Audrey Pierson was upset. It was Christmas and her father, Capt. Mitch Pierson aboard the 65-foot Willis, Nuco 2, had told her they'd be in Costa Rica for the holidays. Instead, they were in Pinas Bay, Panama. Would Santa still find her she worried? Jolly Old St. Nick sure did and in a way Audrey could not have imagined. For on the day after Christmas, the then 10-year old angler caught and released a 500-plus-pound black marlin. Now, at age 14 and with scores of Pacific sailfish and 27 blue marlin releases to her credit, she's well on her way towards angling for a world record - or records!
It's not surprising Audrey likes to fish. "I started fishing at the age of 10 myself, back in 1973," says Capt. Mitch. "My uncle ran a charter boat out of North Carolina. I grew up around the docks and had Audrey in my arms and out walking the docks when she was two months old."
For the last 11 years, Capt. Mitch has skippered Nuco 2. The position has taken him traveling for many months at a time and to some exotic fishing locations.
"I've been gone for 40 months at a stretch. Venezuela. Panama. Costa Rica. I'd fly her in wherever I was during school holidays," says Capt. Mitch.
Audrey racked up several Pacific sailfish releases to her credit after that first marlin catch, then caught her next marlin in August of 2002 off the coast of North Carolina. "She was with me when we were delivering a boat up to Maryland. She caught the marlin right off the Oregon inlet."
This summer, Capt. Mitch says, "is the first big traveling she's done with me. We left Florida on June 26. She's been my angler. We stopped and fished in the Turks and Caicos and she had her best day, catching 3 for 4. I thought she'd be tired after the third marlin, but she just said 'bring 'em on'. We got down here to St. Thomas and by August 1st she had released her 21st blue marlin."
Audrey's goal is to catch an Atlantic blue marlin that break's the current junior angler world record of 549-pounds.
The more catches she makes, the more confidence she gains. "It's cool. I really like to watch the fish jump. It's exciting to be able to say I caught something like a big marlin. My dad offers me lots of advice, lots of encouragement," Audrey says.
Capt. Mitch is indeed one cool dad. "There's no yelling when it comes to fishing. Being a teenager, now that's a different story. But when we're out fishing, I just try to give her pointers along the way. She's a great listener and has a great natural technique. She also has determination," Capt. Mitch says.
Mitch also looks for outside input. "The other crews really help her. And, since her friends can't really relate to something like this, the crews give her someone to talk fishing too."
Capt. Bubba Carter and Capt. Trevor Cockle have been among Audrey's informal angling instructors.
Standing five foot three inches and weighing only 120 pounds, Audrey has learned to balance while harnessed and to put maximum pressure on the fish. Fifty-pound test line is ideal for her. "She's learned not to wind so much, to conserve her energy. She use to fight the fish full on and wear herself out. Now she's uses her head. She's got her rhythm," Capt. Mitch says.
Her technique is so good now that Capt. Mitch usually only calls out one reminder: "Keep your *ss in the air, honey!".
A real tomboy, a moniker of which she's proud, Audrey is no stranger to adventure sports. She bagged her first buck by age 12 and she has ridden over 25,000 miles on the back of her father's Harley. But it's a world record billfish that currently fires her imagination.
"We're also looking at the Atlantic sailfish and white marlin records. They're both open in the junior category," Capt. Mitch says.
What does this 14-year-old 8th grader think about the long hours of waiting for a fish to bite?
"The days we go out and don't see anything seem like a waste," says Audrey. "But, the days that you don't go, you're always thinking that someone else is out there and maybe getting that record. And, there's always the excited feeling when you first go out each day wondering what the day will bring."