Saltwater or freshwater, marlin or muskie, it’s the thrill of the hunt and delight of the fight that keeps Fred Kopko, owner of the 45’ Viking, Marlin Prince, fishing.
Born and raised in southeastern Connecticut, in an old whaling town, Kopko’s first foray into angling was as a boy. He’d take a rowboat out on the state’s lakes and fish for large mouth bass.
“I really didn’t do too much saltwater fishing then,” he says, “maybe a little fluke.”
Kopko’s family moved to Chicago. He attended and received his law degree from Notre Dame, immediately started working for a firm in Chicago, and then attended graduate school at the University of Chicago where he received his MBA. He continues today to work as an attorney.
While working in Chicago, Kopko would vacation at his summer home in northwestern Wisconsin. He’d enjoy fishing for muskie, or properly called muskellunge, the largest specie in the pike family. One of the prime places he fished for muskie was the Turtle Flambeau Flowage, which is the third largest lake in Wisconsin.
“I’d go out in a small boat in shallow water and cast for muskies,” he says.
There are similarities between muskie fishing and angling in saltwater for big blue marlin.
“It’s the same idea of fishing the structures for muskie as it is fishing the drop-off for marlin in the Virgin Islands,” says Kopko.
In addition, “muskie are at the top of the food chain, just like blue marlin,” he says.
Muskie, like marlin, are known for their strength and their tendency to leap from the water in awesome acrobatic displays.
Then again, says Kopko, “Nothing compares to catching a blue marlin. And in St. Thomas, it’s the best in the world.”
Kopko and his wife, Mary Beth, moved to St. Thomas in 2009. However, the two first visited the island on their honeymoon 28 years ago. They didn’t go out fishing then, but they did take a charter ten years later when they returned to the island to celebrate their wedding anniversary.
“We wanted to go out on the Marlin Prince, but it was booked,” says Kopko. “We went out on the Prowler instead. After that trip, we heard the Marlin Prince was up for sale and I bought it.”
Kopko also owns a small 26-foot skiff. It was aboard this small vessel that he used his muskie fishing skills to catch the first swordfish on rod and reel in over twenty years.
“It was last April and we were out trolling with live bait on the South Drop,” he tells. “We were fishing in 1900 feet of water and I was bottom fishing with bait. In northern Wisconsin we use a bobber to see when a fish strikes. Here, we used a balloon. Sure enough, when the balloon popped off the line, there was the swordfish. It was only 112 pounds. Not big by Florida standards. But, it was on rod and reel.”
Kopko’s little skiff is what he’ll use for a quick run out to the Drop after a morning and early afternoon of working in his home office on the northwest side of the island.
“I’ll have them run the little boat around from Red Hook and right up to the beach,” he says. “I can get out and spend about 1 ½ to 2 hours on the Drop before its dark. Even if there’s no marlin biting, I’ve come home with 50 and 60 pound tuna and mahi.”
It’s blue marlin that Kopko sets his sights on aboard the Marlin Prince, helmed by Capt. Eddie Morrison. In fact, Kopko’s wife, Mary Beth, caught the Virgin Islands’ first blue marlin of 2009 on January 7.
“We haven’t been pitch baiting, but we might,” he says. “You can’t argue with the Revenge’s success.”
Still, any time there’s a blue marlin on the line – it’s exciting, says Kopko. “Every catch is different. It’s the thrill of backing down or chasing the fish while its running downsea or turning the boat around and watching it jump. There’s always a story.”
Tournament fishing is also something Kopko enjoys.
"I like the 'Boy Scout' Tournament (USVI Open/Atlantic Blue Marlin Tournament)," he says. "Everybody is there. It's the camaraderie. It's also competitive. But what I like best at the end of the day is catching fish, because everyday life is competitive enough."
This year, Kopko looks forward to going faster and farther. Marlin Prince spent nearly two months up in Virgin Gorda last fall where the 485 HP Detroits were replaced with 650 HP Cummins QSM IIs. The difference will mean cruising at 29 to 30 knots instead of 18 to 19 knots.
"I haven't fished as much as I've wanted to," says Kopko. "Now, with the move to St. Thomas and the new engines in the Viking, I'm looking forward to traveling - the Puerto Rican trench, St. Croix, Anegada, downisland and maybe to Venezuela too, plus fishing right here in the Virgin Islands."