Game time

Get ready for the mon­sters

New Zealand Fishing World - - (Game Fishing) -

With sum­mer, comes warmer wa­ter… and with warmer wa­ter comes the re­turn of our old big game friends. Our off­shore ex­pert

Al McGlashan goes over some of the key points for chas­ing th­ese pelagic preda­tors.

All an­glers dream about catch­ing big fish. There is some­thing very raw about do­ing bat­tle with mon­sters of the sea.

It doesn’t mat­ter whether it’s a mar­lin or tuna, they all pull hard and grow big. Part of the draw is that fact that we never know just how big the next fish is go­ing to be and there is al­ways that nig­gling that the next hookup is go­ing to be the fish of a life­time.

Spend­ing more time on the wa­ter than on the land, I have en­coun­tered some true mon­sters of the deep. There has been record-sized tuna, mar­lin over 1,000lb, huge sharks, as well as a num­ber of un­stop­pable fish that I never even had a chance to land. I have been spooled, los­ing 1000m of line in one run, had rods break, reels ex­plode and watched an­glers crum­ble un­der the pres­sure. No other sport has such pas­sion and pain as big game fish­ing.

The best news is that New Zealand has some awe­some game fish­ing and, un­like Aus­tralia where ma­rine park lock­outs are clos­ing down so many of the hotspots, there are still am­ple spots to chase big fish.

Once a rich man’s sport where big over­price game boats dom­i­nated, thanks to dra­matic im­prove­ments in boats, four strokes and ma­rine elec­tron­ics it is now pos­si­ble to catch th­ese huge fish from sur­pris­ingly small craft. Not sur­pris­ingly the pop­u­lar­ity of mar­lin fish­ing in New Zealand has gone through the roof in re­cent years and now there are more trailer boats off­shore than big cruis­ers.

A 6.5m trailer boat like my Evo­lu­tion, set up cor­rectly and with a good skip­per at the helm, can now fish 30-40 nau­ti­cal miles off­shore in the right con­di­tions open­ing the doors to just about any fish that swims. There are even spe­cific spots where the big game­fish, es­pe­cially sharks, come right in close to shore, mean­ing ev­ery­one can get in on the act.

Top of the list

The bill­fish clan, which in­cludes mar­lin, sail­fish and oth­ers swords like bill­fish, are prob­a­bly at the top of the list.

There are three species of mar­lin found in New Zealand waters from the enig­matic blue mar­lin, found well off­shore, to the black and striped that cruise in along the con­ti­nen­tal shelf.

Find­ing game­fish

Game­fish can be found right around the coun­try but it is the north­east­ern cor­ner that has the best ac­cess and deep wa­ter close to shore.

Bill­fish are the pre­dom­i­nant tar­get but when the cur­rent is right, trop­i­cal in­trud­ers like mahi can turn up as well.

Tuna are few and far be­tween with bluefin con­cen­trated along the south­west coast­line, while al­ba­core are more wildly dis­trib­uted. Sharks are ev­ery­where.

I have been spooled, los­ing 1000m of line in one run, had rods break, reels ex­plode and watched an­glers crum­ble un­der the pres­sure. No other sport has such pas­sion and pain as big game fish­ing.

Thresh­ers and bronze whalers are com­mon in­shore while makos are wide rang­ing pa­trolling the off­shore cur­rents but will ven­ture in­shore at times.

The big­gest influences on nearly all the species are the pre­vail­ing cur­rent. Push­ing a warm tongue of wa­ter south to meet the nu­tri­ent rich colder south­ern waters pro­vides the ideal en­vi­ron­ment for all pelagic preda­tors.

Wa­ter tem­per­a­tures play a vi­tal role and ev­ery species has its pre­ferred tem­per­a­ture. Bill­fish like wa­ter above 20 de­grees, bluefin pre­fer it to be cooler. How­ever if there is one hint I can of­fer that is clean wa­ter.

Nearly all the species we are talk­ing about here are sight hunters and while they cer­tainly can be found in dirty green wa­ter at times they all pre­fer clean and of­ten blue wa­ter. Most th­ese species maybe pelagic in na­ture but that doesn’t mean they don’t like to con­cen­trate around struc­ture be it reefs, canyons or pin­na­cles. This is not for cover, in­stead it is be­cause their food sources stack up in th­ese lo­ca­tions.

The de­vel­op­ment of high-tech elec­tron­ics like fishfind­ers and GPS plot­ters has made find­ing th­ese all in im­por­tant bait schools all the eas­ier. Find the bait and you will find the big boys.

Fish­ing tech­niques

The best way to catch most game fish is to troll. The ocean is a mas­sive ex­panse, which can make it dif­fi­cult to lo­cate big fish a lot of the time so the more ground you cover, the bet­ter.

A mix of skirted lures and deep divers can be trolled as fast as 10 knots in some cases, which is ideal for cov­er­ing the ground search­ing for fish. De­spite look­ing oddly like squid, skirted lures are de­signed to imi­tate a fish splash­ing along on the sur­face.

Most an­glers troll a spread of four or five lures to form a bait school. Skirted lures be­tween six and 10in long work best for sail­fish and tuna, while off­shore lures from 10 to 14in will at­tract big blue mar­lin.

Deep divers, like my favourite the Halco Laser Pro 190, are ab­so­lutely deadly, es­pe­cially on tuna, mahi and wa­hoo.

The one trick is to re­move the tre­ble hooks and re­place them with large sin­gle hooks. Tre­bles are not strong enough to han­dle heavy­weights and will bend so beef them up with heavy-duty sin­gles.

Ir­re­spec­tive of whichever lure you use, keep your hooks ra­zor sharp. Fish like mar­lin have very tough, bony mouths that are ex­tremely dif­fi­cult to pen­e­trate when lure trolling. The sharper the hook, the eas­ier it goes in. Fol­low the bait A big bait school is like an un­der­wa­ter ver­sion of a take­away shop with neon lights flash­ing. If you want to get served then you need to go to the counter and it is no dif­fer­ent for the mar­lin, so stay right on top of the school. The best way to find bait con­sis­tently is with a de­cent sounder. A qual­ity sounder will show you ex­actly what is go­ing on un­der­neath.

Un­der­stand­ing your sounder is es­sen­tial. Bait stacked up ver­ti­cal in shape is also highly pro­duc­tive, while a deep bait school with peak is a sure sign for the pres­ence of preda­tors.

Many se­ri­ous an­glers of­ten spend hours scan­ning an area with the sounder, be­fore de­cid­ing which bait school to fo­cus on.

Be­ing a big fish, mar­lin are eas­ily picked up as big red arches so with a well-tuned sounder you can ac­tu­ally pick the mar­lin on the edge of the bait school.

Once you find the bait you can ei­ther slow troll around them or drift with the school. Drift­ing not only al­lows you to hang with the bait, but it also al­lows your baits to act nat­u­rally and swim deeper in the strike zone.

One trick that works a treat when you are drift­ing over the bait is to drop a bait jig down into the school and then crank it back up once you load up with baits.

Wind­ing a full string of strug­gling bait­fish up to the sur­face is like ring­ing the din­ner gong and game­fish come run­ning. Bat­tling gi­ants Fight­ing big fish is all about tech­nique as well as a bit of brute force. Some species like mar­lin and mahi spend as much time in the air as they do in the wa­ter, which is about as ex­cit­ing as it gets.

Al­ter­nately at the other end of the spec­trum the tuna do any­thing but jump and stay down deep slug­ging it out.

The only way to be beat them is by sheer stamina and some se­ri­ous pain. Re­mem­ber fights can go for hours and hours so be ready for the long haul.

Check out the game fish­ing deals at To p Catch.

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