There’s nothing easy about catching a blue marlin — just ask Santiago from The Old Man and the Sea. Blue marlin (Makaira nigricans) are some of the biggest, fastest, and most elusive fish on Earth. And that’s why reelers obsess over chasing and catching them.
According to Jack Vasilaros, a charter captain and tournament reeler, “[Blue marlin] are the baddest fish in the ocean. They’re huge fish that put up an incredible fight.”
When it comes to blue marlin, reelers face a few monumental challenges: Finding them, hooking them, and getting them to the boat.
Blue marlin are pelagic, highly migratory fish. They cruise warm, deep-water currents in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans, and can range hundreds, or even thousand of miles.
Vasilaros recommends using charts of currents and up-to-date water temperature imagery as a starting place.
“Look places where currents converge or for temperature changes. Then, keep watch for birds [which alert reelers to the presence of baitfish] or debris that attracts bait.”
Dolphins on the surface can also alert you to the presence of bait, according to Darryn Du Plessis of Soolyman Sportfishing.
Structure, like an oil rig or an aggregating buoy, can attract the bait that attracts blue marlins, as well. But not all structure is visible from the surface.
Marlins like the surface, but are rarely found in water of less than 100 fathoms (600 feet, or about 200 meters).
“When looking for Blue Marlin you want to be fishing over deep water structure and look for… current breaks. Blue marlin like clean warm water,” says Du Plessis. “Once you find an area that looks promising, work it.”
If you hook a blue marlin, mark the spot. While there may be nothing that gives away why the fish hit your bait in that particular place, there is usually a reason the marlin was there — even if you can’t see it.
As Du Plessis puts it, “When I hook up i save the point as there are most likely more fish in the area.”
Blue marlin get really big. Although, 200 to 400 lbs. is pretty typical, big females can easily weigh more than twice that. The biggest blue marlin caught on rod and reel (off Oahu, Hawai’i) weighed more than, 1,800 pounds. Longline fishermen have reported specimens bigger than 2,000 pounds.
Du Plessis says, “When chasing blue marlin your gear is key and it is very important to fish heavy. I usually fish a five rod spread of shimano tiagra 130s when chasing larger blues and when the smaller fish are running I downgrade to 80s and 50s spooled with a top shot of 80 lb. mono and around 1000 yards of braid backing.”
You’ve also got to make sure that your hook is extremely sharp. The part of the marlin that’s going to get hooked is mostly bone, and you need the hook to penetrate and hold.
Although some captains still swear by live bait, like skipjack, most use artificials.
“Artificial lures allow you to cover more ground because you don’t have to rebait,” says Vasilaros. He uses custom lures that a buddy makes — “chubby cubbies.”
Du Plessis mixes it up.
“Trolling lures and swim baits are my preferred method to target blue marlin. I rig my lures with 500lb mono leader and a single stiff rig with the hook up. My baits are rigged on 300lb trace with a circle hook,” he says. “Some days they prefer one color or one size of lure so you have to adjust your spread accordingly.”
You also want to make sure you set the hook. Blue marlin are big and strong enough that they can hold the bait in their mouth and make you think their hooked. Then after several wasted minutes, spit it out and disappear. If you’re using an artificial, wait until the fish turns away from the boat.
Getting it to the boat
Once a big fish is on, you’re in for a fight. You’ve got to constantly pull up and reel down. For marlin, Du Plessis does what he can to help his reeler boat the fish.
“The more line that is out, the more chance you have of losing the fish, so I try to keep up with the fish by backing the boat down while the angler retrieves line,” he says. “If the fish sounds then I drive away from it to put some angle on the line. This usually brings them back up to the surface.”
Remember, once you get the blue marlin close, you’re dealing with a few hundred pounds of angry fish — as well as a sharp bill, a wire leader, and a big, sharp, heavy duty hook.
You’ve got to quickly measure and shoot a picture or video, while dodging all the dangerous bits on a bouncing boat. It can be challenging. But it’s also important.
“I try to get the leader as quick as possible and then hang on. The quicker you can catch and release the fish, the higher it’s chance of survival is,” says Du Plessis.