Eight-year-old Gillian Ricks, of Quitman, gripped her fishing rod, keeping it steady as waves of salty Atlantic Ocean water flooded the deck of the El Cazador fishing vessel off the coast of Bermuda.
At the end of her line, a coveted blue marlin was putting up a big fight. The fish is the source of legends and is the largest of the Atlantic marlins and one of the biggest fish in the world, according National Geographic’s website. They average about 11 feet in length but can be up to 14 feet and weigh more than 1,000 pounds, according to the website.
Gillian managed to land the fish, caught July 15 while the family was on vacation.
The catch weighed in at 336.3 pounds, nearly five times the 8-year-old’s weight.
And it might become the world-record catch for a female angler younger than 10, according to the International Game Fishing Association.
The association said Friday her marlin is not pending on their books, but her family anticipates applying for the record. Gillian’s category is vacant, and if the association approved her catch, it would serve as the benchmark for other female anglers.
Blue marlins are migratory, making them hard to find, and they put up a huge fight in the water.
Catching the fish is not about strength — it’s about patience, a battle between one person and a creature of the sea, Gillian’s mother Sarah Ricks said.
Mrs. Ricks said winning the battle involves allowing the rod and reel to do a lot of the work and using the angler’s body weight to put pressure on the fish. She said the keys are keeping balance and knowing when to reel. It’s a cat-and-mouse game of letting the marlin thrash and then pulling it in as it calms.
Gillian fought for about 80 minutes unassisted for her potential record-breaking catch.
The blue marlin was boated and taken to a certified scale and weighed by an International Game Fishing Association member, who pronounced that the fish qualified for the world record, Mrs. Ricks said.
Gillian said she didn’t know how big her catch was until it got closer to the boat.
“I didn’t know it was going to be big or how big it was going to be,” she said. “I didn’t know it was going to be a blue marlin. I just kept reeling and reeling.”
She asked for help from her father a few times, but because of regulations, he couldn’t.
“It’s an emotional struggle to just stand back and not to help your child when you know the difficulty of their challenge, but this was hers to win, and we knew that she was capable and determined,” her father Sail Ricks said. “We are very proud of her.”
The family has been deep-sea fishing for about 10 years, and the couple’s two children, Gillian, and her 7-year-old brother, Jack, grew up on the water. The family takes about six trips each year to fish in the United States and abroad.
“They’ve traveled with us since they were infants,” Mrs. Ricks said. “They gained their sea legs as they learned to walk.”
Gillian showed interest in fishing a few years ago and has excelled, her parents said. She came close to catching a world-record blue marlin last year, but at the last minute, she needed help with the fish, which nullified her potential record, and they put it back in the sea.
This year's catch was donated to locals in Bermuda, who smoked the meat. The Ricks family got a taste of the record-breaking fish and said it was delicious.
Mrs. Ricks said the experience was positive for Gillian.
“I think it gives her self-confidence,” she said. “I think she realized her capabilities and her discipline, too. You can’t just give up.
“Once you commit to reeling in a fish, you can’t give up. It is exhausting and your arm gets tried at some point, but you keep on going. There is an end to it.”