Although anglers hailing from ports along Florida’s East Coast typically encounter blue marlin as incidental catches, it’s really a shame these apex predators aren’t targeted with more enthusiasm. Across The Bahamas and along the northern Gulf of Mexico it is a different story altogether, where seasoned crews chase blues with great success. And while most marlin fishing involves trolling prime stretches of blue water with large lures, horse ballyhoo and Spanish mackerel, there’s another approach that offers unrivaled excitement with equally impressive results.
It’s no secret juvenile tuna make up a large portion of a blue marlin’s diet, so what better bait to offer a big blue than a frisky bonito? Some anglers around the world entice marlin with fresh-dead offerings rigged to skip on the surface, but here the idea is to keep the bait alive and kicking. It all started in an effort to negatively impact the fragile bait as little as possible and increase hook-up ratios with circle-hooks, and since the bridling process was perfected.
As with the rigging of any live bait, wet your hands prior to handling to avoid wiping off the fish’s protective slime coat.
Although I primarily fish out of Venice, LA (paradise-outfitters.com) there are marlin within reach no matter your port of call and slow trolling live bonito can be an extremely effective technique when the tactic is applied along prime stretches of water. Across the Gulf we often troll live bonito near oil platforms and during the summer months there’s no shortage of juvenile tuna in The Bahamas, which presents the perfect opportunity to live bait a blue in the tropical paradise.
It’s important you have a few rigs ready to go so when you catch a bonito for bait you can get it back in the water as quickly as possible. Circle-hooks are the only way to go and it’s crucial you match the hook to the size of the bait. I have excellent success with the Quickrig 18/0, but will go with a smaller circle-hook for a hardtail or rainbow runner, alternative blue marlin baits we often fish in the Gulf. One thing to remember is that blue marlin across our entire region grow as large as anywhere in the world. Granders have been taken in the Gulf of Mexico and The Bahamas, so don’t be afraid to fish really big baits.
With a 300 lb. leader crimped to the hook, cut a piece of rigging floss roughly 16 inches in length. Double it, then take the tag ends and tie a simple overhand knot. Tighten the knot and trim the tag ends. Simply attach the bridle to the hook by inserting one end of the loop through the other and pulling tight around the hook shank. Ideally, the overhand knot should rest tight to the hook.
Next, thread the loop onto an open-eye rigging needle. Now firmly grab the bait. I’ve found that it helps to cradle the bonito underneath your arm like a football. As with the rigging of any live bait, wet your hands prior to handling to avoid wiping off the fish’s protective slime coat. With the bait now under control, use the thinnest needle possible in order to create minimal damage. Pass the needle through the very top of the eye sockets, taking care not to puncture the fish’s eyes. Remove the needle and place the exiting floss loop over the hook point. Twist the hook four or five times before passing the hook point under the first loop. The goal is for the bend of the hook to rest tight to the tuna’s head, so the exact amount of turns will vary depending on the length of your bridle.
Live baiting blue marlin is incredibly exciting given the ideal conditions, so it pays to be well versed in the process. Preparation is key and it’s important you capitalize on every opportunity you are presented with. Go big or go home!
If you want to perfect the technique and not risk blowing the real deal, it is wise to practice on dead bonito or blackfin. Thirty seconds is about the maximum time you want the bait out of the water. Any longer and you should put the bonito back in the tuna tube. Believe it or not, but we complete the entire process from fish out of the water to bridled and back in the water in under 15 seconds. Remember the key to success here is a lively bait that a blue marlin will find irresistible, not one that is barely moving.