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Slant-head lures: top Gladiator, bottom Mold Craft.

Flat-front lures, from top to bottom: BMK custom, Williamson, Fish on Lures.

Lures with jet holes: top BMK custom, bottom Fish on Lures.

Longer, narrower-profile lures: top three Fish on Lures, bottom Mold Craft.

Shorter lures with a squatter profile: both from Fish on Lures.

Step-by-step bridle rigging

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In this, the second part of the series we begin to take a closer look at the techniques and tips you can use to get that big bite and a grey hounding marlin on the end of your line!


Marlin fishing techniques

In marlin fishing there are four basic techniques that are effective under South African conditions, namely: live baiting, lure fishing, pitch or switch baiting and skip baiting. All of these techniques have their day where they perform well, although by far the most popularly practiced techniques are live baiting and lure fishing.


Live baiting

This is a very exciting and highly successful technique that has been extensively practised for many years with very good results in places like Sodwana Bay. One of the benefits of live baiting is a high hook-up ratio, particularly when fishing circle hooks, and the fact that a marlin will seldom throw a circle hook during its acrobatic display.

The downside of live baiting is that you have to first find your live bait, which can at times be very difficult, as well as the ever-present sharks that find your live bait as irresistible as the marlin do. Best live bait types are the smaller tuna species, particularly yellowfin tuna, skipjack tuna and bonito in the 2kg to 8kg bracket, which are best targeted by pulling tuna feathers, daisy chains and small lipped lures on light tackle.

If you choose to use live bait, then you will need to fit Luna Tubes on your boat (basically, plastic or fiberglass tubes that hold an individual bait fish each and force water through the baits mouth and gills when it is placed in the tube head first, thereby keeping it alive). If you dont have Lunas, you will have no choice but to rig and deploy your live bait as soon as it comes on board, which is undesirable if you need to make your way to a hot spot some miles away. 

The best way to rig your live bait is by bridle rigging it a technique shown below. Provided it is done quickly and efficiently, and your live bait was not harmed when landing and handling it, it should swim for many hours. Deploy only a single live bait at a time if fishing a flat line off the back of your boat, or deploy a maximum of two live baits if you are fishing them from your outriggers. Use enough throttle to keep the bait swimming forward but not so much that your bait is being pulled to the surface, with speeds averaging from one to three knots, depending on current strength and direction.

The bite and hookup are critical when live baiting, and everyone on board needs to know what is expected of them, be it getting out of the way or being involved in the hookup process. If you have deployed a single live bait behind the boat, hold the line in your hand and strip off a decent amount of line and leave it trailing behind the boat for what is known as a drop-back. If you have your livies deployed on outriggers, leave a large loop of slack line between the rod tip and your release clip.

The first sign of an approaching marlin will be signaled by the live bait, up the line and into your hand, and only once the frantic pull of the bait has been replaced by the consistent pull of a marlin bite should you release the loop of line held in your hand. While the bait is being pursued by a marlin, the skipper should slightly increase the speed of the boat, pulling the bait straight and making it easier for the marlin to eat, while at the same time removing any slack line that could end up wound around the marlin as it chases the energetic bait.

Once the loop of line caused by the drop-back has come tight, line should be consistently clicking off your reel, which should have been left on a light drag with just enough tension to prevent an over-wind of line. Once the marlin reacts to this pressure and starts peeling off line slightly quicker, slowly ease your drag lever forward to the strike position, which should have been set to roughly 30 to 35 percent of the lines breaking strain, and increase engine speed slightly. This whole operation should be performed with little panic and by calmly dropping the bait back, allowing the fish enough time to feed and easing to strike drag the fish should have little idea it is being fooled until it is too late!


Pulling lures 

This is my favorite technique for quite a few reasons: it enables you to cover vast areas of water, it raises good numbers of marlin and you should also end up with a few by-catch fish for the pot in the form of dorado, tuna and wahoo that all fall prey to lures.

Pulling lures is also an area where many beginner anglers make some elementary mistakes, including lure selection and placement in the spread, but this is easily overcome with some basic knowledge.

The first thing that you need to come to terms with is the fact that your boat does not chase fish away, it draws them in, so dont run lures miles behind your boat where they will not swim effectively and your hookup rate will be dismal. Each and every craft and motor configuration produces a different wake and wash behind the boat, and you need to learn where the clear patches of water are within the white water created by your craft.

You should have two patches of clean water relatively close to the stern amid some churning white water. These make excellent spots to run a lure and are traditionally known as areas to run a flat line, meaning that your lure will run straight off your rod tip into this spot, often only a few metres behind the boat. Due to the fact that this is a turbulent area, bigger and darker lures are a good option here, with good head shapes, being either a large profile cup-fronted or flat-faced lure that displace good volumes of water. Or try a flat-head lure with an off-centre pulling point that will swim aggressively and erratically.

If you are having problems with your lures jumping out of the water when run straight off the rod tip, lower the pulling point by securing an elastic band around your line and looping it around your reels handle or transom clip.

Looking further back behind the boat, your wake and prop wash will widen slightly and begin to lose energy, showing greater areas of clean water opening up larger spaces to run lures.

Depending on your outrigger setup of single- or multiple-release clips, you can stage your lures into these patches of water. Your closest line run from your outrigger is known as a short corner, while your next line run slightly further back and away is known as a long corner.

The short corner position is a good spot to run a slightly smaller lure than on the flat line, with cup-front and flat-front lures with a more elongate profile doing a good job here. In the long corner position, I prefer to again run smaller lures that have some extra inherent action or energy built into their design, such as slant-head lures, or lures with jet holes that give a smoking bubble trail. In these positions, I prefer more natural colors with good contrast such as blue over silver, white or blue, pink over silver or green over silver.

Another popular position is the so-called shotgun or Hong Kong position. This line is run either from a rod placed in a t-top rod holder or a centre-mounted outrigger and the lure is run relatively far back, directly behind the boat where the prop wash gives way to clean water. Due to the amount of line in the air, adding a bird in front of your lure will keep tension on the line and create a low pulling point for your lure. I opt for simple lure head designs in this position but occasionally toy with brighter, more garish colour options here.

When it comes to trolling speeds for lures, this will often be dictated by sea conditions, currents and winds. On calm, flat seas, trolling speeds of six-and-a-half to eight knots are considered standard; however, your best indication of the correct trolling speed will come from the behavior of your lure, which should be swimming behind the boat and not be dragged and flung about violently.

As much as possible, avoid trolling with either a direct following or head-on sea, particularly if the swell is large, and rather troll at an angle across the general swell direction, which will mean your lures will swim more consistently.

The last item that many anglers dont pay enough attention to is drag settings, and particularly when lure fishing, as this can be the difference between tempting a fish to hit a lure, and actually hooking and landing one. Remembering that a marlin has a hard bony jaw, and you have mono between yourself and the fish, those hooks have to be driven home pretty hard! Your strike drag setting should be between 30% and 35% of your lines breaking strain not measured with a hand, but precisely measured with a scale.

The above is just a guide to familiarise you with what your options are when running lures. Other skippers may opt for different spread patterns, but follow some of the basics I have listed and you will meet with success.  


Basic techniques


  • More lures in the water is not always better; instead, get lures running well in good windows of water. To draw fish into your spread, rather make additional use of teasers.
  • Stick to simple and proven head designs that swim well in a variety of sea conditions until you are familiar with how different head designs swim under different conditions.
  • Fish as close to your boat as is reasonable, and take advantage of fish lured up by your craft.
  • Make sure your hooks are razor-sharp.
  • Your lure should not jump out of the water like flying fish, but should rather cycle in a repetitive manner, coming up the surface and filling the head and skirt with air, and then diving down and shaking a good bubble trail behind it.
  • Be organised and make sure all on deck know what their function is, from who is up for the next bite to who will be responsible for clearing what lines, etc.
  • Dont be tempted to fiddle unnecessarily with lures and their positions every few minutes. Take your time when setting out your spread, and have confidence that it will raise a fish should you come across one.


In next months magazine we continue from where we left off here! Till then, see you on the water!