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ANGLING'S UNSUNG HERO

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PART I

Panama Marlin Fishing Charters

THE LEGEND

“...Didn't Theodore Schmidt also catch a 1000 pound grander marlin?” “Naw, Lou caught the first one then John Schmidt the eldest brother caught another horse of about a 1000 lbs. Theo's big marlin only weighed about 900 pounds...”
Two clients billfishing, circa 1968

”... You think Lou Schmidt would've been blubbering like that after only a couple of hours. Jeeze, he caught a giant 1000 pound black marlin back when they didn't have any of this fancy fishing crap you have. Put your back into it and get that fish aboard there's other people want to fish...”
Father encouraging his son to land a marlin that was tail wrapped, circa 1971

“Numerous offshore fish, including an occasional sailfish, have been taken over the years by anglers trolling with fly tackle. But not until 1962, when the late Dr. Webster Robinson of Key West landed a 74½- pound Pacific sailfish aboard Capt. Louis Schmidt's Caiman at Pinas Bay, Panama, was the first billfish officially registered to fly casting.”
Vic Dunaway; February-March 1973 issue of Florida Sportsman
The complete article was named Flyfishing for Billfish and could be found at http://www.floridasportsman.com/sportfish/sailfish/S_7302_marlin_sailfish/ online at the Florida Sportsman Magazine website.

“...You don't have to speed out to the fishing grounds and waste all that gas. The Caiman II only does about 12 knots and it has caught more big marlin than any boat afloat. The Schmidt's even caught a giant thousand pound grander marlin on that boat and they did it by having their hooks in the water all the time...”
Comment onboard a fast Chris Craft, circa 1975

“Lou Schmidt used to troll these huge bonito or skipjack of 10-15 pounds that he rigged with a huge sea demon hook. That's how he caught that giant 1000 pound black marlin. He didn't use those stupid crayon colored lures that look like a woman should be wearing them in her hair or something...”
My father encouraging me, circa 1979

“...Listen I think my dad was there that day and he said Lou Schmidt fought that giant 1000 lb marlin until its heart broke and she died. He broke two harnesses in that battle and at the last minute he had to give the rod to his brother John. That's why it isn't a record. But it was the first 1000 pound grander black marlin ever caught on a rod and reel, it was in 1949. I got a photo my dad left me of that great billfish... ”
Chuck Abernathy (Mr. Fish) while billfishing in the Gulf of Panama near San Jose Island, circa 1984

“... Hey tell us about that giant grander marlin that was caught here in Panama. Didn't it weigh way over a 1000 lbs? Was it a world record? Who caught it? It was back during the second world war wasn't it and was caught on that old wooden boat the Caiman II that Roy McLean runs now, yeah? You used to mate for those guys that caught it...”
Group of G.I.s on a billfishing trip anchored for the night in Bodega Bay (San Jose Island). Circa 1986

“...Na, you got it all wrong. The Schmidt brothers built the Caiman II after the Navy in WWII sank the first one. All boats had been confiscated during the war for security reasons and something went wrong and the boat sunk so after the war the Schmidt's built the Caiman II. That's the boat they were on when they caught that big thousand pound grander marlin. Louis Schmidt hooked and fought the giant marlin up until they got it boat side and then all hell broke loose. With the big grander marlin jumping all over the place his brother John touched the rod while trying to gaff the monster marlin and that's why it is not a record. It didn't count as a world record because John touched the rod. It was the world's first 1000 lb black marlin ever caught, happened back in 1948. Seems like they didn't have to tell that part and could have claimed the record. But you know how straight those guys were back then...”
Overheard at the Balboa Yacht Club bar circa 1991

“...There was this guy named Lou Schmidt who caught a big thousand pound grander marlin out here in 1949. He was a fishing guide for a lot of famous people and taught everyone in Panama how to fish for big marlin. It didn't count as a record because they didn't have any certified scales but by the measurements and the scales they did have, it weighed way over 1000 lbs.....”
Visiting angler billfishing at Pinas Bay's Tropic Star Lodge circa 1996.

“...Yeah he did, Lou Schmidt caught the first 1000 pound grander black marlin. He did it right here in Panama back when your granddad was busy learning to walk! I think it weighed 1200 pounds and was caught in 1948 after the Second World War. It attacked the boat, the old Caiman II. Buried its bill right in the hull. Lou and John his brother had to pass the rod back and forth to work the giant marlin off the boat. That's why it wasn't an official IGFA world record at the time. My dad told me the story, he was there and...”
Overheard at the Panama Yacht Club bar circa 2001.

“Lou Schmidt was a big bull of a man. He wasn't much over average height, but he was big boned and thick with muscle. The fingers on his hand were like bananas and if he put his hand on your shoulder just to explain a fishing knot or something you could feel his strength. He was a soft-spoken, extremely polite individual to the point that his presence made you feel ashamed to act in any other way. He was a man's man back when men were men, back when the reels did all the whining not the angler. You could be sure that even when he was growing up nobody ever bothered that guy. His brothers John and Theodore were pretty much the same in appearance and actions. The three of them together tended to seem like a majority anywhere, even in a room full of people. Christ, just one of them was a majority wherever he went. Well, they knew more about sport fishing in those days than anyone else around. They learned from their father Louis ‘Pop' Schmidt and from being out on the water fishing so much. Everyone in Panama either learned fishing and especially billfishing from them or from someone who learned it from them. THEODORE, LOU and JOHN, Marlin fishing These guys were really something, they wanted to catch giant marlin at a time when it was a rich man's sport and everyone was dirt poor. ‘Pop' from as far back as when Christ was a corporal and the three sons before, during and after the Great Depression. You couldn't just go out and buy a boat to catch big marlin in those days even if you had the money because those fancy fabricated boats were no good for giant marlin fishing and cost more than a house. So these Schmidt's built their own forty footer especially for marlin fishing, it was called the ‘Caiman'. Nowadays you kids have no idea what it was like back then, there is no way you could – but things were really tough. Anyone who survived to adulthood was hard as nails. If someone ever had to go to hospital they never came back. When I joined the Marines at 17 I weighed 135 pounds, by the time I was wounded on Guam I weighed 165 and was so hard my face hurt. At that time the Marines was pretty good duty and I got my first ever pair of shoes and three square meals a day, it didn't matter you were hired to charge machine guns - you felt like you counted for something. Believe me there were worse ways to make a living. Anyway I went billfishing a lot on the ‘Caiman II' and got to know these guys and about giant marlin fishing. Oh yeah, the original ‘Caiman' was impounded along with all other private boats during WWII and those dumb swabbies sunk it by accident. Squids are only good on shore patrol as taxi drivers for Marines on liberty. So what do you think those Schmidts did- well they just built a better boat out of original ‘yellow pine' that is now extinct and called it the ‘Caiman II'. Nothing was going to stop these guys! They built that boat so well that it is still afloat and used for sport fishing today, even after having been abandoned, sunk and beached for several years in the late '80 & early ‘90s, I guess they built it to last. That is still some boat, Lou told me it had two big marlin bills stuck in it from fights at the gaff, the whole transom section could be quickly removed so as to float and drag giant marlin on deck once the last rites had been administered. Yeah, they had this baseball bat onboard they called the ‘priest' for just such occasions; I think it was homemade and had lead in it. When one of them hit a big marlin with that, it stayed hit. Zane Grey caught the first thousand pound grander blue marlin in 1931 but he had more money than Rockefeller and traveled all over the world for 20 years specifically for that purpose and he never caught another thousand pound grander marlin of any color. Zane also came to Panama and the Schmidts guided him fishing as well as Clark Gable, John Wayne, Ray Smith and a lot of other famous people. Lou Schmidt caught the first 1000 pound grander black marlin after the war on June 11, 1949. Neither of those thousand pound marlin were recognized as official world records by either the Tuna Club in Catalina or by the IGFA, which was formed the same year Zane Grey died. Zane's grander blue marlin because sharks mutilated it at the gaff and Louis Schmidt's monster grander black marlin because his harnesses broke at the end of the battle. I wasn't with them fishing that fishing trip but heard about it like everyone else did the day they got back. I think that famed billfish weighed a lot more than 1006 pounds because she lost a lot of mass since they had to wait until the next day to weigh it and had to cut the colossal fish in two to certify the weight as the scale bottomed out on the first try. The girth I remember was 76 inches and everyone was disappointed it didn't reach 14 feet long but it was close. If you figure at least 13 feet 6 inches with that girth of 76 inches you get a mind-blowing weight of around 1170 pounds, which is more like it. It was undeniably a true giant marlin. A story about Lou and John landing this grander marlin appeared in the July 4, 1949 issue of TIME magazine. Lots of folks were outraged it didn't count as a world record marlin and they wrote to everyone including their congressmen! IGFA Certificate for first THOUSAND POUND black marlin on a rod and reel The IGFA awarded Louis a special official certificate, the only one of its kind, recognizing the historic catch of the world's first thousand pound black marlin on rod and reel. Mike Learner himself signed that one and folks wrote letters to the IGFA congratulating them on issuing it. One thing you can be sure of is that Lou never asked anyone for nothing, it was all his friends and clients, like me, when they heard about the catch. The Schmidt's were all modest, quiet, stalwart individuals who kept to themselves; they weren't glory seekers and never blew their own horn. All those Schmidt brothers were the real thing - guys you could look up to. The Schmidt's just figured there were bigger billfish out there and they would just go out and get a couple of bigger ones to lay this 1000 lbs marlin thing to bed once and for all. They were undaunted by it all. These were guys who caught 47 black marlin in one fishing trip. They built their own boats and improved fishing reels, rods, knots, gaffs and methods to fish for these great billfish that were way ahead of their time. Nothing was going to spook these guys. Real tough hombres. They used to catch a lot of big bottom fish too and knew lots of secret spots, we used to call Pinas Reef ‘Pop Schmidt Reef' ... the ‘Zane Grey Reef' is in Australia or New Zealand not Pinas Bay. San Jose Island was one of their favorites as well as mine. That's all I can remember right now, there is a lot more but there's no one to talk to about it anymore and you know how talking with someone who was there will make you remember things.”
Old retired Angler – May 2003

THE TALE

It wouldn't have mattered if you had been aboard a Navy Destroyer that day, you would still have been banged around, the sea was rough. John with a NICE BLACK MARLIN on board the Ciaman II The 40-foot Caiman II chugged along at about 5-6 knots trolling four big skipjacks from 16/0 Penn Senator reels on custom made 18 oz. lemonwood rods, two on each side. The Lemonwood rods were made from the scarce Calycophyllum candidissimum tree known as Alazano in Panama and Degame wood elsewhere. This was and is an extremely rare tough elastic wood used when available for cherished specialty archery bows and in 1949 was the most prized fishing rod material in existence. The two ‘bonito' from the outriggers were ‘skip-baits' and the two flat lines pulled swimming baits. Each bait was rigged with a single ‘sea demon' hook ensuring a sound hook-up and to allow an easier release if necessary. The 100 horsepower ‘in-line-6' Caterpillar diesel never missed a beat. It was a well-maintained boat especially built to fish for big Black Marlin. The wind was strong out of the south as the Caiman II made its way directly into the teeth of the resulting angry seas with the fantastic volcanic rock formations at the south end of San Jose Island, at its stern. These extraordinary sheer rock structures that emerge from the hundred foot depths to almost 100 feet above the ocean surface have over the eons been formed into impressive oddly contorted shapes that are astonishing to behold. The Three Monks or Tres Pilas De Arroz as they were named by the Spanish help to create an incredible upwelling with converging currents that form a sea-life nursery of bait and abundant prey species at the south end of San Jose Island. It had taken most of the day to get past San Jose the southern most island of the Las Perlas Archipelago, which was 50 miles from the mooring at the Balboa Yacht Club and those aboard had already caught more dorado and sailfish than anyone would care to look at twice let alone fillet. No one was interested in small fish. It was now nearly 2pm and they were fishing only for big marlin, headed for a hotspot south of San Jose near the first ‘drop'. Five miles southwest of the ‘Monks' nearing an ocean depression called the ‘Kidneys' the outrigger clip snapped and the rear port reel whined but then stopped almost immediately. It gave everyone an adrenalin rush and more than one of the anglers glanced again at the small 12 by 6 inch sign at the entrance to the cabin that read “THE PRICE OF A MARLIN IS ETERNAL VIGILANCE” The sign was about the only thing on the boat that hadn't been personally made by the Schmidt brothers John, Louis & Theodore; it had been machine manufactured out of plastic, which in the late 1940's was a rather classy addition to any sportfishing boat.

“Damn dorado probably”

The line was reeled in, the damaged bait removed and a fresh dead ‘bonito' sewn up with a big ‘sea demon' hook was free spooled into the trolling pattern and hung from the grand custom ‘Schmidt-Built' hexagonal wooden outrigger.

“Doesn't look like a dolphin hit that, looks like the big marlin are in close with this south wind”

“At least this wind is good for something other than practicing for a rodeo”

“Those bonito baits are too damn big, nothing that swims could swallow them”

“Yeah, I never heard of anyone using baits that big and four huge baits, don't you think that will just scare a marlin away – he will think the baits are going to eat him”

“Trust me, it will be all right”

The power, size and speed of Black Marlin leave no dispute over which is the strongest pound for pound fish that swims. MARCELLA SCHMIDT- LOU'S WIFE, black marlin fishing Marlin fishing is generally regarded as the pinnacle of saltwater sport fishing. Most other billfish, except swordfish are small when compared to full sized Blue Marlin and Black Marlin. These heavyweights routinely grow to over 500 pounds and are known to reach weights in excess of a thousand pounds. The distinction between these two gigantic marlins has often been compared to the difference between a thoroughbred race horse and an enormous draught horse, however it has recently been scientifically discovered that the draught horse Black Marlin is in fact faster than the ‘thoroughbred’ Blue Marlin. Thousand pound marlin or grander marlin are considered the ultimate sport fishing challenge. Only one instance of a rod and reel grander marlin had ever been claimed up to this time, Zane Grey's 1040 lbs blue marlin in 1931. The all tackle record stood at 976 lbs set by Zane Grey’s fishing partner Capt. Laurie Mitchell in 1926, it had stood for 23 years. It was early June 1949 the country had just gone through the Great Depression and the Second World War. In the next decade Casey Stengel would make the New York Yankees the greatest baseball team ever and ‘vise-grips' would be invented. Folks still listened to the radio, T.V. was in very few homes and if you wanted to catch marlin you either had to be filthy rich or know someone like the Schmidt's and fish in Panama. Oh, you could fish for marlin almost anywhere but if you wanted to catch them your best bet was to be in Panama and to be with a Schmidt on the Caiman II. The south wind had indeed brought the big black marlin close as it had pushed the forage fish in from the offshore Humboldt Current, which ran 20-30 miles out from San Jose Island. This large planetary current influenced the migration patterns of all apex predatory pelagic fish in the eastern Pacific, especially Tuna and Billfish. The marlin were not migrating now, they had come to play. The wind, currents and weather patterns had affected the area optimally creating a great pelagic feeding bowl right in the path of the slow trolling Caiman II.

“Man, there are balls of bait all around. There has got to be something after it.”

“Yeah but sometimes there is too much bait and the big fish won't chase nothing.”

“That's right they just sit on the bottom burping or something”

“Hey think positive. They are going to be there. Those really big fish are always out a little past the bait, that's why the bait is here- the big fish aren't. The big fish are always after the little fish and when they find them, some little fish are sacrificed but most of them move away while the big fish are busy eating.” Line evaporated from the shrieking reel, black marlin fishing

“Sounds logical when you tell it like that.”

In the next half hour of fishing several more knockdowns occurred just like the first as if a great fish were stalking the Caiman II, creating an eerie atmosphere that gave everyone a creepy ‘pins and needles' sensation. There was little talking now as the Caiman II chugged and slam-banged along through the sloppy seas and each person anxiously concentrated on the trolled baits with more than casual interest. Each knockdown ruined that particular bait and a fresh one had to be put out. They were almost out of baits and Lou grew concerned. With the last knock down Lou had told them all to “Keep your eye on the ball”. After so many ‘strikes' their faces grew stern and cold, their muscles strained.

They wouldn't let that ‘ball' go by again.

"The Outlook wasn't brilliant for the Mudville nine that day: The score stood four to two, with but one inning more to play. And then when Cooney died at first, and Barrows did the same, A sickly silence fell upon the patrons of the game. A straggling few got up to go in deep despair. The rest Clung to that hope which springs eternal in the human breast; They thought, if only Casey could get but a whack at that - We'd put up even money, now, with Casey at the bat. But Flynn preceded Casey, as did also Jimmy Blake, And the former was a lulu and the latter was a cake; So upon that stricken multitude grim melancholy sat, For there seemed but little chance of Casey's getting to the bat."...- ‘Casey At The Bat' by Ernest L. Thayer

Everybody saw the number nine bus that cannon-balled through the spread at ‘the-speed-of-light', mugged the outsized ‘bonito' bait swimming just below the surface and left a foaming blue-white crater in the water directly behind the boat. The high-strung intentness on the baits was abruptly interrupted as the starboard flat line went off; the harsh high-pitched sound was unnatural coming from such a large reel and set teeth on a ragged edge. Line evaporated from the shrieking reel. Everybody saw but nobody except Lou, quick as a cat, grabbed the screaming steaming rod & reel, the rest had been turned to stone as if a Gorgon had stared them in the eye. Always the gentleman Lou had waited a few seconds to see if anyone else would react, when it didn't happen he had acted quickly to engage the reel before a backlash sprung up. The big thick rod described an unreasonably pronounced arc as 30 pounds of drag transferred down the line. An enormous freak miscreant from another world, its measure hitherto unknown, erupted out of the Gulf of Panama and shook itself high in the air apparently suffering a Grand Mal convulsion. John Schmidt at the helm glanced at Lou and then at the incredible marlin and now started a slow turn to starboard. At a seemingly drunken cadence the stunned crew began to clear the other lines. Lou lurched into the stout ‘made-by-Schmidt' fighting chair and began strapping his harness as the variously enraged ‘Mother Of All Marlins' exploded through the ocean's surface again and again and bounded towards Hawaii. HOOKED UP PANAMA MARLIN FISHING

“Holy... what...Look at that sucker go!”

“Man, look at the size of that thing...man oh man...”

“Jeeze, what have we done, that thing is a dinosaur – those baits were too big Lou!”

“It's a big one Lou, don't let him go!”

‘Yeah, don't let him go - the fish is getting away!”

"But Flynn let drive a single, to the wonderment of all. And Blake, the much despised, tore the cover off the ball. And when the dust had lifted, and men saw what had occurred, there was Jimmy safe at second and Flynn a-hugging third. Then from five thousand throats and more there rose a lusty yell; it rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell; it pounded through on the mountain and recoiled upon the flat; for Casey, mighty Casey, was advancing to the bat."...- ‘Casey At The Bat' by Ernest L. Thayer

Louis Schmidt wasn't about to let this marlin get away. He had waited all his life for just such an opportunity. He was sure he had been born for this particular sort of occasion. If you wanted to catch big fish you had to even the odds a little, figure out when & where they will be, what they bite, how to hook them and how to beat them. You had to be prepared, one step ahead, always a plan, a technique, a method, and an approach to outsmart and then outdo them. He and his two brothers had been ‘educated' in a myriad of angling arts since they were small children. Not from books or schools or from globetrotting to exotic destinations, there wasn't money for any of that or a source for this type of information except from years of fishing in Panama waters. First with their father ‘Pop' Schmidt then as a team observing ocean currents, various game fish, their migrations, habits, nature, tendencies, behavior and through a lot of ‘trial & error'. They had hands-on ‘educated' themselves how to build, design, outfit, repair, maintain and run the Caiman then Caiman II. Discovered what really worked for big marlin including baits, hooks, boating maneuvers, knots, lines, leaders, reel drags, fighting chairs, rods and anything to do with hooking, fighting and landing giant marlin. He and his brothers had custom built boats, bought, improved & improvised the best gear. Sweated over the details, blueprinting the Penn Senator reels so they wouldn't seize up, invented things when they couldn't be bought, enhanced the best rods in the world, pioneered special baits and rigs and had methodically checked, fixed and double reinforced everything that could possibly break or go wrong while fighting a monster marlin. Nothing could be ‘over-done' everything had to be redundant. Catching just one marlin for most people at that time was considered akin to pitching a no-hitter in the major leagues or scoring a hat trick in soccer. They had, up to then, caught more marlin than they could keep count of and would continue to pioneer saltwater sportfishing well into the 1970's when on one memorable trip they would catch 47 black marlins. Before the next century rolled around the Caiman and then the Caiman II would have caught more marlin on rod & reel than any boats in the history of the world. ‘Education' would prove diversely expensive in time, money and heartaches, especially since they would be blazing a trail all their lives. All that they really wanted to catch now was a truly huge marlin. And lo and behold here it was on the end of the line! It was going to be a nearly even contest. Ladies and gentlemen, the Worlds Biggest Marlin VS Louis Schmidt! Most folks would bet even money unless they discovered how rough the seas were then with John at the wheel they would probably give 8 to 5 odds, on Lou. CONTINUED

"There was ease in Casey's manner as he stepped into his place; There was pride in Casey's bearing and a smile on Casey's face. And when, responding to the cheers, he lightly doffed his hat, No stranger in the crowd could doubt 'twas Casey at the bat."...- ‘Casey At The Bat' by Ernest L. Thayer

ENORMOUS MONSTER BLACK MARLIN

GO TO "UNSUNG HERO PART II"


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