June means summer. Summer means tournaments. Nothing says tournaments quite like InTheBite.
Grab a copy of the latest June Issue, hitting the docks now!
June means summer. Summer means tournaments. Nothing says tournaments quite like InTheBite.
Grab a copy of the latest June Issue, hitting the docks now!
White’s Tackle is a full service tackle store located in Ft. Pierce and Stuart Florida. The staff are knowledgeable anglers who’ve fished the globe learning the secrets from the best captains and crews, and will be glad to pass them on to you. For over 90 years White’s Tackle has been outfitting inshore and offshore anglers from all over with the best tackle and service imaginable. If you have any questions feel free to call the Fort Pierce Store at 772-461-6909 or the Stuart Store 772-266-4010 or send an email to: email@example.com
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
Computer designed and high-seas tested, these revolutionary weight-forward weights drastically improve lure performance at speeds up to 20 knots (and even faster).Their ballistic shape runs straight and true with no vibration and far less bubbles than standard weights.
Available in 5 sizes – 16oz, 24oz, 32oz, 48oz & 64oz
3 different models – un-rigged, rigged on 1000lb test stainless cable with a 300lb test Diamond ball-bearing snap-swivel and our custom ‘Hoo Hunter Pro-Rig.
The Unrigged and Pro-Rigged weights are made with a heavy-duty brass tube through the center to keep the weights running straight and true for many seasons of hard use.
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?
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…)
InTheBite Archives – Oct/Nov 2016 Issue Vol 15, Ed 7.
by Ric Burnley
“For the most part, the playing field is pretty even,” states pro skipper Captain Andy Kubiak, “the one difference is bait.” Dock talk and the internet spread new techniques and tackle like wildfire; secrets don’t stay secrets for long. Today’s professional crews are seasoned, synchronized and sober. So, victory or defeat are determined by the details. “Having the best bait can be difference between winning and losing,” Kubiak insists.
On the Tournament Trail
Captain Andy Kubiak is one of the original bait snobs; “We fished a lot of rigged mullet back in the seventies,” he recalls. At the time, mullet were prepared by removing the backbone and splitting the tail. “Those baits were good for hooked rigs because they were mostly skin without a lot of meat,” he explains.
When dredges hit the scene, Kubiak didn’t like the split tail mullet he was using. “I wanted something that would move better, so I started cutting my own bait.” To insure he was using the best bait available, he manages every step from the time the bait is pulled from the water until it goes into his spread. “Either I catch the bait myself or I rely on a trusted source,” he says. The bait is handled gently and immediately placed into a brine to preserve color and texture. Kubiak looks for bright colors and strong contrasts. “Mullet should have a dark black tail,” he insists, “and ballyhoo should keep the bright yellow tail.” He looks for all the scales in place and clear eyes. “There shouldn’t be a lot of blood or poop in the bag,” he adds.
When it comes time to thaw the bait, he keeps it in the package that he places in a bucket of saltwater. “Never let the bait touch freshwater,” he stresses. Fresh water will suck any salt out of the bait and leave it mushy and dull. Once the bait is thawed, Kubiak places special attention on how it is rigged. “Be sure that the mullet heads are tied up tight with the mouth shut and the bait secured to the rig.” Properly rigged, a mullet should last all day on a dredge. Crews are rigging 200 to 300 mullet and as many ballyhoo for a weekend tournament. “The true test is when I see a half-dozen billfish on my dredge,” he says.
Captain Kevin Paul has been a bait snob since birth; he grew up in a high-end seafood market and came to age on a South Florida charter boat. “I knew what it takes to produce the best-quality seafood,” he recalls, “and I expected the same out of my bait.”
Paul controls all stages of the bait process. “Everything matters,” he insists. That includes where the bait is caught. “I demand our mullet come from sandy bottom not muddy bottom,” he points out. He even tracks what time the fish are eating and how long they eat. “Sometimes they eat all day, sometimes they don’t start to feed until 10 am.” This year, he has personally caught all of the Spanish mackerel that he sells. “I’m real proud of my mackerel,” he says, “you’re not going to find better baits.”
Time of year and water conditions also affect the quality of the bait. He adds, “If it is the mating season and the fish are full of roe that can affect how they perform.” For ballyhoo, he looks at how the fish are caught and handled on the boat. “How are the fish dumped and brined on the boat?” he asks.
While he wouldn’t divulge all of his secrets, Paul did let go his brine recipe. He starts with a 150-quart cooler filled with water and adds 80 pounds of Kosher salt and 10 to 15 pounds of baking soda. “The baking soda preserves the color and locks in the scales,” he explains.
Water temperature also affects the bait quality. “Winter baits are great because the fish don’t eat as much in winter,” he admits, “but a really cold winter and the fish will suffer malnutrition.” This results in skinny baits that don’t swim as well. When it comes to ballyhoo and mackerel, he avoids fish that are eating and spawning. “Those fish are pretty much junk,” he laughs.
From the boat, the bait is packaged, vacuum sealed and flash frozen. Paul distributes the baits to specialty suppliers and discerning crews. “There are only a few bait shops that have a freezer with low enough temperature to keep the bait,” he adds.
Paul suggests keeping mullet frozen through the dredge rigging process. “Take them out of the package and put them in the bait box,” he starts. Handling the bait will soften it enough for rigging.
Once the bait is rigged, it goes back on the bait tray and out of the sun. “If I’m trolling fast for blue marlin, I salt the be-Jesus out of it,” he says. For a slower troll, he uses less salt. “I sprinkle as much salt as I would use on my mashed potatoes,” he says. If his dredge mullets are in good shape, he will reuse them. “Cover them with salt and store on ice,” he suggests. However, if there is any compromise in the bait, he will replace it. “No matter how much salt you can use, you can’t turn chicken shit into chicken salad,” he jokes.
The Northeast Perspective
While ballyhoo and mullet are just beginning to hit the docks along the Northeast, New England anglers have taken prepping chunk baits to an art form. The center of the action is J and B Bait and Tackle in Niantic, Connecticut where owner Kyle Douton is a bait snob since birth. “When I was in elementary school my dad and I would drive to the distributors and load the pick up with bait,” he reminisces.
Now, Douton gets his bait delivered to the shop, but he’s been known to go the extra mile. During a hot tuna bite last year, a butterfish shortage had him on the road. “We would drive to Manhattan and buy food-quality butterfish,” he says.
When Douton picks up a flat of bunker he looks for bright colors, intact fins, clear eyes and a light coating of frost. On spring tuna trips, he’ll take two or three flats, but by the early fall he’s up to 10 flats of bait. “The water temperature is higher and the night is longer,” he explains, “so we need more bait.” If the day-time chunking bite is hot, he’ll take more flats. He warns, “Some guys are getting bait directly from draggers, but if it isn’t flash frozen it will turn out mushy.” Recently, he’s been adding herring and even sardines to his chunk menu.
When it comes to squid, Douton says the best bet is to catch fresh squid on the fishing grounds. “Use a squid jig or a long-handled, fine-meshed squid net to catch squid that come to the light,” he suggests. Adding a little stream of menhaden chum will bring more squid to the lights. Douton says some crews have even figured out how to catch squid and keep it alive between trips. For swordfish baits, he looks for nine-inch squid that are flash frozen and vacuum-sealed. “Keep the squid frozen until you’re ready to fish,” he suggests, “squid thaws fast because it freezes at a lower temperature.”
The night before the trip, Douton will stack flats of bait on the boat to thaw. “I pull a few of the best looking baits off the top of each flat to rig for hook baits,” he explains. Those premium baits are placed in a freezer bag with a good coating of kosher salt. “I’ve even started keeping the rigged baits in a salty brine to toughen them up,” he adds. From there, the baits go on a bait tray over ice. He stresses, “You want to treat these baits right because you will be handling them.”
The rest of the bait is prepared for chunking. He says that some guys have invested in a meat-grade band saw to cut the frozen flats into manageable sizes. Otherwise, he recommends cutting the 1.5-inch chunks with a mandolin knife. “If I’m fishing for big bluefin, I’ll make bigger chunks and baits,” he adds. He says that it is important that the chunks match the size of the bait, especially when yo-yoing with unweighted chunks.
To distribute the chunks, he recommends a motorized Chum Chucker. “It keeps a steady stream going even when the crew is busy or asleep,” he explains. Other crews use a scoop to launch chunks upstream from the boat. Frozen chunks don’t sink. “I want the chunks to sink at the same rate as the baits,” he explains.
Douton admits handling and prepping bait for chunking is pretty simple. “But it is a big part of the game,” he adds, “so you have to consider how you will store and handle it.” He points out that the best local skippers make the best bait a priority.
Not much debate…
When it comes to bait, only the best will do. Bait snobs know that the best preparation and the most expensive gear won’t make up for bad bait at the end of the line. Captain Kevin Paul puts it this way: “If the bait is right, the crew did their work, and the boss opened his wallet, then there is no excuse for a bad day except bad luck.”
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
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.
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.
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
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