The Bold Man and the Sea
San Diegan lands 140-pound marlin from kayak in Mexico

as printed in the San Diego Union-Tribune March 24th 2004 issue
By Ed Zieralski - UT Staff Writer

Jim Sammons of La Jolla Kayak Fishing wrestles with the marlin he caught 20 miles off Baja California in the Sea of Cortez. Sammons is believed to be the second person to hook, fight and land a marlin on a kayak.

Ever since he fought and lost an estimated 180-to 200-pound striped marlin while fishing off La Jolla in his kayak in the summer of 1998, San Diego's Jim Sammons has yearned for another chance at the acrobatic billfish.

Sammons finally got his shot last Tuesday while fishing out of the Punta Colorada Resort at Baja's East Cape. Sammons hooked, fought and landed a 140-pound striped marlin 20 miles off East Cape in the blue water of the Sea of Cortez.

"My heart was pumping, my adrenaline was going crazy, and it was unnerving and exciting, all at the same time," Sammons said. "This was the sketchiest thing I've ever done, without a doubt."

You mean scariest, Jim?

"Yeah, that too," he said. Sammons is believed to be the second to hook, fight and land a marlin on a kayak.

Christian Pike of Mission Viejo reportedly caught and released a striped marlin estimated to be 160 to 200 pounds while fishing out of Rancho Leonero last October.

And Jon Schwartz, an elementary school teacher from Carlsbad, landed a 200-pound blue marlin off the East Cape last August after it died during the fight. But Schwartz's catch wasn't considered true to kayak purists, nor even to Schwartz himself, because he slipped into his kayak to fight it after it was hooked on the troll from the panga.

Sammons, who guides fishermen through his La Jolla Kayak Fishing business, made history here in August of 1998 with his last memorable marlin battle, that one off La Jolla. It lasted 21⁄2 hours as the stubborn spike towed him on his sit-on-top kayak more than seven miles offshore before it snapped off and broke Sammons' heart.

This latest battle also went for 21⁄2 hours, but this time the fight was more gruelling, and the result was dramatically different.

Sammons said it was an incredible day on the water. He actually baited another marlin and a sailfish, but couldn't get either hooked. Had he caught the sailfish, that catch would have equalled a feat done by kayaker Dennis Spike of Reseda. Spike, of Coastal Kayak Fishing Inc., now has caught and released two 120-pound sailfish.

After missing on the sailfish and marlin, Sammons was paddling back to the panga when he noticed that the marlin, or another marlin, had followed him and was swimming under his kayak.

"I told Alonzo (the panguero, whose last name escapes Sammons and others contacted) to quickly give me another rod and reel with a bait, and I would try and bait and hook this one," Sammons said.

Sammons paddled about five minutes before he saw the marlin tailing behind him.

"I don't know if it was the same fish I saw under my boat, but it didn't chase the bait; it jumped on it," Sammons said. "It picked it up and thrashed on it. And when I set the hook, it jumped no more than five to 10 feet from my kayak."

Fighting a marlin so close to the water's surface is a very dangerous thing. One wrong move and Sammons could have been skewered by the marlin's sharp, pointy beak and turned into an American kayaker-ka-bob, right there in East Cape. Getting hit by a marlin at water level like that would be akin to getting pierced chest-high by a NFL linebacker with a spike sticking out of his helmet.

"It looked like it was going to jump right at the kayak at one point, so I put the rod tip into the water, and it just went right under my boat instead of jumping at me," Sammons said. "It was sketchy."

Sammons figures the marlin jumped an amazing 30 to 40 times before settling into a duel of straight up-and-down grinding.

"The whole time I was fighting it, I was trying to teach Alonzo how to operate my digital camera," Sammons said.

Sammons said if someone had a video of the exchanges between him and Alonzo over the operation of the digital camera, it would qualify for both a funniest video contest or show – America's Funniest Video and Mexico's Funniest Video.

"But somehow, between my bad Spanish and his bad English, we got it together enough to get some quality shots," Sammons said.

The results were in the pictures, three very fine, detailed photos taken by Alonzo.

Finally, after the 21⁄2-hour battle, Sammons had the fish beaten and talked of releasing it. But Alonzo pleaded with him to keep it. Sammons grabbed it by the tail, and Alonzo slid up alongside the kayak in the panga and gaffed the huge marlin.

"He said he could feed his family and friends in the village with it for a week and had an 85-year-old father who would love to have some," Sammons said. "I don't like to kill billfish, but I kept it. I kind of felt bad about it until I saw all of his family members and neighbors, people who worked at the hotel, all of them lined up at the fillet shack to get their share as Alonzo cut up the the fish. That made me feel pretty good to see all of them get some of the fish."