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Marlin vs. Sardine Video!


Cover, Magical Encounters: The Striped Marlin.


By Gene Kira, February 18, 2002, as published in Western Outdoor News:

Dr. Guy Harvey's spectacular fish illustrations, of course, have become sport fishing icons seen practically everywhere you look, but here's an underwater video he just did that puts all those tee-shirts and coffee mugs to shame.

It's titled "Magical Encounters: The Striped Marlin," and in only 30 minutes it can give you insights on the predator-prey relationship between big game fish and "bait fish" that will be useful for the rest of your angling career.

In a nutshell, Harvey and his crew, including well-known photographer Bill Boyce, went out to Baja's offshore Thetis Bank fall fish pile-up at Magdalena Bay last November, and filmed marlin attacking schools of sardines underwater.

We've all seen "meatballs" from topside while fishing, and if conditions are good, you can sometimes get a brief glimpse of a fin here, a tail there, or perhaps a fish leaping out of the water. You know there's a lot of carnage going on down there, but you don't know enough about it to put everything into sharp perspective. It's all just a blur of murky, flashing action. As an angler, you are reduced to tossing bait or lures into the general fray and hoping for something good to happen.

Guy Harvey's marvelous video tape, in the most vivid way imaginable, draws back the curtains on all that underwater activity, and it lets you see for the first time exactly what's going on down there.

Very, very close up, you see schools of striped marlin herding sardines into tight balls by feinting and flashing their "gang signs" of vertical bars, and then taking turns as they pick off their little snacks one-by-one. Beginning with big balls of hundreds of sardines, they pick off fish after fish, until only a few are left, and the remaining sardines suddenly scatter. Poof! No more bait ball.

Then, the marlin head off to find another school of sardines and do it again.

One myth categorically denied, is that "marlin attack bait with their bills." In this video, at least, they definitely do not.

Another misconception dispelled is that the predators attack ferociously in a chaotic feeding frenzy. They do not. The whole thing seems almost choreographed, as the marlin circle a bait ball that looks like an enormous underwater crystal chandelier, turning slowly, just beneath the surface. Almost gently, they take turns moving in, accelerating suddenly, and picking off a single sardine, just like a bird catching an insect in flight.

It's amazing and unforgettable. It's beautiful. It helps you understand a lot better what you are seeing from topside while you are fishing.

If there is anything to criticize about this video, it's the relatively short shrift that the film editors gave to the fishing guide on this trip, Gary Graham of Baja On The Fly. Graham is mentioned almost in passing, and he is given a total of perhaps 20 seconds of film time. In truth, it was Gary Graham who was one of the original discoverers of the Thetis Bank fall fish pile-up, and he knows as much about its timing and intricate permutations as any other sport fishing captain today. The tremendous density of striped marlin that Harvey needed to make this video wasn't found by accident, and I think Graham deserves more credit than he is given on this tape.

But, that's mere quibbling. Guy Harvey's "Magical Encounters: The Striped Marlin" is a watershed advancement in our understanding of the life-or-death ballet between predator and prey, marlin and sardine, that we often approach so closely, but have never before seen clearly. It's a keeper!

(Related Baja California, Mexico, articles and reports may be found at's main Baja California information page. See weekly fishing news, photos, and reports from the major sportfishing vacation areas of Mexico including the Baja California area in "Mexico Fishing News.")