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Sport: Prowess in Action

5 minute read

”Gene Tunney, a writer who stands at the opposite pole from Hemingway, having abundantly established his prowess in action. . . .”

When Critic Max Eastman wrote this last month in The New Republic in an article which sought to attribute Author Ernest Hemingway’s fondness for bloodshed to a neurosis resulting from the war, loud were the protests from Author Hemingway’s loyal admirers. A more convincing if less spontaneous rebuttal to the Eastman attack was last week offered by a 468-lb. black marlin.

Last fortnight Hemingway, a few Cubans and the usual wicker demijohn of wine went swordfishing. In July and August the big marlins come down from the

Bahamas to the blue depths off Cuba’s north coast. One of these sighted Fisher man Hemingway’s hook-spitted mackerel, struck, and the battle was on. “He jumped,” the stout scrivener said, “like in the Apocalypse!” Sixty-five minutes later the gleamy, purple-backed fish was gaffed, pulled over the launch’s freeboard. Back at Havana Mr. Hemingway posed happily beside his catch as it was hung on the custom house scales. The fish weighed 468 lb.. was 12 ft. 8 in. long. Not only was it the biggest marlin ever caught off the Cuban coast with rod and line* but neurotic Ernest Hemingway had fought the bucking sea bronco alone and without harness. Technically the only true swordfish is the broadbill. The marlin. of which there are some 15 varieties (black, blue, white, barred) identifiable by the size and color of the dorsal and pectoral fins, has a round, narrow, sharp beak, is more properly called a spearfish. Marlins roam the trop ical Atlantic waters, are also found off the coasts of California, Hawaii, Japan, the Antipodes. The largest fish ever caught with rod & reel was a New Zealand black marlin weighing 976 lb., hooked in 1926. The sport of catching swordfish on a hook instead of by harpoon is comparatively new. The sport of catching them off Montauk Point, L. I., and nearby Block Island is even newer, although broadbills are found the world over.

In 1927 Oliver Cromwell Grinnell, prosperous lithographer of Bay Shore, L. I., introduced broadbill fishing to the East, where heretofore the tuna was the largest game fish sought. Month ago his strapping widow hooked a 450-lb. broadbill south of Fire Island at 9 a. m. one day. Ten hours later Mrs. Grinnell was still fighting her fish, her hook fouled firmly in its skull. The captain of her boat, Wally Baker, made her turn over the rod to him. fearing the prolonged struggle would seriously injure her. At 5 a. m. next day he finally managed to gaff the brute. “At one time the fish had 1,600 ft. of line out. and fighting on the end of that, put up a terrific battle,” said 200-lb. Mrs. Grinnell. “But I think that fish realized it had someone on the other end of the line, too.”

Since Mr. Grinnell began trolling for broadbills where Long Island Sound joins the Atlantic, many another fisherman has gone there for the sport, preferring cool Montauk to torrid Cuba in the summer months. Many a Florida fishing captain works out of Montauk every year now. The ablest ones include Captains Bill Hatch, Bill Fagan, Howard Lance, Charlie Thompson, Tom Gifford.

A day with a Montauk captain costs $50. but you can take three or four others along and split the price. Tackle is provided, consisting usually of a 16-oz. rod, a reel the size of a coffee tin, some 1,200 ft. of No. 36 thread line, 15 ft. of copper leader. Shoulder-straps and a socketed belt are provided to let the fisherman put his back into his fight with the fish. A fresh squid is sewed onto the hook and sometimes a wooden lure is trolled ahead of it to rouse the broadbill’s interest. To take the line out of the wake of the boat a kite is often rigged to it and flown off the quarter. The fish are sighted when their fins and tails clip the water’s surface. Technique then is to drag your bait before the fish. As in bass fishing, it is ruinous to try to set your hook at. the first strike or when the fish is pointed toward you (it would fly out of his mouth). Once hooked the game, resourceful broadbill will roll (to shake the hook from his soft mouth, if caught there), sound (dive straight for the bottom), double under the boat to cut the line, make a run to try to carry away your tackle. Famed for his prodigious jumps, the marlin has been known to “walk on his tail” 50 yd. When you have landed such a fish, you have something.

*Atlantic record is 502 lb., a fish hooked by Adman Louis Wasey off Cat Cay, Bahamas, last April. Mr. Wasey’s fish, however, was fought by himself and another man, therefore neither can claim the catch.

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