How To Catch Black Marlin

From “Complete Guide to Game Fishing” by Alistair McGlashan and Glen Booth comes this advice on hunting black marlin.

When watching a 20kg black marlin (Istiompax indica) bouncing around on the end of a line, it’s sometimes hard to reconcile that such a tiny fish can grow into one of those thousand pounders (450kg) ‘rhinos of the sea’ that have kept Cairns at the top of the game fishing bestseller list for nearly 50 years. As the days grow longer and the water starts to warm, east coast off shore anglers begin speculating about if and when these baby blacks will appear in their home waters. Any reports from up the coast are eagerly received, closely dissected, double-checked (and often found to be false), but if the signs are right, the tackle and boat preparation gets under way in earnest. The first confirmed captures are a tangible sign that summer is finally here and all is right with the world.

Of course, this run of mini marlin is dependent on three major factors. The first is a hot, blue, hard-running inshore current from the north to assist the fish in their journey south. Some years the blacks will penetrate as far south as Victoria, while in others they might only make it to South West Rocks. It’s a bit of a lottery really, but the swifter the current, the more likely southern anglers will encounter them. Floodwaters can halt this southerly push; they don’t mind green water, but brown river water is a turn-off.

The second is the availability of bait. Small marlin are pure eating machines and those inshore schools of slimy mackerel, yellowtail and pilchards are the magnets that hold them in a given area during summer and early autumn. Remove the all-important bait though, and they’ll quickly relocate to bluer pastures.

A major clue as to the sort of season southern anglers might enjoy is what happened the previous year at tropical light-tackle billfish hotspots like Cape Bowling Green, Dunk Island, Innisfail and Cairns. If the north Queenslanders enjoyed quality fishing during spring, southern anglers are in for a blinder come summer. It’s very much a case of if they sneeze, we catch cold—but in this instance it’s the sort of cold everyone wants to catch.

The most appealing aspect of the inshore black marlin run is that it is within everybody’s reach. A 4.5m tinnie with fairly basic tackle can enjoy the same fishing as a professionally crewed 12m game boat—albeit under slightly cramped conditions and more at the mercy of the weather. To catch the mightiest of all game fish from the family runabout is a remarkable experience and one not forgotten in a hurry. In fact, this inshore marlin fishery is as far removed from the layman’s concept of game fishing as it is possible to get. While a single marlin capture (or tag) is usually considered a good day’s fishing, when the baby blacks are on, they’re on big time. Numbers of releases can top double figures, and in years past boats operating out of South West Rocks and Port Stephens have tagged over 20 in a day. That’s world class fishing in anybody’s language.

The memorable black marlin years see fish between 18 and 45kg in weight, with a sprinkling of 80 to 90kg outlaws mixed in with them. Marlin like this are a real challenge on light tackle, but with the emphasis very much on tag and release these days, many anglers are favouring 15−24kg tackle rather than dropping down to lighter line.

Fished with a drag setting back from the customary one-third of the line’s breaking strain, there’s still enough reserve firepower if a bigger marlin happens along, and the fish doesn’t get stressed out by a prolonged fight on light tackle. If light tackle is a safe bet given the size of the fish present, it’s imperative to replace the line on a regular basis (every day if it’s a real hot bite), by top-shotting the first 150−200m.

Exert from the Complete Guide to Game Fishing by Alistair McGlashan and Glen Booth (HarperCollins Publishers). Available through all good bookstores.

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