Fish in hand, he was on the hook

Catch of the day turns into a freezer full of guilt.

It sat in a corner of my freezer for weeks, a reminder of my indecision. Or my lousy Spanish accent.

I'd flown to La Paz, Mexico, earlier this year for a fishing trip with a friend. We'd been hunting a few times before and had always made it a point to eat whatever we brought back, and this trip was no different.

In search of smaller species like dorado or mackerel that are relatively plentiful, we were supposed to go on a 20-foot craft that would stay relatively close to shore. There might be tuna too — something I generally avoid because it's overfished but figured an exception could be made if I caught it myself.

Sure enough, we each hooked 40-pound tunas the morning of the first day. After half an hour of struggling to get the fish into the boat, we told our guide to go closer to shore. We sat back, very pleased with ourselves, discussing in great detail how we'd eat the fish and debating the merits of having a beer from the cooler, even though it wasn't yet 10 a.m.

Then my rod came to life, the line whizzing as something struck the lure.

I instinctively set the hook, pushing back against the side of the boat with my feet to make sure whatever was at the end of the line didn't get away, when something very large jumped out of the water.

"Marlin," my friend said, the unmistakable fin and long beak shining in the sun before it crashed into the water again.

"Oh no," I said.


I used to like eating fish like marlin.

I'd often order swordfish when my parents would take me to a seafood restaurant as a reward for good grades. I stopped as a teenager, partly because of articles about large billfish being endangered and partly because I discovered steak.

So as I fought the fish, I told the guide in breathless Spanish that I wanted to release it.

He gave me a strange look, wondering what kind of gringo goes on a fishing trip and doesn't want the fish. He recommended at least bringing it in for a photo.

Well, don't fish sometimes die on the line from stress? Maybe it would be better to release it.

It was unclear if he understood; my Spanish undoubtedly got worse while tugging on a fishing rod while also trying not to trip on the slippery deck.

"Córtalo," I gasped, telling him to cut the line, but the guide still looked puzzled.

Then the line suddenly stopped moving, although it was still heavy.

What happened?

"Maybe it died," the guide said.

It took another half an hour to reel in the fish; sure enough, it wasn't moving and floated belly up. We tried to perform CPR by pulling the fish, which our guide said was a striped marlin, backward and forward, moving fresh water over its gills, but to no avail.