well, my fellow photographers, of course this is what I came for!! I grabbed a camera- I think it was the D700 with the f2.8 300mm- and started shooting. This is the moment I have hoped for and replayed a 1000 times in my head, hoping to be mentally prepared for. The boat is backing down towards the fish so we won't get "spooled" (when all line comes off reel) and so we can get to the fish quickest and release it in good shape. The longer you let the fish run and tire, the worse it is for the fish. Anyway, I am firing away in bursts, hoping that maybe one or two of my shots will come out in focus. With the boat backing down and the waves, there was a lot of motion, we are rocking and rolling, diesel smoke is billowing out from the stern that I am looking out of, and I wasn't too optimistic; I'd have to hope for the best, which might be 1 or 2 shots out of 50 or more that might be decent. Imagine trying to take pics if you were holding a 300 f2.8 and you were on someone's back in a piggyback race- that's what it was like. Oh yeah, add to that the perdson whose back you are on is grunting like a tractor and billowing smoke.
Then what happens next was absolutely insane! The marlin seemed to be looking at us while it was galavanting around (I only noticed this through viewing the photos later- while it was happening all I was concerned about was trying to stay still while the boat heaved). Well, it then turned in a 180, and changed from going away from the boat to right at us! Plus then it is going upside down at us, "greyhounding" all the while! Now, the 300 fixed is great for the situation I had intended, but not for this unusual one- us hooking up and being charged by a huge fish that was closing distance rapidly! All I remember was trying to track the fish and then it got so close I couldn't keep the fish in the frame.
And then WHAM!!!!!!!!!
The fish slammed into the boat. I thought either the fish came off or the boat was damaged, or something went horribly wrong, but next thing I know, the mate is on the side of the boat still hooked up and the reel is screaming and the fish is AHEAD of the boat ( I was still looking behind the boat where it had first gone wild), and now it was leading the boat, and all heck had broken loose!
I'll skip over the details of the fight with the fish; if you want the full story, as I mentioned, please check my blog. We were going to tag and release it anyway- that's when you place a tag on the fish that has data on it, and if/when the fish is ever re-caught the tag is sent to scientists that get info on how much it grew, how long it was between the two catches, how far it travelled, etc. That info helps scientsist and organizations like The Billfish Foundation lobby for laws that protect marlin and other billfish and pelagic fish. But when it got close the hook broke! We didn't much care, the fish got to go free, which is what we wanted anyway, and we'd seen something really rare and I might even have some epic and rare photos!
There wasn't even an angler on board- the mate did it all- and when we got into the cabin to debrief and collect ourselves, I realized that this was a really wild story that people might like to hear. I called up a fellow in the media I know and he said, if the pics show what you say happened, I'll see who picks it up in the news. I stayed up all night blogging about it to tell the story correctly. I had to make the decision to give him some photos w/o the watermark or credit. I could have said no but I've done that before and no one ran the photos. I'd have to be content with a link to my site and credits (which can be way more vauluable than editorial wages even for covers), etc, but he said that the site that he'd be pitching it too doesn't run stuff with photo credits on it.
You folks here on this site might have your own opinions on this but it was a call I had to make in a jiff and I thought the exposure would be worth it. So what I did was take the photos that weren't the best ones, cropped and downrezzed them big time (save for web devices, right?), put the right metadata on them, and just decided to see what happened. Worst carse scenario, I was already getting the photos copyrighted formally and I'd still end up with the best ones that no one could mess with. Plus if I saw any large company or website using them I could tell them to put a link to me or take it off.
Anyway, overall I think it was a good move, because the photos made Yahoo home page for two straight days and in a 3 day period I got over 150,000 hits to my site, which may prove way more valuable than anything I would have gotten if I had insisted he put a name and website thing on the bottom of the photo ( which could have been cropped out by unscrupulous people in the future anyway)! There have been some major sites that copied and pasted the story without putting a link to my site but I followed up with them and they did, and hopefully, it'll all work out.
But the story gets wilder!
Two days later our little press boat that was the slowest and least lucky last year, with a small amount of lures that we shouldn't even have had out, hooks into a 700 pounder, and this was, at the time, the biggest fish of the tournament! The tournament director called me up while we were hooked up and said that he wanted me to speak to a TV fellow, but I said I couldn't, because a big fish was on.
He said, "Who is hooked up?" (he thought we were watching someone else!)
I said, "WE ARE!" and I wish I could have seen his jaw drop- we weren't even supposed to be fishing!
Anyway, we got the fish to the boat, and good thing this day we had another photographer on board. I had to put down my cameras at the end to assist in tagging and releasing the fish, and she got pics of that happening. All in all, I've seen a lot of really wild things happen on and below the water, but this pretty much took the cake!!
Hope you enjoyed the story,
Your fellow TPF member,
Jon Schwartz
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My local news station likes to report half the story, too, and then they link to their website for "the full story", but I never go to their website because, well, I just can't find the time.

Great story Jon! I'm so glad that it was you that had everything come together. The story and your A-level select photo of the "charging marlin" was the top story on Yahoo! and other aggregating sites when it happened! The 150,000 blog hits are nice, but I think the legend of Jon Schwartz just grew about two decades' worth in one day, in the span of the time of the hookup and premature, short-range release (I saw the photo of how the hook broke at the bend!).

Good for you man!
Derrel, there you are!!
yeah thanks for the kudos! I just shot and didn't blink, that's about all! It was funny because I called up my dad in Vermont the next day and I told him to look on Yahoo. He said "What page, how do I find it?" and I said, "The HOME PAGE!" and then he asked, "Ok, I am looking at two stories, one about a marlin, the other about Kagan getting confirmed for the Supreme Court, which one is yours?"
Now maybe I can afford to get the D700 redo when it comes out. I like the specs of the D3X but it won't cut it for the action with it's low fps and I can't stomach the price. The D3s is cool but not enough of a differnce between that and the D700 with the MBD10 to justify me getting it. Hurry up Nikon!
Jon Schwartz: Fishing and travel articles, photography, and big fish photos
Amusing story about the way your dad handled the story! There have been four women appointed to the Supreme Court...not sure how many big marlin have rammed press boats! In my book, the marlin story is the bigger 'deal'...
Derrel, yeah I think he was kidding around, he knew that I was on the water, or in it!

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