We were headed for the tip of Shallow Ground, where the ocean floor quickly climbs from 4,000 feet to only 200. The sounder decided to wake up from its slumber and the bottom suddenly read 575 feet. I turned to avoid trolling through the 200-foot range where ‘cuda bites are inevitable. As my 28-foot Southport Nothing Better straightened out, my only fishing partner saw a huge dark mass rise up on the bowling pin teaser. Just as he started to shout, I looked back and saw a gigantic splash that left a gaping hole in the ocean. The rigger clip popped and the line came tight as the fish turned out of the spread, peeling line in a sound and motion that could only mean one thing—marlin!
With the right preparation, small boat blue marlin fishing is feasible.
Our suspicions were confirmed when a respectable blue took to the air. She jumped again and then charged the boat in an attempt to free herself. Having missed a few shots earlier by not hitting the throttles, this time we did not let up against the greyhounding fish. In an instant, the marlin’s strategy changed and line started melting off the Avet 80-wide. Making tight circles with the boat we finally gained on the determined fish and after what seemed like hours, Jamie got a few wraps on the leader and the beaten marlin appeared in clear view. It was a climactic end to an intense battle and we were both breathless and in absolute awe of her size and beauty. I had seen a dozen marlin caught, but never a large one and certainly not off a relatively small boat.
When we saw birds close by we would sometimes bomb a bonito strip or small cedar plug to try for meat fish, but having a shortage of hands we kept it simple and focused on bigger lures for trophy marlin.
Shallow Ground is one of many productive sites off Harbour Island in The Bahamas. SKA Angler of the Year Captain Jaime Ralph and I made the 230-mile trip from Boynton Beach in late June right before the full moon, when the blue marlin bite typically turns on. Harbour Island’s colorful history and local flavor make it a favorite summertime destination for many experienced island hoppers. This tropical utopia is a popular destination for celebrities, which means it can be very costly, but with the proper planning one can do it right on a limited budget. I recommend Royal Palm Hotel and Harbour Island Marina for those wanting to make the most of it. When you need a layday it is quite fun to rent a golf cart and explore the island, snorkel the reefs or stroll the island’s world famous pink sand beaches. Of course, you can simply relax under a palm tree with a frozen concoction. Whatever you decide, Harbour Island will get under your skin quickly.
Before our journey we put in our time preparing and researching the best trolling spread. When the same lures and tips were recommended by multiple experts, the light went off. Fishing in a center console we were instructed to pull aggressive teasers and ended up selecting three solid enticements. A flashy Zacatak Witchdoctor was cleated short right, with a black Gunga teaser placed just behind that. On the left side we had a chain of Tormentor bowling pins in black/purple. We kept the teasers and lures fairly close and having a couple of electric reels enabled us to clear them quickly. In a smaller boat you are somewhat forced to shorten things up to keep the spread staggered properly.
We rigged the outriggers for double lines and fished two short lures on bent-butt 80s, which we alternated with our largest chugging lures including a Pakula Sprocket, Pakula Wombat, and Black Bart Abaco Prowler. They were rigged with single-hook stiff rigs in purple/black, lumo, and one brighter colored skirt for sunny days. When we saw tuna, we fished the purple/black lures and when we came across peanut dolphin we switched to the lumo skirts. On the long riggers we fished Tiagra 50s with smaller lures like the Black Bart Mini 1656 Angle and Bluewater Rick’s Fancy. When we saw birds close by we would sometimes bomb a bonito strip or small cedar plug to try for meat fish, but having a shortage of hands we kept it simple and focused on bigger lures for trophy marlin.
On our first few days it took us a while to find the most productive water. We noticed the spots where we did get bites were very close to each other. The best water was deeper, cobalt blue, and free of weeds. The first fish we caught taught us the challenges of trying to clear the lines and gain on the fish with a two-man crew. I was glad we went over our roles and had a plan in place. Backing down is tough, if done at all in a center console, and making slow circles keeping the fish off the corner of the boat helped give us an upper hand.
If you ever get the chance to visit Harbour Island and fish these legendary underwater seamounts and pinnacles you will certainly fall in love with this island paradise. After a lot of planning and putting in our time, it was an amazing experience and a dream come true to have accomplished such a feat. There really is…Nothing Better!
Harbour Island Sweet Spots
While there’s lots of territory to be covered, some of the most consistent producers include the waters in the vicinity of Shallow Ground, Dutch Bar, Wide Opening, The Pinnacle and James Point. These aggressive bottom contours—all clearly marked on most nautical/fishing charts—attract copious amounts of life. Hence, the summertime action around Harbour Island is highlighted by monster marlin and schooling yellowfin tuna. What are you waiting for?