By Capt. Adam Peeples
Here in the Northern Gulf of Mexico, we are fortunate to have an excellent marlin fishery. Whether live baiting blue marlin, pulling an all-around spread for pelagics, or targeting white marlin during the late summer with naked ballyhoo, there are plenty of options to get connected with a feisty billfish.
Targeting marlin from a center console requires a slightly different approach from a large sportfish vessel. As most of my trips are charters, I am more likely to troll a variety pack in my spread than to specifically target marlin in most situations. I want to capitalize on a potential marlin bite, but I also want to appeal to the potential wahoo, mahi, or tuna that may be in the area. I’ve had success with pulling lures for marlin, but in some situations, I would rather put a couple of live baits out than dragging lures.
Setting Up for Both Scenarios on the Center Console
On my Cape Horn 31T, my typical spread for marlin and pelagic fish in general includes five hooked lures and three teasers, with a pitch bait on standby. Off the transom, I pull a set of bowling pin type teasers. I connect the teaser to the starboard transom cleat, and I use a laundry basket to store, deploy, and recover the teaser. The laundry basket works perfectly for keeping the teaser from getting fouled during deployment and recovery. It also makes it easy to move the entire rig out of the way while fighting a fish.
Next, I have Squidnation’s “Flippy Floppy Things” on both riggers. I have clamp-on teaser reels attached to the underside of the T-top within arm’s reach of the helm. This enables me to immediately retrieve one or both teasers in the event of a bite while never leaving the helm. The specific lures I pull will vary depending on the situation, but typically I start with a Moldcraft Super Chugger on the left flat.
The right flat behind the bowling pins is always going to be a dolphin scheme lure as the teaser itself is dolphin colored. It usually is a Black Bart Eleuthera Plunger, but sometimes I will switch that out with an Ilander Black Hole/Ballyhoo combo. And the left rigger will have an Ilander Sea Star/Ballyhoo combo, while the right rigger is my “wild card” position. I will switch this lure out with whatever I am in the mood for, often a skirted ballyhoo or Moldcraft Wide Range.
The shotgun is usually a Marlin Magic Ahi P bullet. The sweet spot on my boat is 1700 rpms. In most conditions this gives me a troll speed of 7-8 knots. If the seas are rough, then RPMs can vary based trolling down sea, beam to, or straight into the swell. Space comes at a premium on a center console, so when we get a bite, the primary objective is to first clear all lines and teasers.
All rods, the teaser basket, and any other loose items are moved to the bow of the boat and away from the angler. It is very important to keep the deck clear and free of obstacles while fighting a fish in a stand-up harness, especially in a battle that requires a lot of boat driving. I prefer to fight fish off the port side of the boat and have the angler move forward and aft as needed throughout the fight. When it is time to leader the fish, I direct the angler forward of the console while taking a slight left turn. This keeps the fish away from the props and allows the fish to be brought alongside the boat for a safe release.
The Effectiveness of Live Baiting
While pulling baits is my preferred method of fishing for marlin, there are circumstances when live baiting is more effective. I like to live bait around FADS, drill ships, and even on large pieces of flotsam that are holding bait. Not having tuna tubes, catching and storing several large marlin baits is not really an option for me. What I can do is catch the bait on location. Baits are immediately bridled and deployed so I can have two lively baits behind the boat in a matter of minutes.
Live baits, especially blue runners, love to find their way into the props and around the motors on an outboard powered boat. It’s a team effort to deploy each bait. As soon as the bait is bridled, it is pitched out to the side of the boat away from the motors. Simultaneously, I give the throttle a quick bump forward and pull away from the bait. I will continue to pull away from it until it is right where it needs to be behind the boat. The first bait out goes into the right rigger clip to keep the line off the water and help maintain separation between the second bait.
Putting the second bait out requires the same method; the only difference is that I run the second bait closer to the boat straight from the rod holder. After that, I simply bump troll the baits in the area I want to fish. I prefer using this technique when I am in a very fishy area and want to spend time working the same spot.
If you choose to target marlin from a center console, there are a multitude of rigging options and aftermarket products available to set up a center console for blue water fishing. I prefer to keep things simple on my boat, but the possibilities are endless for how technical one wants to be. Getting the bite is only one piece of the puzzle. Correctly positioning the angler, driving the boat, and the endgame of wiring and handling the fish are just as important to successfully catch marlin from a center console and should not be overlooked.