Words & Images: Lee McDuffie
Many anglers that target striped marlin have their own ideas, techniques and theories on how best to target them – however, in my line of work (fishing tackle store) you get to hear many different theories of success and failure while fishing for striped marlin with lures.
I have recently had some great success with lures and often found them to be more effective than bait. It is an exciting and visual way to fish and you often see the fish light up behind your lure before you get the bite.
Many people find it hard to believe that lure fishing can be as effective as bait, but by changing a few small things I am sure you, too, could see some phenomenal fishing. There is nothing better than seeing a fully lit-up marlin behind your lure as he stares down your spread of lures before committing to a strike.
Downsizing for success
The most common thing we find with customers who struggle with lure fishing is they tend to run lures that are too big and use hooks that are also far too large. Although you are fishing for a large animal that can pull a lot of line and destroy, snap and even straighten hooks, we found our success rate greatly increased once we switched to smaller hooks. Striped marlin is the main fish we target on the east coast between Post Stephens and Eden.
Stripes have an interesting scissor-like mouth that is very disproportionate to its size, and the size of bait they sometimes choose to eat. For this reason we have started to downsize our lure selection over the past couple of years and found a much better hook-up rate on smaller offerings.
Fishing with 6, 8 and 10in lures has helped turn those slashing bites, where the fish is just trying to kill the lure, into a fully committed bite that has the marlin hooked more times than not.
For many years it has been common practice to run big lures with big stainless steel hooks and heavy drag in order to try and penetrate those big hooks into the fish’s mouth. However, a marlin’s mouth is very hard and bony, which makes it difficult to get a thicker-gauge hook to penetrate, therefore losing a high percentage of the fish you hook, and usually when the fish makes its first jump.
Rigging and hook sets
There is so much talk about hooks and hook sets for lure fishing that it makes it difficult to work out what the answer is. If you ask five different marlin fishermen which hooks they use, you will probably get five different answers. I am going to keep it simple and tell you what works for us but there is nothing like trial and error to learn what works for you.
Most people run double-hook rigs with either a fixed or a swinging back hook, depending on the lure, but a single hook is also effective at times, depending on the size of the lure. I like to run my rigs with a swinging rear hook and 90-degree offset for cup-faced lures and 180 degrees for slant-faced lures.
The hooks we use are the Bonze platinum 9/0, Gamakatsu SL12 9/0, and the Pakula Dojo Light in size 25. Yes, these are all thin-gauge hooks and if you apply too much drag pressure you will straighten or snap them. This is also why we fish exclusively with 15kg tackle and lighter drags than most people would be used to. Remember, stripes have a very bony mouth that is hard to penetrate, so with lighter drag and a small hook the tip just hangs in there.
Switch to lighter tackle and drag settings
As I mentioned before, we fish with 15kg tackle and have found by backing your drag off initially we allow the hooks to find its mark in the initial run of the fish. I have found that when you get the bite the fish tries to swim away from the boat, but with heavy drag he can’t do this. This either makes him upset and change direction or jump out of the water and you end up seeing your lure fly one way and the fish the other.
Lighter drag settings allow the fish to swim in the direction he wants to without upsetting him too much and those hooks tend to slide down his back and find their mark (usually somewhere on the outside of the face).
Lure selection and colours
This is where lure fishing gets fun! Choosing your spread of lures can be daunting with so many different colours, shapes and sizes, and if you’re anything like me you just have to have them all.
To make it simple, stick with the “match the hatch” principle, and what bait is around at the time will dictate what colour lures I choose. Whether the fish are feeding on mackerel, striped tuna, squid or cowanyoung, put at least one lure out that imitates this. On the south-east cost of NSW where I fish, there are two lures I always run on the riggers and they just keep getting bites: Marlin Magic Baby Hard Head in Lumo colour; and Bonze Heat in Evil colour. For me it would be like going to a barbecue without sausages – I always need to have an Evil pattern and a Lumo pattern on the outriggers.
Riggers and running lures
Now that you have your lures, hooks and tackle sorted it is important to make sure your lures are swimming correctly and look attractive to the fish. We always fish with outriggers and run tag lines on our riggers to illuminate drop-back. The outriggers allow you to spread your lures out further and get them into clean water without prop wash. Most people will run four or five lures in a spread with two in short, two on-riggers and a shotgun lure for that shy fish sitting back.
The best way to work out if your lures are swimming correctly is to pay attention to them and constantly watch what they are doing. If you find a lure not doing a lot or it doesn’t look right then play with the distance a little. Quite often if you shorten the lure up a bit it may start to swim better, or if you put it on the front of a pressure wave from the boat wake then it tends to come alive a little more. It’s really a matter of trial and error but take note of where each lure swims best and maybe look at putting them back in the same position time after time once you finds its best-performing position. Typically I find that darker lures in-close work well in the prop wash, with your brighter colours such as pinks and Lumos more successful in clear water off the riggers.
I always get asked at the shop what speed people should be trolling at. There is no one answer to this as it’s all relative to the conditions you’re fishing in and every boat is different. My boat swims lures really well at seven knots but others may be six to nine knots – it’s more a matter of changing the speed to suit the conditions and direction you’re travelling in.
I’m not saying you’re going to catch every fish you hook on lures by changing these few small things but hey, we don’t catch every marlin we hook on live baits and dead baits, either. I firmly believe if you fish with 15kg tackle, lighter drag settings, and smaller hooks and lures, you will find your success rate increases dramatically. There is nothing better than choosing a spread of lures and getting creamed by a big striped marlin on a lure you believed would work.