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Marlin the Magician
There are few things as exciting as hooking up to a high-flying marlin and it’s not such an impossible dream, as Al McGlashan explains

There are four species of marlin, three of which are common in Australian waters. Blue and striped can be found right along the east and west coast while the black marlin extends its range right around the top.

Ever since Hemingway’s classic novel The Old Man and the Sea we have been fascinated by these awesome creatures and every angler dreams of catching one. Not only are they one of the biggest fish in the sea, but they are also the most spectacular, renowned for their aerial displays and high-powered runs.

The blue marlin is the most elusive, rarely venturing inside the continental shelf. The striped marlin is much more cosmopolitan and while favouring waters along the continental shelf at times they will venture right into coastal waters. Finally, we have the black marlin which is the biggest and most prolifi c. They can be found anywhere from the coast to thousands of miles offshore. Better still, every season, juvenile blacks follow the currents south along both coasts and can even be caught from the shoreline.

Now, when you think marlin you envisage big boats, big rods and very deep pockets, right? Well, that’s how it used to be. With dramatic improvements in boats, engines and electronics just about anyone can live the dream and hook a marlin. This is particularly so for those little inshore blacks – they can even be caught off the rocks at places like Jervis Bay.

If you don’t have a boat then it is still easy to catch a marlin. Chartering can be relatively inexpensive with a bunch of mates but another inexpensive option is to join a game fishing club. With marlin fishing being so popular there are game fishing clubs anywhere there are marlin and by teaming up with one of the crews all you need to do is chip-in for fuel and buy a case of beer when you get one.


Water temperatures play a vital role. Striped marlin favour water warmer than 20°C while blues and blacks like it hotter, around 23°C or more. Clean blue water is particularly important for blue marlin and, to a lesser degree, stripes. Blacks are far less fussy and are just as happy in green water.

Marlin are often found around reefs, canyons or pinnacles. They’re not particularly structure orientated they are attracted because of bait concentrations that stack up in these areas. The development of high-tech fish-finders and GPS plotters has made finding these spots easier – find the bait and you will find the marlin.


The best way to catch marlin is trolling lures or natural bait. Billfish are oceanic nomads which can make them hard to find. There is a lot of water out there so even if you target your search area you still have a huge area to cover and trolling is the best way to do that.

Skirted lures can be trolled fast – up to 10 knots – which means you can cover a large search area. They may look odd in the water but these lures do a great job of imitating a fish splashing along on the surface and marlin love them. Trolling a spread of four or five lures to form a ‘bait school’ is the standard approach and works for other game fish, too.

The only problem with lures is that, while marlin love them, getting a solid hook up can be very hard. All too often you hook up and then the fish falls off midway through the fight. The best advice I can offer is to keep the hooks razor sharp. Marlin have very tough, bony mouths that are extremely difficult to penetrate so the sharper the hook, the easier it goes in.


Natural bait includes skip and live baiting – they are much more likely to eat something natural. The big advantage is that while you certainly troll slower the hook-up rate is much better than with  lures. Skip baiting is basically a bait such as a mullet or mackerel rigged up so it can be trolled across the surface like a fleeing baitfish. It is highly successful, especially on striped and black marlin. Smaller baits like bonito work a treat in NSW while up in Queensland anglers chasing giant black marlin can use baits as big as 20 kilos!

Skip baits are usually trolled at three to five knots and in most cases only two baits are trolled – one from each outrigger.

While lures are fished with heavy drags, skip baits are fished with the reel just in gear, that way, when the fi sh bites, it is allowed to swallow the bait before the angler strikes. Anglers only ever use circle hooks for this job which nearly always hook the fish in the corner of the mouth.

When you locate a bait school there is only one technique to use and that is live baiting. A big bait school is like an underwater version of a takeaway shop  with flashing neon lights. If you want to get served then you need to go to the counter and it is no different for the marlin, so stay right on top of the school.

The best way to fi nd bait consistently is with a quality sounder that will show you exactly what is going on underneath. Understanding your sounder is essential. Bait stacked up vertically in shape is also highly productive, while a deep bait school with a peak is a sure sign of the presence of predators.

Once you find the bait you can either slow troll around them or drift with the school. Drifting not only allows you to hang with the bait, but it also allows your baits to act naturally and swim deeper in the strike zone.

As a basic rule most boats run three baits; two surface baits and one down deep on a sinker or downrigger. It is important to stagger the two surface baits, say 25 and 40 metres respectively to keep them apart. The deep bait allows you to cover more of the water column and will greatly increase your strike rate. Marlin, although pelagic, spend a lot of time in the depths, so it makes a lot of sense to employ a breakaway sinker for drifting or a downrigger for slow trolling.

One trick that works a treat when you are drifting over the bait is to drop a bait jig down into the school and then crank it back up once you load up with baits. Winding a full string of struggling baitfi sh up to the surface is like ringing the dinner gong and trust me the marlin come running big time.

Catching a marlin is an awesome experience, in fact, it is so you good you should always release them. That way someone else can hopefully enjoy the same experience.

Tags: Fishing Marlin Bait Boat Jervis Bay Ocean Sea
Category: Unknown
Written: Tue 01 Apr 2014
Printed: April, 2014
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