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TFO’s Taylor Makes Angling History

Wanda Taylor is considered one of fly fishing’s female pioneers. The TFO advisor has now further etched her name in angling lore. It’s there in black and white.

A world record.

Propelled by the guidance of fellow TFOer Jake Jordan, Taylor set the IGFA mark in early February when she bagged a 33-pound spearfish off Kona, Hawaii. Official confirmation came from the IGFA late last week when Taylor received a certificate, which noted the tippet class (20 pounds), along with the weight and date of the catch.

For the record, Taylor used TFO’s heavy-duty Bluewater rod with a pink and white Jake Jordan Big Popper Marlin fly.

“I’ve never been one to chase world records, but I had the opportunity to (do so),” Taylor said. “I know what it means to Jake and the team. It was pretty special and for women in general. There are people who have a passion for it. I’m not sure I have a passion for it. I count it as a blessing to have that opportunity to do it. It wasn’t something where I woke up and wanted to break a world record.”

Jordan and his crew suspected the fish was a possible world record moments after the catch, but had to wait nearly four months for the IGFA to navigate the approval process.

“I had never experienced this before,” Taylor said. “I didn’t know if it was going to be a long wait or a short wait. I didn’t realize the process of a world record is from around the world, not just from Florida, Georgia or Hawaii. They have thousands and thousands of entries. It just takes a while to test the leaders, to make sure everything was correctly done. With all that in mind, it was really a short wait.”

Turns out, the wait was worth it.

“I was surprised how beautiful (the certificate) is,” Taylor said. “They are so well done. The fish is on the document. It’s raised, really beautifully done. I was really relieved for the captain (and crew). They had a lot of records on conventional tackle. This one was on fly and one that’s rare as a short-bill spearfish.”

The trip to Hawaii came as a part of Jordan’s Spearfish Fly Fishing School. All were aboard Captain Kevin Nakamaru’s 37 Merritt “Northern Lights.”

Give Taylor credit for landing the fish; give the captain and crew credit for putting her in proper position.

“They were huge,” Taylor said. “It makes a difference if you have a captain that knows what he’s doing. It’s a team effort. The key is keeping your watch angle, so the captain can see what you’re doing. You have to keep calm, so you can hear what the captain is saying and know what he’s seeing because he’s the one with the view. You don’t have that view because you’re in the back of the boat. It’s important to have that communication.”

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A Tip of the Hat to Anglers and Their Mothers

When the issue of women in fishing is brought up, the name Joan Wulff usually springs to mind. After all, she’s one of the premier fly casters and anglers — male or female — in the world, but here’s the thing that many of us gloss over when pondering women in fishing.

Every angler — male or female – has a mother who had a hand in raising them. So with Mother’s Day less than a week away, we decided to dedicate a blog post to mom. I asked a handful of TFO staffers and advisors to contribute a memory or two of mother.

Any memories of mom you’d like to share, please let us know. Enjoy.

Rick Pope, TFO Chairman

“My mother, Bettie, turns 86 on May 26. (She) is still active on the family ranch in the Texas Hill Country northwest of Austin. The first (main) photo is of her mother, Joyce and my daughter, Callan. Mom is on the right. The second (below) is of her with a rattler she shot a couple of weeks ago.  She hates rattle snakes and pigs – shoots both with a vengeance. She is the best mother in the world and that fact has been confirmed by the many members of our TFO family who have met her.”

Not a good day to be a Rattler in Texas. Photo courtesy of Rick Pope

Captain Jake Jordan, TFO Advisor 

“This picture (below) is of my mother, Ann Jordan, and I at her 100th birthday party. She was healthy until late in 2012 and passed away at 102. Mom lived with me for the last six years of her life, which were the best six years of my life. Mom ran a marina in Somers Point, N.J. with my dad from 1950 until 1975 when they sold the marina and retired. She was the sweetest, kindest person that I ever knew, I miss her terribly, and think of her every day, I was truly blessed to have her as my Mother. Happy Mother’s Day, I love you.”

Jake Jordan and his mom celebrate. Photo courtesy of Jake Jordan

Wanda Taylor
 TFO Advisor

My mom has always been my inspiration. She put herself through school while raising me and my sis. Rode her own Harley. Received her pilot’s license at (age) 50. Won senior women marathons in three countries. Is a great golfer and fly angler. Most of all she is an elegant woman of faith, love and courage. She is the matriarch of Hairville. When I grow up, I aspire to be her. Gigi Hair Reyes, my mother of the year!”

Wanda and her mom on the flats. Photo courtesy of Wanda Taylor

Collins Illich, Vice President/Bass Category Manager of TFO

“This is an epic Mother’s Day fishing story. In 1994, I was a freshman in high school and my parents had recognized that I was really, really serious about this fishing stuff. I did a bunch of work around the house, and in exchange my mom was going to buy me my first real fly rod, an Orvis 5-weight two-piece. She’s picking me up from school. I’ve always been a terrible student. I love to read. I’m intellectually curious, but I’m a (lousy) student. I was bored in class. My bother is a PHD, JD. My sister’s a judge. I’m the black sheep. My mom being a teacher, (my parents) did a lot of things to really encourage my education. Not succeeding is all my fault, but she’s picking me up from school and taking me to the Orvis store to pick up a fly rod I’ve been casting for like three, four weeks. I had been trying to decide between three or four of them. It’s all predicated on my finishing a reading-comprehension test. Once I get finished with that test, I get to go. The test, believe it or not, only took about three minutes. I called my mom. I got to go. I got to buy my first fly rod. And I got like a 35 on the test. (Laughing), it was the worst plan ever to get me to take school seriously. I spent zero time on the test. I think it’s an awesome story. The results of the test came post-rod purchase. I called her and reminded her about the story (the other day). As a sweet retired school teacher would, she asked if I still had the rod. No, I gave that rod away a few years ago. Thank you for encouraging what was really important to me, mom.”

Collins with his mom, the school teacher. Photo courtesy of Collins Illich

Big Fish No Big Deal for Wanda Taylor

After months of plotting and planning, patience and persistence paid off for Wanda Taylor. The South’s First Lady of fly fishing caught two blue marlin on fly.

Not just two blue marlin. Make that two world-record caliber blue marlin.

The first fish checked in at approximately 150 pounds. The second? A mere 280.

Both catches easily surpassed the International Game Fish Association women’s world record for blue marlin on fly. The second marlin more than tripled the current 20-pound tippet mark.

Not bad for a first-time student at Jake Jordan’s Costa Rica Blue Marlin Fly Fishing School.

“I want to do it again,” Taylor said during a phone interview from her North Georgia home last week. “I’m truly in love with bluewater fishing. It’s really hard to catch a trout now. Really, I love to trout fish. I love any kind of fishing. That was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done.”

Neither of the two fish Taylor landed counted as an official world record. IGFA guidelines require strict documentation before a catch qualifies as a world record. In many big-game fishing situations where a world-record is at stake the fish is killed. Killing blue marlin is illegal in Costa Rica.

Regardless, Jordan practices catch-and-release, as does Taylor.

“I don’t care about having my name in a book,” she said. “We know we did it.”

Actually, this trip was supposed to happen last summer, but was delayed when fishing conditions unexpectedly declined at the last minute, a development that left Taylor unfulfilled, but not undeterred.

“It’s like a fighter,” Taylor said. “You have to get ready. I had to get my head right. It just took a while (to get over the disappointment), then I had to. It took me a few days, but I did it.”

The yearlong delay, no doubt, sharpened Taylor’s resolve. She attributed much of her success to teamwork. Jordan, a fellow TFO national advisory staffer, coached her; the captain handled the boat; and the mates manned the teasers and handled the big fish.

All were aboard the Dragin Fly for a four-day, three-night trip out of the Los Suenos resort in early August.

“It’s like a dance,” Taylor said. “They all work so well together. If someone screws up, it’s over.”

Taylor said she’s caught sailfish before, but that species does not compare to the breathtaking power of a blue marlin. What about tarpon on fly?

“There’s no comparison,” said Taylor, a fly fishing and casting instructor, who was the first woman inducted into the Southern Appalachian Fly Fishing Hall of Fame. “You can’t stop a marlin. You can fight a tarpon. But a marlin is totally different. They have no idea they’re hooked. If you fight them, they break off. It’s like fighting a train. You can’t stop a train.”

Jordan teaches his students to fight big fish by pointing their rod at their quarry and using the drag to apply pressure. There’s no bend in the rod, which runs contrary to the “down-and-dirty” approach many tarpon fishermen use.

Jordan’s method may not be conventional, but it works — if you have the skill to execute under pressure and not revert to muscle memory. Done right, the fish should fatigue well before the angler does.

“It’s not one of those things you just go out and do,” Taylor said. “If you don’t know what you’re doing, it’s over. The way that Jake teaches it, it’s so different from the way anyone else teaches it in the world. Everything that you know about fighting fish, you can throw it down the toilet when you fish with him. He’s got it figured out how it hurts the fish more, but not the angler. It’s a very, very cool procedure.”

The first fight lasted about 30 minutes. The second took less than 25. She used a TFO Bluewater Heavy Duty rod with a Mako reel. Her fly? An 8/0 pink and white Cam Siglar.

“That (second) fish jumped a lot,” Taylor said. “It was almost to the boat and jumped. A photographer’s dream. I told myself not to rush it. I tried to slow everything down.”

In marlin fishing, timing is everything. Once you get the fish near the boat, you don’t have long to get your quarry under control for the release. Those who dawdle can be in for an extended battle if the fish regains its strength.

And if you’re in open water, do not, under any circumstances, decide to slug it out. Taylor’s third fish, estimated at well over 300 pounds, imposed its will well away from the boat, a 43-foot Maverick.

“I got the big head,” Taylor said. “I thought I could stop the fish. It started jumping and darting. It was a mile away. I couldn’t believe it was my fish. I didn’t take my hand off the reel and it popped. Angler error. I don’t know, I blacked. Just watching that monster jump like that, it was just amazing. Such a magnificent fish. I was in the moment. I didn’t bow.”

Nevertheless Jordan, who has caught 56 blue marlin on fly, offered a tip of the cap to Taylor’s performance.

“She is a really good caster and has a lot of really good fishing skills,” Jordan said. “She’s a really good fisherman. Wanda, being the great athlete and angler she is, she was able to listen to instruction and do what she was told. She caught the first marlin she hooked, a 150-pounder. That alone is pretty incredible.”

Jake Jordan’s Complete Guide to Blue Marlin on Fly

Blue Marlin Fly fishing Essay, June 2017

In 1991, I sold my fly shop, The World Class Angler, in the Florida Keys, and retired from my position as CEO of STH reels later that year. I had spent quite a bit of time during the previous 19 years chasing sailfish and marlin on fly, having caught 49 total including Atlantic sailfish, white marlin, Atlantic blue marlin, Pacific sailfish, and a striped marlin, always complying with the IGFA class tippet standard and rules.

I spent six months fly fishing for billfish in Costa Rica during 1991, hooking 213 billfish and catching 12 on fly. I realized this was my passion—what I want to do for the rest of my life. I worked with several fly rod manufacturers in developing better big game fly rods. I worked with Jack Charlton developing better fly reels for big fish, with RIO developing the Leviathan fly lines, and I also developed various rigging techniques. All together these advances would give anglers the confidence that no element of their tackle would ever fail; that is, unless the angler makes a mistake and breaks the IGFA class tippet.

Jake Jordan catching a marlin.
Jake Jordan, Jake Jordan’s Fishing Adventures

My plan was to operate billfish fly fishing schools (I ran my bonefish schools in the Bahamas successfully, for over 30 years). In 1992, I started my Sailfish School business which I operated respectively in Panama, Venezuela, Mexico, Costa Rica, and Australia. Though we had very good success in these locations, in 1993 I moved the Sailfish Schools full time to Guatemala, which I’m convinced, produces the best fly fishing for sailfish in the world. Later I developed the Billfish Schools, (mostly marlin), which operated in the Galapagos Islands; Mag Bay, Mexico; Panama; Dominican Republic; Australia, and finally wound up in Costa Rica. Here I’ve operated my Blue Marlin Fly Fishing School since 2013.

The technique I use for blue marlin— the one I teach my students—is the result of many factors. Along with constant tackle upgrading, it is the result of input from many great captains and mates, from my own success, from watching many thousands of billfish caught on fly, and coaching countless angler/students to success.

First I believe that catching blue marlin on fly is a team sport, responsibilities divided equally between the tackle, the captain, the mates (teaser man), and the angler. No Blue marlin will be caught on fly if one of these elements fail.

I recommend the TFO Blue Water HD fly rod, the Mako #9700-B fly reel filled with 500 to 700 yards of 65-pound-test GSP backing looped to an 80- foot-long, 50-pound- test Suffix Superior running line with 80-pound-test Dacron loops on each end. The forward running line loop interlocks with a loop on the rear of a RIO Leviathan 30-foot fly line. A nine-foot, 60-pound- test mono leader butt section is looped to the front end of the fly line. The butt section has a four-inch loop on the fly end to change the class and bite tippet and marlin tube fly. I use Mason Hard mono in 20-pound-test class, and under 16 inches between knots. The class section is connected using a huffnagel knot to the 11- inch, 100-pound-test mono bite tippet. The fly is a tube fly using a 1/4 inch diameter tube tied with feathers, like the Cam Sigler Big Marlin fly.

Bluewater, TF BW HD
Bluewater, TF BW HD

A right-handed angler (reverse sides for LH caster), strips out 25 feet of fly line and leader, placing everything ready to cast in the aft port corner of the vessel. The drag is set at exactly one pound or lighter. I place setting marks on my Mako reels at one pound, three pounds, and six pounds of pressure, the large drag knob requiring only a slight movement between settings.

We are usually trolling one teaser for each mate— flat line and rigger line—and one for the captain—bridge teaser. All teasers are pulled on the aft starboard corner of the vessel. As a blue marlin comes up (raised) behind a teaser, the other two teasers are removed from the water as fast as possible while the angler places the fly in the water and braces himself into the aft port corner of the cockpit. All this should take six seconds or less. The teaser being chased by the marlin is wound in as quickly as possible until the fish is 50 feet from the transom on the starboard side, the fly being dragged 25 feet from the port side. At this exact moment, the captain turns to starboard, pulls the vessel out of gear, and yells “CAST.” The angler water loads the fly and makes a 25- foot cast across the wake to the spot where the teaser had been, placing the fly with popper floating on the surface like wounded bait. The angler sometimes needs to pop the fly once to get the marlin’s attention. Usually, the blue marlin will attack by coming out of the water and eating the fly at high speed from the side. These fish are going so fast that if you have more than one pound of drag pressure the 20-pound-test class tippet will break. As the marlin streaks away at high speed the angler points the fly rod at the fish so the rod is not bent at all, watching as the line peels from the spool. By now the captain is backing down as fast as possible while the marlin continues taking line from the reel. Most times as the fish charges away it begins to make a variety of jumps. The angler must keep the rod pointed at the fish and the tip always lower than the boat gunnels.

The secret here is that when that fish runs and jumps with so little pressure from the light drag setting, the 550 grain fly line sinks and is dragged by the fish under its belly while the mono running line stretches like a rubber band. (80 feet of 50- pound-test running line can stretch 20 feet before the 20- pound-class tippet breaks.) The marlin feels the sinking fly line pulling downward. This keeps the fish running and jumping on the surface as it tires. The boat chases the fish; the angler puts the rod tip under water at a 45 degree angle from the aft port corner of the vessel, and winds as fast as possible placing the slack line back on the reel. Each time the marlin takes off again, the angler points the rod at the fish and relaxes until it slows and line can again be gained. Finally, when the angler sees the running line enter the reel, he reaches down and changes the drag setting to exactly three pounds of pressure. Still, the angler must focus to relax and not bend the rod, putting line on the reel as the fish is chased. When the fly line comes into the tip top, the angler adjusts the drag pressure to six pounds of pressure. Though the fish is tired the angler should not be as he has not been pulling hard and burning energy by bending the fly rod. But with the increased drag pressure, extra care is needed. Getting the last 30 feet of line wound in is done in this fashion: The angler applies six pounds or more pressure by rocking back and pulling the fish closer (still trying not to bend the rod), then rocking his body toward the fish, gaining line, then rocking back again. This steady pressure continues until the leader is wound into the tiptop of the rod. Once the technical release is made (leader inside of the rod tip), I like to move the drag up to ten pounds of pressure. Usually this rolls the marlin on its side and we can grab the bill and remove the fly from the fish’s mouth. If the 20-pound tippet breaks the large diameter tube allows the fly to float to the surface, and with no pressure the hook will fall out (or rust out) as the marlin swims away.

Until 2013, we used to catch one blue marlin from every 10 bites, and for many years we would not cast flies to marlin over 200 pounds. Since 2013, at my Cost Rica Blue Marlin Fly Fishing School we have averaged catching better than 40 percent of the blue marlin that eat our flies. As of today, I have caught and released as a fly angler fifty one blue marlin, while my clients/students have caught and released 131 (during the last five years) while attending my “Blue Marlin Fly Fishing Schools”. I do hope that this article helps many new and experienced fly anglers who have the passion, to catch a lot more in the future.

Jake Jordan’s Fishing Adventures
(305) 872-6060