Sport fishing for blue marlin is the ultimate angling adventure: man-against-beast fights aboard million dollar rigs. For 13-year-old Travis Morrison, who released his first marlin at the age of nine and several more after that, it's a sport he's been born into, excels at and aims to make his profession one day.
The St. Thomas teenager literally grew up on the Red Hook docks where his father, Capt. Eddie Morrison, runs the charter boat, Marlin Prince. Travis would take the bus to the marina after school, buy hooks and bait at the tackle shop, and angle along the docks. There, he'd catch snapper, puffer fish and grunts, and release them, showing his conservationist side from the get go.
What enticed this young angler to fish rather than play soccer or baseball?
"It's the atmosphere," he says, "the excitement of something pulling on your line when the fish starts to take the bait. That's when you get an adrenalin rush. The fun is in the bite."
Travis soon moved from onshore to offshore, riding along when his father had charters.
"I'd help out in the cockpit," he says. "My dad got little gloves for me so I could learn to wire small fish like kingfish and bonito."
Red Hook is a hot bed of some of the most talented big game captains, crews and anglers in the world. Travis used this brain trust as his own private marlin university.
"I'd be out there all the time, always asking questions and listening to what the old guys were saying," he says.
Travis earned the recognition and admiration of many of the sports fishermen who in turn asked him out to ride along with them when fishing. One of the first was Capt. Mike Lemon onboard the Revenge, winner of several Caribbean tournaments.
"We didn't catch anything, but it was an awesome day," says Travis. "I got to see several pitches; teaser bites are the best. We'd be sitting there, everything would be calm, relaxed and focused, and then all of a sudden the line would go down on one of the riggers and it was mayhem, organized madness."
In July 2007, a ride along aboard the April Michelle provided Travis with an opportunity to catch his first marlin – a white marlin. A month later, he was invited aboard the Lady Lane after impressing the captain with his knowledge. That day, the Lady Lane headed east to Anegada where they spent the night and were then the first boat on the drop-off the next morning.
"I was first up in the chair," Travis tells, "Things were slow and I was just about to get something to eat when the right long went down. I set my feet on the footrest and took about two cranks on the line and the hook pulled. The line was rigged with a lure, so the guys said to keep reeling it in to check if the line had been chafed. Then the line went tight. I had hooked him myself – all IGFA (International Game Fishing Association) legal! The next thing we see is the fish jump by the outriggers. It was so cool to watch him jump like an explosion of blue and silver flashes."
One hour and 42 minutes later, Travis released his blue marlin, estimated at 400 to 500 pounds, once the mates got the fish up to the back of the boat.
Big game fishing isn't always exciting.
"You're out there for 10 hours at a time and you need to be interested or really love it or you'll go crazy out there," Travis says. "What I do is to keep looking at the spread and to look for things that are out of place because that might be a fish coming up. It's like trying to find a piece of a puzzle that might never be found."
Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based
marine writer and registered dietician.