By Capt. Peter B. Wright
Several years ago I did a boat trial on a new Hatteras for Motor Boating and Sailing Magazine. I knew the captain, Pete Grosbeck, had a great reputation in California, but I had not yet gotten to know him personally. What he taught me that day in Mexico, has helped me catch hundreds of billfish and win copious amounts of money in tournaments all over the world.
I deliberately did not write about it, until now! Over the decades I have passed on this knowledge to many of my anglers and deck hands; I really don’t consider it to be a secret anymore (sorry Pete). When I share this information with new customers, or crew members, who have not yet used the tactics that Grosbeck taught me, they are usually skeptical. Once they see the success that comes along with the unusual set-up, they always put the rig into their own bag of tricks.
After I climbed through the boat and tested its ability to dance, with me at the controls, Captain Pete asked me if I wanted to catch a couple of sail fish. Of course I did! He handed me a light, 20 pound, outfit and a huge, plastic headed marlin lure with multiple skirts! I blinked and said, “I can’t catch sailfish on that!” He replied, “Do you want to bet?” in a tone of voice that put me on guard immediately.
He was way too confident in what looked like a ridiculous set up for me to bet any real money. I knew Pacific sailfish were larger than the Atlantic ones I grew up on, and I had caught several, large sails in Australia by that point.
At the time, I rarely used lures as large as the one Pete had handed me, even on full grown blue or black Marlin! My hookup ratio was not high enough using large lures compared to smaller lures. Only after using Grosbeck’s lure was I able to realize it was the hooks, and not the lure size that made the difference.
I could not believe a sailfish would even try to eat such a huge artificial lure. If it did, I was sure that the hook up ratio would have to be at, or near zero! Little did I know that in a short period of time that day, I would have 5 strikes from sailfish, and tag and release 3 of them! I was amazed! When I carefully checked out the hook set that Grosbeck was using, it was like nothing I had ever seen before. He was using 2 small and short shanked “J” shaped hooks, sized about 5/0.
I can best describe them as being similar to what we used during live bait fishing for small Florida sailfish before switching to circle hooks. I tested the hooks on a line testing machine and it takes right at 100 pounds of pull to straighten one out. Each hook was on its own individual leader, and the hooks were not completely inside, or outside, the skirt’s tail! The skirt just barely covered the eyes of both hooks! It was an IGFA legal set up! Each leader had a loop eye and the main leader passed through the eyes of both leaders.
Years later, while, trying to catch Fonda Huizenga her first world record spearfish, we would catch a 300 plus pound Big eye tuna, and tag an estimated 500-pound blue marlin, which became the first Atlantic blue marlin ever to wear a satellite tag! We finally got the Ladies Spearfish Record late that day! All the fish were caught on IGFA 50 pound class line, with the Grosbeck hook set on small Mold Craft “needlefish” lures!
I have won several tournaments using that same set-up. Including the Dunk Island classic, a 12 pound IGFA class line competition for Sailfish and Black Marlin, for three consecutive years. We might have won it 4 years in a row if I had not made a silly mistake!
Trailing my old deck hand, Laurie Wright, by 3 fish on the last day, I figured there was no way we could get 5 releases before Laurie got at least a couple more. Sailfish and small Black Marlin tagged and released were worth something along the lines of 35 points each. Marlin over a certain size could be gaffed and boated, and were worth a point per pound of body weight.
I knew we could catch a decent Black on 12-pound so we went for broke and ran outside the edge of the reef to where the big ones lived. Almost immediately we got a bite! Instead of being worth 5 sails or small blacks the fish we were fighting on 6 Kg. line was a full grown female in excess of 800 pounds! And worth a point a pound!
If we could catch her, we would win by a mile! My mistake was in not changing from the 80-pound test leader we used on the little blacks to something much heavier! I managed to get the leader to Doug Haig over 10 times! Each time he pulled as hard as he could, without breaking it, then dumped it, turned to me and said “Sorry Pete, I was going to break it.”
“Great job Doug,” was my reply. “We still have her on!” We were never able to get a tag on her and get the release points but it was one of the best fights we ever had! Whenever I show amateur crew members and anglers how to use the “Grosbeck Rig” I tell them to always use heavy leader and go fast.
One new friend called me up recently and told me “It works!”. “What works?” was my puzzled reply. “I got my wife her first sailfish, then we hooked another one! But it was not a sail. It was a marlin right here in front of Stuart. We messed up trying to tag it and broke the leader at the boat.”
THANKS AGAIN TO PETE GROSBECK.