Living in Brisbane and fishing areas up along the coastline such as Double Island Point, Fraser Island Bundaberg and 1770 takes a fair amount of effort and requires a minimum of at least two days to complete a trip. All my trips in these areas require overnighters in sometimes less then favourable conditions so you need a crew that can handle this and the fishing experience that goes with it. This doesn’t often give me an opportunity to take friends and family out for a casual days fishing so every year I like to spend some time off Brisbane chasing certain species and in particular trolling for marlin and other pelagic species.
After experiencing some mind blowing billfish action off the Breaksea Spit only a week prior and reports of fish starting to show up off Brisbane I decided it would be a great opportunity to take my partner Lauren out for her first offshore fish with the aim of getting her and my mate Mark their first marlin. The prediction was for 5-10 knots with an afternoon seabreeze and after crossing a very flat south passage bar we were greeted with dead flat seas and clear blue skies.
I headed out to the ground off Point Lookout, Stradbroke Island and found some birds working on a massive bait school so I put 3 pakula skirted lures out and 1 hard body lure as well. After about 15 minutes of trolling over the bait we had a small hit on the lumo cockroach skirted lure which didn’t connect but I could see a marlin still following the lure but he turned away and the excitement ended. 10 minutes later the same lure gets smashed again and the reel begins to scream that beautiful sound. A nice black marlin erupts from the surface and begins to put on a brilliant aerial display but before long the line went limp and the fish was lost. The marlin continued to jump around for a long period of time with the lure still attached and close inspection of the main line indicated that a wahoo may have bitten the snap swivel that joined the leader to the main line. I was pretty gutted as you don’t get many chances on these fish but I still had high hopes considering there appeared to be plenty around.
I kept trolling the area and before long the hard body lure was smashed and Lauren grabs the rod and begins winding it in. It didn’t put up much of a fight and I thought maybe it was a small tuna but it turned out to be a nice wahoo and after finding its way safely on the end of the gaff Lauren proudly held it up for some pics. In the next hour or so we had another couple hits from marlin which failed to connect but the hard body lure once again was smashed and Mark pulled in a very colourful wahoo that showed off its dark bands and electric blue colour.
We continued to troll the bait school for another hour or so but the fishing was very slow so I headed out around the front of point lookout to try our luck there. It didn’t take long before the TLD 25 screamed and we had another marlin jumping out of the water but once again the hooks didn’t stick and the line went limp. As you can probably tell marlin are very hard to hook and penetrating their hard bill can be very tricky. After trolling the area for a while I managed to find some small bait schools in 20mtrs of water and I knew we had to concentrate our efforts in this area.
After half an hour with no hits I was starting to think our luck had run out when all of sudden the furthest lure back known as the shotgun was hit hard and this time we had a solid connection to a nice black marlin that was going nuts on the water surface. Lauren was handed the rod and she did well keeping the tension on the line as the angry little black marlin was jumping all over the ocean. Lauren sounded excited and nervous all the same time but she was doing well and had it to the boat reasonably quick. The fish was pretty green (lots of energy still) when it reached the boat but I managed to get a good hold on the marlins bill before it went nuts and shook the hell out of me. Lauren was a happy girl and I lifted her first marlin aboard for some quick pics before getting it back in the water. While swimming the marlin alongside the boat I noticed it had regurgitated a mouth full of pilchards so this was a sure indication of the bait they were feeding on and what I could see on the sounder. After swimming the fish for a good 5 minutes it gave a quick kick so I let him go and he was on his way.
We trolled the area a little longer but things were quiet so I headed wider trying to find a wahoo or dolphin fish. After a couple of hours and no hits I headed back to the area off Point Lookout to see if I could get Mark his first marlin on the tide change. It wasn’t long before the shotgun lure was hit again and a nice black marlin was dancing around on the surface. This fish become very stubborn and Mark had his work cut out for him as it kept going down in the water column which makes it hard to gain line when using 8kg tackle. To combat this you need to drive the boat away from the fish which brings it back to the surface and then you can drive back towards the fish while gaining line easily.
After a solid fight I managed to grab the leader, pull the fish to surface and grab the bill of the marlin. I carefully pulled this fish aboard for some pics and quickly slid him back into the water. I congratulated Mark on his first Billie and there were smiles all round. It’s a good feeling getting people onto their first marlin and having my partner Lauren out on her first offshore trip catching one was very satisfying.
I would like outline a few details of the tackle and setup I use to target these fish which might help even the most novice fishos achieve their own billfish. Firstly I don’t use outriggers and have two rod inserts that face outwards so the rods are sticking out horizontal to the boat. This positions the lures on the outer edge of the boat wash in cleaner water where the lures can work more effectively for a fish to see. I also run another rod from the bait board which I use as a shotgun. A shotgun is a position in the centre of the boat where the lure is set at the end of the boat wash/bubbles in nice clear water.
You don’t need heavy tackle to catch these fish and 8-15kg line is sufficient and reels such as tld 25’s and a mixture of rods to suit the line class will be fine on small black marlin. I run around 3 mtrs of 100lb leader which is connected to the main line by a snap swivel. There are other methods to connect the main line to leader such as a wind on leader but for convenience I choose the snap swivel.
Now for marlin you need to run resin head skirted lures or pushers as most call them. I mostly run pakula lures but there are many other brands that will prove equally as affective. Lure type, size and colour can be important and most lures have specific areas to be trolled behind the boat which I could write in detail all day long about but unfortunately would never have enough space to do so. To put it simply some lures work best in close to the boat while others are designed to work further back and this is determined by the lure head size and shape. Most of the black marlin around at the moment are only small juvenile fish so running small skirted lures around 6 inches long is ideal.
Rigging the lures is the important part as hooking and penetrating the bill on a marlin can be very difficult. Using fine gauged hooks will increase your hook up rate and I mostly use 8/0-9/0 Gamagatsu SL12’s hooks. These can be set up as a single hook rig on mono or wire or as a double hook rig known as a shackle rig. There is always controversy on which rig works better but it comes down to personal choice and what works best for you. Rigging the lures can be tricky for beginners and it’s best to do your homework and search the net, read books or see an experienced tackle shop who can give the right advice or make them up for you. Another option is to join a game fishing club as they offer you all the advice in the world and even a spot on their boats which you will learn valuable information from.