wednesday, may 07, 2008

An Interview with Alfred C. Glassell Jr.

On a clear spring day off the coast of Peru in 1953 Alfred C. Glassell, Jr. didn't let the big one get away. The Texas oilman reeled in a black marlin that weighed 1,560 pounds that remains the largest bony fish ever caught with a rod and reel.

Originally from Louisiana, Glassell served in World War II in North Africa and then settled in Houston, Texas afterward. He founded Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Corp., and was instrumental in the construction the first gas transmission system from Texas to New York. Active in both the oil and gas industry he saved his valuable leisure time for big-game fishing.

In the early 1950s he and famed sportswriter and fellow sport fisherman S. Kip Farrington founded the Cabo Blanco Fishing Club that became legendary for sheer quantity and size of the fish caught there during a decade-long spread. Glassell, now 95, was kind enough to talk to me a while back about his life as a sport fisherman and the famous Cabo Blanco Fishing Club:

Q: What is it about sport fishing that gripped you so strongly that you traveled all over the world to do it?
A: It's the most exciting thing in the world. You go from complete relaxation to maximum speed of human body in the space of a single second. There is nothing in the world as exciting as having an 800, 900, 1,000-pound fish come roaring out of that water. It's like a freight train coming out of the water and jumping into the air and throwing its body around with these beautiful leaps then throwing its bill around and diving back into the water and creating this huge geyser of spray.

There is nothing in the world more exciting than big-game fishing. It can be frightening too. When the fish is leaping in the water and comes up right at the boat. And you are sitting in the boat and can't move and this thing comes right at you and there is nothing you can to stop it pinning to boat.

Q: How did you get started fishing for the big fish?
A: I was over in the Bahamas visiting a friend of mine and, at that time, there was a run of giant tuna off the Bahamas. One afternoon, for the lack of anything else to do, we went out. We hooked one of those big tuna and I told myself right then "this is for me."

After I caught a lot of tuna, a lot of different fish. We would go to Bimini every year and we had quite a small group that like to fish there, Ernest [Hemingway] would come up once in awhile to fish there. Michael Lerner would be out there with his boat, the Bahama Mama. He had a laboratory on board with a bunch of instruments and I'd give him my fish so they could put the scientifics to 'em and everything.

Q: How did you find out about Peru and Cabo Blanco, specifically?
A: We kept constant studies going on over the oceans of the world, and we are particularly interested in concentrations of plankton. When you found an abundance of plankton you would find the fish and we found a spot off the west coast of South America with a huge concentration.

This particular point is the westernmost point of South America. Coming down the coast from the north is the Equatorial Current from the Bay of Panama and coming up from Chile is the Humboldt Current. After studying them for some time I felt that the two currents meeting there at that point in South America were pushing west together and creating a condition called upwelling.

Q: How did that affect the fishing?
A: The fish were there and they were very near. In most places you have to run a long way to get to the fish. If you wanted you could just throw a line out from the beach and catch a good fish. Of all the places I fished in the world, it was the best.

People had been fishing there before looking for the broadbill swordfish that were coming up from Chile in that Humboldt Current. The just lay out there on the top of the ocean and these guys from Mancora would just go out three and harpoon them.

And there were a lot of fish there. I always used to say… the life of the sea just passes into view all the time. There is something passing through all the time, there is always some kind of action.

Q: How did you finally get down there?
A: I had got interested in this place in the early '50s. There was this huge amount of tuna, a type of that weighs about 14 pounds and a friend of mine had a ship that caught those tuna and sent them up to San Diego to sell. He said to me "Would you like to go down and fish awhile?" And I said "Sure" and, oh boy, it was the Mecca, the Heaven, the Valhalla of all fishing.

So I came back to the United States and I had a friend up in New York, Kip Farrington, who was a writer and sport fisher and I told him all about it and he got all excited. He put together ten guys from around the world and we all put up some money and built a clubhouse and that was the Cabo Blanco Fishing Club.

Q: What type of boat was Miss Texas, the boat you used at Cabo Blanco?
A: I had been up in Nova Scotia and they made these lobster boats. They were a wide flat bottomed boat with a lot of room back there so you can move around and put all your stuff where you need it. I had a chance to fish in one of them a I said "that's for me, boy."

I had it built by a company that made those type of boats and I ran it down to New York and put it on a big ship and sent it down to Peru. It was a 40-foot-long wood boat with Chrysler marine engines. It was very simple, nothing fancy, no chrome, no radio, just a very utilitarian vessel for fishing.

Q: What kind of equipment did you use?
A: I had a Fin-Nor reel with a 130-pound linen line and a bamboo rod that was usually six or seven feet long. Fred Greton in Miami came up with some reels that were pretty good but now they are all in museums.

We were always fiddling with our equipment though. Nobody knew much about the equipment at that time. Each individual had his own ideas and built his own stuff his way. We just had to make do the best we could with the stuff we had.

Q: After the club was established, how often would you fish there?
A: I would try and go down there for at least ten days every year. Maybe, if I got lucky, I could squeeze in going twice but always once for ten days to two weeks time. I would look forward to that two weeks the whole year.

We would fly into Talara and drive up to the club. I would usually go in August and I always had very good luck in August but I'm not totally sure why. It was totally isolated and wouldn't think about anything else the whole time.

Q: And then the records started to be broken, correct?
A: I caught the first thousand pound fish there in 1952. That was the first thousand pound fish ever caught; it's the most famous fish in the world. Since the beginning of time man has dreamed of catching a 1,000 pound fish. I went down there to Peru and was lucky enough to put him on the dock.

After the club was running people were catching them pretty often. A total of 32 granders were caught there. We established a thing called a thousand pound club and Kip kept the records of everyone who made it in.

Q: Was having the biggest fish that important to you?
A: Some people would go out and do everything they could to break the records but, really, I never was that way. I like to go places that nobody else had been and just enjoy catching the fish the experience of fishing and never really set out to break any of the records.

Q: On August 4, 1953, when that black marlin took your line, did you know right away you had the biggest fish in the world?
A: We didn't know it was the biggest fish in the world we just knew it was a really big fish. I had already caught four fish over 1,000 pounds so I had a pretty good idea of what a big fish was like, you know? This guy comes along and he was big, big, big. We knew it was big and we could tell by the width of his bank he was huge.

It didn't fight any harder than other fish he was just stronger and longer. It took 145 minutes exactly to bring him on board. It was very fast. It jumped so many times that it wore itself out that allowed us to get it on board in that amount of time. When we had him in the boat and his girth was way bigger than anything that had ever been reported so I said "head to the dock, boys."

Q: How much of this type of fishing is skill and how much of it is luck?
A: Luck is very important but you have to have great skills to handle one of these fish. You have to have the experience to take on a fish like that but it's not just your skills as a fisherman, you crew has got to be very savvy to keep the boat out of the way.

Red Stewart was the captain that I would take around everywhere I went. Jesus Ruiz was the captain of the crew of Miss Texas there in Cabo Blanco. A very good man. He and his men were incredible.

Q: You mentioned Ernest Hemingway, what kind of fisherman was he?
A: I had met him but I didn't know him very well but I fished along side him. He was a damned good fisherman. He got up early and stayed out late and would work at it all day long.

He came to Cabo Blanco when they were making the movie of his book The Old Man and the Sea. Hemingway did a lot of drinking, he was a big drinker. That's one of reasons we were glad to get him to go down to the club. His bar bill kept us operating for a year. As the owner of the club I had to say I was very happy about that.

Q: How do you personally feel about these huge fish?
A: They are amazing. Nobody knows how old those fish are. I think mine was about 37 years old but, of course, when they get big like that, they become solitary. They are so big that everything in their way is scared of them. There is something fascinating about them.

Q: What eventually happened to the fishing club?
A:The club was active for ten or fifteen years. They had a revolution in Peru and we weren't allowed to even go there anymore. The people in charge decided they were going to make it a playground for the top political players so they could use the boats and use the club. They didn't really take care of the boats and eventually the boats all sank. So now the Miss Texas is out there somewhere at the bottom of the ocean.

Q: How unique was what happened there in the 1950s?
A: There was nothing like Cabo Blanco in the rest of the world. This place was one of the great events of the century. There never was anything like it before and there won't be anything like it ever again.

more:  Interviews | Peru | Photos 

posted by kleph @ 2:00 am |

comment posted by: Hernan Balderrama on june 30, 2009 @ 4:23 am
Miss Texas is not sank. My dad actually owns it with pictures and articles of Hemingway. So, Miss Texas is not somewhere at the bottom of the ocean. Instead, it's floating shiny in Lima, Peru.
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