Report: Fisho v marlin – Round 2

AFTER a spectacular day last Friday when my mate Mark Luscombe and I encountered multiple marlin off Jervis Bay on trolled Pakula lures, landing two fish (including Mark’s first billfish) in the process (see HERE for details), it was only a matter of time before I headed out for a rematch.

This Tuesday just gone was the chosen day as conditions were forecast to deteriorate later in the week. And I have some meetings with the boss here at Fisho’s Sydney HQ … so it was Tuesday or miss out.

Along for the ride in the Fisho Bar Crusher were good buddies Ian Osterloh and Phil Bolton. Another mate, Gavin McCullum, owner of my local tackle store McCullum’s Tackle World in Nowra, was a late ring-in. After getting some livies at the bait grounds, we headed east into the rising sun. The plan was to hit the FAD north of the Banks for a couple of dollies and then motor out to around 80 fathoms in search of bait balls.

As we cruised out I noted that the water temp was a degree or two colder than the previous week. It was still reasonably warm at about 22.7 degrees but nowhere near the purple 25-26 degree water Mark and I fished the previous week.

The cooler water seemed to have put the dolphin fish off the bite. We only managed three keepers before stowing our gear and heading out towards the shelf line.

Once out to around 80 fathoms it became evident that the massive bait balls that had been so productive just a few days previously were now scattered and much less dense. We decided to search for the fish by heading south down towards the Drum Canyon, where we knew the fish had been the previous day.

While I’m a keen lure troller, Phil and Ian are into switchbaiting. They soon had a couple of hookless lures in the wash behind the boat with stitched dead baits ready to pitched to any fish we raised. Gav and I were a bit dubious about the idea of towing lures without hooks but Phil assured us our worries were unfounded …

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A skipbait rigged by Phil Bolton. The circle hook provides a solid hookset and is a far better option for effective C&R than traditional J hooks.

The enterprising Phil also rigged up a couple of skipbaits for use when and if we found some bait.

After an hour or so of trolling with pitch baits at the ready, we neared the Drum. The water temp started to rise, which was encouraging. We could see six or eight boats working an area just north of the canyons. Radio chatter indicated a few of the boys had already raised a couple of fish. As we arrived at the mark, Dozer aboard Double D reported he had landed a stripe and a small black. Looking good!

We found a patch of bait almost straight away and quickly dragged the teasers in, replacing them with a pair of bridle rigged slimies. I slow trolled the livies in a big circle, keenly eying the sounder to spot more bait and fish. Before long the starboard outfit gave a howl as a fish snaffled the bait. A bit of throttle to clear the line and Ian was tight to what we initially thought was a small black marlin. It turned out to be a stripe of about 50 kilos. It was quickly dealt with on 24kg tackle and released boatside.

I’m not a fan of slow trolling livies unless bait is clearly evident. We weren’t seeing emough on the sounder to warrant the time slowly puttering around at 1-2 knots. So the rigged dead slimies were sent out on the outriggers and we started skipbaiting.

I’d gotten sick of driving the boat by this stage and was stationed at the transom, keenly watching the two slimies dancing in the wake. I haven’t done much skipbaiting and was keen to learn how to do it.

I guess we’d been working the area for maybe 30 minutes when out of nowhere the head and shoulders of a lit-up marlin appeared behind the starboard side skipbait, engulfing it in a spray of foam and water. The drag howled. I started cranking the second bait in. The hooked fish started going ballistic behind the boat. Gav was on the rod – it was bent over with line spewing off the reel. The fish was rampaging less than 30m behind us. It must have made seven or eight frenetic vertical leaps in less than 10 seconds. We were all yelling with excitement – it was utter mayhem! The fish then started leaping straight at us. “Drive off! Drive off” I screamed from down the back. I seriously thought the damn thing was going to jump in with us. Ian jammed the throttle down and we motored away, leaving the fish thrashing madly on the surface.

Gav held the bucking rod and we watched in awe as line poured from the spool. The fish went deep. Over the next 40 minutes Gav worked the marlin to the boat on three separate occasions only to have it peel more line and slug it out down deep. It was a stubborn, drawn out fight. Eventually I took a wrap on the leader and pulled the fish boatside so we could tag it, remove the circle hook from its jaw and get a few pics before release. Meanwhile Ian had rigged up his underwater housing and jumped in the water to snap the shots featured hereabouts.

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Gav McCallum, owner of Nowra’s popular McCullum’s Tackle World, with his 100kg stripe taken on a skipbait.

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Aside from a torn dorsal fin, the marlin was released in good condition. The circle hook had pinned it right in the side of the jaw.

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Watching a marlin swim away is far more satisfactory than seeing it go grey and stiff on the deck of your boat …

Gav’s fish was another striped marlin. It had a short length of 2.5m, indicating a weight of just over 100kg. It was awesome to spend the time needed to revive it and then watch it swim away in the clear blue water.

The more marlin I see, hook, lose and sometimes catch, the more I reckon they should be mandated a C&R only fishery. A stiff, grey dead marlin on the floor of the boat is nothing compared to that same creature lit-up and angry in the water.

I regret to say that I have killed marlin in the past. I now wish I’d managed to restrain my ego and reached for a tag pole instead of the gaff. Take it from me, killing one of these animals is a far less satisfactory experience than letting one go …

Release the marlin!

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