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Interpreting Billfish and Bait

After getting stuck into the recent early run of juvenile black marlin off Hervey Bay, Dane Radosevic reflects on how he interprets billfish and bait on his S2009 sounder.

Targeting Billfish is a growing addiction of mine and I am finding myself putting in many hours on the water these days trying to unlock the key factors that will increase the strike rate. My first encounter with a marlin was back in 2013 when we had one of the best juvenile black marlin runs encountered in years, with double digit figures not uncommon for a day’s fishing. We had packs of up to 4-5 fish ghosting the teaser, and multiple double and triple hook-ups creating total chaos on the boat. This is what truly sparked my drive to dedicate more time to targeting this species and hopefully one day hooking onto a few larger models.

One of the most important factors I cannot stress enough from my experiences when targeting billfish is to be observant of your surrounding and monitor the conditions. As with other species, baitfish attract predators and often there is a significant reason for baitfish to be in a given area. Paying close attention to this out on the water can turn a slow day’s fishing into a memorable one very quickly. Locating the bait supply is the starting point, and you can fast track this by looking for features like birds diving or packs of dolphins, both tell-tale signs that bait is in the area. This gives you the angler a great starting point to begin your search, however some days it may not be that obvious and this is where you have to rely on and trust your electronics. With the advancements in charts and mapping cards like C-MAP these days we have some incredible information at our disposal, and prior to a trip you can pre-determine where you believe fish might hold up. Look closely at the contour lines for features like kinks where there may be a broken current or back eddy, which will often congregate bait and in turn hopefully predatory fish. So essentially the message I am trying to convey is that you shouldn’t have to go out and fish blind.

Now I have mentioned bait numerous times in the above paragraph, as it is very important to locate. A correctly set up sounder is a critical tool, and knowing how to interpret its returns will make a significant difference to your results at the end of the day. When you sound over a large bait ball and the return is loose and scattered you can interpret that the baitfish are quite content and unthreatened. When I cross a patch of heavily condensed baitfish with a distinct wall I begin to get excited and the adrenalin starts to run as I know this bait ball is being hunted. What is even more promising is when you mark a few fish off the edge of this bait ball as you know they are in feeding mode.

Once locating the baitfish and marking some fish, the next step is teasing them up and getting them worked up enough to eat one of your offerings. There are various types of teasers on the market these days but a few have stood out and worked for me, especially on the juvenile blacks, these being the Squid Nation ‘Flippy Floppy’ or a home made teaser consisting of two birds and glitter floats with a squid daisy chain on the end. A teaser to a billfish is like a red flag to a bull; it gets them worked up and provokes them to attack. I like to set the teaser relatively short, generally 4-5 meters behind the boat is ideal for a trailer boat as it will sit nicely on the back of a pressure wave and not be affected by the wake.

Next is setting up the correct spread, smaller boats can often manage to run two or three rods where bigger boats especially with outriggers can opt to run five. Varying the size of lures and colour combination in your spread is important and I’ll explain what I like to run in each position. Short corner I like a larger 7.5” lure with a more aggressive action in a black or dark variation of purple, and long corner I again opt for a larger 7.5” lure in a darker purple/blue with some silver in it. Short rigger I downsize to a 6” lure in one of the most renowned colours Evil, long rigger again I opt for a 6” lure in my all time favourite Lumo, and in shotgun I like to run a 6” straight runner in a bright pink/white variation. This setup is one that has produced great results for me. Two other techniques that have proven successful on days when the fish are finicky and shy are rigging a swimming gar, or switch baiting with a skipping gar.

I generally like to sit between 9-11 k trolling speed, however we have had days where we’ve had to troll slower or faster depending on the mood of the fish, which over time and with more experience becomes easier to read.