That First Marlin

Ben Knaggs shows us how to get that first marlin and how it is something no angler will ever forget, as it usually marks an achievement years in the making. Doing it yourself makes that achievement so much sweeter.

If there’s one fish that lingers in the desires of just about all red blooded anglers it would have to be marlin. Right around the world these fish are seen as the epitome of angling achievement, and given their monstrous growth potential, insanely spectacular fighting abilities and sheer stunning looks, it’s pretty clear why this is so.

We’re lucky enough to have three species of marlin (plus spearfish, swordfish and sailfish) that cruise the offshore waters of both the eastern and western coasts of our great continent, which means Aussie anglers have fantastic opportunity to tangle with marlin at least once or twice in a sportfishing career. Taking up the challenge of catching your first marlin is pulse quickening stuff no matter how you go about it, but opting for the DIY route rather than the guided alternative is just so much more exciting and satisfying.

So with that in mind, here are a few quick but key tips to helping achieve this memorable feat.

Right Approach, Right Area

Although there are several different tactics that can be used to catch marlin, one of the critical steps to scoring your first marlin is understanding which technique to employ and why. Like any form of fishing for any other species, if you’re not presenting the fish what they want to eat and in a manner in which they can spot it, then you’re not going to catch much at all.

So if you can, try to get an idea of where the marlin will be and how they’ll be feeding in the location you will be fishing before deciding on the technique to be used. For example,

If the marlin are likely to be spread out over a wide area, then trolling skirted lures or skip baits will be the best tactic as this will allow you to cover lots of ground throughout a day’s fishing to come across a marlin or two. However, if the marlin are likely to be feeding on stacked up bait balls, then sticking around these bait balls and drifting deep sunk live baits will be a far better option.

Don’t Go Overboard with Tackle

With such a reputation surrounding marlin, I guess it’s not surprising that many a billfish newbie thinks that the gear required to tame one of these fish has to be XXOS. Quite often you’ll see a crew of inexperienced marlin fishos heading out to sea all loaded up with the biggest game outfits they can find, holding whipper snipper cable line and solid forged hooks of a class that could bring Nessie to heel. 99 percent of the time all that this heavy duty gear is going to do is hinder their chances of catching a marlin.

Unless you’re chasing the biggest of blue or black marlin, there’s no need to be packing heavy gear. In truth, most modern, 10-24kg outfits you might use for mackerel, jew or kingies will handle the standard, sub 100kg black or striped marlin that most first timers will be chasing, so there may not be a need to upgrade your gear very much at all.

The terminal end of your set up should not be over the top either. A really common mistake most first time marlin anglers make is to choose very heavy gauge hooks. Marlin have, hard, bony mouths which are tough to penetrate with a hook point, and the heavier the hook gauge, the more difficult it will be to get that hook to set home solid. Instead, opt for the lightest gauge hooks you can for the tackle and size of marlin you’re chasing.

When live baiting for marlin, dropping down leader size as light as you think you can get away with pays off in more bites. Yes, there is an increased chance of the marlin’s rough bill rubbing through a lighter leader, but with the use of circle hooks which typically set in the corner of the jaw, this risk is a fair bit lower than you may think.

Leaders as light as 100-150lb will usually be more than enough for live baiting marlin, especially if you choose high quality, hard skinned but low-vis fluorocarbon leader material. At times, this can be the difference between hot action on high flying billfish all day long or not even getting a bite.

Learn How to Rig

Some of the bait and lure rigging for chasing marlin is quite specific to these fish, and just a little advanced from what a first timer may be used to with other species. So taking the time to learn how to effectively create these slightly more complex rigs and set ups is an investment that will pay off in more bites and more billfish to the boat.

As an example of this, see the previous Kaydo Fishing World article on rigging and using skirted lures.

Locate the Bite

Being wide roaming, pelagic species, the hardest part about marlin fishing is finding them in the first place. It’s a big ocean out there, so you need to give yourself the best possible chance of being in the right place at the right time.

Finding marlin starts at home. One of the greatest aids that has become available to offshore anglers in recent times is satellite imagery sea surface temperature charts (SSTs) which can be used to decipher what the oceanic currents are doing and where the most likely areas are to find feeding marlin. These are user pays services that charge an annual subscription fee for access, but you’ll quickly find this is money well spent.

When you do locate a promising current formation that looks just as good when you get offshore, get in the mindset of sticking with it until you find fish. With so much water out there the temptation can be to do a few laps of an area and then wander off elsewhere, but this is usually a mistake. If the current is good, there’s baitfish around and all signs point to marlin, they will be there, so stay put and keep working what might only be a few square kilometres of water until a rod goes off.

Often times marlin will be as fickle in their feeding habits as most other inshore fish species, only biting hard at a certain time. Offshore, the prime bite times are almost always the tide change periods, as marlin that may have previously been sulking down deep will often push to the surface to feed hard at these times. So keep this in mind and anticipate the tide change bites.

The old fashioned way of doing things still plays an important part in finding hot marlin bites, so you should always keep a good ear to reports. This is actually far easier nowadays what with social media, fishing forums, and electronic networking in general, so there’s no reason to miss out on that mad bite when it happens.

Don’t Panic!

It’s age old advice I know, but more than any other fish, marlin can make you lose your head in the blink of an eye. The first time you see one of these regal yet insanely powerful fish come blasting through the surface, it’s almost impossible not to completely go to water, which is a problem if you’re hanging on to the rod it’s hooked up to!

So when that bite comes – and if you persevere it will – have a game plan in place of how you’re going to fight the fish to the boat, and stick to it. Perhaps the most important thing you must do to land a marlin is use the boat to chase the fish down and manoeuvre into positions that give you a good line angle to put pressure on the fish. This stops the fight from becoming a long distance tug of war, shortening fight times and helping to ensure the fish remains healthy and fit for release. It’s also why marlin fishing is best done as a team.

The greatest threat to losing that first, much lusted after marlin is the hook simply falling out. When live baiting with circle hooks this issue is drastically reduced, but when trolling lures with standard J hooks, it’s a very common occurrence and a constant worry. Good boat driving will help a lot here too, particularly if the helmsman can stay behind the fish at all times, keeping the angle of pull back in to the marlin’s mouth where even a poorly set hook should stay lodged.

That first marlin is something no angler will ever forget, as it usually marks an achievement years in the making. Doing it yourself makes that achievement so much sweeter.

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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