KEY WEST, Fla. A shark led Jason Jonas and his High Stakes team to a bigger, better bite.
Jonas, of Key West, released his first marlin as his team tied five others for the lead of the Drambuie Key West Marlin Tournament on Thursday. Each team has 400 points for a blue marlin release, but none weighed in any fun fish, dolphin, wahoo or tuna, to earn additional points.
Jonas, 22, who days ago started a charter boat business with his father, fought the marlin (estimated as 450 and 500 pounds) for nearly 40 minutes.
"It was just taking line, screaming line," Jonas said. "Hit it hard. Got it back to the boat, screaming line again. Couple times. It was hot, sweaty. Sun was beating me down, but it was fun."
Teammate Chris Fragale, a restaurant owner from Gainesville and Clearwater, was taking a break when the marlin hit, having fought two hours for a fish that turned out to be a 300-pound shark.
"When I saw that shark, I wanted to die," Fragale said. "I thought we had a blue marlin on there.
"It was on a spinning rod on 30-pound test. It spooled the entire reel. It ran out of line, so we hooked up another pole to it and threw the whole pole in the water. Then we worked it a little, got the other rod out of the water."
The team wasn't disappointed too long, as the shark led them to the marlin.
"As soon as we got the lines back in — boom!" Jonas said.
"As much as I thought it was a waste of time in the beginning, that shark put us in the right place as the right time to catch that marlin," Fragale said. "And it was a monster. It would run, and jump, and jump again. It was pulling the boat."
The other five boats that released marlin were:
Cajun Queen, captained by Greg Eklund, with a marlin caught by Trey Myers of Fort Myers;
Business Calls, skippered by Bill Rohde, with Randy Reynolds of E. Montpelier, Vt. as angler;
Tight Lines, with a blue caught by Will Froelich;
Double Diamond, with a blue caught by captain and angler Tommy Ford of Treasure Island, Fla.;
and Captain Jim Sharpe's Peggy Sue Two with a blue caught by David Heeter of Spencer, W.Va.
In the tournament's fun fish division, Craig Murdock of Key West leads with a with a 41.8-pound dolphin caught form the King Bird.
The tournament has attracted a field of 50 boats and continues through Saturday; it is being staged in conjunction with Key West's annual Hemingway Days festival, which celebrates Nobel Prize-winning author Ernest Hemingway.
Anglers are competing for an available cash purse of more than $250,000, with an additional $100,000 prize for the heaviest marlin weighed in at over 784 pounds and a guaranteed $100,000 for the heaviest dolphin weighing more than 62 pounds.
Teams can win substantial cash prizes for accumulating the most points for blue marlin, white marlin and spearfish. The first-place team earns $25,000, while second- and third-place prizes are $10,000 and $5,000, respectively. Teams may also enter one fun fish (dolphin, tuna, wahoo or released sailfish) per boat per day to add to their point total.
All marlin must be tagged and released, unless their weight exceeds 600 pounds.