Capt. Chris Hall enjoyed an epic two days of bill fishing near Shell’s Ursa platform last Thursday and Friday, tagging and releasing three blue marlin weighing about 300, 500 and 700 pounds each.
He and the crew on the Fog Cutter, his 45-foot Hatteras, added a couple of white marlin for good measure to win the Faux Pas Lodge Rodeo's blue marlin division, and also came away with the first-place dolphin and second-place wahoo as well.
But as it turned out, the highlight of his weekend didn’t even come on the water.
What made him most happy occurred at Venice Marina Saturday night, when Fog Cutter crew member Paul Ippolito, who was in the fighting chair and caught all three blue marlin, accepted the Faux Pas Lodge Rodeo award for top marlin angler dedicated in memory of his younger brother, Michael Ippolito.
“We knew at the beginning of the tournament that was the trophy we wanted,” said Hall, 56, who owns Bayou Marine Electronics. “I mean the dolphin and wahoo are nice, but really what we wanted was the marlin trophy with Paul Ippolito catching the fish and with the Fog Cutter team accepting the award that was a memorial for his brother.”
‘Big Mike’ Ippolito passed away from cancer several years ago, and his memory was honored by the trophy dedicated in his name to commemorate his love of bill-fishing and being offshore, Hall said.
“It was just unbelievable how the stars and the moon and the weather came together. It was just a real honor to have Paul on the boat,” Hall said. “He was very emotional with remembering his brother passing and how much time he spent with him on the water and on the boat fishing together. It brought back a lot of memories.”
For a complete look at the final 2014 Faux Pas Lodge leaderboard, click here.
The four-man crew, which also included Drew Frost and Timmy Townsend, spent the night at Port Eads Wednesday and headed out Thursday morning and fished about 15 miles southeast of Ursa for the better part of the day.
“We found a really good eddy of blue water with some current and a lot of bait in it and it was just awesome,” Hall said. “It was on fire with fish and we were the only boat there, so we had no problem with pressure or competition and we fished that pretty much the whole day.”
The caught a while marlin about 10:30, then followed that up with a 300-pound blue a couple of hours later that bit on a blue-and-white Ilander lure.
About 6 that afternoon, the 500-pounder swallowed a Black Bart Grander and was tagged and released in about 30 minutes, Hall said.
With two blue marlin on Day 1, they spent the night at a rig in the area and headed back to Ursa Friday morning for more.
They were greeted by about 15 boats in the area, but were feeling confident after their solid day Thursday.
“We’re all thinking and saying to ourselves, ‘Wouldn’t it be really cool to pull up there in front of everybody and hook up on a big blue marlin and kind of show off, even after we caught the two blues and the white the day before?’ Hall said. “So it was like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah - let’s do it.’”
Despite all the boat traffic in the area, that’s exactly what happened.
“It was just an act of God, or an act of luck, however you want to call it,” Hall said with a chuckle. “I’d like to think we’re very good fishermen, but at the same time, it’s about 10:30 now so those boats had been fishing there since 6 that morning, and I didn’t hear any good reports on the radio.
“The first pass we made passed the drill ship we hooked up on a big blue marlin right there in front of all the other boats. They watched it, they saw it jump, they watched us fighting and angling, and it was just a really cool event.”
The fish, which Hall conservatively estimated at 700 pounds, had taken a pink-and-white Mold Craft soft head lure and started stripping line quickly.
“As soon as we go the other lines in and the teasers out of the water, I started immediately backing down on the fish really hard. We were taking water over the transom of the boat into the cockpit, which is typical,” he said. “That’s how you fight a big blue marlin and how you get line back on the reel.”
In the process of chasing the fish in reverse, Hall said about three feet of water came into the cockpit, with hatches coming off and ice chests floating.
“It’s like a Chinese fire drill. That’s kind of standard for the ballgame when you get a fish of this caliber on the line,” he said. “Everything is kind of crazy.”
He gained about 100 yards of line, then increased the drag to 50 pounds for about 20 minutes with the fish still young in the fight.
“We knew we had a really big fish and we were just doing everything we could to keep it from getting away,” he said.
But the heavy drag caused her to dive deep, so Hall decided to lighten the drag to 15 pounds.
“It was a good call,” he said. “The fish came back to the surface, we had a good angle on the line and we started backing down and regaining line and we were able to get really comfortable where the fish had a couple-hundred yards of line out on us and was still in pretty good shape.”
The massive 700-pounder was tagged and released in 45 minutes, a good scenario for the survival of the fish, Hall said. Watch video of the big marlin being tagged and released here.
“We try to catch the fish as soon as we can pretty aggressively so the fish is still healthy and it’s in good shape so that when you release it, it’s alive and swimming and it lives another day,” he said. “My boat is 14-feet wide at the transom, and it was wider than the boat.”
They added another white marlin around 5 p.m., and after a pretty slow day Saturday morning, they headed for Venice Marina about 12:30 that afternoon.
“Five billfish in a weekend, three blues and two whites, is an epic event off of South Pass and that’s an awesome weekend in any professional fisherman’s category,” Hall said. “To seal the deal with Mike’s memorial trophy was pretty moving, it really was.
“It was just one of those moments in life that you share with somebody and you’ll never forget it.”