Alaskans land whopper fish, but $1 million may get away

Posted: Thursday, November 02, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The monster marlin rocketed from the deep, head shaking and water flying, and the four Alaskans on the little Mexican fishing boat bobbing in the Pacific Ocean off Cabo San Lucas thought they'd hit the jackpot.

''We realized we had hooked Moby Dick,'' said Robert Hunt.

Half an hour into the battle, they already knew they had a fish worth bragging about.

But once it showed itself, they saw something more:

Almost a million dollars.

As entrants in the 20th Annual Bisbee's Black and Blue Marlin Jackpot Tournament, the richest billfish tourney in the world, the Alaskans stood to collect $989,910 if they landed the fish.

''This is like winning the lottery if you're a gambler,'' Hunt said by telephone Tuesday from Cabo.

A lodge owner from Homer, he was at the tip of the Baja Peninsula with commercial fisherman Charles A. Hagan of Homer, who began organizing fishing trips to Mexico eight years ago. Along with Hagan and Hunt this time were Tim Worthington of Homer and Jim Grimes of Anchorage, a retired state trooper.

It was Grimes' rod that hooked the big fish only an hour and a half before the Bisbee tournament ended on Saturday. It was Grimes who fought the fish and brought it in.

And it was Grimes who led the parade as a crowd of Mexicans gathered ashore to see the last tournament fish weighed at about 9:30 p.m.

''There must have been 2,000 people there, we guessed,'' Hunt said. ''They pushed us through like rock stars.''

Out in the Cabo harbor, the multimillion-dollar yachts of fat cat sportsmen from all over the world bobbed at anchor. At the end of the weigh-in dock was the Minerva III, one of a handful of battered local cruisers. Down the dock with a fish almost 12 feet long came the Minerva's Mexican skipper, her Mexican crewman and four ragtag Alaskans with the marlin to top all marlin.

The fish was hoisted on the scale. It weighed 534 pounds.

The locals and the Alaskans had won. There was pandemonium.

''We were hugging the Mexicans, and they were hugging us. The crowd was cheering.

They fell in love with us,'' Hunt said. ''Here we were with this local boat and crew. It was like David and Goliath.''

But there was a problem.

Tethered to a polygraph -- a lie detector machine -- Grimes on Saturday had to recount his remarkable catch. In telling the tale, he confessed that a crewman on the Minerva touched the fishing line above the leader in the heat of the battle.

That's a no-no under the rules of the International Game Fish Association (IGFA). The Alaskans' catch was ruled illegal.

Grimes didn't lie about what happened, and he said Tuesday, ''I can tell you definitely I was not cheating.''

True to his trooper training, he then insisted he couldn't talk about anything because a lawyer is involved. ''I don't want to jeopardize our chances here,'' he said.

Fishing companion Hunt, however, was less guarded. He said the Alaskans want what they consider to be rightfully theirs.

''We won that tournament,'' he said. ''There was no cheating. There was no protest filed by any other boat.''

If the line was touched by a crewman, then it was something that happened inadvertently in heavy seas in the dark, not in an unfair effort to help land the fish, something the rule is intended to stop.

''It took us four hours to get (the marlin) to the boat,'' Hunt said. ''By then it was pitch black, and there were no lights. There were 8-foot seas. It was blowing like hell. It was like something out of 'The Old Man and the Sea.'

''We were 12 miles offshore, and the wind was almost blowing us out to sea.

''When we finally got it to the boat, we could not get it in the boat. Six guys could not get it in the boat. We tied it to the swimstep.''

With that, the skipper turned toward shore and started pounding for the harbor, fearful that he might not get there before the official scales closed at 10:30 p.m.

''It was scary,'' Hunt said. ''It was like a dream.''

A dream that became a nightmare.

Tournament director Wayne Bisbee threw their fish out of the competition.

Bisbee did not return phone calls on Tuesday. A man who answered the telephone in Bisbee's hotel room in Cabo said Bisbee was the only one who could speak for the tournament.

A Web site for the event lists Bisbee, from Newport Beach, Calif., as the director and his wife, Tricia, as co-director. Hunt said the committee set up to mediate disputes in the Bisbee tournament consists of Wayne Bisbee and relatives.

The committee asked the Alaskans to withdraw their fish from the competition. The Alaskans, in Hunts words, ''consulted'' before saying ''no way.''

They filed an official protest. But the huge cardboard check given the winner at the tournament banquet Saturday went to some anglers from Avalon, Calif.

The battle of the big fish isn't over yet. The Alaskans hired a California attorney to sue in both Mexico and the U.S.

''The whole thing's real sad,'' Hunt said.

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(Distributed by The Associated Press)



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