The highs and lows of big game tournament fishing are very common. Lost fish from broken lines, pulled hooks or angler and crew mistakes can keep you awake at night for a long time. One of the largest blue marlin ever caught by Peter Cherasia of Rumson, New Jersey, not only in his many years as a MidAtlantic tournament participant, but also in all his years of fishing for marlin around the world. Though the crew made no mistakes in any of their techniques or tactics, the fish would wind up disqualified. The crew of Cherasia’s boat Shark Byte are seasoned big game anglers who fish the entire east coast from New England to the Dominican Republic each year. What caused the disqualification is a clause in the International Game Fish Association’s (IGFA) International Angling Rules which the MidAtlantic tournament uses as a guide for the event. To fully understand let’s start at the beginning.
While competing on Day Two of the 2020 MidAtlantic, Cherasia’s Shark Byte, with Captain Rich Barrett at the wheel, teased a blue marlin into their trolling pattern. “We marked a fish on the machine, it was a decent mark,” noted Barrett, adding they worked the area to get the bite but it didn’t take long. “She came up on the left teaser and I grabbed a 50 (pound class outfit) and dropped the bait back to her,” says Cherasia, adding the crew initially thought it was a much smaller fish than it turned out to be. “Once we got a look at her I grabbed the 80 (pound class outfit) and dropped it back. She took three swipes at the bait, her massive bill swatted it the first two times and on the third swipe she swallowed it.” What was expected to be a long battle was relatively short for a billfish of her size. “I fought her for about 20 minutes, all on stand-up and I was able to keep her on a good angle and put some heat on her,” noted Cherasia, adding his captain played a major role in keeping the battle short. “She (the marlin) stayed on the surface for the whole fight and put on an awesome series of greyhounding jumps. Rich’s boat handling was superb.”
As the battle wound down and the “end game” was near, the Shark Byte crew found out how tough this old girl was as it took separate grabs of the leader before an attempt would be made to sink the gaff. “The first time we had her to the boat Jake (Flynn) grabbed the leader and put about 50% pressure on her but could hold her and she took about 150-200 yards of line off,” noted Cherasia. “On the second try he put about 75% resistance but still couldn’t get her close and she took about 100 yards out on us.” The third time was a different story but was much more involved. “On the third try we could see she (the marlin) was getting tired and Jake got a good wrap on her and guided her across the transom. Blaine (Champlain) sunk the gaff in her but the head of the flyer didn’t come out and he was in a bad spot on the coverboard and got pulled over the side,” says Cherasia. Now, all the focus shifted to Champlain and crewmembers Dickie Campbell and Pete Hargett rushed to get him back into the boat. At that same instant, a very large shark, possibly a mako or tiger, appeared from below the Shark Byte and took a large chunk of flesh out of the billfish. Moments later with Champlain safely back aboard the Shark Byte, two more fly gaffs were sunk in the marlin by Hargett and Cherasia and the billfish was secured next to the hull of the boat though no blood could immediately be seen in the water from the huge marlin’s wound. As the crew pulled the marlin through the transom door of the Shark Byte, it became clear that indeed an attack on the billfish had occurred.
Anticipation remained high for the crew as they returned to Sunset Marina to weigh the huge marlin. While offloading the fish for weigh-in, the wound was noted by tournament officials and discussed for possible impact on the eligibility of the fish. As noted previously and in all tournament correspondence including the tournament’s rules, IGFA International Angling Rules are followed in the MidAtlantic. While tournament officials discussed the situation with the crew of the Shark Byte and reviewed video footage, the huge marlin was weighed in case it would qualify and tipped the scales at 791 pounds. After much discussion it was determined that the shark attacked the marlin while it was in the water alongside the Shark Byte prior to being boated, a disqualifying situation. Needless to say, the crew was disappointed but understood the ruling and accepted it as such, though Cherasia notes with today’s technology that’s available some adjustment needs to be made to the IGFA rulebook. “Technology has changed to the point that if a fish is under control and video evidence supports the catch, it should count when a situation such as this occurs,” he noted, adding a shark attack during the course of the fight is another story. “If a fish gets bit during the battle, that’s a no-brainer for disqualification.”
Tournament President Rick Weber summed up the situation. “Disqualifying a fish is never easy, especially a magnificent catch like this, but the Shark Byte team was polite and professional through the entire process. That shark may have cost them their prize, but the story and memories they’ll have forever.”