I suppose it's as good a time as any to go over a few important thoughts regarding the blue marlin that are at this very moment swimming our way...


I'll prelude these suggestions by revealing my blue marlin experience is quite limitied outside of our local north american waters...but we are privy to some spectacular fishing down here in mexico so we've had plenty of time to incur some bumps and bruises...and eventually success and triumphs along the way...what works for us down here may not elsewhere...but if there's one thing i've learned in my travels it's that there's absolutely no such thing as useless information when it comes to fishing...

The most important facet of our system for live baiting blue marlin is finding and catching the bait...it sounds like a no brainer but ooooh i can reluctantly remember countless hours in search of bait that wasn't there when i needed it most or times when we'd be in the midst of bait that for one reason or another refused to chew...when the bite is hot there is nothing more frustrating than wasting time trying to make bait...particularly when the fish are "on the meat" and refusing everything else...

It took us a long time to refine the art but i'm confident now that nine times out of ten we'll have choice live baits out there...here's why...

Our normal day starts with making bait and that usually means working tight to the high spots and keeping a sharp eye out for terns and gulls indicitive to skipjack, small yellowfin, and bullet tuna schools in our area...all prime baits for the giant blue marlin that swim around here...

Our bait fishing spread will almost always consist of a deep diving planer fished off each corner at a speed of 4 - 6 knots and running at an average depth of 20' below the surface...one planer is deployed at 50' and one at 100' behind the boat...running them 50' apart will allow you to make sharp turns favoring the side of the boat you are running the longest planer on...when fishing tight to islands or high spots staying right on top of the bait in a confined area is important and you need to make sure your spread is capable of handling 180 degree course changes or you're going to get some nastiness back there...and that'll cost you...

Behind each of these planers are two daisy chains consisting of 6 - 10, 2" plastic squids of various colors tied 2 feet apart on 80# test fluoro...yes, it does make a difference...each squid has a small circle hook in it to prevent gill or throat hooking any baits that bite...we use these daisy chains because often you'll troll through a school of bait and hook one fish on each planer immediately...then, while you're reeling in those baits more often than not additional baits are going to jump on the remaining squids on the daisy chain turning a single or double hookup initially into 6 or more baits by the time the rigs hit the boat...in all fishing...not just bait fishing...turning single or double hookups into multiples is what it's all about...

Sometimes if the bait fishing is unusually slow we'll run two additional small squid daisy chains on the surface without planers in front of them...there are days when they refuse to hit the planer rigs for whatever reason and these surface rigs are the only way to go...i'd suggest starting with a single surface rig and two planers and if things are going well eliminate the surface rig from the spread to reduce the chance of complications...you'll likely find as we have that those planers are pretty much a sure thing...odd because except for down here i've never seen this system used for making bait...

As silly as it sounds you have to think like a bait in order to catch it...this sounds simple...but given the unique conditions that we all encounter out there day after day, learning to understand things like current and tides and how they effect the movements of fish...and then knowing how to act upon that knowledge takes a long time to master...

 

Below: Places with excess surface activity like this is a goldmine opportunity to live bait for Marlin


As far as locating bait goes one thing i've learned is that bait schools will almost always work upcurrent of offshore structure...if it's around...but if no structure is available then certainly the bait is going to be working into the current...now they aren't swimming in straight lines, but overall bait sized tuna schools are going to be working up current and into the tide...just like the bigger fish that are chasing them, bait schools will use the hindering ability of the current to their advantage to tire and corral the tiny bait that they are feeding on...keep this in mind because if you're fishing open water fathom lines et al and you locate a school of bait at some point in the day...chances are if you need to find that bait again later it's going to be somewhere upcurrent from where you last saw them...always...and i do mean ALWAYS make a mental note of how fast open water bait schools are moving and hit the MARK button on your GPS for future reference...a quick speed, distance, time calculation will help you locate that open water bait again when you need it...(remember, we're talking about skipjack, bullet tuna, and small yellowfin here...other bait types will act much differently!)

If offshore structure is available then first thing in the morning the bait is going to be real tight to the high spots or islands if you're lucky enough to have them offshore in productive marlin grounds...the bait will show a tendency to move further off the structure as the day progresses...this is also very important to note because plentiful bait fishing areas in the morning that have suddenly gone vacant later in the day can have you driving around in circles chasing ghosts...if you remember that the bait will move...sometimes great distances of a mile or more...off the structure during the heat of the day you can work a search pattern away from the areas that were productive earlier until you find them again...believe me...they don't just dissapear...

As the day wears on the bait will also show a tendency to go deep...particularly if there's little current, slack tides, or bright skies...surface trolling patterns or planers used at first light when the bait's up should give way to deep drop iron jigs or weighted squid daisy chains as described above dropped down 200 feet or more...watching your sonar closely will reap huge dividends during the middle of the day and it's surprising how few people will go to the extra effort to deep drop when baits become scarce...i can't tell you how many times locating and catching bait from sonar marks 300 feet down has saved our day or won us tournaments...go the extra mile you WILL be rewarded...

When deep dropping iron jigs or weighted daisy chains make sure you get upwind and upcurrent of your meter marks becasue...particularly if they are 100' down or more...by the time your lures hit the appropriate depth and you begin your retrieve the baits you're looking for have already swam well beyond your reach...it might take a few drifts to get this right but by keeping an eye on your sonar and the speed of your drift you should be able to judge the speed at which the bait is moving and with a little practice you'll be cranking those jigs or daisy chains up through the bait school every time...HOOKUP!!!

Alright...enough about catching bait already...i know i've forgotten half of what i should have added here but this will get you started anyway...just remember...master the art of fresh quality bait cathcing when you need it and big blue marlin...or any large gamefish for that matter...won't be far away...

Since we run a minimum of 6 tuna tubes on the CONQUISTADOR i'll usually fill all 6 tubes with livies and then look for an additional two or three more which we will bridle up and put in the water right away...this gives us a loaded chamber and a full clip if we need it...and things do tend to get heated out there...

 

Below: A nice Marlin at the leader taken on a live bait


When it comes to tuna tubes we all have our preferences but i will tell you that i've definitley learned that the best flow per individual tube is 1,250 - 1,400 gallons per hour...again...this is for skipjack, small yellowfin up to 20 lbs, and bullet tuna...all of these baits are ram ventilation swimmers and it is KEY to give them just the right amount of water to keep them calm and happy...i've also started gluing soft neoprene "donuts" on the bottom of the tubes to protect the noses and eyeballs of the baits waiting patiently for their turn at greatness...little things like these go a long way believe me...

Now that we're loaded with bait...how do we fish them?

After making sure we've got the right rod and reels for the job, spooled up the proper line, prepped, checked and re-checked everything twice it's time to bridle up our first bait...start with a leader of at least 300# fluoro cut to your preference...concerning hooks, from my experience there is no better hook on the market than the Hyabusa 11/0 or 12/0 circle hook for fishing live tuna baits for marlin...the low profile, huge gap, and sturdy toughness of the hook offers a lot of advantages...obviously we all have our favorites but my conscience wouldn't let me rest without recommending and promoting the benefits of fishing live bait with circle hooks...particularly when targetting billfish...circle hooks will let you get away with a lighter leader and almost always catch a marlin in the corner of the jaw...ensuring a tremendous acrobatic fight and a viable commitment to the future of this resource...

For bridling purposes we like to use a short piece of 50# spectra as this material is much thinner and stronger than rubber bands or floss and offers a much smaller impact on the bait as it passes above the baits eyes and through the skull during the bridling process...subsequently, we use very short 4", low impact rigging needles...again...utilized for their ability to injure the bait as little as possible during the bridling process...

I've seen a lot of crews turn baits upside down during bridling...i don't recommend this unless you've got over 10 seasons under your belt and very steady hand-eye coordination...we prefer to keep the baits upright where it's easier to see what you're doing when passing the needle through the bait's head...we cradle the bait under our armpit and steady the bait with our forearm...cupping your hand around the bait's mouth...just like running with a football...then perform the bridling process with your free hand...if you're right handed...hold the bait with your left arm and bridle with your right...

 

Below: Another beautiful Marlin lit up at the boat... take on live bait...


Pass the needle and bridle loop immediately above the eyeballs of the bait, remove the needle from the bridle loop and pass the point of the hook through the bridle loop on the other side of the bait and twist the hook several times to take up slack in the bridle, pass the point of the hook, from the front of the bait towards the back below the twists in the bridal you just created making SURE that the hook rides point up...very important...some crews like to leave some slack between the bait's head and the hook and while this may be fine with dead baits i've found the tighter you can get that hook to a live bait's head the less chance the bait has of fouling the hook as it's frantically running for it's life with a large blue marlin on it's tail...

Except for extremely rough weather we'll almost always run 3 live baits in the spread...one livey off each outrigger and either one off the transom in the wash or one down deep on the downrigger...the first bait that hits the water is always the long left outrigger bait because just like bait fishing i want one farther than the next and i seem to like turning right...the next bait goes up the right rigger at least 50' shorter than the left rigger bait and both baits are held in the rigger clips by a #64 rubber band...

If it's first thing in the morning i'll run the third and final bait right behind the wash off a transom or flatline clip secured by old trusty #64...as the day wears on i'll break out the downrigger and send one deep...up to 300 feet at times...it all depends on those particular conditions from day to day...

OK! we've caught bait, nurtured it, and finally put it behind the boat...NOW WHAT!

Blue marlin have captured the hearts and lives of men and women since the day we've learned of them...where, when and why they show up in particular areas are questions we have all donated much time to pondering...as the years go by and scientists and studies apply more technology to these questions we may very well be able to turn on a computer one day and ascertain just where each and every blue marlin is on the planet at that particular time...it's a wild and haunting theory with a long argument ahead of it...but i'm getting ahead of myself...for now we're left to chase these magestic gamefish the old fashioned way...so let's get started...

Blues are creatures of warm, cerulean blue water with immesurable depth...there's no denying that...and for the most part...i'll be referring to that little caveat a lot because there's exceptions to every rule...blue marlin are going to prefer deeper water than black marlin or striped marlin...the two other types of marlin we have here in the Pacific...blues can often withstand much warmer water temperatures than both blacks and stripes...and around here our blues prefer water temperatures between 84 - 90 degrees....

Whereas we'll often hook black and striped marlin in 60 feet of water or less around reefs, seamounts, and islands offshore...most of my blue marlin have come with depths of 500' or more under the keel...and usually with plenty of deeper water lurking nearby...

If i am specifically targetting blue marlin with live bait the first thing i'm going to do after catching bait is run a few miles outside of the structure or islands where the bait has been hanging out...obviously...i'm only going to do this if blue marlin are on our brains because things like giant tuna and black marlin have a tendency to hug the structure where the bait is hanging out...and if i'm gunning for blues the last thing i want is a 200 pound tuna or 800 pound black eating one of my precious baits...as weird as that sounds...but there are times where singlemindedness is called for...but those stories are for another time...

 

Below: A quality Marlin breaches next to the boat after picking up a live bait.


For reasons i've yet to discover blues are reluctant to come into shallow waters like other billfish or tunas...at least around here...and unlike black marlin or tunas from what i can tell they often prefer to work DOWN current from high spots or pinnacles...

More than a few times out there i've thrown caution to the wind and detoured several miles down current of the structure and surprised myself as fish after fish came to the spread...every one of them a blue marlin...are the blues waiting down current for tired or injured bait to come floating by from the bait balls a few miles up current and closer to the structure?...who knows...i certainly do take note however of their preference to hang a few miles down current and away from the more obvious signs of life and working these areas when all else fails has produced more blue marlin for this skipper than perhaps any other likely hunting area...

My second favorite spot to look for blue marlin after deep water areas down current of productive, bait rich high spots is around open water bait schools...

Bait schools in open water are bound to attract attention and it's no surprise that blue marlin are apt to haunt them...i can almost guarantee you that from June - January down here as long as the water is warm and blue and you find an open water bait school you're going to catch a blue marlin within 500 yards of that school of bait...

The funny thing i've noticed is that although the blues will for the most part be trailing the bait they will be much closer to the baitschool than they would be otherwise...say in comparison to the way they would work a school of bait near structure...again...don't ask me why...just one of those things i've happened to realize...for whatever reason blue marlin haunting bait in open water are going to stick real close to that bait ball...almost as though they were guarding it as their own personal roving feed lot...and i can't really say i blame them...

Now...one really important piece of advice that i don't mind sharing with you while we're talking about open water bait schools...

We must remember that while blue marlin do gobble up our 4 - 10lb baits with regularity...they have no problem whatsoever munching down a much larger and considerably harder bait to catch than a live skipjack trolled around at 3 - 4 knots behind our boats...

With this in mind we all know porpoise and tunas love to swim together out in the deep open water...down here we have three kinds of dolphin and porpoise that hold tunas...particularly yellowfin tunas...with spinner porpoise schools often holding a tremendous amount of yellowfin in the 15 - 100lb range...well around three years ago i started discovering that peanut to medium sized yellowfin were not the only gamefish hanging out with those porpoise...lo and behold time and time again when we started looking for them blue marlin would often crash baits trolled just a short distance behind the porpoise and tuna meley and as the years went by i knew we were actually onto something...no doubt about it...when you've got the right water temps, color, and time of year and you find an open water porpoise school holding yellowfin you can count on the fact that there's a blue marlin close by...and i'll bet you a dime to a dollar it's going to be a chunky one...

Alright...we've got a good idea of where to look for them...now the moment of truth we've all been waiting for...we've deployed our spread...cross-referenced our experience and knowledge with current conditions and signs and by god we are in the right spot doing the right thing and it has paid off...by the looks of that long left rigger bait doing cartwheels back there we have raised a neon blue freight train...and she's hungry...HERE WE GO...

When that trusty #64 snaps and the reel, which is in freespool with the clicker on starts to scream the most important thing to remember is STAY CALM...DON'T gun the boat...DON'T change course...DON'T touch the rod, reel, or drag...PAY ATTENTION!!! Just because the fish has grabbed the bait doesn't mean she's eaten it...marlin can be extremely patient eaters with live baits...often picking the bait up, crushing it...then spitting it out...twisting it around...whacking it with the bill...crushing it some more...before finally eating it...they can drive you crazy!

Each and every fish is different and there's no way i can tell you how to properly handle each of them...for the most part it pays to give that fish a loooong time to eat...remember we're using circle hooks here...so usually when we are bit by a marlin i'll slide the engines into neutral and count to 20 or more...again...it depends...but on average that's a good place to start...

Once you feel the fish has had sufficient time to swallow the bait...SLOWLY...and i do mean SLOWLY push the drag up to strike and re-engage the throttles but not faster than your original trolling speed...if the rod goes bendo and line is ripping off the reel and you feel like you've got her you can bump the throttles a bit here for showmanship but there's really no need...the mechanics of a circle hook perform nearly flawlessly when engaged slowly and with patience and i'll bet you another dime to a dollar that your overall hook-up AND catch percentages will soar if you use this method...

The reason we don't push the boat too much to begin with while setting the hook is because sometimes as long as you think you've given the fish to eat...the fish has other ideas and once you engage the drag and throttles the bait simply slides free of the fish's jaw where it was safely getting crushed...not swallowed...

If you're setting your hook patiently the bait merely slips away from the fish at this point and she turns to chase it and eventually eat it again as it's moving exactly as fast as it was before...albeit not as lively...but the bait's done it's job by now anyway...

Repeat if necessary! i've set the hook on fish four or five times before we...or the fish...finally gets it right! Going balls out on the first hookset in many of these cases would have scared the beejesus out of the fish and that simple mistake just might have cost you your only shot...so have faith...and patience out there...

When the stars finally align and with all this in mind there is no finer moment than when that blue beheamouth comes crashing through the surface in an epic display of power and tenacity...i have been lucky enough to appreciate first hand the magic of these moments and more often than not live baiting for blue marlin has been the catalyst from which subsequent heartstopping madness has followed...

So to all those out there that appreciate this game as much as i do...i hope the mistakes we've made along the way can save you valuable trial and error and these tips help to get you one step closer to those moments we all endeavor to attend...

Go gettum...

 

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