Describing fishing as long periods of boredom followed by frantic seconds of action was probably first written by a blue marlin fisherman. Who in their right mind enjoys riding around the deep blue ocean for hours on end, happy with just one encounter of the ocean’s apex predator—the blue marlin? Imagine yourself in the cockpit of a sportfisher looking aft at a boat wake and prop wash; lures and teasers bubbling for hours with no encounters. It’s boring!
Next you see a boat backing down, hooked up with a blue jumping across the surface. You can’t help but wonder what the other guy is doing to be successful? If and when you do get your shot, you better give yourself the best opportunity to succeed and understand why the long wait was worth it. To help you be more successful we delve into the techniques of top marlin skipper Captain Mike Lemon, who opens up with some very helpful tips for your summer marlin fishing season.
Mostly gone are the days exclusively trolling big lures with big hooks and heavy drag for marlin. And while “drag and snag” still has its place on some very good boats, those words are certainly not echoed up and down the docks like in years’ past. The changes have more to do with releasing fish using circle hooks and dredges. Whether you’re fishing in St. Thomas, the Dominican Republic, Bermuda, the mid-Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico or the Caribbean, today’s blue marlin fishermen are dredge and teaser fishing.
Captain Mike Lemon, who ran the record-breaking Revenge, fished the blue marlin-rich waters of the famous North Drop out of St. Thomas for 30-plus years. To know captain Lemon is like knowing one of your high school science teachers—very knowledgeable and uniquely different in his approach. Like all good captains who are open to change, Lemon started using the dredge in 2011 after declaring, “I saw too many good fishermen trying it not to give it a shot.”
Captain Lemon’s standard North Drop spread is one dredge, two bridge teasers, two short rigger teasers and two long riggers with hooks. With trolling speeds anywhere from 7.5 to 8.5 knots, Lemon uses a light six-arm “Zing” brand dredge equipped with six mud-flap style teasers and a bowling pin teaser positioned in the center to create more of a swerving action. Lemon also points out that his dredge is controlled from the cockpit.
“Our dredge is positioned around the second wave, with the bridge teasers around the third wave,” he says. “With the dredge on the second wave I always felt that we had ours way too far back and probably raised some fish to it but didn’t know it. I wish I could see it better but a lot of that is training yourself to look there.”
Lemon goes on to say, “When we raised a marlin on a bridge teaser, the first thing we did was wind the dredge up. Then one of the mates or anglers on the teasing side would crank the short rigger in near the initial bridge teaser position. I do this for a couple reasons but mainly to be in a better position for a backup shot should the fish not get hooked on the pitch bait. Pulling the short rigger in is also much easier to keep clear of a crazy fish getting tangled in the spread after coming tight.”
He points out the importance of paying attention and understanding how the marlin is teasing. “I try to do as much as I can to provide my angler with an “anticipated” bite versus a “surprise” bite on the pitch,” he says. “To help with this, I’ve learned not to tease the marlin all the way up to the transom and yank the teaser away to see when and where the marlin shows up again. In an ideal tease, the angler is listening and seeing what is going on and most of the time visually picking up the fish. I’m teasing by hand versus using the electric bridge teaser reel and I like to get the marlin teased just past the first wave before we present a bait– then I pull the teaser away as the pitch bait goes back.” The goal is to have the marlin smoothly transition to the pitch in a more predictable manner versus a now you see now you don’t approach. It’s important that the angler can see what is going on and get a softer bite versus an unpredictable crash bite.
Captain Mike also feels that it’s his role as the captain to eliminate any surprises on the pitch bait and adds that pitching natural baits with a well-orchestrated tease are the best combination for success. “Keeping the fish far enough from the transom area helps me communicate what the fish is doing and helps the angler in seeing the fish,” he says.
Unique Rigger Execution
Another unique aspect to Lemon’s approach is how he likes to keep his short riggers in the same halyard position once a marlin is being teased and then cleverly transfers the short rigger tease over to his bridge teaser with the help of his crew. To do this takes practice and timing. On Lemon’s command, the mate controlling the short rigger basically teases the marlin right into the bridge teaser. When Captain Lemon gives the “clear” command, the short rigger is reeled in quickly and cleared and the marlin is left seeing the bridge teaser without really knowing the short rigger teaser was changed.
Again, the goal here is to communicate and control the tease before the final transition to the pitch bait. Seeing the marlin for both angler and captain is a huge advantage. “Having control of my bridge teaser and hand teasing has worked well for us,” adds Lemon. Many crews like to pull the halyard down close and get the fish coming in closer to the corner but Lemon says he likes to keep the fish outside the alley in cleaner water for better visibility.
Captain Mike Lemon is one of the top blue marlin fishermen in world—with well over 1,000 blue marlin released. Do yourself a favor and incorporate some of these tried and true techniques into your spread the next time you are fishing the North Drop. You’ll be the boat backing while the others are watching—you guessed it—the boat wake, the prop wash and the bubbling of the lures and the teasers.