The Fox Factor
By Jon Fox
The other week I was in St Helens onboard Saltshaker having a coffee with my old friend and ex-deckie Ronnie Smith, his skipper Rocky Carosi and TFN&B's Mike Stevens. With the anticipation of the warm waters of the East Australian Current in January and February the conversation was of the big Tuna, Sharks and Striped Marlin offshore out of St Helens and more to the point, fishing techniques used for these species in other fisheries and if they will work in Tassie.
Both Ronnie and myself have worked the game fishing charter boats out of Cairns for many years and have caulked up a lot of black marlin. I've had a goodly amount of time off the NSW coast catching blue, black and striped marlin along with tuna and sharks and I fished for three seasons on the Pacific coast of Guatemala catching black, blue and striped marlin and cricket scores of big sailfish that school up there.
Mike had the idea that the readers of TFN&B might be interested in some of the techniques that I've learned and used over the last 16 odd years of professional game fishing. So here we go with the first in an on-going series of tips and techniques that may help you catch your share of the big game fish that are on their way to Tassie right now.
The Lure of Marlin
Marlin lures are funny things, their first catch is the guy that buys them, and then they usually don't catch a lot of anything again. But if you want that pretty new lure to raise a big striped marlin there are a few tricks well worth knowing.
Most skippers and anglers have a favourite set of marlin lures, and it's probably true that if you tow any type of skirted lure around for long enough, sooner or later you'll get a bite from a fish. But I've found that some lures really do get more bites than others and there are ways to rig and position lures that will get more hook ups.
My favourite marlin and tuna lure is the softheaded Moldcraft Widerange, in both the senior and junior sizes. The widerange series are arguably one of the world's best fish catching lures and they work on all marlin and tuna. The dark blue over black widerange senior towed on a flat line in close to the transom is a dangerous piece of hardware when any type of marlin is around, but it works just as well as a flat line or rigger line. Dependant on the boat, the second or third wave of the wake is the place to be, not that far from the end of the white water of the boat's wake. When the water is calm a bird /lure type teaser on a cord line, a meter or two in front of the widerange works really well too.
When the tuna are around the widerange junior is the best choice and they work well either on the riggers or flat lines, short or long. Like a lot of other skippers I prefer a twin hook rig, but I use hooks that are a little smaller than many others, especially for Striped Marlin.
Moldcraft also has a softhead Needlefish that works a treat on marlin and sailfish and Tassie's Striped Marlin will love them. Pulled from the riggers or run as flat lines the needlefish has a wriggling/popping action that raises fish. For these long thin lures I use a twin hook rig, again not huge hooks and the first hook is up near the head and the second is right in the tail. Before you try to set the hook when the fish bites, let the fish turn it's head so the hooks are pulling into it's mouth. This is a good trick when fishing any softhead lure.
The hottest colours are dark blue over black, green/yellow over pink and to a lesser extent pink/white over pink. These are the striped tuna, dolphin fish and squid colours. The only problem with the Moldcraft range of lures is that the can be hard to find in Australian tackle shops. I have seen them in a couple of shops. Ask your tackle supplier or check out the internet, their worth the trouble finding.
The Australian produced range of Pakula lures is my second choice of lure as my preference is most defiantly for the softhead type.
Peter Pakula put a lot of work into experimenting and fishing with his range of lures and I know that they all work well. The sprocket, cockroach and mosquitoes pattens in their smaller sizes are my pick for Tassie waters and like the Moldcraft products, don't over hook them when you rig them. Pakula lures come in a rainbow of colour pattens, but I'd stick with the striped tuna, dolphin fish and squid type colour combinations. Pakula has a great web site with tons or information on how to use their products, but remember that it's a commercial advertisement designed to sell you lots of lures and stuff.
New Zealand's Black Magic has a nice looking range of lures in the Tassie market. The Sauri took my fancy, and rigged with the right hook size and leader weight may well be a really good striped marlin offering.
Some of the most important things to know about trolling for marlin:
The boat is the best teaser you have and marlin aren't scared of it. I believe that they are attracted to the noisy log that a boat must seam be to a fish. So don't set your lures back so far you can't see them, put them in a little closer to the boat in positions that suit the waves and white water put out by your boat's wake. Try to set the lures in clean parts of the wake, but the foamy and bubbly parts will also work and may suit some of your lures.
Set the speed of the boat first and then the length of the lures. The idea is to have the entire spread of trolling lures working correctly. Around six knots is a good speed to start at and speed up or slow down to suit the sea conditions.
Most lures work at there best when set so they surf down the face of the waves of the boats wake. The right length to set a lure back from the boat really depends on your boat, the speed you're trolling at and the sea/wind conditions.
Don't set up a spread that will end up in a tangle every time you want to turn the boat or when a fish jumps on. Four rods and a teaser in the water is plenty and gives you a fighting chance of clearing the lines quickly when there is a 100 kg marlin leaping around on the end of your line. Stagger the lures so you can do a pretty tight turn without them crossing up and tangling.
Use the right sized lure and hooks for the fish you're chasing. Don't use some huge blue marlin lure set up with giant hooks if your want striped marlin. A 10/0 Mustad sea demon or southern & tuna is a great hook for large striped marlin lures and work down in hook size from there.
Stainless steel hooks are a great idea, but they are expensive, won't rust out of a released or broken off fish and they are brittle and do break. The old gal or zinc plated hook needs to be sharpened regularly and must be washed in fresh water at the end of fishing, but is a better proposition in the long run. Painting the un-plated point of the hook with an indelible ink marker pen helps control any rusting.
Sharp hooks catch fish and dull ones don't. I like my lure hooks sharpened to a point like those chemically sharpened hooks, which is rounded at the barb. Hooks sharpened to a four-face cutting edge can cut themselves out during the fight and defiantly no long and thin points as they can bend or snap off.
Big striped marlin will take a little tuna lure; so even if there are lots of striped tuna, yellowfin or small albacore around, use the right class of tackle for marlin. Go ahead and put out the small lures, but put it on a 15 or 24 kg rod and use a leader heavy enough for a marlin. A good quality 200 lb mono leader should be fine in most situations. Keep it in mind that you will always get more bites on lighter leaders, but there is an increased risk of the leader chafing through. I always use a light leader and put up with loosing a fish to a broken leader every now and then.
Big game fishing is a team sport so you need to get the team organized, when the action starts everybody needs to know what to do and when to do it. You don't want a fishing episode of the Keystone Cops to be played out in your cockpit when you have a 100 kilo Striper on. Make up a plan and then stick to it.
Big fish can hurt you! Don't ever underestimate the power of a marlin, or ignore the risks of damage they can do to people and boats. Even a fish that looks like it's beaten can give you a real flogging if you try to handle it, especially when you grab it's bill. The best trick is to get your lure back, take a bunch of photos, cut the leader close to the hooks as you can and let the fish go free.
Rigging your lures
There is 101 different ways to put hooks into your nice new lures and at some stage or another I've tried them all. The conclusion I've come to is, the KISS system works the best. You can create a Heath Robertson contraption if you like, with great big shiny hooks, chafing pieces, stainless steel wire and crimps everywhere. I'll keep it simple.
One of the most critical factors in making a lure work correctly is to get the weight of the hardware it's carrying down. My point is that a lightly rigged lure will pop around a little bit, grab a gulp of air, wiggle it's head a little, wiggle it's tail and then pop back up again. The lure is meant to look like it's alive, not like a piece of plastic and steel that jumps two feet into the air, does a summersault or two and then crashes back into the water and wallows for a while before jumping out again.
Two hooks snelled onto the leader is about as simple as it gets, and it does work. If you want to catch Makos on your marlin lures don't try this rig, but if you want to put some life into your lures and start getting more bites from marlin try it.
Geoff Wilson has a nice little book out that has ever knot ever needed by a game fisherman it, if you are a little rusty on how to tie a snell or nail knots. I've used this type of rig in tube flies, live baits, light and medium tackle skirted lures and for floating pilchards and cut baits. It is a versatile way of getting your hooks out there and it makes it a lot easier to release fish, as you don't even try to take out the expensive hardware, just grab the lure and cut the leader as close to the hooks as possible. After catching a fish check the leader for scuffs and damage and if there is a potential problem, cut off the hooks and tie up a new leader. Or do like we used to and have a few extra made up leaders and hooks ready and just thread it into the lure and crimp up the end. Simple.