This article originally appeared in Marlin Magazine.
Natural bait fishing for marlin and sailfish has been brought to a whole new level with the dredge being in everyone’s spread, but if you want to target blue marlin you better be ready to pull lures, and there are some incredible custom lure makers today creating works of art that produce more fish. There is little doubt that lure fishing is a more effective way of targeting blue marlin, especially big blue marlin. But fishing lures properly takes a keen eye and some experimentation.
From lure fishing’s early beginnings the Kona, Hawaii skippers starting with Henry Chee experimented and developed shapes to attract blue marlin. Still today, the backyard shops and garages of Hawaiian fisherman turn out deadly accurate hand-made fish catching lures. The Kona influence on lure fishing is unmatched historically and some of the finest custom lures, shapes and rigging tricks come from the Hawaiian island fisherman. Captain Kevin Nakamaru is one of Kona’s top skippers and has fished the Pacific and Atlantic winning tournaments and weighing grander blue marlin in both.
Kevin believes that fishing custom lures makes a difference because the lure maker builds that lure individually, they are not mass produced. The custom lure maker is not making them for big business, they make lures that take time and effort to build right and they put that into every lure so the captain catches fish. The better the craftsmanship, the better the lure.
In the summer of 2016 Sevenstar Yacht Transport took our 63’ Merritt “Saranita” to the eastern Atlantic so we could fish Madeira and the southern coast of Portugal. I had the good fortune to fish with several great lure fisherman on our deck including my crewman Bo Jenyns, Kona deckhands David Borges and Kyle Vannatter who were fishing with Capt. Matt Bowman on Tracy Melton’s “Grander”.
The neat thing about fishing a place like Madeira is there are few boats and everyone works together to find fish and spends time discussing lures, rigs and techniques openly. Over the course of the summer, Capt. Frothy DeSilva, Bo, Matt, David and I had several conversations about lures and hook sets in particular. Lure selection, position and how they are rigged and balanced are all important parts of the equation for success. Different shapes and size lures run best when matched to sea condition, position in the spread and considering what bait is in the area to “match the hatch”.
THE SHAPE OF THINGS:
Gene Vanderhoek and Bart Miller are the guys to credit with creating the super plunger but Hawaiian lure making legend Joe Yee’s hand made version of the super plunger is best known having caught over a dozen granders to date. The super plunger is a tapered head shape that can be fished anywhere in the spread and is a staple in many cockpits. It’s not a real aggressive lure but runs straight and makes a constant bubble trail and rarely needs adjustment. Black Bart, Koya, Marlin Magic and Polu Kai all make great versions of this popular lure.
The original lunger came from custom lure maker Joe Palacap who had a mold similar to a super plunger that ran great on 50 and 80 pound tackle but not on 130. Joe cut back the front of the lure to create more surface area. With the larger diameter and cut face this created a more aggressive running lure, it handled the 130 line better and big fish liked it. Kona Captain Gene Vanderhoek was one of the first to fish the lure and caught an 1100 pound blue. Kevin Nakamaru was instrumental in the development of this lure and has had a great deal of success with it catching big fish in both the Pacific and Atlantic. Joe doesn’t make the lunger anymore, but when he did he put allot of time and effort into each lure, not releasing a lure until it was perfect and faced properly.
Polu Kai Instigator and Andy Moyes B.C.K. are two lunger lures that are readily available and can be fished in any position with good results.
An almost forgotten lure, the tube is a great fish catching lure. Especially deadly in the long rigger positions the tube is an aggressive surface swimming lure running straight, leaving a constant bubble trail and excels in calm water but is not a great rough water lure. Tubes come in various sizes by many of today’s lure makers and are good action producers with multiple species. But don’t let the size fool you, we caught a solid 800 pound blue marlin this past summer on a Moyes Mini Pipe Bomb on the center rigger.
Polu Kai, Black Bart, Marlin Magic, Koya, and Steve Coggin all make beautiful tubes in various sizes.
Another very popular shape, the straight runner is a lure most lure makers have their own version of and typically in several sizes. Developed by IGFA Hall of Fame Kona skipper Henry Chee, the straight runner is the first lure shape made specifically for marlin fishing with plastic resin. Chee turned his original lures on a lathe and cut the angles with a mitre-box and hand saw. Today, the straight runner is still a fantastic fish producer obviously running straight and on the surface leaving a wake and constant bubble trail. These lures are good targets because of their consistency but require adjustment in changing sea conditions.
Marlin Magic, Koya, Crane, Mold Craft’s iconic Wide Range, Coggin’s Tado and Aloha with their Smash Bait are just a few of the quality lure makers that produce this style lure.
Coming in either metal or resin heads the holed lures known as Jets produce fish in any ocean on any condition. A favorite of many top skippers for tuna and marlin the Jet surely should not be overlooked in any arsenal. Frequently fished from the center rigger or long rigger, Jets run straight and create a very fine bubble trail and can be fished at higher speeds making them a great choice when needing to cover ground, traveling or fast trolling.
Melton Cherry, Hollowpoint, Pusher Jets and Black Bart Pro Jets are among the best metal head Jets while nearly every lure maker has a resin lure shape that is holed as a Jet.
These lures are aptly named due to their shape. They run straight and are meant to produce a “black ripple” when fished correctly. Running just under the surface where the water ripples off the top of the lure and creating a black ripple effect. Bullets can be skirted with any material and are often rigged with reflective wings to mimic a flying fish. Coming in several sizes, bullets are easy to fish and highly effective when targeting tuna and billfish. Polu Kai Rocket Man, Koya 12” Bullet, Crane 9” and Marlin Magic Ahi Pussy are all great bullet options but most of your favorite lure makers have bullets.
TOP CREW SPREADS
Kevin Nakamaru’s go to spread for his blue marlin fishing would include a Marlin Magic Super Dog or Super Ruckus on the left short 861 Koya on the right short, Polu Kai tube on the left long, a 12” bullet on the right long a Koya 9” bullet on the center rigger all with a single hook and two big teasers up short on wave two, a Marlin magic Super Dog or Super Ruckus and a Koya Poi Dog. He fishes both a staggered and square pattern depending on what he is targeting. If he is marlin trolling and switching off his teasers, he fishes a square pattern so there is no distraction with the lure. If there are not allot of fish around, he will stagger so he has a greater spread to appeal to spears, tunas, everything else.
Bo’s Jenyns typical blue marlin spread is staggered and includes a super plunger on short corner, a lunger like the Polu Kai Instigator or Moyes B.C.K. on long corner or rigger, a straight runner like Aloha’s Smashbait or Marlin Magic Smokey Joe on the long corner or rigger and a tube on the long rigger. Rough water vs. calm affects his placement and decision as to what shapes to fish. Where many mates will put a spread out and watch the lures from the comfort of the cover board, Bo is frequently adjusting, tweaking, raising and lowering clips on turns or when changing from a downsea tack to a quartering tack. Much like natural bait fishing, if the lure is not swimming, is spinning or stalls, it’s not being fished correctly and needs swimming lessons.
Capt. Matt Bowman runs the 37’ Merritt Northern Lights in Kona and the Grander in Madiera. Fishing a square pattern with 4 or 5 lines and lures evenly placed on waves 4 and 6 with his teasers on the second wave. He likes the square pattern because he feels it allows the fish to stay focused on its initial target and not get confused with a lure behind it. He prefers using tag lines as he feels the tag line gives less drop back to the fish. He wants lures that run straight at all times and make a constant target. His short baits include one or two larger style lures like a Marlin Magic XL Ruckus or Henry and Koya Super Dog or Poi Dog. He’ll either fish a large Koya 861, 12” tube or medium plunger or Koya Bullet on the riggers. If there are tunas or smaller billfish around he adds a 7” Polu Kai Rocketman on his center rigger. His single hook hookset is stiff with the connection at the hook and leader shrink wrapped.
Capt. Frothy de Silva has fished from his home in Tobago for years starting his Hard Play charter operation in 1989. He also owns and operates the Madeira based Pesca Grossa during summers. Frothy fishes a square and staggered pattern depending on the conditions and boat speed to make lures work best. This past summer in Madeira he fished a square pattern with teasers on wave 2, a pair of big lures like XL Ruckus which he caught a nice 850 pounder on in early September on wave 4, then his long riggers on wave 6 fishing either a medium Ruckus, Koya 861, an Aloha small Smashbait or a tube. He prefers his lures blowing up all the time as long as they are not pitching and tumbling. He uses a single hook rig with a 3X 7691for heavy tackle and scales down to 2X and regular strength depending on where he is fishing and the size of fish in the area and size tackle he is using preferring a lightweight hooks to help lure balance.
Using tag lines or roller troller clips is a personal choice that really comes down to what you are comfortable with. Kevin is firm believer in tag lines for his fishing in Kona where he has one mate and it is calm. He says tag lines are not for everyone and in rough water do not do as well. he uses a blacks clip to a Dacron loop so when putting out the spread or getting a lure back up after a missed bite, the lure goes to the mark and the mate clips it, lets out line and the lure is in position.
We use the roller trollers for easy adjustment in the spread and less material in the air while feeling it is faster the get the lure back in the clip after a missed bite because typically we are fishing in rougher water. Outrigger clip height is important because it is a good means of adjustment to get the lures into the alleys between the bubble trails of the wheels and the hull wash or outside the wash allowing lures to swim or smoke along under the surface.
Balancing the lure is as important as it gets, a lure that spins is unacceptable and typically it spins due to skirting, hook size, leader size and rigging which all play a factor in the lure running correctly and getting bit. Kevin prefers a quality vinyl skirting and to keep it sparse so the skirting does not give the fish a bad feel. Rubber skirts do tangle and can be too bulky which affects hook up ratio, so most deckhands will trim strands away and make them less bulky. Custom lures work better with custom skirting to better balance the lure.
Hook selection and style is a personal preference with many options but most use the size of the lure to select the size of the hook, either matching the head size or using a hook a size smaller. We used a regular Mustad 7691 southern tuna for our heavy tackle fishing this past summer. Many top pros also use Hayes hooks, Black Bart Pa’a custom stainless hooks or Owner Jobu hooks, again, plenty of choices for your style of fishing and confidence.
Leader size depends on the tackle you are using but also should be considered in how it makes the lure work. Heavy tackle fishing we use a section of light cable with a connection to the 600 or 700 mono leader. For lighter tackle and smaller fish, mono works fine. If the mono or cable is too heavy it will stall the lure. The size, shape and weight of the lure should support the leader trying keep as much out of the water as possible.
Most lure makers today build their lures with rubber stoppers on the back to pull the hookset connection crimp into and keep the hook from spinning. Before rubber stopper, crews would peg the back of the lure with toothpicks or something to keep the hookset from spinning or rolling behind the lure. One of the old tricks both Kyle Vannatter and David Borges used this summer was to pin a lure from the front with a toothpick to make it swim out away from the bubble trail into clean water.
Without question, the best skippers and crewmen in the blue marlin business are using quality lures with single hook rigs, and paying attention to lure balance and the materials with which they are rigging based on the size of the fish and area they are fishing. The sharing of information and experience has improved lure fishing catch ratios and really allowed crews to finesse and excel at what has become an art form of sorts, just like the lures they fish have become collectable like art. Much like using decoys for hunting ducks, using plastic counterfeit baits to tease and catch blue marlin is some of the finest trickery there is when a big girl comes up and bites.