Matt Santora and Andy Vo on the 21-foot Wellcraft center console . Finbomb on Wednesday scored the biggest fish in SoCal waters in more than 80 years when they caught a 662.2-pound blue marlin at the Nine Mile Bank on a Crane lure.
The 13-foot, 6-inch long fish was hooked at 8:15 a.m. and after a grueling 3-hour fight the catch was weighed in that afternoon, Wednesday, Sept. 24, at the San Diego Marlin Clubhouse and weigh facility on Shelter Island in Point Loma. The weigh-in scene, with the fish hanging just yards from Shelter Island Drive, was eventually chaotic at the weigh area, the traffic on the adjacent road backed up with onlookers and television crews. The marlin, as huge as it was, will not beat the state record of 692 pounds, but is the biggest marlin caught in state waters since 1931. That monster blue was weighed in at the Balboa Angling Club in Newport Beach.
The two friends, Santora, 34, resident of Bay Park in the San Diego/Clairemont area, and Vo, 33, of Orange County, made a last-minute decision to go fishing Tuesday night, targeting marlin and wahoo on Wednesday since the exotic pelagics were in local waters in growing numbers. This year has offered SoCal fishermen the kind of fishing opportunities that may not come around again for several decades. So you go. Often. But some anglers are, well, just plumb out of vacation time or kitchen permits. But decisions not to go can come with regrets. Big ones.
“I’m the self-proclaimed king of the last-minute fishing trip,” said Santora, who produces the Finbomb line of fishing clothing (finbomb.com). “I called everyone to go. But by now guys are now telling me something like, ‘Dude if I take one day off from fishing I’m gonna get fired from my job.’ So I didn’t have anyone to go.” Step forward Andy Vo, who had just gotten off the sportfisher Fortune after a 2-day trip out of San Diego and called his buddy Matt to tell him about the trip out of San Diego. And that he’d caught a striped marlin on the 2-day trip.
“I told him, ‘Andy you’ve got to go fishing with me tomorrow!’ And he said yes. I can only imagine how many of those guys who said no are kicking themselves right now for not going.”
The fish was as legit as you can get. The pair were rigged right with heavy tackle and targeting marlin and wahoo, trolling two wired-up Marauders for the wahoo, and two surface plugs. One was a custom-poured 12-inch custom-made Crane marlin lure, green, and company owner Brett Crane imbedded the head with Santoro’s clothing company logo, Finbomb. Santora rigs his own lures, and enjoys – and takes pride – in the precision of it, he said. He matched up the Crane head and skirt with 300-pound Jinkai leader and a 10/0 Mustad J hook. The other surface lure was a Zukers.
"That the marlin hit the Crane, and that made it more special for me,” said Santora. “It was the one I rigged and it had my company name on it, and that was pretty cool.”
There was something else even more special about the catch. It was accomplished on a rod that was custom built for Santora. He bid on the custom rod package by Wise Guys, custom rod builders, at an Orange County fundraiser for a friend, fellow fisherman Brent Sato, who was diagnosed with stagefour colon cancer, which is now in remission, said Santoro.
“It’s a 90-pound rod, but the blank was cut down so it’s 6 feet 6 and it’s beefy now, for really big fish, a heavy stick, rated for 130-pound with the blank chopped down before the Wise Guys custom-wrapped it. I got it at an auction to support Brent, and it reminds me that you have to fish hard and live hard and remember what’s important in life. As cheesy as that sounds, that’s why I bid on it and had it made and why I had it out there. It’s giving me chills as I just say that after what happened. “When I sent Brent the pictures he was really tripping.”
The fight was listed on the chalkboard as two hours, and it would have been that long, but as Santora pointed out, the fish was tough, and still green, and would be too dangerous to handle.
“All we had was a fighting belt, no harness and no chair. It was old school. It was, ‘Okay, guy, here’s a rod, here’s a reel, and now go fight this 600-pound fish.’ “ He said that three times during the fight, to get more drag on the Shimano Talica 25 two-speed reel spooled with 100-pound Jerry Brown spectra, he had to cup the spool, hold it while he pulled it out of gear, tweaked the drag slightly with the knob, and then put it back in gear, at a higher drag. Not for beginners.
“I was fighting for every half-inch,” said Santora. “It did not want to come in. It was a bruiser , running and jumping. He did not want to come in.” The question of dealing with the fish after two hours was answered by Santora.
“I asked myself, ‘Is this going to be dangerous,’ he recalled. “I had the swivel at two hours, but it was too hot, too heavy. The rod is rated for 130-pound but it was bent like fly rod. It was too dangerous, and I’d like to live to fish some more, so we let it run for another 45 minutes.”
The fish by that time was spent, and Santora said that had they not taken the fish at that exact time, at 2 hours and 45 minutes, it would have likely sunk out and they never would have been able to get it back to the surface. It would have been a wasted fish.
“I wasn’t going to let that happen,” said Santora. “I wanted to take the fish, and to consume it. That was important to us. I just took it to Fisherman’s Processing (in San Diego) this morning to have it filleted and smoked.”
So Santora grabbed the bill of the exhausted blue, and Vo , who has been at the helm of the Finbomb for nearly three hours and expertly kept the fish in front of his buddy and the line out of the Yamaha 150 outboard's', roped the tail “and we dispatched it as quickly as we could,” said Santora.
At that time they had no idea of its weight, or how to get it into a 21-foot center console.
“No way we were going to gaff it and pull it in. It would have taken eight guys.”
He had a pulley system aboard, but it didn’t work so well, he said, so he put out a call to a fellow angler he knew was out, a fell he knows only as Andy and his father on the Old Soul, who were aware via radio updates of the long fight taking place about five miles away. They brought over a new pulley system, and the fish was dropped into the starboard side of the skiff. Slowly heading home nine miles back to Shelter Island, the Yamaha 150 powered Finbomb putted along, tilting heavily from the weight of the fish, said Santora. Still they had no idea of its weight, thinking 300 or maybe 400. They radioed the San Diego Marlin Club, which has a big-game hoist and scale.
“When got close I called. I said, ‘We have a big marlin aboard,’” said Santora.
“How big?” someone asked.
“”Kinda big,” answered Santora. “350 or 400.”
“That’s a nice fish; bring it in,” the radio answered.
When the club personnel saw it, the consensus was, “We’re going to need a bigger scale.”
“The guy who met us when we tied up saw the fish and said, ‘I don’t know if we can weigh that fish. We’ve never seen a fish that big here. Seriously,’” said Santora. The crane was deemed the only way to move it. And to weigh it, they had to hog-tie it into a half-moon shape to keep the bill from touching the ground, and it topped out at 662.2 pounds, just off the state record, the biggest marlin in state waters since 1931. Eight decades. That amazed everyone, and there was a lot of people there to be amazed.
“The old-timers from the clubhouse came out in awe, and said this was history being made, and it was nice to see them so excited about the catch. It was cool to see that.”
The road next to the club was New York-style gridlock. And people were coming off the boats from everywhere to look at it.
Santora said his phone has been ringing, messaging, and he’s done two TV interviews. He trying to get in his sales calls at shops for his clothing, and everyone wants to talk about the fish. That’s perfectly fine by him.
“I’m still in shock,” he said. “And humbled by it. But on e thing I want to say is that Vo was amazing, the way he handled the boat the entire fight. I don't want him and his part in this to get lost because I fought it. He was a huge part of this catch.”
Naturally, there are people who are critical of the the fact it was killed.
"I didn't take the fish as a trophy," said Santora. "I kept it to eat it. I'd like to clear some of this up, and I will on Let’'s Talk Hookup tomorrow and I hope I can give my two minutes on a soapbox, but those people who are criticizing, there a lot of misinformation out there. Fishermen get it, If you fish, you understand it, but if you don't you probably won't. But even some fishermen don't even understand it."
Santora had caught a marlin last year on his boat. It came up lively, and was released.
“This fish came up belly up,” he said. It was done. To let it go would have been a waste,” sand Santonra.
Capt. Pete Groesbeck, one of the premier big-marlin, competitive tournament anglers in the world, commented on Facebook, “Let me see, 37 pounds off the state record, largest marlin weighed in California since 1931. Quite a feat for a 21-foot skiff. I think it’s awesome to take that fish. What a feat. Congrats!”
There had been several big blue marlin hooked and a few even landed in recent weeks in locals waters, and the striped marlin fishing has been spectacular in the Channel Islands region. The marlin influx, as well as bluefin, a growing number of shortbill spearfish catches as well as wahoo now being landed have all contributed the feeling that this season will be one of the landmark pelagic years in history.
Now this monster blue. And others that followed, And El Nino is just gearing up.
Pat McDonell is editor of Western Outdoor News and director of the Cabo Tuna Jackpot. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
THE LURE, a custom-poured Crane 12-incher rigged with 300-pound Jinkai leader and 10/0 Mustad hook.
SANTORAwith a nice bend in his custom rod during the nearly three-hour fight at the Nine Mile Bank on Wednesday, Sept. 23.
MARK SANTORA, left,and Andy Vo at the scale at Shelter Island on Wednesday. The fish was caught on a custom-poured Crane lure trolled at the Nine Mile Bank on the 21-foot CC skiff Finbomb, named for Santora’s clothing company he founded last year. PHOTOS COURTESY OF ANDY VO, MATT SANTORA
THE TWO ANGLERS on the the skiff as the blue marlin is brought by crane to the San Diego Marlin Club weigh area on Shelter Island Drive.