In this tackle tip, Luke Hickey of the Krazy Salt’s shows us a special technique for rigging a swimming ballyhoo bait. Why not give his method a try next time?
Release Ruler introduces its Billfish line of weight estimating boat decals and demonstrates how to apply them. Could be a great tool for tournament season.
Have you ever wanted to know the most popular lures used around the Bahamas, the Gulf of Mexico and the Mid-Atlantic? Take a minute and listen in to Grand Slam Sportfishing Supply owner Jim McGrath as he showcases the best lures for 2019. Lures include the recent World Cup and the Mid-Atlantic winner. Don’t wait and order yours today!
Diamond Fishing Products is proud to introduce its’ NEW ‘Hoo Hunter High Speed Trolling Weights
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Whether you’re running the boat, manning the rod or trying to get your team in shape, everyone could use a refresher on making the most of your bites. In this video, originally published in 2017, acclaimed tournament angler Fred Hardwick outlines an ingenious, practical way of getting a fell for the drop back. If that were not enough, check out what the best fishing teams on the professional series are doing in 2019. For even more from the archives, check out the bottom link– a 2014 round table with some of professional sportfishing’s best…. Have things changed? Are they the same?
More ITB Sailfish Articles to Read –
Fishing for sails in Florida is a numbers game. Those who play it seem to be getting faster and more efficient with every passing season.
Sailfish 2.0 (click here…)
A Q&A with 4 of the Best Captains in the Business
The Art of Sailfishing (click here…)
How Marlin and Sailfish REALLY Feed!
…And, why you need to “Drop Back” to consistently hook Billfish when using live or dead natural bait.
The family of “true” Billfish includes all the species called Marlin, all the Sailfish (which are split into the Atlantic and Pacific species with the Pacific Sailfish also being found in the Indian Ocean), several species of Spearfish and the Swordfish, which is sometimes referred to as Broadbill Swordfish.
All of these fish are members of the teleost group, which are known as “Boney” fishes and are closely related. The true billfish, with the sole exception of the Swordfish, vary only slightly in how the different species capture and kill their prey. I am about to explain why the common myth that all billfish use their bill as a sword, or a club, to kill their prey is not correct!
The Swordfish is easily distinguished from the other species of billed boney fish by their flattened, sharply edged, upper jaw or “Sword”. They frequently use it much as warriors’ metal swords were used in years gone by, to SLASH at their enemies, or in the swordfish’s case, at their prey.
Anyone who has ever baited a swordfish by slowly trolling a bait in front of one and managed to get a bite, will never forget the sight and the sound of the sword- like upper jaw slicing through the water when the fish attacks the slow moving bait!
As a young deck hand, fishing out of Martha’s Vineyard, I was usually standing high up in the boats’ tower holding the fishing line very lightly between my thumb and forefinger. I’d be slowly making adjustments in the length of line we had to let out into the water to keep our bait close to, and in front of, the slowly moving fish, where he could not help but see the bait!
When the strike came, if it ever came, it was SAVAGE! The bill slicing through the water HISSED, loudly enough for me to hear it even in my elevated position up in the tower! Sometimes the line was snatched so savagely out of my fingers by the speed of the slashing bill that I got a blister from the line. There was no need for a sailfish type of free spool drop back! The skipper would back up for a few yards after getting a strike, then move the boat slowly ahead until the line came tight with the reel set at our strike drag and we had him on!
From the fish’s perspective, it had killed its prey and then swallowed it. When the line tightened, the fish was hooked, often deeply!
In more recent years, both commercial fishermen and sports anglers, reacting to techniques developed by Cuban commercial fishermen, have developed “deep dropping” techniques which changed catching a sword fish from the most unlikely event for a recreational angler, to the most common, except for the sailfish which is still the star billfish, especially for Florida waters, due in large part to their large populations and year round access for anglers with small boats.
The Sawfish which is called a “Saw Shark” in Australia, is really a member of the shark family and is not a boney telost fish. It is quite different from all the other billfish but also slashes like the boney Swordfish. This strange looking shark has a long, horizontal sword which is filled with wicked looking and very dangerous external teeth that raise havoc when swung through the schools of mullet in the shallow water in which saw fish thrive. Saw Fish can kill, or cripple, dozens of the small bait fish in a very short time! They then feed on the dead and dying at their leisure! Saw fish are feared by commercial fishermen, in whose nets they get hopelessly tangled, but remain capable of inflicting serious damage to both boats and the men in them! They are not considered to be a sport, or game fish!
The Billfish that recreational anglers seek around the globe all have very similar ways of catching, killing and then swallowing the prey on which they feed. It is quite different from the SLASHING attack of a Broadbill Swordfish! These Billfish all have rounded, tapering, boney jaws, with very strong muscles that can make the upper and lower jaws clamp tightly enough together to easily kill most of their prey species if the jaws close on their vital organs.
Both upper and lower jaws have a multitude of very tiny, external teeth, called “denticles” which gives them a rasp like surface on both upper and lower jaws. This helps them to hold on to their prey when they succeed in grabbing it with their jaws.
Sailfish and marlin only rarely slash at a single food item, such as a single fish, squid or eel with the sideways movements of Saw Fish and Swordfish. However, there is one fairly common exception to this no “slash rule”. It is the tendency of both marlin (especially the smaller white and striped marlin) and sailfish to slash their bills wildly into any of the compact schools of very small bait fish that anglers and crews often refer to as bait balls or “Meat Balls.” A large pack of sail fish will often work together in order to round up a school of hundreds or even tens of thousands of their prey, forcing them into a tightly packed school. They can then take turns attacking the school of bait, rapidly killing or wounding hundreds or thousands of the small fish by slashing into the dense school with their upper jaws, that we call the bill! When this occurs, multiple dead and dying bait fish can then be easily taken directly into the billfish’s mouth and rapidly swallowed in an orgy of feeding. It takes very little skill to feed a dead natural bait to a billfish under these conditions.
Finding Billfish feeding on a meat ball is an anglers dream come true! By free spooling a dead natural bait, or a badly wounded live bait, into a meat ball and allowing it to sink, an angler can create an easy meal that is hard for a hungry fish to resist! By releasing the reel’s drag and pulling out several feet, or a few yards/meters of line, before getting a strike or a pickup, it is easy to detect when a fish picks up the bait and begins to move on to get another meal. Engaging the reel and winding in the slack line until it comes tight is all it takes to have a good hook up! If the prey is small enough, and the meat ball is dense enough, both sailfish and marlin will rush into the massed school with their mouths wide open and suck one or more small minnows into their mouth and throat along with an excess of water, which is then forced back out through the gill rakes and the food is swallowed. A small live or dead bait will usually get a bite in this situation as well.
So, When Do You Need to do a serious Drop back? And How Do You do it?
A single marlin of any species or a sailfish, usually attacks any single, lone prey from underneath and behind or from off to one side. Rarely does a bait rush toward a large predator!
The prey invariably tries to swim away, as fast as it is capable of moving, often making twists and turns in many directions as it tries to escape. Small tuna will often exhibit this behavior when chased by a marlin but even a tuna cannot beat the speed and stamina of the larger and faster billfish! A marlin can easily grab (with its powerful jaws), kill and swallow a tuna weighing ten percent or more of the billfish’s body weight. I once used a live tuna, weighing well over 30 pounds, for bait and caught, tagged and released a modest sized blue marlin.
I have seen small, half digested, billfish in the stomachs of marlin and can only wonder how the larger fish managed to get them down!
If marlin fed by hitting a fish, or a lure with its bill, then very few fish that DID get caught by anglers trolling lures, would be those that were caught by getting foul hooked outside the mouth. The majority of the marlin I catch on lures are hooked inside the mouth, and they have been given little or no drop back.
A Typical Billfish Strike
A typical Bill fish strike, on a lone natural bait, often goes like this. The big predator swims rapidly toward the prey or bait and then, when it gets close enough, lunges upward and forward, trying to capture the bait in its mouth, between its jaws. A marlin chasing a small tuna or a sailfish eating a ballyhoo can catch one, crush it and swallow it in mere seconds. It then looks for another snack! However, if the prey dodges successfully, the predator must try again, once or several times! Sometimes the prey actually escapes, and lives long enough to breed and make more prey for other billfish to feed on.
How Marlin Swim
Marlin and sailfish use what the scientists call a “sinusoidal swimming motion.” It is called this because of its similarity to the shape of a sine wave, like one displayed on a computer screen of an electric current. As it swims in this manner trying to feed, its bill must be above the water’s surface for the fish to capture a prey or your bait, swimming on or near the surface! It can now easily appear to an angler or deckhand watching from the cockpit, that the fish is trying to beat its prey to death with its bill!
However, this is not what actually happens, since this would be a very ineffective way for a marlin or sailfish to make a meal out of a single, fast moving, flying fish, mackerel, or tuna. What a billfish is most often attempting to do is to first, swim rapidly toward any lone morsel of prey. It then LUNGES both forward and upward in an attempt to grab its intended meal between its bottom and upper jaw!
Billfish have good binocular vision, which means they can see very well with both eyes. As a result, they can detect both the direction and the speed of the prey that they are chasing, but only IF it can be seen simultaneously by both eyes! (Imagine a one-eyed batter trying to hit a fast curving baseball! This would be almost impossible, but it can be done consistently by a batter with two good “binocular” eyes.)
The fish’s bill, as it lunges over the prey may obscure the view of one eye taking away its binocular capability. In theory, this should be a handicap, as the fish can now no longer see and react to changes in speed or distance. Nature still does not reward changes that are detrimental to survival and or reproduction! After thinking about it for a long time, I came to believe that ,at this stage, the bill becomes what I have now come think of as a “food guide. The bill now helps ROLL the prey into contact with the bottom jaw. The two jaws can now quickly crush the life out of what has now become a dead and tasty tidbit of food!
Head Shakes Finish Off Wounded Prey
Very Commonly, a marlin or sailfish that has captured a prey but has not yet killed it, will shake its head rapidly and violently allowing it to break the prey’s spine, thus depriving its captured prey of any chance for an escape! Once again, a fast, agile fish is now a snack! This behavior is commonly seen when playing with a dog and “fighting” with it over a toy! When your puppy’s earliest ancestor caught a rat, if it shook its head and broke the rat’s spine, he had a meal, instead of getting viciously bitten by its intended dinner!
If the sailfish’s captured ballyhoo is not killed or held tightly enough and it escapes, it must be caught again with a big waste of precious energy being the cost! If the billfish does not get a good enough grip on its prey’s vital organs to kill it immediately, when the prey struggles, instinct tells the predator NOT to let go!! Nature rewards conservation of energy by allowing the saved energy to be used to create more eggs and sperm which in turn allows more baby sailfish to be created.
Now, imagine a marlin or sail getting a good grip on only the bony tail of a small tuna. No matter how hard the predator squeezed the bony tail it could not kill the fish! If the predator opened its mouth the prey would get away and would have to be caught all over again! Only when the bait fish quits struggling, often due to a broken spine from the powerful head shakes of its captor, would the bigger fish release the grip on the tail and then easily swallow the prey.
Releasing the drag from a reel and free spooling a bait with a hook in, or on it, fools the predator into releasing its prey and it immediately swallows the carcass, providing an angler a good hook up! It is the most common tactic in bill fishing but takes skills which need to be learned.
I have watched exactly this behavior, including from under water, many times. On a trip chasing a lady’s world record sailfish, I jumped into the water several times with a face mask on when we had raised a fish of less than record size but not too large for us to bring it up to the boat rather easily. This is how I first got to watch and see from up close how feeding billfish really behaved! If the deck hand free spooled a hookless bait immediately, the fish ate the bait, swallowed it almost instantly and started looking for something else to eat! Sometimes we could pull the mostly intact bait back out of the sailfish’s stomach and sometimes they would eat it again but they only swallowed it If we free spooled very quickly on the second attempt! This behavior is not uncommon in normal every day fishing situations!
If I told the mate, “Hey Scott, do NOT let this one have it” there was a very different pattern of behavior! If Scott pulled hard and with a lot of drag on a heavy line, the fish that had grabbed a bait continued to hold it, kept on swimming slowly down, vigorously shaking its head and it never did let go and try to take the bait down into its stomach. Only when the “prey“ stopped struggling would the billfish open its mouth widely and swallow the bait. We deliberately broke line a couple of times, but never by free spooling, just to see what would happen. In this case, the fish would very quickly swallow the bait when the line broke and would swim off trailing a length of monofilament nylon. This is surely not the best thing for a fish we intended to release!
Hooking a Bill Fish Without Any Fear of a Backlash!!
As a charter boat mate, captain and Head Instructor for Marlin University, I had numerous novice anglers come aboard wanting to catch their first Sailfish or Marlin. We were usually fishing under IGFA rules, which state that the angler must hook his own fish unaided! No one else could even TOUCH the rod, reel or line once the fish struck the bait or lure. Several of our student anglers told me that their main desire was to learn how to drop back to a Sailfish! I always asked them if they if they fished at home and if so for what? In addition, I asked what kind of rod and reel did they use? If they used a plug rod, I told them that they already knew how to drop back! Anyone who can throw a lure to a bass more than a couple of rod lengths away or can cast a bait and heavy sinker into the ocean, past the surf break, will have no trouble “Dropping Back” to billfish!! If they had never used a plug rod and level wind reel, I gave them a few quick few quick lessons with one of our outfits on dropping back before we started trolling. I also told them to go home and practice CASTING with a non-Spinning Reel.
Many anglers and crew members put way too much pride on their skills at hooking billfish! It is not hard to learn to use your thumb to control the release of line from a conventional reel. Spinning reels make it easy to give a fish a tension free drop back. However, these same reels are inferior tools for fighting big fish, when compared to lever drag, star drag and conventional reels, because they put twist into the line whenever a fish takes line out against the reel’s drag.
NOW GO SOMEWHERE, WHERE the bill fish are THICK and HAVE FUN!! Good Luck! — Peter B
Four captains, 20 tips for better live bait fishing
by Ric Burnley
Live bait is both the best bait and the worst bait. Nothing entices a fish to bite better than a wriggling and writhing forage fish dangling from the hook. Nothing gives anglers more trouble than catching, keeping and rigging livies. That’s right, you can’t live with live bait, and you can’t win without. Even if it takes a Master’s in biology and a PhD in engineering to effectively fish live bait, the only way to earn a degree is trial and error – lots of error. We asked four professors of baitology for their tips and tricks to success. Prepare to get bait schooled.
Captain Bouncer Smith
Location: Miami, Florida
Target Species: Sailfish
Live Bait: Bluerunners, goggle eyes
Fishing for sails with live bait came of age in the swift, wind-swept, ocean waters off of South Florida. Bouncer Smith (www.captbouncer.com) has spent 40 years chasing live bait and Atlantic sails. His small-boat live bait tactics, rooted in an eye for detail and driven by an iron will to win, have resulted in a long list of tournament wins.
Tip: We use two livewells. One is for baits that go from the hook to the livewell. The other livewell is for any bait that hits the deck or was touched in anyway.
Tip: Hold the sinker and keep the bait rig horizontal so the baits don’t rub against the leader. We keep the pristine baits for fishing or storing in a bait pen.
Tip: To remove dead baits from the live well, spear it with a tagging stick or wait for it to float to the surface and remove with a small net. Never put your hand into the tank.
Tip: We’ll go down to 30-pound fluorocarbon so the drag pressure must be reliable. I set the drag on my spinners to four-pounds, so I know I get five-pounds if the angler raises the rod tip. If the fish is hot, I tell the angler to point the tip at it. If the reel gets low on line, I’ll let the angler increase the drag ½ turn. I know that increases the drag pressure exactly one pound.
Tip: On the full moon and new moon, we always fish a bait 60-feet down. I let the bait out 30 feet. Then fold the leader over and slip the loop through the eye of a four to six ounce egg sinker. Stick a three-inch piece of No. 64 rubberband through the loop as a stopper.
Tip: It’s important that the bait move at the same speed as the current. During the last Miami sailfish tournament, the wind was going with the current. The rest of the fleet was fishing balloons but we decided to drift the baits. We hooked up on each drift through the fleet.
Captain Kevin Beach
Location: Venice, Louisiana
Target Species: White marlin, sails, tuna
Live Bait: Blue runners
“Live baits work perfect for targeting finicky fish focused in a small area,” explains Captain Kevin Beach. On his 37-foot catamaran, Pale Horse (www.mgfishing.com), he carries hundreds of live baits to the sea mounts and oil rigs off Venice, Louisiana. Pulling finicky fish from their twisted iron lair requires a flawless presentation and rock solid rigging. “I need enough power to turn a big marlin or tuna,” he starts, “while rigging light enough to fool a fish that’s seen it all.”
Tip: In early fall, whites and sails will hang over open water structure and temperature breaks. One or two degrees difference in temperature will get my attention. I’ll fish in one to 1.5 knots of current all day long.
Tip: Fish three baits. I use 80-, 100- and 130-pound leader. I always fish the biggest bait on the heaviest leader closest to the boat. Big fish aren’t afraid of the boat.
Tip: Use a rod and reel combo that you can cast. Lobbing the bait 30 yards away from the boat allows me to keep a bait in the water when we’re already hooked up to a fish. Also, I can set my spread without having to put the boat in gear.
Tip: Love your baits and they will love you back. I have three livewells and I use each of them. I spread the baits out to give them plenty of room. I’ll take 100 frisky baits over 500 less-than-frisky baits.
Captain Tony Berkowitz
Location: Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
Target Species: Striped marlin, sailfish
Live Bait: Big eye scad, Pacific mackerel
When serious anglers want to learn how to fish with live bait, they head south of the border. Captain Tony Berkowitz (www.sanlucasyacht.com) conducts daily seminars from Baja, Mexico. His courses on billfish and tuna are backed by tournament victories. Even in the land of live bait legacies, Berkowitz says staying ahead takes constant innovation and a lot of hard work.
Tip: If we know we’re going to use live bait and pitch baits we keep the spread simple. I run four baits: off the long riggers and short riggers and a bridge teaser. I leave an open lane down the middle to drop a pitch bait.
Tip: Bridle a caballito or big eye scad with floss and a matching hook. We tie a small swivel in the middle of our short leader to keep the line from twisting when we put a rigged bait in the livewell.
Tip: Slow down and drift into working fish. We drift one bait fly-lined and one deeper behind a barrel sinker.
Tip: I can’t cover a lot of ground while slow trolling live baits, so I wait until I mark the fish or see good sign before I deploy my baits.
Tip: We use a mackerel tube for pitch baits. It keeps the bait convenient to throw and prevents the leader from twisting.
Captain Randy Butler
Location: Virginia Beach
Target Species: White marlin
Live Bait: Tinker mackerel
Live bait fishing for white marlin is a relatively recent development on the mid-Atlantic. Captain Randy Turn has had Rebel (www.rebelsportfishing.com) in the middle of the action from the start. After hundreds of trips and thousands of hours targeting whites with livies, he’s created a system that he continues to develop. “I’ll never figure them out,” he admits, “something is always changing and I have to change to keep up.”
Tip: Switch up the teasers and dredge to find what the fish want. We’ll run one dredge, two dredges, big squids, small ones or flippy-floppys. We can rig live or dead tinkers as a teaser chain. Sometimes we’ll get more bites by pulling the teasers out of the water.
Tip: We always keep the spread out when we stop to catch more live bait. Many times we’ll draw marlin to the surface while we’re catching bait.
Tip: Find tinker mackerel on the bottom in 50 fathoms. Sometimes the bait will be higher in the water column. If we don’t catch bait right away, bring the rig up a few feet off the bottom.
Tip: A mackerel rig baited with strips of squid will catch tinker mackerel for bait. Add a waterproof strobe light to attract more tinkers to the rig.
Tip: Tinkers are a large meal for a white marlin. Give them time to eat. Let the fish turn the bait in its mouth and swallow it before coming tight on the line to set the hook.
Tip: As the line comes tight, give the rod a couple quick jabs to ensure the hook found its mark.
Pulling Tricks: Five Pros Share Dredge Fishing Tactics
By Ric Burnley
The first time I saw a marlin dredge I had two thoughts. First: that looks ridiculous. Second: that looks awesome! At first, 40 rigged mullet dangling from a web-work of bars and leader looks like a cluster FUBAR waiting to happen. Put the dredge in the water, and dozens of swirling and flashing baits look like a school of bait on the run. Fish cannot resist.
Many anglers had the same experience when they first saw a dredge. We caught up with five pros to find out how they use dredges now, and how they plan to use them in the future.
Captain John Bayliss, Tarheel
When Captain John Bayliss first saw a dredge he knew he had to have one. “I was fishing in Mexico and getting sacked up,” he laughs. Then he spotted the mate on the other boat pull in a four bar single dredge rigged with jumbo mullet. “It was super simple,” he recalls, “that was before building dredges became a nuclear arms race.”
In 20 years fishing with dredges all over the world and at home on the Outer Banks, Captain Bayliss has gone full circle. “We had a dredge we called the Space Shuttle,” he chuckles. The four-level dredge was followed by spreader bars and two chains. “The chains looked like booster rockets,” he jokes.
Now he has settled on a dredge system that is simple and effective. “A good dredge is double or triple bars,” he says. He adds a skirt to every other bait for more body and flash. Bayliss has found that adding artificial rubber fish or Marlin Mudflaps gives the dredge more density. Mudflaps are rubber fish silhouettes that mimic a fleeing tuna. Color of artificials and skirts depends on location and conditions. On the East Coast, Bayliss likes blues and blacks, in the Pacific he uses bright pink and red. He especially likes artificials on blue marlin dredges. “Blue marlin move so fast, they are just looking for something with mass.”
Bayliss fishes small ballyhoo on circle hooks from the long riggers and flat lines and pulls two squid chains and two dredges. He positions the flat line in front of the dredge. “That way the fish gets on the dredge and moves to the flat line,” he explains. If that’s not working, he’ll experiment by moving the flat line back or dropping the squid chains farther back. “I want the fish to leave the dredge and move onto the teaser or flat line,” he explains. He stresses the importance of choosing the correct lead weight to control the depth of the dredge.
When he raises a white or sail on the teaser or dredge, Bayliss instructs the crew to get the teaser out of the water. Then, with the fish hooked, he makes a turn towards the escaping marlin and eases the teasers back in the water. He leaves the teasers in the water until the fish is close enough to back down. After he lands the fish, he puts the dredge back, first. “Whites and sails rarely travel alone,” he says, “I want to hook his buddy, too.”
Blue marlin, on the other hand, move fast. “We clear the dredge as soon as the fish is hooked,” he says, “so we can get him before he dives deep.” He is constantly changing the arrangement and make-up of the dredge until he hits on what the fish seem to prefer. “When I put the dredge in the water I want my confidence high.”
Captain Joe Birbeck, You Never Know
Dredge fishing started in Mexico almost 20 years ago. That’s when Captain Joe Birbeck first saw one of these contraptions. “I saw a guy on the dock with a dredge and I went right out and got the stuff to make one,” he says.
Since then, Birbeck has fished dredges from the Atlantic to the Pacific and at home on the Gulf Coast. In that time, he’s seen dredge technology change. “It’s hard to believe old-school guys still use floss to rig their dredge baits,” he shakes his head. The invention of reusable pin rigs has made it easier to rig natural baits.
Birbeck has also seen more artificial baits in his dredge. “I know old-school guys might not agree,” he admits, “but adding Marlin Mudflaps and Fire Tailz saves time and money.” Fire Tailz are jointed fish silhouettes made out of fabric. Supplementing some of the natural baits with artificial baits gives the dredge more lift. Adding artificials to the dredge also helps level the dredge so it swims parallel to the surface.
In Mexico, Birbeck uses a double mullet or double ballyhoo dredge. “We’ve fished artificial dredges side-by-side with the natural dredges and raised just as many fish,” he admits. In the Gulf, when he finds the fish, he bumps up to a three-tier dredge. “We do a lot of high-speed trolling to find the marlin,” he explains, “but once we have them cornered we’ll use the dredge.” When he’s live bait fishing, Birbeck deploys a six-arm dredge armed with Mudflaps. “It looks like a school of blackfin tuna,” he explains.
Birbeck likes to dredge behind the flatlines and the squid chain behind the dredge. He starts the day with his go-to colors. “If we’re not raising fish by lunch, we’ll switch up colors and start experimenting.”
Looking into the future, Birbeck expects artificial dredge baits to become more life-like. “It’s amazing how far dredges have come,” he marvels, “from spoons and hook-less Rapalas to rubber shads and fish.” Recently, he’s noticed hard-plastic dredge baits showing up on the dock. “In 25 years, I’ve never stopped experimenting,” he says, “I’m always learning.”
Captain Scott Fawcett, www.offthechainfishing.com
Captain Scott Fawcett started dredge fishing in the mid-nineties while working with Captain BJ Bell on Boneshaker. “My favorite was a four-arm with 11 mullet,” he reminisces. From there, dredges and dredge fishing got bigger. “We ended up using three tier dredges with dozens of baits,” he says, “it got to the point where it was too much money and effort.”
Now he settles on a simpler dredge set-up that he can manage. “When fishing is slow, we add a trailer that the fish can suck on,” he jokes. When the action picks up, he removes the dropper. “I don’t want the fish to pick out a single bait,” he explains, “instead I want it to move off to the flat line or long rigger.” He has also started removing his squid-chain teasers from the water when the fish are skittish. “I’ve found that the teaser can turn them off,” he says.
Dredge fishing is so effective that Fawcett also employs them on his center console. When he’s drifting live baits off South Florida, he likes to sink a Stripteaser. This artificial teaser uses holographic fish on a strip of clear plastic film that undulates in the water. “It’s light and easily affected by the movement of the boat and current.” When the current and wind are too light for drift fishing, he slow trolls at 1.5 to 2.5 knots using two dredges armed with artificial fish. “The sailfish really lock onto the paddletails,” he says.
If he is trolling faster than four knots, Fawcett switches to natural mullet or ballyhoo dredges. However, he still uses artificial shads or rubber fish to control the depth of his dredge. “If the tail is dropping down, I’ll add rubber fish to bring it up.”
Fawcett likes to offset his dredges, running one deeper and one shallow. “I run one dredge six to 20 feet below the surface and the other so shallow I can see the swirls on the surface.” If he marks bait or fish deep, he’ll drop one dredge deeper. “I can prospect with the dredge to pull the fish up.”
On his center console, Fawcett runs the dredges off downriggers. “We installed the downriggers foreword of the flat line rod holders so they don’t get tangled or interfere with the motors.” He even rigs the dredge with the weights inside the arms for a more compact package. “I can troll two dredges and two squid chains without batting an eye.”
To test the effectiveness of his dredges, he watches the fish it attracts. “If the fish is stuck on the dredge, I know it is working,” he explains. He’ll leave a fish on the teasers as long as possible. “Nothing attracts fish better than another fish.” Fawcett loves to watch marlin attack the teasers. “If marlin fishing wasn’t waiting for the pin to snap and yelling, ‘There he is!’ I wouldn’t do it for a living.” He geeks out on the visuals. “The only thing that would be better is if marlin could roar like a lion,” he laughs.
Bill Pino, www.squidnation.com
As owner of Squidnation, Bill Pino has made a study of dredge history and trends. His squid dredges revolutionized teaser technology by adding artificial baits to natural teasers.
“The first time I used a dredge was on Pelican with Captain Arch Bracher,” he remembers. They were fishing a weed line off Hatteras and Bracher deployed a single dredge with large mullet. “We raised a blue marlin, then caught a white and a blue pretty quickly.”
Pino was sold on dredges, but it wasn’t until another captain suggested using his artificial squids on the dredge that Pino saw the full potential. “We fished artificial squid dredges all summer and ended up with the most releases out of Ocean City,” he beams, “when I told people they laughed at me.”
Since then, Pino has continued to experiment and refine his dredges. He went from single droppers to chain style dredges and adjusted leader distance to keep the squids from tangling. “We noticed the fish were on small baits in Costa Rica so we came up with a dredge that uses 108 small squid,” he says, “it looks like a big ass bait ball.”
One advantage he’s noticed is that fish tend to move off of an artificial dredge faster than from natural baits. “The fish hits a natural bait and he’ll keep at it until he gets it off the dredge,” he says. With an artificial dredge, the fish tend to hit the rubber bait once then move off to the squid chain or one of the hook baits.
To learn more about dredge technology and techniques, Pino takes input from anglers and captains. “I see guys dropping dredges back farther and farther,” he says. Improved lead weights that can be adjusted for the perfect presentation make it possible to place the dredge anywhere in the spread. He has seen some crews go to the extreme of adding heat shrink to the dredge arms to deaden the sound.
Pino is always looking for ways to improve his squid dredges. He was hesitant to give details, but he’s working on a new dredge that better imitates a school of bait. “Dredge baits swim in a straight line,” he says, “but a bait ball is a mass of shit all bunched up,” His next invention will feature multiple baits moving in different directions. “That’s all I can say,” he stops.
Increase Your Lure Hook-Up %
Capt. Bart Miller
Is a single hook rig better than a double? Is my trolling speed too fast? Can tag lines improve my hook up percentage? These are just a few questions most of us immediately ask ourselves when we miss a marlin bite and our hook-up percentage is not what we think it should be.
Let’s begin with what is a good hook up average, when lure fishing for Blue Marlin. If you average 50% or better you should be writing this article. Catching 1 out of every 2 marlin bites with your lures is above average. The reality is most of you average closer to 33% on bites to catch ratio.
Here are some basic options to consider if you want to move up to 40%, or better with your hook-up ratio.
- Trolling speed and lure behavior. This is probably one of the most important factors—making sure your lures are running right. The biggest tip I can offer here is to keep your lures swimming smoothly, avoid letting them get out of control such as spinning or jumping out of the water. Skipping them just under or on the surface is good. Each lure will have different running characteristics but your mind set should be so that you are giving the marlin the best chance at attacking your lure spread as possible. If you find yourself trolling along in choppy water, find a speed which will keep the lures in the water—this usually means slowing down, or trolling a weighted slant or 90-degree head. On slick calm days you will have a wider range of trolling speeds as well as a larger variety of lure heads which will work.
- Finding the best hook rig. The latest trend is using single, semi-stiff hook rigs with a tuna bend hook. Matching your lure with the proper size hook and placement can make a significant improvement in your hook-up percentage. A good rule of thumb is to choose a hook size that is similar to the lure head—making sure the hook width is not larger than your lure head width. Position the hook so that it is as far back in the skirt as legally possible.
- Improve your lure spread. Choose lures that have a history of being successful in a particular area that you are fishing. Use colors for example- in the Bahamas, pink and blue is a productive combination. In the Carolinas blue and white is historically the locals color of choice, and in the Virgin Islands, black and purple is a favorite. Basically, you need to become familiar with what has worked in the different regions you are fishing. Be sure to ask around the dock, sometimes a particular lure will seem to out perform all others. If you are lucky enough to be “in the know”, you can benefit with more releases at the end of the day and a higher hook-up percentage.
After you gain enough experience you will become the expert and know of other ways to increase your own hook-up ratio. And as always- a little luck never hurts along the way.
Great fishing, Aloha, Capt. Bart Miller
Earlier this month sportfishing legend Capt. Bart “Black Bart” Miller passed away. Bart leaves behind a lure company bearing his name and a list of marlin fishing feats that will likely never be duplicated. Miller was a veritable legend in the sportfishing industry and his passing was met with sadness from the many whose lives he touched. InTheBite is proud to have published some of Miller’s perspective. Here, from the archives, is one such piece. Rest in Peace Capt. Bart Miller.
There is a gofundme account set up to help Miller’s family with costs associated with his medical care. Should you wish to contribute, it would be greatly appreciated by those who feel his loss most directly. https://www.gofundme.com/captbartmiller
Color–does it matter?
By Captain Bart Miller
This age old question may never be answered scientifically, as it is far too subjective & intermingled with personal superstitions & general preference for one color versus another.
For example, nearly all men like the colors blue, black, white, purple, silver, green and gold. Is it any wonder that these very same colors are popular when choosing fishing lures and skirt combinations?
It is also apparent that fishing destinations have dominant color choices that are shared by the vast majority of captains & crew’s; Green in the canyons, blue & white in the Carolina’s, blue & pink in Hawaii, black & purple in the Bahamas, petrolero brown, silver, black & orange in Mexico etc… Many of these color combinations, while proven in one area, can also work well away from home.
When I first started trolling in Hawaii, there weren’t a lot of choices. I used a white plastic outer skirt, and later, white strip skirts with either black or a rusty red rubber inner skirt. These base colors, while very plain, worked just fine; but no one seemingly trusts such a limited selection of color options these days.
Fishermen world wide have their special color favorites which become trusted standbys, each earning their place in the spread, whether in tournament competition or just out for a friendly troll. So it really boils down to what you truly trust and are comfortable trolling vs. some unknown combination that leaves you with a measure of negative feelings.
So did vast color options become the fashion because they are now so readily available or because they really make a difference? My first thought was that the action of the lure superceded color importance, and later I began to value the concept of incorporating the use of proven color combinations.
Years ago, I tried something I had never tried before. I called this combination the invisible man. I poured a clear head with no color and no insert, then I skirted this clear head with clear skirts. Once deployed into the water, you could see motion, but not shape or color. This no-color lure is once again a part of my arsenal today and proves the age-old adage that color really matters in the eye of the beholder.
Marlin are now believed to see certain colors where once they were considered to be colorblind. Two theories come to mind as being valid in determining your final color selection and they would be to “Match the Hatch” and to consider having the proverbial oddball combo in the spread.
In conclusion, my favorite colors would be Pearl shell heads because they match all skirt combos, and my favorite skirt combinations would be, black & pink, black & purple, blue & pink, black & rainbow, blue & white, and pink & red. Sometimes I go beyond that color palate but not very often!
Great fishing, Aloha
Captain Bart Miller