The marlin fishers of Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 October, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 October, 2010, 12:00am

It may sound fishy, but in the sea off the coast of Hong Kong - not far beyond the polluted waters of Victoria Harbour - a growing number of enthusiasts are on the hunt for one of fishing's biggest prizes - the strikingly beautiful marlin.

Immortalised in Ernest Hemmingway's book, The Old Man and the Sea, in this part of the world fishing for marlin - large fish with spear-like bills - is usually associated with the Philippines; it is hard to believe that anything other than flotsam and jetsam can survive in the polluted waters surround the city.

However, Kim Stuart, who has been fishing off the coast of Hong Kong for 23years, knows differently.

South African-born Stuart, 55, was raised in Kenya and runs Tailchasers, a company that operates a 46-foot Bertram Sportfisher boat, which can hold up to seven anglers.

It varies each day how far out to sea he will travel to find the different fish for which he is searching, but marlin fishing is Hong Kong's 'best-kept secret', Stuart says.

'In 1985 two people went out on a pleasure boat; they were keen anglers so brought some fishing gear with them and threw a line out. Just off Sai Kung one of them hooked a black marlin that was an estimated weight of 350 pounds [about 158kg].

'They lost it as they didn't have the right fishing gear, but it showed that these fish were in Hong Kong waters. People began buying sports boats with all the right fishing gear, but the number of boats never reached above five and dwindled after that. More people are getting into now, [but] I still look upon it as Hong Kong's best-kept secret.'

The black marlin for which Stuart fishes are not targeted by local fishermen or trawlers and can weigh from about 45kg up to 158kg. He also searches for other fish not commonly caught in the waters off Hong Kong, such as sailfish - with large dorsal fins and, like marlin, elongated bills - mahi-mahi or dorado, barracuda and queenfish, which have been caught only recently. But the black marlin is the most prized catch.

'The black marlin is a huge fish and a natural fighter. Once hooked they don't stop fighting, they just keep going. It's a question of who tires first, the marlin or the angler - it's always the angler,' he says.

Not that you would keep a marlin for long if you landed one when fishing on Stuart's boat, because he returns any marlin that is caught to the sea , no matter how big it is. Marlin have been heavily fished, particularly by Japanese fishermen, and because of this their numbers have dwindled considerably.

On other occasions Stuart will tag marlin he catches to help build up data on the fish and their habits because little is known about them.

'The reaction in the past has been that there are no fish in Hong Kong [waters] because it's too polluted, but word has got out; people are now beginning to realise what can be caught in Hong Kong and they are stunned by it,' Stuart says.

Yakoob Alladin, a Hong Kong fishing enthusiast, agrees and says the adrenalin rush he feels from catching a large marlin is unrivalled. 'You are trawling your lure in the water, when all of a sudden your rod doubles over and, before you know it, this big, mean black marlin clears the water in all its glory. You wonder at this point, who's in charge here? And for the duration of the fight, all your personal thoughts and worries about life vanish as you do battle, one on one, with this magnificent fish.'

The biggest black marlin Alladin has battled probably weighed about 115kg, but after an hour's fight the fish suddenly bolted and snapped his line, as if made of cotton. 'There are much bigger ones out there,' Alladin says. 'I'm sure some lucky angler is going to land one soon.'