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Marlin have captured the imagination of sport fishermen since the 1930s, when well-known angler/authors Zane Grey, who fished for black, striped and blue marlin in the Pacific, and Ernest Hemingway who fished the Florida Keys, Bahamas and Cuba for Atlantic blue marlin and white marlin, wrote extensively about their pursuit and enthused about the sporting qualities of their quarry.
Today, marlin fishing is considered by many anglers to be the pinnacle of offshore sport fishing, due to the size and power and also the elusiveness of the four marlin species. In the past, considerable skill and resources were required to find, hook and land marlin, particularly the largest blue and black marlin. These skills are today aided by modern technology, particularly the fast and seaworthy vessels associated with sport fishing for marlin, which have the range, speed and seaworthiness to reach distant offshore fishing grounds, and are equipped with state of the art fish-finding and navigation electronic aids.
Marlin are part of the billfish family, of which ten species are of the most interest to anglers: Atlantic blue marlin, Pacific blue marlin, black marlin, white marlin, striped marlin, Atlantic sailfish, Pacific sailfish, longbill spearfish, shortbill spearfish, and swordfish.
Blue marlin are the most sought-after marlin species today, partly because of their wide distribution (in tropical oceanic waters worldwide and seasonally ranging into temperate zones) which makes them available to a great number of anglers, and but mostly because they are capable of spectacular fighting ability and having the potential to reach great sizes. The pursuit of blue marlin has inspired and continues to inspire thousands of sport fishermen.
Blue marlin are one of the world's largest bony fish and although adult males seldom exceed 150 kg (300 lb), females may reach far larger sizes well in excess of 1,000 lbs (the coveted "grand"). A Pacific blue weighing 1,805 lb caught in 1970 by a party of anglers fishing out of Oahu, Hawaii aboard the charter boat Coreene C skippered by Capt. Cornelius Choy (this fish often referred to as 'Choy's Monster') still stands as the largest marlin caught on rod and reel. This fish was found to have a yellowfin tuna of over 155 lbs in weight in its belly. In the Atlantic the heaviest sport fishing capture is Paulo Amorim's 1,402 lb fish from Vitoria, Brazil. Commercial fishermen have boated far larger specimens, with the largest blue marlin brought into Tsukiji market in Tokyo supposedly weighing a massive 1,106 kg.
Large blue marlin have traditionally been the most highly prized angling captures, and a fish weighing 1,000 lb (450 kg), a "grander", has historically been regarded by blue and black marlin anglers as the benchmark for a truly outstanding catch. Today, much effort is still directed towards targeting big blue marlin, but smaller blues are also sought by anglers fishing lighter conventional tackle and big game fly fishing gear.
Blue marlin occur widely in the tropical oceanic waters of the Atlantic and the Indo-Pacific, with many fish making seasonal migrations into the temperate waters of the northern and southern hemispheres to take advantage of feeding opportunities as those waters in spring and summer. Warm currents such as the Gulf Stream in the western Atlantic and the Agulhas Current in the western Indian Ocean serve as oceanic highways for blue marlin migration and have a major influence on their seasonal distribution. Blue marlin have a limited ability to thermoregulate, and the lower limit of their temperature tolerance is thought to be in the region of approximately 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit) although individual fish have been caught in cooler temperatures. Larger individuals have the greatest temperature tolerance, and blue marlin encountered at the limits of their range tend to be large fish. This wide distribution brings blue marlin in contact with anglers in many parts of the world.
Blue marlin are eclectic feeders preying on a wide range of prey species and sizes. Scientific examination of blue marlin stomach contents has yielded organisms as small as miniature filefish. Common food items include tuna-like fishes, particularly skipjack tuna and frigate mackerel (also known as frigate tuna), squid, mackerel, and scad. Of more interest to sport fishermen is the upper range of blue marlin prey size. A 72-inch white marlin has been recorded as being found in the stomach of a 448 lb blue marlin caught at Walker's Cay in the Bahamas, and more recently, during the 2005 White Marlin Open, a white marlin in the 70 lb class was found in the stomach of one of the money-winning blues. Shortbill spearfish of 30 to 40 lb have been recorded as feed items by Kona blue marlin fishermen. Yellowfin and bigeye tuna of 100 lb or more have also been found in the stomachs of large blue marlin.
Fishing styles and gear used in the pursuit of blue marlin vary, depending on the size of blue marlin common to the area, the size of fish being targeted, local sea conditions, and often local tradition. The main methods used by sport fishermen are fishing with artificial lures, rigged natural baits, or live bait.
The pioneers of blue marlin angling employed natural baits rigged to skip and swim. Today, rigged baits, particularly Spanish mackerel and horse ballyhoo continue to be widely used for blue marlin. Trolling for blue marlin with rigged baits, sometimes combined with an artificial lure or skirt to make "skirted baits" or "bait/lure combinations", is still widely practiced, especially along the eastern seaboard of the United States and in the Bahamas, Caribbean and Venezuela. Rigged natural baits are also used as "pitch baits" that are deployed after fish are raised to hookless lures or "teasers".
Blue marlin are aggressive fish that respond well to the splash, bubble trail and action of a well presented artificial lure.
Probably the most popular technique used by blue marlin crews today, artificial lure trolling for blue marlin originated in Hawaii, with skippers operating from the Kona Coast of the Big Island of Hawaii developing many designs still used today. The earliest marlin lures were carved from wood, cast in drink glasses, or made from chrome bath towel pipes and skirted with rubber inner tubes or vinyl upholstery material cut into strips. Today, marlin lures are produced in a huge variety of shapes, sizes and colours, mass-produced by large manufacturers and individually crafted by small-scale custom makers.
A typical marlin lure is a small (7-8 inch), medium (10-12 inch) to large (14 inches or more) artificial with a shaped plastic or metal head to which a plastic skirt is attached. The design of the lure head, particularly its face, gives the lure its individual action when trolled through the water. Lure actions range from an active side-to-side swimming pattern to pushing water aggressively on the surface to, most commonly, tracking along in a straight line with a regular surface pop and bubble trail. Besides the shape, weight and size of the lure head, the length and thickness of skirting, the number and size of hooks and the length and size of the leader used in lure rigging all influence the action of the lure: how actively it will run and how it will respond to different sea conditions. Experienced anglers often fine tune their lures to get the action they want.
Lures are normally fished at speeds of between 7.5 to 9 knots; faster speeds in the 10 to 15 knot range are also employed, primarily by boats with slower cruising speeds travelling from spot to spot. These speeds allow quite substantial areas to be effectively worked in a day's fishing. A pattern of four or more lures is trolled at varying distances behind the boat. Lures may be fished either straight from the rod tip ("flat lines"), or from outriggers.
Live bait fishing for blue marlin normally uses small tuna species with skipjack generally considered the best choice. As trolling speed is limited by the fact that baits must be trolled slowly to remain alive, live-baiting is normally chosen where fishing areas are relatively small and easily covered, such as near FAD (Fish Aggregation Device) buoys and in the vicinity of steep underwater ledges.
Areas where bottom structure (islands, seamounts, banks, and the edge of the continental shelf) create upwelling brings deep nutrient-rich water close to the surface are particularly favoured by blue marlin.
In the western Atlantic blue marlin may be found as far north as George's Bank and the continental shelf canyons off Cape Cod, influenced by the warm current of the Gulf Stream, and as far south as southern Brazil. In the eastern Atlantic their seasonal range extends northward to the Algarve coast of Portugal and southward to the southern coast of Angola.
Playa del Carmen fishing charter boats routinely catch both blue and white marlin. From late March through July the waters of the Gulf Stream bring decent numbers of marlin through the area. These blue marlin of the western Caribbean tend to be smaller. While large specimens can top 500 lbs, 250-350 are far more common.
Canary Islands (Islas Canarias)
In the Pacific, blue marlin are seasonally found as far north as southern Japan and as far south as the Bay of Plenty in the North Island of New Zealand. Blue marlin in the eastern Pacific migrate as far north as Southern California and as far south as northern Peru. The southern limit of their distribution in the eastern Indian Ocean appears to be the waters of Albany and Perth in Western Australia, and in the western Indian Ocean blue marlin have been taken as far south as Cape Town.
Blue marlin have probably been known to Japanese high seas fishermen for centuries. However, the Pacific blue marlin was not officially considered to be a separate species until 1954; prior to that date, Pacific blues were known as "silver marlin" or often confused with black marlin. The capture of a 1,002 lb (454.50 :kg) Pacific blue by skipper George Parker of Kona, Hawaii, was instrumental in clearing up the identification of Pacific marlin species. Hawaii has continued to be the major centre of blue marlin fishing in the Pacific, and Hawaiian blue marlin techniques have been disseminated throughout the Pacific Basin by travelling anglers and crews, influencing blue marlin fisheries as distant as Japan and Australia.
In 1951, a group of mainly American sports fishermen set up the Cabo Blanco Fishing Club at Cabo Blanco in the far north of Peru, close to the border with Ecuador. Some of the greatest marlin fishing in the world took place here until the club closed in the sixties.
Today, the main centres for fishing this area of the Pacific coast are further north, in Ecuador, and the fishery has shifted from the pioneer fishing locations inshore, where black marlin and swordfish were fished by presenting baits to sighted fish, to further offshore for blue marlin, striped marlin and tuna. Salinas is the most well known billfishing location and seasonally offers good fishing for large striped marlin as well as blue marlin and other gamefish such as bigeye tuna. The other popular blue marlin destination in the country is Manta which is usually in season when Salinas is not. A large fleet of sport fishing vessels operates out of both towns. Blues in this area are known to reach large sizes, with the most notable capture being a 1,014 lb fish (459.94 kg) boated by local angler Jorge Jurado which formerly held the IGFA 80 lb class record.
The island nation of Vanuatu appears to be the premier destination for blue marlin in the South Pacific and one of the best fisheries for Pacific blues in the world. A ratified 1142 lb fish was landed in August 2007.
Black marlin (Makaira indica) are found in the Indian and Pacific oceans with some vagrant individuals having been reported from the south Atlantic.
Black marlin fishing has traditionally conducted with rigged dead baits, both skipping and swimming. In the historic Cabo Blanco fishery little blind trolling was done; instead the billfish (striped marlin, black marlin and swordfish) were sighted cruising or finning on the surface and baited. In the Cairns fishery a wide variety of baitfish species are used successfully, including kawa kawa and other small tunas, queenfish and scad. Baits range from two pound scad to dogtooth tuna and narrowbarred mackerel of twenty pounds and more.
The use of live bait is also popular for targeting both large and small black marlin and under the right circumstances is extremely effective, although sharks and other non-targeted gamefish can often be a problem with this method. Small live baits such as slimy mackerel and yellowtail scad are highly effective for juvenile black marlin and are fished both by slow trolling and drifting. Live bait techniques for larger black marlin are similar to those used for blue marlin, normally employing bridle-rigged live tunas of between 3 and 25 lbs (1.36 and 11.34 kg). The use of a downrigger has proven to be helpful in positioning baits deeper in the water column.
Artificial lures will catch black marlin of all sizes from 30 and 40 lb (13.6 and 18.14 kg) juveniles to the giant females of 1,200 lbs (544.31 kg) and more. The prevalence of lure damaging bycatch such as wahoo, barracuda and Spanish (narrowbarred) mackerel in some areas can make lure fishing an expensive proposition. However, the faster pace of lure fishing allows larger areas to be searched effectively, which can be an advantage if the fish seem more dispersed.
Bazaruto Archipelago in Mozambique is a premier destination for giant black marlin. This fisheries was discovered in the mid-1950s from the very basic fleet operating from Santa Carolina Island. Until the mid-1970s when the country erupted in a 20 year civil war many fish over the magical 1000 lb (453.60 kg) barrier were caught. Marlin fishing in the archipelago is making a big come back and is probably one of the world's best kept secrets. Few, but good professional operations (mainly from Indigo Bay Island Resort) fish the area for black marlin from September to January and international anglers are finding that the war years left the resource virtually untouched. The all African record was caught on the north point of Bazaruto in November 1998, a monster fish of 1298 lb (588.77 kg). Skip, swim and live baits are the most traditional methods, but crews have experimented with lures over the past few seasons with great success.
In February 1913 Sydney doctor Mark Lidwill, fishing off Port Stephens, brought in the first black marlin ever caught on rod and reel. This fish, which weighed around 70 lbs (31.75 kg), was the first marlin caught by a sport fisherman in Australia, and is also thought to be the first marlin of any species caught on rod and reel.
Today, the Australian town of :Cairns, is considered the world capital of black marlin fishing. The Great Barrier Reef is the only confirmed breeding ground for black marlin as they synchronize their breeding with the myctophid breeding aggregations and coral spawns of September, October and November. The majority of sport fishing effort for black marlin off the Great Barrier Reef takes place from Lizard Island to Cairns.
Black marlin travel down the east Australian coast during the southern hemisphere summer and are fished for by many anglers along the Queensland and New South Wales coasts. Juvenile black marlin are often found in as shallow as 20 fathoms (40 metres) or even less, and are available to anglers fishing from small outboard powered boats. Port Stephens, the site of the first black marlin capture on rod and reel, is one of the most popular fishing areas for black marlin today and is the site of the southern hemisphere's largest billfish tournament, the Port Stephens Interclub.
Although most of the marlin captures in Ecuadorian waters today are blue and striped marlin, it was the black marlin that brought this area of the south east Pacific to fame in the 1950s, when many fish of over a thousand pounds were boated by anglers fishing out of Cabo Blanco, a small town in northern Peru, close to the border with Ecuador. The inshore grounds off the high white cliffs became known as 'Marlin Boulevard' for the numbers and size of the black marlin taken there. Greatest of the many granders captured here was the 1,560 lb (707.60 kg) black marlin boated by Texas oilman Alfred C. Glassell, Jr. in August 1953. The Cabo Blanco Fishing Club, where most fishing operations were based, closed down in the late sixties following a period of political upheaval in Peru. At around the same time the Peruvian sport fishery also crashed following the overfishing of the primary baitfish, anchoveta.
Black marlin are still found in Peruvian waters but the main sport fishing destination in the region nowadays is further north in Salinas, Ecuador. Black marlin are normally outnumbered in catch reports by the more prolific striped and blue marlin, but some big fish continue to be caught. The traditional method of sport fishing is trolling with natural baits, large ballyhoo being commonly used, while searching for finning fish.
Striped marlin (Tetrapturus audax) occur in the Indian and Pacific oceans.
In Mexican hot spots such as Cabo San Lucas and in Southern California, anglers cast live baits such as mackerel and caballito (scad) to striped marlin that may be sighted feeding or finning on the surface.
Conventional live bait trolling at slow speeds is also highly effective when concentrations of marlin can be located. Experienced skippers fishing out of ports such as Bermagui on the south coast of New South Wales have in the recent past racked up scores of over 100 striped marlin per season fishing this relatively simple technique at the right time at the right place. Larger baits such as kahawai and skipjack tuna are often used for the large striped marlin of New Zealand.
Deep dropping live baits with the aid of sinkers can bring live baits deeper to feeding fish. This tactic is frequently used in Mexico and in Australia. It is considered somewhat lowbrow (it has been described as "snapper fishing for marlin") but is nonetheless highly effective when deep feeding activity occurs.
Although Australia is known for its black and more recently blue marlin fishery, striped marlin are often found in the subtropical waters of the vast island continent and are a popular target for Australian anglers. The country's largest inter-club tournament is held at the Port Stephens area of New South Wales, and has produced several striped marlin records on ultra-light and fly tackle. Larger striped marlin in the 250 to 300 lb plus class often show up in the southern part of their range. Batemans Bay, Ulladulla and Bermagui in southern New South Wales is where fish of this class can be encountered. Live-baiting with such baits as slimy mackerel and skipjack tuna, and trolling artificial lures are the two most common techniques here but many top crews have experienced success with fly-rod and light-tackle records using the bait and switch technique.
The Galapagos Islands are home to great concentrations of striped marlin.
"Sport fishing" is technically prohibited in the Galapagos, but visitors may legally engage in what is known as pesca vivencial, or recreational fishing with licensed local guides. Guides targeting marlin operate out of the island of San Cristobal. The warmer "wet" season between December and June is best for higher numbers, but larger striped marlin (200+ pound range) are caught during the colder late summer months.
Striped marlin are also fished on the Ecuadorian mainland. Salinas in the southern part of the country and Manta further north are the main sport fishing bases in Ecuador. The cold Humboldt Current from the south meets the equatorial current along the Ecuadorian coastline and when conditions are right, the combination of current, colour and temperature breaks amass concentrations of baitfish that attract large striped marlin as well as larger blue and black marlin, yellowfin and bigeye tuna.
Striped marlin are one of three marlin species that appear in east African waters. Kenya has the most well-developed sport fishery in this region and every year boats from Malindi, Lamu and Watamu in the north, as well as Shimoni in the south, see excellent striped marlin fishing.
More striped marlin are caught recreationally at the Mexican tourist mecca of Cabo San Lucas than anywhere else in the world. The local fishing banks and offshore grounds are fished by large fleets of local and American sport fishing boats. Striped marlin may be caught year round in Cabo waters but the heaviest concentrations seem to show up in late autumn and good numbers stay around into the spring. On 9th Dec 2007 during the Mini WCBRT team Reelaxe released a total of 330 striped marlin in the two day tournament setting another tournament record for a single team in two days, with a new record of 190 striped marlin in one day. The team consisted of: Chris Badsey, Dave Brackmann, Steve Brackmann, Alex Rogers, Jose Espanoza, Mark Clayton, Saul Contrearus, Dennis Poulton. The top angler was Reelaxe angler Jose Esponoza, with a personal best and tournament record of 59 released striped marlin in a single day. Prior to that, in November 2007, the crew of the sport fishing vessel Reelaxe, fishing on the Finger Bank, set a one-day catch record of 179 striped marlin.
Marlin fishing in New Zealand waters dates back to the turn of the 20th century. Some of the largest striped marlin, over 400 lb, having been caught in New Zealand. The all-tackle striped marlin record of 494 lb (224.07 kg) is held here, and striped marlin of over 300 lb are caught in New Zealand waters every year. Some New Zealand anglers, often fishing in small trailerable boats, pursue striped marlin from Houhoura and the North Cape in the far north of the country to as far south as Gisborne, Raglan and Napier in the south. Lure fishing is a popular fishing technique used by New Zealand marlin fishermen, with many good fish also being taken on live and rigged dead baits.
White marlin (Tetrapturus albidus) are distributed throughout the tropical and seasonally in temperate oceanic waters of the Atlantic Ocean. The smallest of the marlin species, with a potential maximum size of around 220 lb (100 kg), they are sought after not for their size but for their speed, leaping ability, elegant beauty and the difficulty that anglers often encounter in baiting and hooking them. They are a premier light-tackle gamefish.
The "hatchet marlin", long thought to be a variant of the white marlin distinguished by dorsal and anal fins with a chopped-off rather than rounded appearance, has recently been confirmed as a separate species in the Tetrapturus family, the roundscale spearfish. Nearly indistinguishable from white marlin, most tournaments treat hatchet marlin catches as white marlin. Both species are fished for in the same way.
White marlin feed on a variety of schooling baitfish including sardine, herring and other clupeoids; squid; mackerel; scad; saury; and smaller tuna-like fishes such as frigate and bullet tuna. Like their close relatives the striped marlin, and sailfish, white marlin will often group together to corral schooling baitfish into a tight group for feeding purposes, a phenomenon commonly referred to as "balling bait". When this occurs, it is common for two or more fish to be raised to the baits or hooked up simultaneously.
Where environmental conditions (temperature, water colour and clarity) are favourable, white marlin will often forage in shallow water well inshore of the continental shelf, taking advantage of the abundant baitfish resources often found in these areas.
Brazil is home to most of the largest white marlin in the IGFA record books. The International Game Fish Association all-tackle record is held by a Brazilian fish of 181 lb (82.1 kg). Areas such as the Charlotte Bank see large numbers of white marlin as well as blue marlin, sailfish and other blue-water gamefish such as tuna and dorado.
Cape Hatteras, Oregon Inlet and other fishing areas along the coast of North Carolina benefit from the close proximity of the Gulf Stream. White marlin are often targeted by the skilled charter crews and recreational sport fisherman that fish this area, with August and September often providing some exceptional fishing.
Trolling with natural baits, predominantly ballyhoo, is the most effective method and rigging and fishing techniques have been continuously refined and perfected over the years by the many skilled crewmen that work these waters.
From approximately mid-July onwards, white marlin as well as the other species of Gulf Stream gamefish such as dolphinfish, yellowfin and bigeye tuna start showing up in the continental shelf canyons offshore of Maryland, Virginia and Delaware.
The Jack Spot, an area of bottom structure 22 miles south of Ocean City, Maryland, was for many years the most famed white marlin location in the United States. White marlin were first caught here as early as 1934 and in 1939, 171 whites were boated in a single day (July 29) here. The years 1969-1971 saw some exceptional white marlin fishing with over 2,000 fish being caught or released per year.
Ocean City is now home to one of the East Coast's premier marlin tournaments, the White Marlin Open.
The La Guaira Bank off the coast of Venezuela hosts great concentrations of white marlin in season. White marlin can be encountered year round but autumn is considered the best time to target white marlin in Venezuelan waters.
Venezuelan anglers such as Aquiles Garcia, Rafael Arnal, Ronnie Morrison and Ruben Jaen honed their techniques and tackle in these fish-rich waters and their experiences have contributed to many light-tackle billfishing techniques commonly used today.
The main threat to marlin, along with other highly migratory pelagic fish, is commercial fishing. Billfish of all species are taken as commercial targets and as by-catch in tuna and swordfish fisheries.
Recreational competitions that run capture anything basis still form a major problem. These are often run by organizers for financial gain. However, it should be noted most recreational fishermen usually rally against and condemn these competitions.
In 2010, Greenpeace International has added the striped marlin, white marlin, atlantic blue marlin, black marlin, and Makara (Indo-pacific blue marlin) to its seafood red list. "The Greenpeace International seafood red list is a list of fish that are commonly sold in supermarkets around the world, and which have a very high risk of being sourced from unsustainable fisheries."
Sport fishing for marlin generates millions of tourist dollars worldwide. Far more revenue is gained from sport fishermen than commercial fishermen.
Founded in 1986 by Winthrop P. Rockefeller, The Billfish Foundation (TBF) is the world's leading non-profit organization dedicated to conserving billfish and associated species worldwide which helps ensure healthy oceans and strong coastal economies. TBF's signature research project is the traditional tag and release program that uses the efforts of anglers to provide data and research to scientists and fisheries managers. Awareness of the need to conserve billfish stocks worldwide has led to an increasing trend for recreational anglers and skippers to release their catches in as healthy a condition as possible. In some areas of the world commercial fishing for striped, black and blue marlin has been banned.