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game fishing blue marlin trolling

So you want to catch a big game fish…

There is good reason for all of us keen fisherman to aspire to land one of the oceans apex predators. Whether it be a marlin, tuna, swordfish or shark, they all provide their own individual challenges that will often test even the best game fishos. That is why they keep going out, spending countless hours on the water trying to land that one fish of a lifetime.

Once you have seen an insane marlin do it’s dance around your boat, nearly having your heart leap out of your chest from the adrenaline, you can be sure those memories will be etched into your memory banks forever. You will have caught a disease that many of us will never shake – Yes it is a disease that will never be cured, and who would want it to be? Nothing beats seeing a marlin doing it’s thing, especially a blue marlin which are truly spectacular, making the innocent little striped marlin seem like a choir boy in comparison. Don’t get me wrong a stripey is a great starter, but once you have dealt with a few Blues there is very little that comes close to their ferocity and explosiveness.

In this article I will aim to cover a wide range of factors which I hope will help you ‘up your game’ so to speak. However, if you just want to skip along to what matters most to you then hit the quick links here:

Game Fishing Safety

When dealing with all big game fish the first thing to be aware of is that things can go wrong very quickly, so it is important to be prepared for the worst possible case scenario.

What can go wrong you ask? – Well firstly having either an aggressive mako, bronzie or marlin jump right into the cockpit of your boat is one thing.

Or while tracing the fish, having it pull you over the side of the boat because you took a wrap the wrong way or got tangled up is another.

Remember that marlin and even more seriously swordfish have big long pointy things on their faces that can cause serious damage, sharks have many of them (although much smaller, much sharper) sticking out of their mouths, so being careful is important especially when dealing with these fish at close quarters.

Having a decent set of gloves is paramount. A decent small set of bolt cutters is also an important part of your kit. A sharp knife at hand to cut the line quickly if need be is vital and lastly, a first aid kit and good communication equipment are essential.

grabbing the leader of a jumping marlin is dangerous be careful

Great Stand Up Gear is Essential for Game Fishing

Having a good gimbal and harness set up is imperative. Even if you’re lucky enough to own the luxury space to accommodate a game chair, you will still be better off on your feet. If the fish is being stubborn and staying down (typically tuna) and trying to swim under the boat, yes you can maneuver the boat but being on your feet gives you so much more control. You will be able to keep the line clear of the side and transom of the boat and have greater leverage to fight the fish. You will also have greater stability which helps the angler (hopefully you) concentrate on keeping the line even on the spool of your reel but also to keep tension on the line while fighting the fish. Not having to worry about comfort or pain or anything else if the fight runs longer than expected is a huge advantage.

fighting a stubborn fish

The author, Chris Firkin fighting a good sword down deep. Wearing the Equalizer allows the angler to fish close to the edge of the boat and have better leverage and more line clearance from the side of the boat.

We at Black Magic Tackle are proud to provide what is internationally regarded by many as the most comfortable, best “value for money” and still the most innovative gimbal and harness kit out there called the Equalizer. Just ask anyone with any knowledge relating to game fishing and they will tell you, there is nothing that comes close to what the Equaliser stand up system offers.

What does Black Magic’s Equaliser gimbal & harness set offer that others don’t? 

Black Magic was the first in the market place to do a two piece harness system, this eliminates strain on your back by sharing the load to your butt cheeks which is much lower down. This set up allows the angler to effectively sit into the harness and increase the pressure on the fish. There is no wonder many other competitors out there have tried to copy Black Magic’s harness. However, the design and materials used on the Black Magic Equalizer are hard to beat.

The gimbal plate is unique (and patented) in that it has a recessed pin which does two things particularly well. Firstly it takes more load off your back which means you can apply more pressure (up to 30% more pressure than a standard system) on a fish if necessary without having to try a lot harder. Secondly, is that if you’re fighting a fish in rough seas, the gimbal plate doesn’t slip off your thighs (like the other systems available out there) which can cause serious discomfort or injury, especially if fishing 80lb or 130lb stand up.

Finally, the efficiency and speed when attaching the gimbal plate (when hooked up on a fish) to the drop strap belt is second to none, don’t rely on what we say, just ask those who catch the numbers and they will tell you.

How to choose what game lures to use…

This is a very debatable/opinionated subject, there are now so many guys making their own lures in their garages at home claiming they have the next silver bullet, better than anything that has ever been created by man. If you can wade through all the rubbish or spend the countless hours like I have out there chasing game fish, you will soon realise that if you run over a hungry marlin or tuna in the right place at the right time, anything will basically work. So why are some lures certainly more consistent than others?

Well firstly – if there are more people with a particular lure in the water, there is more of a chance that lure will catch more fish (funny that!)

Secondly – Certain lures fit the bill as far as colour, size or action in relation to what the target species is feeding on at the time (matching the hatch if you are a fly fisherman) or just as importantly the sea conditions you are fishing in, on the day. So having good lure options which mimic a variety of baitfish is important so you can switch things up when you notice what’s going on in the water on the day.

Some lures like Black Magic’s famous ‘Freedom Grand Slammer’ lure and it’s three colour combinations are a perfect size that all game fish species will eat.

This particular lure is the equivalent of a trout fisherman’s “hair and copper nymph” or “pheasant tail fly” that it emulates a number of bait species that marlin and tuna find hard to resist. Add to that a perfect keel weighted angle face head that has a unique action in both rough and calm seas and the fact it’s available in three perfect colours (shown above) which anyone can run anywhere in the spread and there is really no wonder this weapon catches what it does… This lure even caught the All Tackle Black Marlin NZ record (1041lb), by Alain Jorion back in 2002 which still stands today (shown below, followed by a 1082lb blue caught in Fiji by Kim Prater).

Other factors which influence game lure choice…

You could put 25 of the best game fishos on the planet in the same room together and they could argue about this until the cows come home. But if you’re prepared to put in the hours you will start to see your own consistent trends which will give you a lot of confidence in your decision making, more so than any hearsay.

Based on trends we have noticed over the years, my spread behind the boat will depend on a number of things…

Firstly – Sea conditions…

rough sea vs calm sea

If it’s very rough, with the wind against the tide I am more inclined to run lures with more weight in the heads or with longer heads – this allows the lures to swim better in the rough, not jumping out of the water as much as lures that have less weight in the head. I also tend to run pusher or straight running heads more so than cut/angle face lures because angle face lures normally don’t handle the rough like the pusher or straight runners do (with the Freedom Grand Slammers being an exception to the rule). Some great options are the Black Magic ‘Soft Pusher range’, or the ‘Rainbow Rocker’, ‘Lumo Prowler’, ‘Pursuit Prowler’ or ‘Jack Slammer range’.

Secondly, and no less important to sea conditions is what the fish are feeding on at the time…

So how do you find this out? Being ultra-observant while out there trying is as important as anything. Keeping an eye out for bait on or near the surface, or more importantly on the sounder, looking for birds, current lines and temperature breaks especially close to structure are very important keys to success in finding bait and my decisions when running lures.

Thirdly, if fishing in calm seas, I’ll try and get as much action as I can out of my lures to encourage fish into my spread…

Remember that if it is calm there is a lot less confusion in the water so the fish can see everything you are offering them much easier than they can if the seas are rough. So my leader weight comes down and my lures heads are more often angle/cut face lures that create much more hype and action which in turn excites predatory fish. Take Black Magic’s ‘Waihau Warrior’, ‘Firkins Fugly’, ‘Purple Predator’, or the Taranaki favourite ‘Harlequin’ lure” as good examples.

These big lures create a mean action in the water which attract game fish from far and wide acting not only as big teasers in the spread but excellent lures when the fish are chowing down on bigger bait fish like skipjack tuna, big squid, kahawai, rays, bream etc.

Another way to figure out what the game fish are eating where you are fishing is to ask those who are already fishing the areas or are smoking fish in the region you have chosen to fish. These guys will have a better idea of what is going on than most. If you don’t have those options available to you then when placing lures in your own spread just put a variety of sizes and colours out there with a couple of well-known performers in good positions.

Positioning your lures in the spread…

trolling lures behind the boat black magic

Making sure your lures are running as good as they can in the positions you have decided to run them is paramount to increasing your success.

Most anglers prefer to run them on the front face of the pressure waves, but weather conditions will often play havoc with this cunning plan, so as long as they aren’t jumping out of the water and are continually popping every 4 – 8 seconds or so then you do increase the likelihood of some action. Lures sitting in the spread not popping at all, I don’t believe are working properly, but some would disagree, and good on them. So basically, position your lures roughly as shown below, but alter the lure position to allow them to swim as best as they can on the day.

game spread of lures and position behind boat fishing

The above examples are great lure choices for marlin fishing in most conditions.

Dark lures vs light lures

Another hot topic of conversation, please remember “Opinions are like bottoms, everybody has one!”.

Dark lures, black & purple in particular create a great silhouette when fish are looking up (which most if not all are) and many top anglers love one if not a couple of variations of this hot colour in their spread. Some will run the big dark lures close in the short corners in amongst the whitewash where they stand out. Others like to run one on the outrigger and one in close.

Some will tell you to run dark lures on a dark day & light lures on a bright day…others will tell you the opposite. Opinions, opinions everybody has them, but rely more on those who have had the results more than those who pretend to have had them and believe me when I say there are a few of the latter out there, relying on what they have heard more of than what they have actually seen themselves.

The best advice I can give is to run a multitude of colours to cover your bases and take note of what works when and where.

8 important rules for success when game fishing…

  1. Put in the hours, you will get the results.
  2. Find the bait and you will find the game fish.
  3. Be aware of bite times, then make sure you are not too far away from the bait when close to the bite times.
  4. If you find bait, do not give up on it in too much of a hurry. One pass will not often cut it. Sticking with the bait even after everyone else has left will often see a result or three. It is a big ocean out there and where there is food the big game fish will not be far away. Bait is one of the most important factors – just ask anyone who gets results consistently.
  5. Learn from your mistakes, losing a fish isn’t the end of the world and believe me when I say you will lose a few. As long as you have learnt something and you don’t make that mistake again, then you’re winning.
  6. Planning– Good planning before heading out is obviously important. Having a game plan and sticking to it, with everyone understanding what is required of them when the “sh** hits the fan”… When that 350kg+ Blue is scaring the bejesus out of you, jumping around the boat making you look and feel very insignificant, it’s important that those on board know what to do. Clearing the gear and getting as far away from that first insane run blues often do when first hooked up, is something you will learn from experience.
  7. Sharp hooks & good knots– These are fundamental basics that you must learn if you want consistent results. Practice and practice until it becomes second nature. There is really NO EXCUSE for poorly tied knots or blunt hooks.
  8. Not being too serious– if you lose a fish, don’t get all torn up about it. Build a bridge & get over it. Don’t point the finger and blame everyone, just figure out what went wrong, learn from that experience and move on.

Good luck! I look forward to seeing you out there – Chris Firkin

About the author:

Chris Firkin is based in Whakatane, New Zealand and has a wealth of fishing knowledge from trout fishing to game fishing. He’s been on deck for a number of marlin, tuna and swordfish captures and is in his happiest place when a blue marlin is charging at the boat.

marlin jumping lure splash bird looking

Rainbow Rocker lure in action.

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