Eight Eights — D.R. Blue Marlin
Based out of Singer Island, Florida, though rarely at her homeport, the 72-foot Viking Eight Eights is on a constant quest for billfish releases. “Our normal schedule is with the boat 21 days. Then we take 10 off and come back for another 21. Out of the 21 days we’ll probably fish anywhere from 15 to 18 days depending on weather and what’s going on,” says first mate Kyle O’Conner.
In 2020, captains fishing out of Cap Cana reported 91 days where they released five or more blue marlin and 15 days with 10 or more releases. “Last year we got to the Dominican Republic July 1 and in two and a half months we caught 100 blues. We had close to 500 billfish releases and 300 tags for the 2020 season,” O’Conner says.
Man-made FADs highlight this world-class Caribbean fishery, with plastic jugs and styrofoam insulation banded together with scrap seine netting and palm fronds, then strategically tethered to the seafloor in efforts to attract forage and predator fish. Targeted with 30-pound outfits, juvenile blue marlin swarming the warm waters of the D.R. are intelligent and accurate feeders, at times displaying finicky tendencies. Here’s how they are fooled on the Eight Eights:
Rod Blank: BlackFin
Rod Builder: Bill Buckland
Guides: FUJI SiC
Thread Wrap: Green/Orange diamond
Butt: AFTCO #1 unibutt
Reel: Shimano Tyrnos 30
Main Line: Berkley ProSpec 30 lb.
Leader: 100 lb. pink fluorocarbon
Hook: 9/0 circle hook
Bait: Baitmasters medium ballyhoo
Skirt: MoldCraft Junior Hooker
Rigging: EZ Swivel
Ricardo Núñez — Quick Loader
Whether it’s washing the boat or rigging ballyhoo, the best deckhands are fast and efficient in everything they do. Dredge fishing for billfish typically entails naked swimming ballyhoo pulled from the transom corners, but outrigger baits are often outfitted with a small lure head like a MoldCraft Junior Hooker or Squidnation Slammer to create a larger profile and also help ballyhoo track better in rough seas.
When fishing a chugger/ballyhoo combination, the use of Ringer Swivels to firmly mount and expose circle hooks is a widely popular method. Some mates use an open-eye rigging needle as a makeshift puller to bring the chugger head into place over the O-ring, but a more streamlined approach utilizes a quick reloader fashioned from a length of #19 wire leftover from dredge teaser pin rigs.
With a tiny clasp bent into the end, mates can hook the O-ring and force it out of the lure head to accommodate a circle hook. The simple device not only allows for easy storage and organization of multiple chugger heads, but more importantly enables mates to simplify the process of adding skirts to rigged ballyhoo.
Steve Kenealy was first mate on the 86-foot Merritt Reel Tight and spent countless hours rigging ballyhoo on the docks of Isla Mujeres, Mexico. “We first started using the quick reloader down there about two or three years ago. We can go through a pile of baits when the sails are snapping and this simple tip helps automate the rigging process. It’s a great little device that was introduced to us by a local mate named Ricardo Núñez.”
The best mates know that the more systematic they become in their daily tasks, the less energy is required. Like poking out the eyeballs of a ballyhoo, where you could do it one fish at a time or line up multiple fish on an arrow shaft, this quick loader makes performing a repetitive task easier than ever.