THINKING ITS CHANCES BETTER anywhere else, the 6in-long food-chain favourite sets out on its own, leaving the orbit of baitball brethren for the mistaken security of my armpit.
Bad move. For both of us.
Panic has loosed opportunity. The patient predator circling lazily below, seemingly uninterested until now, wakes up. Like an arrow streaking unerringly towards its target, the marlins bill seems to pull 90kg of muscle behind it, towards me. Neon blue bands light up the supercharged body, flashing, like crackling electricity.
I see its imperious eye streak past, just before a shower of scales explodes to my side. Another sardine bites the dust - and I am now in the middle of the melée.
A dozen amped-up striped marlin close in from all sides, hurtling themselves into the baitball. Theyve abandoned the cat and mouse game. Dinners on.
Slice, and one sardine becomes two. Gulp, gulp, gone. Thrust and parry, and a hapless prey is knocked sideways out of the school, stunned, easy pickings. Gone.
Another marlin blasts through the now-fragmented baitball to emerge with a sardine impaled neatly. The frenzied stripy shakes its head from side to side to release the morsel. Gone.
Certain Im next, I shove my camera in front of me and fire blindly, thinking I can fend off the inevitable joust, and maybe luck out with a picture.
Another minute of chaos and its over. The marlin leisurely cruise off in search of dessert. Im left in the blue with only a smattering of scales, hammering heart... and a full compact flash card.
I had come to Baja in Mexico chasing tales of baitballs and billfish. Yarns spun of sardine tornadoes being obliterated by striped marlin were enough to hook me.
But, after weeks wasted around the world looking for just this, in truth I had not expected success.
To witness such mayhem 40 miles offshore was more than I could have wished for. Certainly, it ranks as one of my luckiest days at sea.