It was switch-bait­ing, but it’s turn­ing into some­thing else


Ihave been lucky enough to fish on quite a few boats that were mar­lin fish­ing, and most used a sim­i­lar spread: two lures or bal­ly­hoo with chug­ger heads on the long rig­gers and two cock­pit teasers on the short rig­gers. Then came two bridge teasers, with a pair of dredges fished clos­est to the boat.

When I hear crews say that they had a mar­lin fol­low a teaser all the way to the boat but they could not get the fish to eat a bait, it might be that the fish lost in­ter­est, star­ing up at the teaser hang­ing from the rigger. Or even worse, it was a go­ing-away bite, which can be real trou­ble for the an­gler, with a good chance of a back­lash or a bad hook-set (al­though it’s a great bite for fly-fish­er­men).

When we started us­ing the switch-bait­ing tech­nique for world records, I would slow the boat a bit so the lure was com­ing in at the same speed we were mov­ing when we raised the bill­fish. That gave us a bet­ter pre­sen­ta­tion with our pitch bait. I have seen cap­tains who pre­fer to go into a turn, while oth­ers con­tinue at the same speed and with the au­topi­lot on so they re­main in a straight line, and it all seems to work just fine. The only prob­lem I see is that crews are hav­ing a harder time mak­ing the teaser dis­ap­pear, so the mar­lin or sail­fish sees only the an­gler’s bait in­stead.

When a fish comes up on the teaser, the mate pushes the but­tons on the dredge reel to get the dredge out of the way, while some­one starts re­triev­ing the teaser with the fish be­hind it — whether it is the cock­pit or the bridge teaser. As the teaser comes in, the an­gler can ei­ther pick up a rod that’s al­ready in the spread or pitch a bait from the cock­pit. By pitch­ing a bait, the an­gler keeps it ahead of the teaser so the switch can be made as the teaser moves past the hook bait.

The teaser per­son waits un­til they see the bait close to the teaser, then they jerk the teaser away; the only thing the bill­fish now sees is the an­gler’s bait. The switch is on.

But th­ese days, most crews are us­ing elec­tric reels for their teasers, and with their slower rate of re­trieve, the fish fol­lows the teaser all the way to the boat. Now the crew is yelling at the an­gler to get the bait up to the boat while the mar­lin is un­der the outrig­ger, star­ing at a lure hang­ing just above the sur­face. Switch­bait­ing has turned into what I now call “push and fol­low.” You can tell the top cap­tains who hand-line the bridge teaser be­cause they have scars on their hands from try­ing to yank away a teaser from a pissed-off blue mar­lin and the fish rips it out of their hands — 300-pound mono leaves a burn mark across the back of your hand — but they make the switch and get the job done. It’s dan­ger­ous, but it is ef­fec­tive for get­ting the lure away from an ag­gres­sive blue mar­lin.

The other prob­lem is that most teasers are now so long and heavy, with mul­ti­ple squid and a bait at the end. There is no way to jerk this rig com­pletely out of the way. It is just too heavy, and when it does get to the boat, the last bait is still hang­ing in the water with a bill­fish lung­ing at it. The same thing with some of those big teaser lures that are out there: It is hard to make them jump or dis­ap­pear out of the mar­lin’s range of vi­sion so it sees only the an­gler’s bait. Big­ger is not nec­es­sar­ily bet­ter in this case.

I have had many bill­fish fol­low a lure to the boat, ig­nor­ing a beau­ti­ful swim­ming mack­erel, a live tuna or any­thing else we threw at them. The fish was fix­ated on that lure, like a cat chas­ing a lizard: Take away the lizard, and the cat wants noth­ing else. For this rea­son, try to match your pitch baits and teasers in some way. Some days they will eat any­thing you throw at them. Some days they won’t.

Switch-bait­ing will give you an in­cred­i­ble view of a bill­fish bite right off the tran­som, and it tests your skills as an an­gler, drop­ping back to that ag­gres­sive mar­lin or sail­fish. It also gives you about the best hookup ra­tio you can have.

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