Scott Mutchler took the ride of a lifetime after hooking into a 600-pound black marlin while kayak fishing off the coast of Panama in May. He fought the big billfish for about 45 minutes and watched it breach the surface several times within mere feet of his 13-foot boat.
An experienced fisherman who lives in Jupiter, Florida, Mutchler travels twice a year to Los Buzos, a remote kayak fishing lodge on Panama’s Pacific Coast. Anglers there typically jig for giant cubera snapper and roosterfish but occasionally get an opportunity to tangle with a striped, black, or blue marlin.
On May 23, Mutchler was fishing a spot called Boya, about two miles offshore, where anglers typically jig in water 140 to 170 feet deep. But the bite was slow and there was only one bait school on the fish finder. After catching a bonita, Mutchler decided to try something different.
“I put that 6-pound bonita on a 12/0 circle hook. Then I put a 4-ounce bank sinker that I painted black on a black rubber band at the leader knot,” he told Field & Stream. “I let the bonita out about 150 feet and started slow trolling. I wanted it to swim down with his friends and seem like an easy meal for a larger fish.”
Just then, he heard a shout from a nearby panga boat, a 30-foot craft that supports the kayak anglers. “I’ve got a marlin,” someone shouted. The fish threw the hook when it lept but Mutchler and the other anglers were excited to know there were marlin around. The buzz intensified a few minutes later when Mutchler’s line slid sideways about 25 feet. “At first I thought it was caught in the rudder of a nearby kayak fisherman,” he recalls. “But when it shot 25 feet in the opposite direction, it was clear that it was something big.”
The Battle of a Lifetime Ensues
A few seconds later a massive black marlin breached the surface. “I screamed ‘marlin!’ and the other kayakers parted like the Red Sea to make room,” he says. The fish breached at least seven times during the fight, which is depicted in an epic video shot from Los Buzos guide Adam Fisk’s panga boat.
“My first thought when he breached was just the sheer enormity of the size of the fish,” Mutchler says. “And the next thought was how incredibly beautiful and majestic they are. They’re gold, blue, black, and silver and they have these gigantic eyes and a really big bill. Seeing it up close and in person was breathtaking.”
“And then, of course, the other thing is you’re in a 13-foot plastic boat, and this animal really could do whatever he wants with you,” Mutchler adds. “There’s definitely a sense of respect and awe because you know that at any moment he could flip the script and just totally take control.”
Playing a powerful, 600-pound billfish in a Hobie Outback is difficult. Mutchler kept the kayak pointed towards the fish to avoid tipping over. He remembered not to hold the rod too high to prevent it from snapping. And he made sure to set his drag loose enough to keep his line from breaking, or worse, from being dragged into the water. Mutchler says that several kayak anglers at Los Buzos have hooked marlin in the past, but only one, guide Adam Fisk, was able to reel it in close enough to reach the leader material—until now.
“Typically we’re not trying to get the fish right up beside the kayak because to do that, you’re talking about a 5- to 10-hour process, and you’re gonna end up probably killing the fish half the time,” explains Mutchler, who fishes with Fisk when he’s at Los Buzos. “It’s considered a ‘catch’ if you reel the leader up to your first rod guide.” Mutchler says he reeled his 12-foot leader within a foot or two of the rod tip several times before finally getting it through the guide. Then he handed off the rod to someone in one of the panga boats.
“At that point, what they’re trying to do is get the marlin close enough to unhook it,” he says. “If they can’t do that, they tighten the drag and break him off as soon as possible. That’s what ended up happening. Once I handed the rod off to the chase boat and let them try to get him to the boat, he got angry and took off on a 200-yard run. There was no way they were going to get him back to the boat after that.”
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Mutchler jokes that he’s watched the video of the battle “about 700 times, as my wife can tell you… It was almost like an out-of-body experience like someone else had caught him because I was so focused on not screwing up at the time. But seeing it again on the video, I have to say, it was one of the most intense experiences of my life.”
“I wish I could describe it better, but it’s hard to find anything to compare it to,” he adds. “Maybe bullfighting.”