Last man standing lands blue marlin

Tina Harbuck
First mate Shawn Dahnke, left, stands along side the winning blue marlin of the 1991 Destin Fishing Rodeo, caught by Henry Bailey, center, along with Capt. Stokes Walker of the Breakaway. The marlin, caught just seven miles out, weighed in at 327.5 pounds and won the Offshore Division. [COURTESY OF FIFTY YEARS OF FISHING THE DESTIN FISHING RODEO]

EDITOR’S NOTE: They say a photo is worth a 1,000 words. For the next few weeks leading up to the October Destin Fishing Rodeo, The Destin Log will be taking a look back at some iconic Rodeo photos found in the “Fifty Years of Fishing the Destin Fishing Rodeo” book and relay the story behind the photo — hopefully in less than 1,000 words.

Although it was almost 30 years ago, it only took first mate Shawn Dahnke one glance to recall the story behind the photo of him along with Capt. Stokes Walker and fisherman Henry Bailey of Tennessee flanking a big blue marlin.

It was a Tuesday, the 22nd day of the Destin Fishing Rodeo in 1991.

Bailey was a mailman back in Tennessee and regular fishing with Dahnke and Walker aboard the charter boat Breakaway.

On this particular day, “It was super bad rough, like 6-foot seas,” Dahnke said.

They had four anglers aboard the boat.

He said they decided to drag a couple of wahoo lures on a 9/0 and a 10/0 and try catching some amberjack and head back in because they were getting sick, quickly.

“They were starting to get sick right outside the pass. We lost one, then we lost another about 15 minutes later,” he said.

By the time they got about seven miles out, “Henry was the only one that wasn’t sick yet, but he said he didn’t feel too good,” Dahnke said.

About that time, line started screaming off the 10/0.

At first Dahnke thought they had a big wahoo.

“I looked back there real quick and saw a big dorsal and the tail broadside. I said ‘it’s a blue marlin,’” Dahnke said.

Walker questioned it at first, but then he looked back and saw the marlin greyhounding, running on the water.

“I said you better get on this one quick,” Dahnke said.

The marlin just started dumping line off the 10/0.

“I’m trying to get the other line in and I told Henry to get on the fish, but he was on the side of the boat, chumming,” he said. “He said, ‘I can’t,’ I told him you’ve got to.”

Bailey got in the fighting chair, sat down with the marlin, and started fighting it. However, about 15 minutes later he needed some relief.

“He was saying, ‘Oh Shawn I can’t take it, can you fight him a little bit?’” Dahnke said.

So Dahnke took over the rod.

A few minutes later, Bailey got back in the chair and put in about 15 minutes before he got sick again.

With Dahnke fighting the marlin, he looked over at Bailey and said you’ve got to do this.

“He said 'I don’t know if I can do it,'” Dahnke said, as Bailey was lying on the rail of the boat.

The marlin was finally tiring out and Dahnke was getting the fish close to the boat. He then pleaded with Bailey to take the rod so he can gaff and wire the fish.

“I said Henry you’ve got to finish this, but he kept saying ‘I can’t.’ 'You’ve got to do this thing,'” Dahnke told him.

“He kept saying I’m ready to go in,” Dahnke said. “He was thinking more about the sickness than the fish unfortunately … and he had wanted one all his life.”

Eventually Bailey got in the chair and they got the marlin to the boat.

“Thank goodness everything went perfect on the wire and he came right up," Dahnke said. "Stokes came down and helped pull him in and we put him in the boat.”

The entire fight took about an hour and 15 minutes.

As soon as they put the marlin on the deck, “they said take us home now,” Dahnke recalled.

This all took place before noon. As a matter of fact, Dahnke said they had to wait for the Rodeo scales to open that day to weigh the fish.

“Henry was happy once he got in … he was happy, but the rest of the crew were like death warmed over," Dahnke said. "They didn’t even get in the picture.”

The marlin weighed in at 327.5 pounds and won the Overall Offshore Division in 1991.

Dahnke fished with Walker aboard the Breakaway for 20 years and caught about 30 marlins on charter trips.

Click to the listen: