A story for the ages: Westerfeld and Raim haul in 13 foot blue marlin on 23 foot Mako boat
If fish mounts on the walls around Destin could talk, they'd have some stories to tell.
And a mount of a 565-pound blue marlin caught by Gene Westerfeld 40 years ago, which was recently donated by the family to the Destin History and Fishing Museum, would have a string of stories to tell.
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After being passed from house to house, Keri Westerfeld Holguin and her husband John donated her father's mount of his massive blue marlin caught Sept. 6, 1980, to the museum.
"This is an extraordinary fish with an extraordinary story from 40 years ago," said Kathy Marler-Blue, executive director of the museum, who was happy to display the marlin on the wall. "The family was so happy to see this story in a place to share with everyone."
Gene, along with fishing buddy Mike Raim, caught the blue marlin 40 years ago on a 23-foot Mako tagged Eye-Tooth. Westerfeld caught the 13 foot, 2 inch marlin using 50-pound test line.
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Since then, Gene, who was a dentist, died in 1995, but the fish mount has stayed in the family and the story of the catch is still very much alive in the memory of Raim.
"We had six lines out," Raim said, noting they had every thing from mullet to artificial out for bait. "I had the fish on for about 10 or 15 seconds and it got off. Then the next thing you know it looked like somebody pulled the plug on the bottom of the ocean. That marlin ripped through every bait but one."
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Gene wound up in the chair with the fish on the line.
Raim said the marlin greyhounded the first 30 minutes.
"We chased that fish ... and he's cranking on it," Raim said.
They chased the fish about two miles and all of sudden the marlin sounded. But they were able to get it up again, and then it took off again.
"We got him up and he lit up so blue ... he was so gorgeous," Raim said, noting they didn't really carry cameras with them back then.
When they realized the marlin was more than 450 pounds, Westerfeld wanted to keep it for a mount.
But then came the question of how to get that big fish on that small boat.
"Where there's a will there's a way," Raim said, noting they were both pretty big guys.
Raim gafted the fish and about the time they got ready to get it in the boat a shark appeared. Raim said they ran about 200 yards and left the shark. In the meantime, the marlin almost came over the transom, which is how they finally got the big blue on the small boat. After running the boat, they put it in neutral and then pulled it over the starboard side and over the top with the dorsal fin coming down in the cockpit.
All in all it took them about an hour and 45 minutes to catch and board the marlin.
Raim said they didn't have a billfish bag, so they just used towels and covered it up and headed back to the pass.
"The tail was so wide it went from one side of the transom to the other," Raim said.
The big blue laying across the boat turned some heads as they made it through the pass and down the old Marlboro Marina to weigh in at the Mako Boat tournament. The two guys placed second in the event and was beat out by someone who had a tag and release and a wahoo.
Rene Westerfeld, Gene's wife, said her recollection of the day was Darlene, Mike's wife, getting a call and saying come to the docks and see what we caught.
"We didn't know what it was ... they didn't indicate what they had caught. But we gathered everybody up and went down to the harbor," Rene said.
"I just remember seeing this humongous fish hanging by the tail. I assumed it was Mike that caught it and I looked at Darlene and said 'What are you going to do with that fish?' Little did I know it was going to be in my life and in my home," she added. "I just remember all the excitement around it ... it was quite an event and a big part of his life."
At the time, the Westerfelds were in the process of building a home and wound up adding two feet to the Florida room to accommodate the marlin mount.
"I didn't have a choice in the matter, it was going to be in the house somewhere," Rene said.
"It wasn't exactly in my decorating plans for that room. But men and their fish, you just had to deal with it," she laughed.
Before their house was complete the marlin hung in the patient waiting room of Gene's practice and then it finally made it to their home.
In 1995 Gene passed away and about a year and a half later, Rene moved to Fort Walton Beach and into a smaller home and there was no space for the fish. So the marlin went to storage and Keri, her daughter, finally took the marlin in.
"It never felt like I had to, I wanted to," Keri said. "It had just been a part of my life growing up and having that fish on our wall. The fish just needed to come with one of us and I was the lucky one that got to keep it for all those years," noting she has a brother and sister who live in south Florida.
"And my husband was so supportive. It's not often that another man is willing to hang someone else's fish on his wall," she added.
Keri and John Holguin had the big marlin on their wall for about 20 years when they moved into another home last May and the fish went back to storage.
Keri said they had thought about donating it to a restaurant around town but then landed on the idea of donating it to the museum.
"For us the fish has come full circle back to where it needs to be. John and I are so excited that we can share this ... the history and the story with so many people. It's just awesome," Keri said.
And they made the donation as a surprise to their mother.
"It was a surprise to me when the kids got me over there (to the museum) last Friday to show it to me, it was a total surprise," Renee said. "Now I feel like it has a true home and can be appreciated by so many people."