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Marlins of the world

OUT of all the gamefish species in the world the mighty marlin is without a doubt highly sought after by many light and heavy tackle anglers. The main reason for this is not just for the marlin’s fighting ability, but for their spectacular aerial displays that gets everyone onboard the boat so wound up and excited.

These visual, airborne exhibitions not only send the captain, crew and anglers into raptures, but photographers like me can’t get enough of this kind of action. I often get what they call “buck fever” shooting a marlin in full flight and the bigger the marlin, the bigger the adrenalin rush!

We have four species of marlin in our oceans and they are all totally different in many ways. The two that grow the largest are the blue and the black, reaching weights in excess of 800kilos (1,700lbs). The two smaller species are the striped and the white and the stripey reaches a maximum weight of around the 240kgs (500lbs) where as the whitey only reaches around 85kgs (180lbs).


The whitey is only found in the Atlantic Ocean between the latitudes of 35degrees south and 45degrees north in the southwest and between the latitudes of 45degrees south and 45degrees north in the northwestern area of the ocean. They also stray into the Gulf of Mexico, throughout the Caribbean Sea and the western parts of the Mediterranean Sea. This pelagic and migratory species preferred habitat is in the warm, blue currents in depths over 100metres. 


The colouring is dark blue on the back and a brilliant white below on most of the lower body, hence their name. When they’re feeding or hooked up their light coloured lavender bars show and often flashes of green can be seen as well. Their bill is long, thin and sabre like and one very noticeable feature is the large size and rounded shape of their pectoral fins. These fins are also longer than the depth of their body.


Trolling is the preferred method to target the whitey and small lures or fresh ballyhoo (like our garfish) baits rigged to swim or skip are the best. I’ve also seen strips of mahi mahi belly flaps stitched in behind small softhead lures get piled on as well. One very noticeable technique that the Atlantic crews like to use to raise and attract this species up close to the boat are large dredges.

These dredges are loaded with strings of colourful, imitation squid or fish and depending on the size of the boat one or two are trolled along on powerful electric reels to retrieve them quickly. Often the whitey will come in bill swinging at these lookalike baits and sometimes they get tangled up in them breaking off the odd string. The best part about these dredges is when a whitey is raised on one a bait or lure can be pulled in right next to the marlin. When this happens, the explosive bites so close to the boat are great to watch.      


Because of the whitey’s smaller size range, they are usually targeted with only light to medium tackle and they can be tough to catch. Six to 10 kilo line classes are usually used, especially in the many cash jackpot tournaments held throughout the Atlantic every year. They are an extremely popular species for anglers of all ages in this part of the world and they are also a popular target for the saltwater fly enthusiast. 


The stripey is without a doubt the prettiest of all the marlin species and I think pound for pound, the toughest. I’ll never forget the biggest and the best I ever caught at Bermagui in NSW years ago weighing 141kilos on 10kg tackle. It was a marathon hour plus long fight and my back wasn’t right for weeks. They get to a stubborn point down under the boat and won’t come up or give in. All the boat manoeuvres don’t seem to work and you just have to be very patient. 

Found only in the Pacific and Indian oceans the stripey prefers the warm to more cooler, temperate currents. The biggest regularly caught are found around New Zealand waters where many world line class records are continually broken. Many of these Kiwi records are in excess of 150kgs and the largest ever caught there weighed a massive 224kgs (494lbs).


A lit-up stripey is a magnificent sight and the bright electric lavender stripes along their glistening dark blue and silver body are hard to believe. These stripes remain quite visible even after death. They have an extremely long slender body with a huge tail and a very high dorsal fin. In fact, the length of this dorsal fin is also very close to the depth of their body. This fin is not pointed like the black or the blue and cuts back slightly for four or five rays. The pectoral fins can be easily folded in flat alongside their body.


The stripey responds to many different techniques from trolling both live and dead baits and lures to drifting with live baits set down deep amongst the bait schools. This deep dropping technique with live slimy mackerel first started at Port Stephens on a wide ground just inside the continental shelf that got the nic-name “the carpark” because of all the constant boat traffic. In the summer/autumn  months when the stripeys are around in big numbers off this part of the NSW coast often up to a hundred boats can be seen working the area. During tournament times or on weekends it can be utter chaos, especially when you get hooked-up and try to thread your way through all the boats!!

Trolling live baits or lures away from the crowds is always far more pleasant and using lures for this species need special techniques. The stripey’s bill-slashing action at the lures is always exciting to watch, but sometimes quiet frustrating because their long bill and small bottom jaw makes it hard to get a solid hook-up.

I found using slightly smaller lures rigged with two only 9/0 hooks set at 180 degrees to each other is the answer. Hooks with razor sharp, fine points like the light gauge Pakula Dojo’s worked well on light to medium tackle. These hooks are not suitable for heavy tackle or heavy-handed pressure when tracing a stripey as they can straighten out.  


The black is only found in the Pacific and Indian Oceans and is often referred to as the rhinoceros of the sea because of its size, stocky shape and short thick bill. We are very lucky here in Australia as we have the best black marlin fishing grounds in the world. Nowhere produces so many black marlin of all sizes than here on the Great Barrier Reef.

Every year in the northern Coral Sea off Lizard Island and Cairns these black marlin turn up along the outer reef edge in sizes up to 800 kilos to spawn. This spawning ritual is one of nature’s amazing marine sights watching a huge grander plus, female black tailing down sea with three or four smaller males swimming alongside her.


The black lacks the bright colouration of its cousins, but when chasing a bait and feeding can show faint bars along the body and electric blue pectoral fins. After death the body is a dark black colour on the back and the belly remains a dull silvery white. The bill is short and thick and one very easy way to identify the black is by its pectoral fins. They are ridged and will not fold down flat onto the body. The odd time a black is pulled into the cockpit to be weighed, the pectoral fin under the weight of the body will break it.


Trolling natural live or dead swimming or skipping baits and artificial lures are the popular methods for these blacks of all sizes. Just like the deep dropping techniques used for striped marlin on the Carpark at Port Stephens a lot of juvenile blacks are also caught with this live slimy mackerel method.

Off Cairns and Lizard Island during the heavy tackle season between late September and late November mostly large fresh natural dead baits are rigged and trolled at around six to seven knots. These days lure fishing has become quite popular also, particularly a little later in the season when the bite along the reef edge tapers off. As the big blacks start to move offshore into the Pacific trolling lures gives the boats the opportunity to cover more ground to find a big one. The odd blue marlin is often found out there as well.       


Last but not least is the blue and this one is my favourite marlin because of the out-of-control way they perform. They are extremely fast and totally unpredictable and many anglers often get blown away very quickly if they’re not experienced or aware of the blues tactics. I’ve travelled the world many, many  times in pursuit of big blues and they are also the hardest of all the marlin species to photograph. Quite often their first devastating run puts them too far away for good action shots and getting one circling around and jumping back near the boat doesn’t happen all that often, particularly on lures.


Some say the blue grows larger than the black and looking at some of the monsters caught around the world they could be right? One particular huge blue that was caught in Hawaii is the biggest ever taken on rod and reel, weighing over 800kgs (1,805lbs). It couldn’t be credited for an IGFA world record as it was fought by more than one angler.

Found in the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic Oceans there has been a discrepancy for many years over whether they are all the same species. Even all the IGFA World line class records are kept in two separate categories, the Indo/Pacific and the Atlantic blue. A slight difference in the lateral line is behind some of the theories, but in recent genetic studies, most scientist believe all blue marlin are the same species. 

They have faint bars even after death on their dark blue back and the under belly is silvery white. Their fins can fold in flat alongside the body and the shape of head is also quite different to that of the black, sweeping up much higher at the front. They also have a much higher dorsal fin than the black.


A majority of captains and crews  fishing the world’s blue marlin hot spots prefer to troll lures to cover more water to find one. There’s no doubt about it, trolling lures is an awesome way to witness just how spectacular these blues can be. A number of careful techniques need to be addressed though with lures as their first run can be long and fast, often breaking the angler’s line if the drag settings are not set correctly. Because they can strip an awful lot of line in hurry, backing the drag off carefully during these long runs also needs to be addressed.   

The other method that’s becoming popular for blues is trolling hookless lures as teasers and once one is raised it can be switched over to a live or dead natural bait on the selected tackle. This is a real hands-on, exciting technique and using the live bait method featured recently in this magazine is a no brainer and works every time. It’s also a better way to get photos of a blues wild jumping action as they can be fed a bait and hooked up very close to the boat.

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