Marlin Time: Trolling Tips For Billfish

Trolling for marlin would have to be my favourite form of fishing. I love everything about it from the painstaking decision of what lures to run for the day behind which teasers to where to start fishing in the first place. There are so many contributing factors to consider to make the most of the time spent on water and fool fish in to striking.

I know a lot of people who think trolling is a lazy way to fish and its just a matter of dropping a few lures in the water and towing them around until something is dumb enough to strike and sometimes that is the case, but if your serious about it and you want to be consistent it requires a lot more thought and planning to keep the strikes coming. Preparation is key with most things in life and making sure all tackle is up to scratch is a must.

Dreaded Line Twist

Trolling for hours creates line twist which needs to be eliminated otherwise you are constantly fighting line looping around the rod tip and loops of twisted line if there is any slack. To avoid line twist swivels are part of the solution but they don’t eliminate the problem completely. Running a hundred meters of just the main line without trace in the wake for ten minutes on the way home is the best way to solve the problem but even then sometimes you need to cut the problem area off and start again. Once the reel is free from line twist and you have checked knots, leeders and crimps and given the rod and reel a once over and a spray of WD40 or something similar they are good to go. If your outfits are spot on you have eliminated most of the potential problems right there, don’t worry there is still a hundred ways to loose a marlin! Trolling five lines and four teasers without any tangles is a big ask but by utilising outriggers, shotgun riggers and rod holders set at varying angles it is possible.

You don't need a big boat to catch marlin in Hervey Bay.

You don’t need a big boat to catch marlin in Hervey Bay.

Tactics For Wind And Waves

Obviously in rougher conditions things are tougher and sometimes you have to run less gear to avoid tangles. I like to run my lures right in tight behind the surface teasers but if all they keep doing is tangling with the teaser in front then they are better off being a few more meters back to avoid problems. A skipper that can drive without pulling tight circles and understands how the spread is set and drives accordingly makes everything easier and can be the difference between a good and bad day on the water.

No ‘I’ In TEAM

Gamefishing is a team sport and if everyone plays nice it helps make the day run so much smoother, remember there is no I in team! Having the right people on board is a good way to start, it can be a long and uneventful day so you need people around you that you can spend time with without driving you crazy. They don’t make boats big enough to deal with idiots or wingers believe me! So you’ve got your crew sorted, your gear is ready to go and the weather is favourable, where do you go? Local reports that are accurate if you can get them are the best place to start. Why troll all over the place looking for fish if someone can point you in the right direction. Sea surface temperatures can point you to the warmer water and gps mapping and google earth can help pin point potential hot spots to troll.

Victory at last - a magic marlin boat side.

Victory at last – a magic marlin boat side.

Finding Your Feet

If you have years of experience trolling an area you know where to start but for the novice it can be hard finding your feet and by feet I mean fishy water! My first marlin was caught by accident. I was trolling in 10 meters of water just north of Coongal Creek on Fraser Island when something surfaced in the wake and then a rod took off and my first marlin burst out of the water. The only reason I was trolling there was a school of baby flying fish were jumping and I knew something had to be feeding on them.

As it turned out the lure that caught the marlin was the same size as the flying fish.

Catching A Pocket Rocket

Hervey Bay billfish are little pocket rockets averaging 10-30 kgs and on the good days the lure gets smashed, the ratchet howls and your on. However not all days are like that. Usually I have found that around the full moon marlin feed harder but not the case when we fished the November full moon recently. We had fished the new moon two weeks earlier and had a lot of strikes but found they were bill slapping and playing around . We had hoped they would improve on the full moon but found them even more playful. To be fair there were a lot of smaller fish around in the 6-15kg bracket and they can be tedious at the best of times especially with bigger lures. I always have a couple of smaller pushers around 4-6 inch in the spread for the smaller billfish and spotted mackerel and longtails love them but even they weren’t converting strikes. It gets frustrating quick when there is a billy in the spread hitting your lures with no hookup.

A small marlin but still a challenging fish to catch!

A small marlin but still a challenging fish to catch!

Free Spool


When this happens dropping the lure back a few meters with a controlled free spool can make all the difference. You have to get it right, mess it up with an overhead reel and you”ll have the mother of all birdsnests and that is usually when the marlin decides to eat your lure guaranteed! If you are confident enough to try a controlled freespool you want to give the fish enough line to grab your offering and turn away from the boat.

That is when you sink the hooks, it’s easier when you can see the fish and can watch them turn their head. The drop back method has helped me hook many finicky fish on both lures and swimming baits over the years, and it’s worth practising when there’s nothing is going on till you get it right. Another thing that has become habit it giving the rod a couple of pumps after hookup to make sure the hooks are in solid.

What it's all about - hooked up and loosing line.

What it’s all about – hooked up and loosing line.

Setting The Hooks

Plenty of anglers belie it’s better to go the gentle approach but I’d much rather loose the fish straight up if the hooks aren’t in properly than drop it later on in the fight. Finicky fish are better than no fish and missed strikes and dropped opportunities if nothing else at least mean you are fishing the right area and your spread is working.

You have to find the positive in everything as hard as that can be when things aren’t going right. There is light at the end of the tunnel and as soon as you land your first marlin or your next marlin all the bad stuff fades away.

‘I’m yet to see a photo of anyone with a marlin that didn’t look happy with themselves!’ Scott Bradley

When it all comes together you'll be stoked with decent fish like this.

When it all comes together you’ll be stoked with decent fish like this.


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