The thrill of the bite. The enjoyment of watching friends and family catch their first blue marlin. The possibility of catching a grander. These are among the reasons why Robert Baker loves blue marlin fishing.
Baker, who now lives in St. Augustine, grew up in Jacksonville, Florida, on the St. John's River.
"I started fishing as soon as I was able to hold a fishing pole," he says.
By the age of 8, he was heading offshore with family and friends with sights set on species such as tarpon, kingfish and Spanish mackerel. He'd occasionally fish out in the blue water, but doing more of this was pre-empted by a heavy sports schedule. Baker remained more land- than sea-bound until he retired from the NFL, after having played wide receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and until he got his own company, R.B. Baker Construction, which specializes in road and site work, up and running profitably.
It was in 1992 that he really started fishing hard.
"I'd keep my boat, a 35-foot Cabo, in Chub Cay from November to June and fish," he says.
Blue marlin is now his favorite species of fish to catch.
"I love blue marlin fishing," Baker says. "It's the explosion of the bite and the adrenaline rush of the hook up."
He prefers to use 30 and 50-pound test for blue marlin fishing. Baker also enjoys techniques such as teaser fishing or bait and switch.
It's a blue marlin, a big one, which stars in Baker's best fish story.
"We were fishing in the Caicos Classic and teased a 750-pound-plus fish from way behind the long rigger baits for over a minute and 20 seconds," he explains. "We hooked her up and caught her in 40 minutes. The fish made a sudden move at the boat and then jumped alongside causing the observer on board to run for cover right as he was calling it a catch. We've got it all on video."
Baker's best day of fishing also centers on marlin.
"I caught a grand slam in Puerto Adventures," he says. "It was just a lucky day with a white marlin first, then a blue and finally a sailfish."
In addition to spectacular catches and great days of fishing, Baker says, "What I've really enjoyed over the years is watching my daughter, friends and customers catch their first blue marlin."
He adds, "I'm also blessed to have great friends who are great anglers - Denny Doyle, Randy Ringhaver, Stan Strickland, Ed Burr and Jim Shannon."
Dean Barnes Photo
Today, Baker has moved up to a 64-foot Viking, Reel Pushy. Two of the cool custom features aboard the vessel are a state-of-the-art video system installed to record from the tower, riggers and cockpit as well as night vision and a high tech computer system that allows Baker to stay in touch with his office.
"I'm a very lucky man to have my own great crew, Captain Paul Barger and Chris Workmon," he says. "I've also been able to fish with captains such as Ron Hamlin, Brad Phillips, Doug Ryder, Bryce Garvey, Greg Simmons and Eddie Wheeler and their super crews."
The Bahamas still figure prominently in Baker's annual fishing calendar.
"Our typical schedule is to be in Chub Cay from the second week of November until mid-February," he says. "Then, we go to the boat yard during March, back to Chub from the first of April until late May. After that, we start traveling south with fishing days in Rum Cay and Crooked Island - one of our new favorite places to fish, then to Provo for the rest of June, St. Thomas for the July, August and September moons, with a stop in the Dominican Republic on the way to St. Augustine to participate in Ed Burr's charity sailfish tournament."
Baker says he loves to fish virtually anywhere, but if he had to rank his favorite destinations it would be Bermuda first, St. Thomas second and Crooked Island third.
"The Bermuda tournaments are my favorite because there seems to be the strongest possibility to catch a really big fish," he says. "However, St. Thomas sure was good this past season!"
Baker says he usually doesn't fish a lot of tournaments because he's more frequently entertaining friends and customers. But, he does like to fish El Pescado, The Chub Cay Members Tournament, The Caicos Classic and the Boy Scout (USVI Open/Atlantic Blue Marlin Tournament).
In the future, Baker says he enjoys fishing for fun. "I'm an overly competitive person and I use fishing as a release, so I try to just savor every moment we have lines in the water. However, I would really like to catch a grander."