Catching Big Game Fish
In all types of fishing the most important thing is to find the food that the targeted species is feeding on. Big game fish will be where the food is, that is all they think about. That is why they get so big, because they eat a lot of baitfish. Some times that may mean that they are in your area but simply deeper than you can reach. The reasons for this can vary but usually the bait is staying were it feels safest. On a bright day when the sea is calm the fishing usually goes quiet. To understand why this is you need to think like a baitfish, not a big game fish. Baitfish do like to stay alive, so when conditions are bright, they head down deeper, where the darker water doesn't highlight them against the bright sky. Therefore the big fish go deep down to look for them.
If you want to catch the big fish then you will need to start by specifically targeting the big fish. As with most forms of fishing, what ever the species is that you want to catch, it will need to be explicitly targeted. Gear, lures or baits, water temp and location all play an important role in the type of game fish you can encounter and the success that you may or may not have. Couple this with the prevailing weather conditions and you soon realise that there is more to it than just throwing a lure out and trolling around the ocean all day.
Basically all fish are on the survival roller coaster, fish will not waist energy. With out replenishment they will not survive if they burn more energy then they can gain from feeding. So the game fish will seldom be far from the baitfish.
Water temperature is critical with game fishing, probably more so in Tasmania, as for most of the year the water is to cold for most of the target species except bluefin tuna. From November onwards till the end of April the predominantly warm currents run down from the north, flowing southward along the edge of the continental shelf as far south as Tasman Island, and some times further. The result from this is that most species of game fish cruise south with this warm water chasing the baitfish that they require to survive.
Seventeen degrees upwards will usually see the arrival of albacore tuna early in the season. As the temp starts to rise to eighteen degrees and above striped tuna will tend to follow as well as the first run of small school yellowfin tuna. With the end result as the fish begin to congregate they are themselves the target of big game fish such as striped marlin, large yellowfin, mako shark and blue sharks. At the end of the season in May and onwards the cooler nutrient rich water starts to push up from the south. This then pushes the game species back up north, with the cooler water southern blue fin tuna following the fish back up north at the end of the pack.
Lure size and colour is probably the most asked question there is in relation to game fishing and as a charter operator one of the most important. Match your lures with what you are targeting. Large game fish will in most cases chase larger baitfish for more sustenance with less energy spent. But there are plenty of cases were marlin and large yellowfin have been taken on the old two dollar lure that has been laying around the tackle box for years, some days you just get lucky. Generally most fishermen will jealously guard their lures and will give away little on what they have just caught the big one on. Personally I prefer to use the Zuka and Black Magic type of lures for albacore and stripe tuna. Also the Mack Bait lures have been very successful, especially with yellowfin. I prefer to flat line troll these back in the prop wash of the boat. Following this there is the Salt Shaker, Pakula and the new Meridian skirted lures all of these work extremely well bringing success with any thing from small albacore through to striped marlin. I buy most of my lures and gear from Rodney Howard at Tassie Tackle and Outdoor in Burnie. Rodney is very knowledgeable and will point people in the right direction.
Lure colour's can vary on an hourly basis; some will work well in one direction depending on the angle of the sun then when trolling the other way a different lure might work better. A general rule is the lighter colours on bright days, and darker colours on overcast days. To cover all bases, It certainly pays to have a range of lures colours out at all times and when you find one that starts to out catch the others change to what is working and when things slow down change the lures back as something else may fish better later in the day. As with most fishing have a look at the stomach contents of the first fish caught and match your lures with the bait. Matching the hatch, on a game fishing scale!
My charter vessel Yellowfin II caries and runs two teasers, as these items of tackle often mean the difference between a few fish, and a few big fish! The last four years have seen one Marlin Magnet teaser in the water at all times, additionally this year we have had a second design borrowed from a friends boat running on the opposite side to the Marlin Magnet. I recommend that at least one teaser be run as the catch rate on the teaser side on most days is higher than the lures on the other side. I try to run the lures directly behind and beside the teasers. With the amount of battle scares on these teasers it certainly proves that big game fish including mako sharks will often come up for a look at them. As well as the odd nibble!
What is a teaser? Essentially it is a brightly coloured piece of timber or plastic that is covered with reflective tape or mirrors and towed with a line behind the boat. The action of these shimmering in the water form the boat at least, resembles a school of baitfish sheltering in the disturbed water behind the boat. Surround the lure spread around the teaser and you have an excellent reason for the big game fish to come up for a look.
Rods and Reels
Personally I prefer the lever drag style of reel, as they are easy to use and to pre-set the drag. I always use one third of the breaking strain on 15-kg line and drag pre-set of 7 kg on 24-kg line. Ideally the drag needs to be checked before every outing, as a reel with too much drag will result in the loss of a big fish. To set the drag on a lever drag reel the easiest way is to place the rod in a rod holder on the boat, push the lever up to strike and with a set of scales connected to the line see how much the scales read when line is being pulled off the reel. Remember to back the lever off before altering the drag tension screw before resetting.
Yellowfin II caries both Penn International and Shimano gear. Most people will have their own ideas as to what type of gear to buy depending on their budget. All I can recommend it to purchase the best you can afford. There is nothing more disappointing for anglers especially kids to loose a good fish due to rubbish gear. Buy good gear and buy it once. You could fill a book on the types and styles of rod to use, if you have roller guides look after them and keep them lubricated if they stop rolling on a big fish they will burn off your line. Also be careful with the gap beside the roller, if the line jump's beside the roller it will also fail and destroy all the line that has passed through the gap.
Fixed guide rods also need to be looked after keep checks of the guides if any crack or become rough have them replaced. Also try to avoid hooks being hung in the guides, as this is the fastest way to damage the smooth surface in the guide.
Unfortunately the best game fishing, especially big game fish, is best done on the roughest days. This is mostly due the turbulent water at the surface and the ensuing cloud cover bringing the bait to the surface, as they have more cover to feed under. The end result is the big fish on the surface right were you need them. And as a charter operator I just love that! Always look for signs of activity, as birds, dolphins, and seals will turns up were the bait is and they are easier to spot than a single fish in the water. Current lines and temp variations also can produce good results. Learn to read the signs that the conditions present to you, there are some significant "sign posts" out there for the observant game fisher. On the same note a truckload of yellowfin or marlin is not worth risking your or any one else's life for. If the conditions are bad or the forecast is not good maybe the fishing is best left for another day. They will still be there on the next day!
Staying hooked up
Finding big fish and then hooking and staying hooked up is a whole different ball game. You can take all the care in the world with hooks, lures, traces, line and gear and have the fish of a lifetime break you off for no explainable reason. Over the years I have seen treble hooks straightened on big yellowfin, stainless hooks broken off at the shank on huge mako shark. Most recently, two days after the St Helens Fishing Classic this year Yellowfin II hooked up on a large marlin only to have the line break with 400 metres of line between us and the fish. The only explanation that the marlin either rolled up the trace or another fish crashed into all the line in the water.
Some days you lose.
Horizon Fishing Charters.