OCEAN CITY -- Carlos Bentos walks out of Layton's doughnut shop on Philadelphia Avenue, and a passer-by shakes his hand. Bentos moves along the docks at Mariner's Retreat, and another angler in the White Marlin Open calls: "My thoughts were with you, Carlos, all the way. Too bad the way it turned out, though."
It is yesterday morning, and the last heard about Bentos on Wednesday evening was that he was alone 60 miles offshore and just had lost a bout with a blue marlin he estimated weighed between 500 and 700 pounds.
As Bentos steps aboard his 35-foot Bertram, Caribe, the chatter continues, but Bentos already is rummaging through his bait coolers, preparing for his next hunt alone.
"It is a matter of independence and quietness," Bentos says of his preference to stalk big fish by himself, when most boats carry captains and mates to run the boat while others fish. "I am with people all the time in my restaurants. . . . I like the introspection of it, the opportunity of being by yourself.
"But not only do you go for fish, you go for the sunrises. To see the porpoises running with the boat, the bait breaking on the surface, the birds trying to make their own day,the magnificence of the nature."
Bentos, 51, lives in Annapolis and runs three restaurants -- El Caribe, Candeles and La Posada -- in Washington. He began to learn to fish at age 3, when his mother gave him "an improvised rod, a piece of thread, a bent pin and a bit of bread" and sent him down along a creek in Montevideo, Uruguay.
"That was one of the hobbies that I had," Bentos says. "I played soccer, but I think of nothing but fishing."
As Bentos moves around the cockpit of Caribe, he is thinking about this morning, the last day of the Open, the last chance he has this year to bring in the largest white marlin of the week.
The fight with the blue marlin has brought him attention, but Bentos is an avowed white marlin fisherman, a canyon runner who tracks his quarry with electronic technology and meticulous attention to detail.
"To find the fish, to decide where they are or where they might be -- the temperatures, the reefs, the change of currents -- that is what makes fishing so interesting," Bentos says.
He spends the run offshore on the bridge of his 35-footer and comes down to the cockpit controls once he has established the area he wants to fish.
But each hunt, Bentos says, begins much earlier, when he handpicks his mackerel and mullet baits as carefully as a good chef chooses his meats or produce.
"You try to imitate the natural movement and appearance of the bait in the water," Bentos says, holding up a clear-eyed, split-tailed mullet bait that shimmers even in the dim sunlight. "You want them to swim just like they were alive. That is the most important part of fishing."
Once Bentos comes down from the bridge, he says, he usually trolls five lines, unless "it is late in the day and desperation has set in." Then he will add one or two lines.
On Wednesday, the fishing day was getting late and Bentos had six lines out when the blue marlin hit the center line, the bait trolled farthest behind the boat.
On another boat, everyone aboard would have begun reeling in the other five lines. As it was, Bentos says, he set the hook, placed the rod in its belt holder and let the fish run -- while he worked his way around the cockpit, reeling in lines and steering the boat to keep the blue in the right position, off the port side near the cockpit throttles.
In three or four minutes, Bentos says, he had the boat somewhat under control and had turned his attention to the big blue. It was 2:45 p.m.
"I had lost already maybe 300, 400 yards from the reel by the time I could recuperate and clear the lines," Bentos says.
Bentos expected the blue to head east once hooked and had set the stern to account for it. Instead, the fish wanted to go south-southwest.
"With this one, I needed to change the position of the boat and go around in circles maybe 50 times," says Bentos, who was fishing with 80-pound line. "And, even so, I almost lost the fish after two hours because he attempted to run under the boat on the starboard side."
The blue did not jump often during its struggle, and remained strong throughout because of it.
"In spite of that, I had the fish very close to the boat for the last two hours," Bentos says. "But when the fish jumps for the third time, I can't back the boat and reel and try to grab the leader at the same time. I lost it at a quarter to seven. Five hours on the fish, standing up."
It was not Bentos' first encounter alone with a large fish. He has boated tuna alone weighing in excess of 100 pounds and caught and released other blue marlin.
Nor, he hopes, will it be his last in this tournament.
"I do have tomorrow," Bentos said yesterday. "The fat lady didn't sing yet."
The forecast for today calls for scattered thunderstorms
accompanied by locally high winds. The forecast will not deter him, says Bentos, who has lost his rudders and an engine while offshore and managed to come home alone. He also recalls one episode in which he counted 10 bolts of lightning hitting the sea less than 200 yards from his boat.
"You wonder why it doesn't hit the boat." Bentos says. "But you don't panic because you are beyond panic.
"How fragile we are as people against the elements. You are there and the only thing you can do is cope."
"I believe in fate. When it is time to go, amigo, you go. In the meantime, I am going to enjoy it."