Billfish Action – Best of Blues

Exmouth in Western Australia is rapidly forging a reputation as the nation’s number one destination for blue marlin, as Kaydo’s resident WA expert Ben Knaggs explains.
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Muso, James Abberley couldn’t believe the fireworks his first ever blue marlin put on. It’s hard to understand until you’ve seen it.

High summer in north-west Western Australia is a sapping time of year. The countryside seems to warp under relentless daytime temperatures in the high 30s to mid 40s and the mercury only begrudgingly dips a handful of points once the scorching sun has long-since slipped below the horizon. It’s bloody hot but the best time to be here. Why, you ask? Because the hot temperatures of summer also bring hot currents offshore. Riding these currents are, in my humble opinion, the ultimate bluewater game fish – blue marlin. It’s said of many fish, but blues are truly enigmatic creatures. Living an oceanic existence that rarely sees them venture inside the continental shelf, their interactions with man are rare, at least in Australian waters anyway. For fishos to stand the chance of seeing one typically requires a long, potentially dangerous run way offshore, and once there, the playing field these fish occupy is so vast, finding one to slam a lure can often be real needle in a haystack stuff. That’s the sit rep in most of the country anyway. Here in north-west WA, or more specifically, along Exmouth’s North West Cape, the story is almost a complete contrast. Here the canyon riddled continental shelf runs hard against the coast, cutting out the long run and opening things up to trailer boats of even modest proportions.

Leeuwin Current magic

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The author with a better than average Exmouth blue marlin. Fish like this can easily empty a 50W, so aggressive boat handling is needed right from hook-up to keep line loss to a minimum.

The north-south running Leeuwin Current and counter flow of the Ningaloo Current brings a wash of warm, nutrient rich surface water down this perfect piece of undersea terrain. This creates a scenario that seems purpose built for blues. And they come, every summer, with near set-your-watch-to reliability, in numbers that rival the global hot spots for this magnificent billfish. Put simply, Exmouth is the blue marlin destination in Australia. No ifs, buts or maybes. From November to March, game fishos working the shelf contours and wider can realistically expect up to or over ten strikes a day which is genuinely world-class fishing for a species known for its elusive ways. The average size is good too, with 100-250kg fish being the norm, and true beasts up to and over the ‘grander’ (1000lb) mark a serious possibility.

Big fish from small boats

The really exciting thing about this fishing, and something I’m increasingly obsessed with these days, is doing it from trailer boats. The rush that a big, crazy-angry blue crashing around directly off the stern of a little boat induces is pure addiction, and difficult to describe to someone who’s yet to experience it. Once hooked, blues typically burst off in a reel howling, white-water rage. With this kind of action going on behind the boat it’s a guarantee you’ll be hootin’ and a-hollerin’ almost involuntarily. The formula to turn this dream situation into a reality is really not hard. Intimidating as these fish and the tackle needed to tame them may at first appear, the actual techniques required are quite basic. If you’ve done something as simple as troll for mackerel, you can definitely troll for big marlin. Blue marlin fishing is almost exclusively a lure trolling pursuit for two reasons. Firstly, finding these fish in the wide expanse that is the open ocean is the hardest part of the whole show, so towing around lures that swim perfectly at a speed of around 7 knots allows you to cover a lot of ground. More importantly Exmouth blues love big skirted lures, to the point that many of the seasoned local game fishos will tell you skip baits of striped tuna, small mackerel just don’t work.

Make sure you pack the lumo lures

Lumo pattern skirted lures are particularly deadly on Exmouth blue marlin, so should always have at least one place in the spread.

Lumo pattern skirted lures are particularly deadly on Exmouth blue marlin, so should always have at least one place in the spread.

Lure styles and colours as ever are subjective, but cup-faced and moderately angled cut-face pushers that will dig in to a messy sea are the preferred tools for this coast where incessant summer south-westerlies often make for choppy conditions offshore. Regardless of head style, a lumo pattern should always be included in the spread as this seems to be a hot colour wide of Exmouth. The gear to troll these lures on by necessity has to be big and heavy. Even what would rate as a small blue will typically strip an alarming amount of line off a reel in the frantic first minutes after hook-up, so line capacity is a key issue. Hence, 50W stand up gear is the minimum, and 80W is far from overkill if you want to target the big girls with some level of security. 37kg line class is ideal for stand up gear, as putting the full hurt that the next step up 60kg allows is a tough ask without the solid base that is a game chair. To maximize the capacity of 50W reels, dacron or hollow core braid backing should be used, with only a short 50-100m top shot of nylon monofilament to provide a bit of hook set maintaining stretch at the business end. A spread of three or four lures is plenty for blues, so you don’t need a huge investment in heavy tackle outfits to get in the game.

Deepwater, close to shore

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Blue marlin fishing is a team sport. The guy on the wheel has as a big a part to play in the fight as the guy on the reel.

Blue marlin rarely stray inside the continental shelf so don’t bother setting the spread until you’re on the shelf edge in at least 200m of water.
Most blues encountered off Exmouth are in the 100-200kg size range like this typical 120-130kg fish for Scott Fraser.

Most blues encountered off Exmouth are in the 100-200kg size range like this typical 120-130kg fish for Scott Fraser.

Once there – which off Exmouth is barely 11kms from the boat ramp at Tantabiddi – concentrate most of your efforts on thoroughly working canyons, kinks and steep contours along the shelf rather than trolling along blindly. Tuna schools or lots of flying fish scooting about are good signs, and expect most of the action to take place around the tide change periods. It’s kind of an absurd thing to say but be ready for that crashing strike when it comes. Not that you really can be ready for it; it’s kind of like anticipating a car crash. Perhaps ‘be prepared’ is a better way to put it. Have a plan in place for when that moment of utter mayhem comes, and make sure the entire crew plays a role. Chasing blues is team effort stuff, with the bloke on the wheel just as crucial as the guy on the reel. When that fish comes out of nowhere, smashes a skirt and starts rampaging across the ocean, aggressive use of the boat to keep the line tight and run that thing down will help keep line loss to a minimum and greatly reduce fight times. Stopping a nice blue from ripping out hundreds of meters of line in the opening stanzas of the fight is half the battle won with these fish. It’s tough to fully explain what makes blue marlin so special, even when compared to all other awe-inspiring billfish species. The only way to understand is to see and experience it for yourself. And Exmouth is undoubtedly the place to do just that.
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Expect constant south-westerly winds during an Exmouth summer. The good news is swells are usually only small at this time of year, so choppy conditions like this are still very fishable from a small trailer boat.

                 
Ben Knaggs

About Ben Knaggs

Born and bred in South Australia, Ben’s love of fishing developed from a very early age and evolved to become an obsession which would ultimately shape his life. Actively involved in fishing related journalism from his mid teens, Ben has written articles for most Australian fishing titles and served as editor of Saltwater Fishing magazine for eight years.

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