I was with the fish for less than a second, but everything was perfect. The free-swimming blue marlin was so lit up from the sun that there were hues of green and blue and stripes and patterns all over it. The shot pictured here had been in my mind for years. This is the holy grail of billfish photography, and the experience with this fish was the pinnacle for me. 

My quest for this sequence of photos began nearly a decade ago when I asked the boats I was working with to take the hooks out of their lures and basically forgo any shot they had at catching fish. I remember I flew over to Bermuda, and I said to the crew: Look, this is what I want to do. Their reaction was quite humorous; they were basically shaking their heads and saying, You want to do what!?

We began a very long learning curve. When a fish appeared and the first call rang out, I had 10 to 15 seconds to get into my mask and fins, grab my camera and bail off the correct side of the boat. As soon as I’d get my bearings I’d realize there’s a lure coming at me at 8 knots. And coming behind that is a fish with a very long bill. It all happens so fast. I’d be in the water for three or four seconds, and the fish was gone. 

In St. Thomas we practiced slowing the boat more and more. I remember we raised five blues one day, and I was getting closer and closer. With our last fish, I got in the water, and I was completely calm and relaxed. This blue marlin came straight at me, directly for the camera. I had just enough time to focus and let go of the motor drive. I remember the fish going past, and my brain just said, You’ve got it. You’ve got the shot.

I swam back to the boat, handed up my camera and had to do a seal crawl to get through the tuna door. I looked up and said to the crew, We did it! We got the shot! Everyone was so excited. This was their work as well as mine.  

The free-swimming blue marlin

Marc Montocchio’s love for fishing was passed down from his father, who bought him his first saltwater reel when he was 10. He would pick up his first underwater camera as a clearance diver for the South African navy. Today, when he’s not donning a mask and fins, he gives tours and chats with guests at his gallery and studio in Morehead City, North Carolina. marcmontocchio.com

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