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Teamwork leads to memorable catch

Teamwork leads to memorable catch

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For the past few years, Fred Vipperman of Grand Island has been hunting with three young men – Sam Sims, Jack Wemhoff, and Laylaway Thoe. Vipperman describes these former Islander football players as fine sportsmen.

“They’ve hunted with me regularly for ducks and geese at my Platte River blind,” said Vipperman. “I’ve been lucky to know them.”

Last year, Vipperman planned a fishing trip to Costa Rica with his young cohorts.

“I thought a deep sea fishing expedition would be an excellent addition to their outdoor sporting life experiences repertoire,” he said.

Unfortunately, the pandemic delayed those plans, twice. It wasn’t until May 2021 that the group, which also included Vipperman’s sister, Elizabeth Hodtwalker, was able to go.

“We arrived just fine,” said Vipperman. “I had connections at the wharf at Los Suenos, Costa Rica, one of the greatest deep sea sport fishing destinations in the world. We stayed in a beautiful, tropical jungle home, Casa Buen Dia, which is owned by a U.S. doctor.”

On day one, the group ventured about 40 miles offshore.

“We caught four beautiful sailfish,” said Vipperman, “and were all very happy, since each young man got to catch one.”

“On day two. The fishing was slow. We only hooked one blue marlin that we estimated to be a 250-pounder, but it broke off”

Day three started out uneventful, too. The boys weren’t catching many fish, and their mentor worried his young friends would lose interest.

“Then it happened!” said Vipperman.

A big marlin suddenly struck a bonita-baited line near the boat, spun, struck another nearby bait, and got hooked. The fish then made a run for it.

“Its first jump was about 150 yards behind the boat,” said Vipperman. “We couldn’t believe our eyes. It was a huge black marlin.”

The former teammates used teamwork to battle the big fish.

“Sam, Jack, and Laylaway each took turns fighting the marlin over the next couple hours on 100-pound test line with 50-pound test leader,” Vipperman noted. “About an hour into it, while Jack was fighting the fish, it jumped twice 75 yards away.”

“All three got to be Santiago of Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea,” observed Vipperman.

“Jack finally got the fish close enough to the boat that it could have been gaffed or harpooned, but everyone agreed it’d be a shame to kill this magnificent fish.We decided we’d either cut the line or wait for the marlin to dislodge the hook and break free.”

Besides, the marlin was way too big to safely bring into the boat.

When the marlin was about 15 yards away, it made two final jumps.

“It was an unbelievable sight etched indelibly into our minds forever,” Vipperman reflected. “Then Sam let the line go slack and the fish freed itself.”

Vipperman was given the hook as a trophy memento of this incredible experience.

“Best of all, it was Jack’s 21st birthday, and what a birthday it was!” said Vipperman.

After examining Hodtwalker’s video, several experienced boat captains estimated the giant black marlin weighed over 700 pounds. Vipperman was proud of his friends, both for their teamwork and stamina in fighting the fish, and for their decision to let it go.

“Unlike the huge marlin of Hemingway’s novel, both the fish and the young fishermen won,” said Vipperman.

Jarrod Spilger writes about the outdoors for the Independent.

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