For the majority of avid anglers, the absolute pinnacle is reached only after successful encounters with our sport’s ultimate adversaries—blue marlin. Few if any experiences in one’s angling career rival the fury and drama of a monster billfish charging toward the horizon. Words alone cannot describe the controlled chaos that ensues.
With immense speed and raw power, marlin are magnificent acrobats and attract the highest echelon of recreational anglers from every continent. Fortunate crews who progress to blue marlin fishing never look back, proof by a willingness to traverse nearly 1,000 miles of open ocean in the hopes of encountering a single behemoth Bermuda blue. Even trophy-class wahoo, dolphin and tuna, highly prized in their own right, are simply nuisance bycatch for those solely in search of the ultimate adrenaline rush.
Blue marlin have captured the imagination of adventurist outdoorsmen since the late 1800s with the formation of the first official club for sport fishermen. Interest in the fishery grew considerably during the 1930s, when well-known authors Zane Grey and Ernest Hemingway wrote extensively about their pursuit of the ocean’s greatest game fish.
Another major stepping stone in the fishery came with Michael Lerner’s establishment of the International Game Fish Association in 1939. Created to regulate ethical fishing practices, the IGFA provided a formal structure that facilitated the promotion of the sport and documented fishing records worldwide. Hemingway also had a hand in the IGFA, serving as Vice President for the organization until his death.
Since the very beginning, considerable skill and bravery were required to pursue blue marlin, especially large female fish, which can reach four times the size of their male counterparts. An encounter with such a giant required tremendous stamina with only a small percentage of strikes ultimately resulting in a successful capture.
As the fishery rapidly evolved over the coming decades, so did demand for fresh marlin meat, which resulted in foreign commercial fishing fleets decimating blue marlin populations—amongst many other species. It’s sad, but marlin are still harvested commercially, though on a much more limited basis. Thankfully, ongoing conservation efforts like The Billfish Foundation’s “Take Marlin Off The Menu” campaign have eased the pressure on the fishery. Many recreational big game trophy hunters currently pursuing these highly prized sport fish claim the fishery is stronger than ever with impressive numbers of big fish caught and released annually. Others argue the illusion of a rebounding fishery is really nothing more than modern innovation and technology surpassing the fish’s ability to elude capture and that blue marlin still need considerable protection. One thing we can all agree on is that blue marlin are absolute apex predators at the very top of the food chain and rule every ocean they inhabit. They present one of the greatest angling challenges known to mankind and demand the utmost respect. Diligent conservation efforts must continue because without a healthy population of these dynamic billfish, the angling community risks losing one of its greatest assets.
Today, modern marlin fishing has evolved into a science with high tech equipment, innovative accessories and incredibly powerful sportfish yachts. While it is common belief that necessity is the mother of invention, as far as blue marlin fishing is concerned it is perhaps the pioneering anglers who really deserve the credit. Right from the start, heroic fishermen determined to emerge victorious against these prestigious predators helped shape the pursuit of the world’s greatest game fish. Working side by side with early tackle manufacturers, they learned the hard way what worked and what didn’t. After each failure they went back to the drawing board where they revamped, refined, and reinvented. It’s an evolution that continues today with the future of modern marlin fishing.
The ability to keep large baitfish alive for extended periods of time provides blue marlin fishermen with an irresistible weapon in their arsenal. Nearly impossible to maintain in a standard round or oval baitwell, ram breathers like juvenile yellowfin tuna, bonito and large mackerel continue to be a key ingredient in countless billfish encounters worldwide. It’s rumored Captain Bart Miller invented the first tuna tubes around 1970, for the sole purpose of eluding bait-stealing porpoises. Large live baits could now be caught amongst dolphin pods and transferred to fishy waters free of the relentless thieves.
While conservation-minded philosophies have evolved and the vast majority of these great game fish are released unharmed, this hasn’t always been the case. During the early days of big game fishing, trophy hunting was all about catch and kill. As tackle continued to evolve and an increasing number of behemoth fish were brought boatside, the need to subdue these giants grew. The solution was a flying gaff. Designed to detach from the handle, a large steel gaff hook was connected to a heavy rope. A mate could now safely gaff and secure a beaten fish. Flying gaffs are still in use today, where a single record fish brought to the scales at a prestigious marlin tournament could be worth upwards of a million dollars!
Sea Surface Temperature Charts
Blue marlin are brilliant predators rarely found where they aren’t expected to be. These temperamental giants hunt large prey such as tuna and dolphin, which typically feed on sardines, mackerel, bonito, scad and squid. Heavy concentrations of these primary food sources are generally attributed to some form of rip, color change, or structure found above or below the surface. The ocean is a vast hunting ground and the key to narrowing down the search is locating convergence zones. While primitive anglers had no such information, modern marlin fishermen have access to valuable information right at their fingertips thanks to satellite-based sea surface temperature services and highly advanced multifunction displays.
A common problem plaguing early big game enthusiasts was line wear. Over time, pioneering blue water fishermen realized that friction associated with a taught line being dragged back and forth through standard ring guides generated a great deal of heat and abrasion, which in turn weakened the line’s breaking strength to the point of premature failure. To combat the problem, AFTCO pioneered roller guides that contained small wheels designed to turn freely with the line. Today, a host of high tech roller guides from innovative manufacturers including AFTCO, Stuart and Winthrop Tool dominate offshore rod building.
The first fighting chairs date back to the turn of the 20th Century. From the very start of big game sport fishing even the most determined anglers realized with the bulky equipment of the era it was simply impossible to subdue such hefty fish without the risk of losing tackle or worse yet, being dragged overboard. Sadly, more than one early sportsman met his fate this way. Today, designated anglers are strapped to their equipment with a bucket harness, which is fastened to a fighting chair securely bolted to the deck, essentially creating one uninterrupted connection from fish to vessel. While the first fighting chairs were little more than wooden deck chairs, modern fighting chairs are hand crafted works of glistening teak and shimmering stainless steel with multiple rod holders, cushioned backrests and adjustable footrests. You’d be hard pressed to find a custom sportfish yacht without a gleaming fighting chair adorning its cockpit.
High Definition Sonar
Compressed High Intensity Radiated Pulse, known as CHIRP, is the latest sonar technology and can effectively read and discern marine life upwards of 10,000 feet below the surface. Even Hemingway with his brilliant mind couldn’t possibly dream of such technology. Now you can clearly and easily distinguish larger predators around a bait ball, or see through bait and fish on the surface to target more desirable predators hanging below. Discern individual game fish and thermoclines with a level of definition and clarity never before imagined. Combined with Accu-Fish, which reveals the exact length of the fish, marlin hunters are one step closer to truly seeing what lies beneath the surface.
Two Speed Reels
Long gone are the days of single speed big game winches. Modern marlin hunters understand that torque is power and when a determined billfish weighing hundreds of pounds decides it wants no part of a losing battle, a successful outcome and healthy release all come down to cranking power. It’s during drawn out battles with determined fish that refuse to approach the surface where low gear shines the brightest. By working in conjunction with the captain, an angler in the fighting chair is now equipped with an appropriate tool to close the gap inch by inch.
Skirted Trolling Lures
Modern skirted trolling lures are highly advanced pieces of fishing equipment that mimic fleeing prey more effectively than ever before. Countless granders—marlin exceeding 1,000 pounds—have fallen victim to these fantastic fakes. With unique head shapes designed to perform in particular positions of the spread, under certain sea conditions and in specific locations around the world, and blue marlin lure fishing is no easy task. Quickly glance at the shelves of your favorite retailer or flip through the pages of any major tackle catalog and you’ll see that big game skirted trolling lures are now available in a bewildering range of shapes, designs and materials, however that wasn’t always the case. Original trolling lures date back hundreds of years and were fabricated of nothing more than plant fibers, shell and bone. Fishermen across the South Pacific dragged them off hand lines behind dugout canoes for a variety of species with impressive success.
The allure of a fleeing baitfish is enticing, but the allure of a predator chain or tightly packed bait ball is often too much for any blue marlin to ignore. For this very reason, seasoned skippers swear by the value of teasers. They know the more action and commotion one can add to their trolling spread, the more likely an opportunistic billfish will investigate the potential food fest. May it be in the form of a dredge teaser, spreader bar, bowling pin or fender teaser, erratic action, realistic fish patterns and large smoke trails continue to prove their worth in salt by routinely raising big billfish in nearly every ocean.
It’s hard to believe that something barely the size of a fingernail could make such a big difference, but if it weren’t for tiny crimps big game anglers would have an extremely difficult time staying connected. This is especially true when a deckhand wires a big fish and tremendous strain is put on the leader. Early pioneers realized that a streamlined connection to terminal tackle was absolutely vital, and that hand tying reliable knots in heavy monofilament and cable leader simply wasn’t practical or effective. The answer came in a tiny metal sleeve that when properly compressed around the line would create a reliable loop to swivels, lures, and hooks that exceeds the line’s breaking strength.
Perhaps the all-time greatest innovation regarding big game fishing is the design of the custom sportfish yacht. Brilliantly engineered with computer aided designs and hand crafted from fiberglass and ultra strong, high tech composite materials, custom sportfish yachts powered by massive turbo diesel engines are capable of 50 knot speeds and ocean-crossing range. Outfitted with three story high marlin towers, custom sportfish yachts reaching triple-digit lengths can safely handle any sea conditions in comfort and style. With all of the modern amenities of a luxurious Las Vegas suite and the latest state-of-the-art fish finding and navigation equipment, few game fish can elude modern man operating a modern machine.