OUTDOOR NOTES / PETE THOMAS : Big Billfish Bringing Anglers' Big Stories

Tuna may be the craze these days among local fishermen, but some anglers are wild about the larger, more formidable billfish that have been tugging their lines not far from the coast.

Those aboard the Apache last week might have gone berserk had they not been too tired, after a swordfish estimated at 600 pounds took their bait at 1:30 p.m., fought through the night and into the next morning, finally breaking free after 21 hours.

"That fish took them 42 miles during the fight," said Helen Smith of the Balboa Angling Club. "They hooked the fish off of Santa Barbara Island and ended up off the backside of San Clemente Island."

Another angler claims to have taken a striped marlin aboard his sailboat, a tricky task given that a good engine is usually necessary in helping to set the hook and chase the powerful fish before it can strip the line from the reel.

"We've weighed two this year that were caught on sailboats," said Rosie Cadman of Avalon Seafood. "I would say in my 25 years here we've had maybe 12 caught on sailboats, so that isn't that common."

Yet another might as well have been taken on a sailboat. Randy Stanger, 45, of Hollywood, ventured to sea alone last Thursday. He noticed a striper on the surface, threw out a live mackerel and waited.

"He ate the bait and came under the boat," Stanger said. "I didn't even know it was hooked. Then I saw two others that swam up and around the boat, so I started reeling in and then it took off.

"I had to scramble, had to sort of drive with my left hand and fight it with my right. It jumped for five minutes straight and then just pooped out. I stuck a flying gaff into him and let out the biggest holler you've ever heard."

Cadman, whose scale recorded Stanger's fish at 153 pounds 8 ounces, was less enthusiastic about Stanger's accomplishment. "After you've weighed 5,000 marlin and heard 5,000 stories, it doesn't do that much for you," she said.

Add marlin: How does this season compare to last season?

Cadman had recorded 175 marlin as of Tuesday afternoon. She listed 57 all of last season, which ended in late October. The Balboa Angling Club had recorded 142, compared to 105 last season.

The numbers figure to rise significantly after this weekend. BAC's annual Master Angler tournament is Friday and Saturday, and Avalon's Gold Cup will be held Monday and Tuesday. About 170 boats will be plying the waters of the southern Channel Islands in search of billfish.

After all that pressure, look for fishing to slow.

Last add marlin: Bellflower's Dale Heinrich gets credit for the rarest catch of the week: a 442-pound blue marlin landed Sunday aboard the Cat Special, which was fishing in Mexican waters for tuna.

Heinrich had hooked a tuna while trolling, but while he was winding it in, the marlin, in view of the passengers, emerged from beneath the surface and set upon the struggling tuna.

"He came up with his bill slashing," skipper Bill Stephens said. "We took the boat out of gear while he ate the tuna, and then we set the hook. And from the gate it took off. Heinrich had probably six wraps left on his reel before we changed direction and chased (the marlin) down. The whole time it was tail-walking. It really put on a good show."

That was fortunate for those reduced from fishermen to spectators during the 2 1/2-hour fight. At least they were witnessing something out of the ordinary. The Cat Special was only 55 miles southwest of Point Loma, well north of the usual range of blue marlin.

El Nino gets credit for bringing this fish--the second taken this year aboard the San Diego fleet--so close.


SALTWATER--The outer banks south of the border are still receiving plenty of attention, but much of the effort has shifted to the Cortez and Tanner banks in U.S. waters, where bluefin tuna in the 20- to 50-pound class have congregated.

Cabo San Lucas: Blue marlin, striped marlin and dorado are plentiful, but inshore anglers are catching pargo, cabrilla, roosterfish and an occasional black snook. Noteworthy: a 594-pound blue marlin caught aboard the Gaviota II. East Cape: Boats are averaging more than a dozen dorado a day, getting a few yellowfin tuna and an occasional blue marlin for good measure. Noteworthy: a 478-pound blue marlin caught by Sergio Martinez of Sylmar, and a yellowfin that weighed 201 pounds. The air has been hot and the water calm in both regions.

MISCELLANY--The American Bass Assn. "Super Team" competition held last Saturday at Ventura County's Lake Casitas was won by the team of Ty Chan, of Ventura, and Mike Brakebill of Santa Paula. The two fished six-inch plastic worms and crankbaits in catching a six-fish limit totaling 20.95 pounds. Chan's 7.63 pounder was the biggest of the tournament. . . . A course in big-game fishing will be held at East Los Angeles College on Tuesdays for six weeks beginning Sept. 22 from 6:30-9 p.m. Details: (213) 265-8793.

California's second Free Fishing Day of 1992, during which anglers can fish state waters without having to buy a license, will be Sept. 26. . . . The annual Newport In-the-Water Boat Show will be held September 23-27 at the Lido Marina Village. . . . The Southland's newest yacht club, the Pacific Tuna Yacht Club, located on the waterfront in Newport Harbor, is similar to other clubs except that its focus will be sportfishing, not sailing. According to Vice Commodore Craig VonEsch, the club has available to members a fleet of boats from 21 to 40 feet. Details: (714) 642-2111.

The DFG is asking for volunteers to help rid the Upper Newport Bay Ecological Reserve of more than 40,000 pounds of "rubbish" that it says threatens the unique habitat of the sanctuary. The clean-up is scheduled for Saturday. Details: (714) 640-7646. . . . The Long Beach Casting Club is offering five free rod-building classes starting September 22. Details: (310) 549-1556.

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