Man against marlin

Darwin Thompson, with a deckhand, holds a striped marlin he caught off the Baja Peninsula in Mexico.

There are fish. And then there are fish.

Oregon owner-operator Darwin Thompson loves to go out into deep blue water and try to land the biggest fish he can find – marlin, one of the world’s greatest sports fish. And this guy is from a town called Troutdale.

“Marlin are the biggest thrill you could want,” says Thompson. “It’s another world out there.”

Thompson, 48, a 31-year driving veteran who started a trucking career right out of high school, is leased to United Road Service and hauls cars with a Pete 379, mostly on the West Coast, calling Portland, Ore., Los Angeles and Las Vegas regular stops for his rolling parking lot.

Thompson started driving for his father’s trucking company as a way to pay for a college education, hauling rocks and driving dump trucks. He kept the college idea in mind, left the business for a while but came back, at one point spending five years driving team with his father. He’s never left the industry. His wife Pam also grew up with a trucking father.

The outdoors were a part of Thompson’s childhood. He was raised in the Bay area of California, and his family went hunting in Colorado.

But now Thompson sticks to fishing.

“I used to hunt, but I gave it up,” he says. “I had too many bad experiences. Hunters walking by you and not even seeing you or being aware you were right there. Hunters looking at you through the scopes of their rifles. Stuff like that. Marlins are safer.”

Eight years ago, Thompson quit hunting and went looking for the sun. “I’m time-share broke, as they say,” he says of his attempt to find his vacation place, one he could visit when he wasn’t on the road. But he and Pam did find what they were looking for in San Jose del Cabo, Mexico, on the tip of the Baja peninsula, the finger of land that extends south of the border below California. One visit, with some blue-water fishing thrown in to help him completely unwind, “and I was hooked,” Thompson says. “I knew what I wanted to do. I started blue-water fishing and that was it.”

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Actually it was tuna and a television show that led Thompson to the bigger fish. “I like the sun and so does Pam, and we both like to fish. We’d go out looking for tuna and mahi mahi, smaller game fish like that. There were times we’d head out and catch a tuna and 20 minutes after we hauled one aboard we’d be eating it sushi-style on the back of the boat.”

Marlins go for the same bait, so it wasn’t long before Thompson found the thrill of having a giant swordfish at the end of his line. He had been eager to go after them after seeing film of a catch. “We were getting ready to head down there once, and Pam came in and said ‘Sit down,’ and I thought ‘Uh oh.’ She turned on this show, and there was a guy with a 1,100-pound blue marlin and he’d caught it from the same boat we were going to charter. I had to do that.”

Marlins grow to be huge fish, easily tipping the scales at more than 1,000 pounds.

Thompson’s biggest marlin to date is 250 pounds, but he’s sure the “big one” isn’t far away. Every time he goes out, he learns more about the techniques of marlin fishing. To date his biggest thrill searching for marlin was a single day on the water in which he hauled in an incredible seven of them.

“The first one hit my bait before I’d finished my morning coffee,” Thompson says. “We were heading out to sea and the famous rock arch was still right there we were so close inshore. It made the reel scream and it burned my fingers. I thought the rig was going to melt.”

They kept coming throughout the day – each one caught and released, which is the way the Thompsons like to fish. They have kept some catches for smoking, but all the big fish go back into the Pacific Ocean.

The couple heads to southern Baja one to three times a year, depending on their schedules. “I don’t get a lot of time away from behind the wheel, so I make the most of it,” Thompson says. “We’ll go for a few days or as long as three weeks if we can do it. I want to kick back and relax and at the same time spend some hours with the incredible excitement these marlin can give you. We’ve found the right place.”

So far, says Thompson, his wife has not caught any bigger marlin than he has. But Pam Thompson adds an asterisk to this record. “These fish are so big and strong that I can only fight them for so long, maybe 20 minutes or so, then I have to hand the line to him. So who caught what?” she laughs.

Pam Thompson, who is an executive assistant for the Board of Directors of the Port Authority of Portland, the body that controls the city’s airport and port, says the couple has also caught sharks, one of which gave them a particular thrill.

“They’re always biting and they’d be on the line, and Darwin was trying to get them off to get on with some real fishing. We brought one alongside and the deckhand tried to reach over, but you could tell he wasn’t really certain and the next thing the shark lunges out of the water. It bit through the line and was gone. He left us one of most memorable fishing memories. If we’d known back then they were good to eat, we might have tried to keep that one.”

Thompson is also an avid motorbike rider who recently added to his two-Harley collection by winning a custom $30,000 bike from Ambest, the Nashville-based, member-owned truckstop organization. The bike, especially created by Legends Motorsports of Edwardsburg, Mich., and custom painted a deep-sea blue, was the grand prize in the company’s annual driver loyalty program, Ambucks.

Pam Thompson thought for a moment that perhaps one of her husband’s Harleys should go to make way for the new bike. But then she had a better idea on how they could benefit
equally. “It can stay. It will go very well with the new furniture I’m going to buy.”

Off-Duty Destinations: Pickin’ and Grinnin’
Flies buzz around the light bulb near the screen door, and the old hound dog sighs and collapses at the foot of the porch steps. The air is thick and wet, and in the bushes, past the magnolia tree the cicadas protest the heat. Ice clinks in a glass of tea. And then a finger plucks a banjo, one string, and every night noise flows into the rhythm of that note.

From all four corners of the United States, country music is the heart of the people. When you hear twin fiddles and a steel guitar, something about that sound reminds you of your childhood, of notes your grandfather picked out on an old instrument or songs your mama used to sing while she washed dishes. Born out of country, bluegrass is the impromptu music of the backwoods, the music made with found instruments and feeling.

With a history that spans decades and cultures, it is only right that country music and bluegrass festivals involve people and places all over the country. From Colorado to Kentucky, festivals will expand your knowledge and love of music while providing hands-on workshops to teach you how to play like the legends.

The continuous evolution of country music has incorporated rock, jazz and even rap. Bluegrass carries an indelible sound that wraps you up and carries you to the dance floor and another time. The following is a list of country music and bluegrass festivals, as well as music workshops, for the beginner and the expert.

If you want to hear the best music you have ever heard in your life in one of the most beautiful places in the world, go to the Telluride Bluegrass Festival in Telluride, Colo. Swinging in a valley of the San Juan Mountains, the festival attracts godlike talent, from Bela Fleck and the Flecktones to Bonnie Raitt.

For 33 years, Telluride has attracted music lovers to late-night concerts and impromptu jam sessions on the street and in hotels. Sign up for a workshop on the Elk Parks Stage in the middle of town to learn from the greats of bluegrass. A four-day pass starts at $175, and one-day passes start at $55. Camping areas are spectacular, and the Colorado town also has unique lodging. Register in advance for camping and lodging, and book tickets in advance for workshops and festival passes. The festival runs from June 15 to 18, 2006. For more information, check out this site.

The RockyGrass Bluegrass Academy in Lyons, Colo. is the premier place to learn how to play bluegrass. From July 23 to 27, take advantage of advice and instruction from professional bluegrass musicians. The classes are small, and students can learn the banjo, mandolin, guitar, fiddle or bass. Academy evenings feature impromptu jam sessions and barbecue. All experience levels are welcome to the instructional sessions. These classes sell out quickly, so claim your spot soon.

The Song School in Lyons brings songwriters together for a few days of intense writing and learning. If you are a budding songwriter or have been writing for years, instructors will teach you how to become a better songwriter and performer. For four days and nights, students compose and perform songs in jam sessions, which, of course, include barbecue. For more information on the Song School and RockyGrass Bluegrass Academy, log on to this site.

It isn’t difficult to find a bluegrass festival in the Bluegrass State, and the Jerusalem Ridge Bluegrass Celebration in Rosine, Ky. is the fertile crescent of the banjo.

Bill Monroe, whom many consider the “Father of Bluegrass,” was born in Rosine in 1911, where he learned and developed his bluegrass skills. After he died, the Monroe Bluegrass Music Foundation built a museum and amphitheater as part of the Rosine Project. Monroe’s childhood home has also been restored as a museum for visitors.

More than 4,500 fans turn out to the Jerusalem Ridge Festival to honor Bill Monroe’s legacy and to hear acts like Tommy Brown and Country Line Grass, and Dave Davis and the Warrior River Boys. The amphitheater, built in a ravine among tall pine trees, is a beautiful and unique setting for bluegrass concerts.

A four-day pass to the grounds is $68, and one-day passes can be purchased individually. Visitors should bring lawn chairs and blankets to enjoy the music in its natural setting. The international Bluegrass Museum is located nearby in Owensboro. For more information about Jerusalem Ridge, check out this site.

The pluck of a banjo resonates best in the mountains, and the Grand Targhee Bluegrass Festival is located at the main gateway to the Grand Teton Mountains and Yellowstone National Park.

A little less simplistic than a guitar and a stage in the woods, Grand Targhee is a self-contained resort in Alta, Wy., with mountain condos, shopping and hot tubs. But at 10,000 feet, the Grant Tetons rise above the rest of the world to host one of the most unique bluegrass festivals in the country.

The Grand Targhee Bluegrass Festival, Aug. 11 to 13, is in its 19th year and is a favorite among locals and travelers. The 2006 lineup includes artists like Tim O’Brien and Uncle Earl, and tent camping in the Tetons provides perfect bluegrass ambience. Good food, arts and crafts, and festival games provide the perfect combination of fun and relaxation for festival goers.

Of course, impromptu jam sessions and music contests are prevalent throughout the weekend. Check out this site for ticket information, lodging and band schedule.

Country music doesn’t get much bigger than the Country Fever Music Festival in Pryor, Okla. This year’s acts include Travis Tritt, Carrie Underwood, Neal McCoy and Brooks and Dunn. From June 8 to 11, more than 35,000 fans will pour into the tiny Oklahoma town to hear what’s happening in country music.

In addition to big stars, Country Fever features local and rising talent. Live music starts at 11 a.m. and plays well into the night. The festival also features good eats and plenty of it.

Four-day passes are available, and one-day passes can be purchased individually. RVs are welcome to the campgrounds. For ticket and schedule info, check out this site.

The Winstock Country Music Festival in Winsted, Minn., is a festival for serious country music lovers. Fans can camp right on the Winstock grounds and compete in this year’s themed campsite decorating contest, “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” in honor of one of this year’s performers, Charlie Daniels.

Other artists include Blake Shelton, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Terri Clark and new musical group Little Big Town. VIP tickets are available in advance, which include a VIP seating section, special parking, a hot, home-cooked meal every night and beverages all weekend.

Ticket prices vary with purchase of a camping pass. Check out the festival at this site.

Nashville is the hub of country music, and the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville is the place to see where it all began.

Be prepared to spend a whole day checking out the exhibits, the historic RCA Studio B ( Nashville’s oldest surviving recording studio) and gazing at the hall-of-fame greats.

A two-year special exhibit, “I Can’t Stop Loving You: Ray Charles and Country Music,” celebrates the influence country music had on Charles as a young boy and how the genre impacted his own stylistic recordings of country songs.

Adult tickets are $16.95. For hotels, directions and ticket packages, log on to this site.

There are hundreds of country and bluegrass festivals all over the country, so try a Google search to find one near you.
–Rachel Telehany

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