Yvonne Buckley: The Princess of Panamanian stand-up fishing

With over 60 marlin releases, she is in a league of her own...

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When Yvonne first came to the States from Holland in 1971, Rick, her husband-to-be knew from the beginning he had found the girl of his dreams. Not only could this lady fish and cut bait, she could do both in rough seas while inhaling diesel fumes with the best of the fishermen on Long Island.

The pair signed on with Jack Casey's shark tagging program out of Woods Hole (MA), and was tagging dozens of sharks every summer. But true anglers cannot sit out the cold Northeast winters without going stir crazy, and the Buckleys soon found themselves fishing the West Coast of Mexico including Cabo San Lucas, Zihuatanejo, Mazatlan, Manzanillo, Puerto Angel and Huatulco. The game had now shifted from sharks to sailfish, dorado, wahoo and yellowfin tuna, and winters were a happy time.

In 1990, they purchased the Expeditor a 31-foot Ocean Master, for Northeast canyon fishing. It wasn't long before Yvonne was showing the boys how to best a tuna in record time.

Then in late 1996 an event happened which changed Yvonne's fishing forever. While fishing for dorado out of Cabo, a 30-lb. outfit went off and a split second later, a blue marlin went airborne. It was 8 a.m. and Yvonne grabbed the rod in what seemed like a hopeless battle. With a 3-foot 150-pound leader, there seemed little chance that the fish could be brought to the boat.

Five and a half hours later the 470-lb. blue came boatside.

It also marked the last time Rick would ever fight a big fish. Yvonne was in a league of her own, and her husband made a conscious decision to become her trainer, coach, equipment manager, and whatever else it would take to turn this raw talent into a champion.

Yvonne began to fish with specialized equipment to suit her unique style. Her custom 51-inch rods were matched with Penn International 70VS reels for marlin fishing to give her tremendous leverage and maneuverability. Winter vacations to Mexico continued through the late 1990s. Then Costa Rica was on the agenda, and next, Panama.

When Rick and Yvonne arrived at Tropic Star Lodge in 1998, they found their second home. The 31-foot Bertrams were perfect for Yvonne's style of stand-up fishing. After a week at the lodge, the Buckleys signed on for two weeks in 1999, and multiple weeks in the seasons that followed. At first the crews were skeptical that a 125 lb. woman could stand up to fish four or five times her own weight, but Yvonne put all of their doubts to rest. Four and five hundred pound fish were often leadered in minutes. Soon she was the darling of the docks at the Lodge, and eagerly sought by every captain in the fleet.

Alberto Alvarez had been Yvonne's mate from the beginning, so when he was promoted to captain it was only natural that Yvonne would stay with her cockpit compadre.

Over the next few years, the Buckleys spent as many as five weeks a year at Piñas Bay. In 2003, Rick sold his business, sold the Expeditor, and bought a second home in Panama. By this time, there was little doubt where the best marlin fishing in the world was to be found, and Rick and Yvonne did not want to be far from the action. In February, 2007, Yvonne was honored to release her 50th black/blue marlin at Piñas Bay. A year later, she would release number 60, and in a recent trip to the lodge caught six more black/blue marlin up to 600 pounds and her total now stands at 65.

After 33 trips to Tropic Star Lodge, the memories at Piñas can only be described as priceless. Two individual Grand Slams in three days of fishing; a grander-plus who took this Princess of Panamanian marlin fishing on a 5 ½ hour boat ride of more than 10 miles before pulling the hook; two recovered marlin tags; battles in the blazing sun and the pouring rain. Rick and Yvonne put it best when they told me, "We wouldn't trade one of our memories for a thousand dreams."