Get ready for the monsters
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.
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.
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.
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