Texas Billfishing

      Marlin are the most sought after group of billfish for offshore anglers. Although fishing for snapper and kingfish and other smaller gamefish is very popular, nothing can compare to the awesome power and beauty that these incredible billfish offer. Of the marlin species exist six minor species including the Pacific blue, Atlantic blue, striped, black, white and hatchet, with the latter so closely resembling the white that they are virtually indistinguishable.

     Perhaps the most popular of these is the Pacific blue. Although it didn’t set an IGFA record because it was fought by more than one angler, a 1,805-pound blue taken out of Honolulu, Hawaii is documented as the largest billfish ever landed on a rod and reel. The standing IGFA record for this fish is 1,376 pounds. The heaviest recorded black marlin is 1,560 pounds, caught out of Cabo Blanco, Peru in the 1950’s. It is thought that either the blue or black marlin is the largest of the billfish species. Commercial fishing using longlines has produced blues and blacks over the ton mark, with some weighing in at over 3000 pounds. The Atlantic blue, with a record weight of 1,282 pounds, is virtually the same fish as the Pacific blue, the only difference being the waters they are found in. The striped marlin is next behind the blues and blacks at a substantially less size. The world record is 494 pounds, with the most common size being around 120-140 pounds. The white marlin is the smallest of the species. While it is uncommon to catch a white over 100 pounds, the 181-pound catch out of Brazil is currently the record, and it begs to be broken. The average white for most anglers is around 50 pounds and no record has been set as yet for the hatchet variety. In Texas, the record blue marlin is 876 pounds and the record white is 111 pounds. To date, no other types of marlin have been documented as records in Texas waters.

     Marlin can be found worldwide with some native to particular waters, as is the case with the Atlantic and Pacific blues. Most commonly found in the Gulf of Mexico are the Atlantic blue and white marlin, however their habitats range from the northern Atlantic seaboard south to the southernmost tip of South America and back up to the Baja Peninsula. The eastern coast of Mexico and the Yucatan Peninsula are havens for most types of marlin because of the dramatic drops in depth so close to shore. For the Texas angler, one must travel quite a distance into the Gulf to achieve the proper depth for marlin. These fish congregate on the continental shelf, which is anywhere from 50 to 100 miles offshore. In contrast, proper depths for marlin off the Baja are found a meager 5 miles from shore, making Mexico one of the most popular destinations for marlin fishing.

     But don’t think marlin fishing in Texas isn’t popular, as quite the contrary is true. There are many Texas anglers that seek the thrill of landing a beautiful marlin, as is evidenced by the number of tournaments that are held each year along the Texas coast. The annual Poco Bueno based out of Port O’Connor is perhaps one of the most popular and prestigious. In general, the distance one must travel to find marlin keeps most fishermen from actively seeking this species. Most of those who have the time and money to find them are well rewarded, however. The southern Texas coast seems to provide the most favorable conditions as the continental shelf moves closer to shore the further south one travels. Port O’Connor, Port Aransas, Corpus Christi, and Port Isabel are the most popular ports of call to find marlin and the guides who can put you on them. While you may have to travel some 100 miles or so out of Galveston to reach their territory, a quick 50 miles out of Corpus can produce the same effect.

     Marlin fishing is considered a rich man’s sport by most, but the opposite is quite true. For slightly more than the cost of an average offshore trip, almost anyone can afford to participate in this fulfilling sport by booking a marlin charter. Popularity in the sport is growing and doesn’t look like it is going to slow down anytime soon with charters popping up all along the Texas coast. Next time you consider an offshore trip, make it one to remember and seek out these grand billfish. Who knows, you may be the next record holder, and if not, you will learn about a completely different aspect of offshore saltwater fishing and have a great time doing it as well. We will have more  about marlin habits and techniques used to catch them in the next issue, so check back next week!

Vol. 1, Issue 31,   July 19 '98

Texas Billfishing part II

     Landing a blue or white marlin in Texas waters remains the ultimate accomplishment for deep-sea anglers in this state and those who can reach the waters deep enough to hold marlin are usually rewarded well for their efforts. Marlin in the 150-300 pound range are common catches for dedicated offshore enthusiasts, while catches in the heavier ranges have been known to tip the scales at as much as twelve hundred pounds. But one need not be a professional to take advantage of this exciting sport.

     The techniques used to successfully catch these awesome animals are as varied as the anglers that use them. Commonly baits are trolled behind the boat in the same manner one would use to catch kingfish or dolphin. The difference is the bait. Marlin fishermen are generally divided into two groups, those who prefer baits live and those who prefer artificial baits, much the same as the average inshore angler.

     Live baits such as mullet, dolphin, bonito, and other small fish are used with great success to temp the appetites of marlin. They can be as small as one pound or as large as 20 pounds depending on the size of the fish the angler is trying to catch. Live baits can also provide realism not afforded by their artificial counterparts, and the right bait at the right time can produce astounding results. Even dead natural baits will work when rigged correctly. Trolled slowly (8-10 knots) through areas of high baitfish concentration, natural bait is especially deadly. The availability and longevity of live or natural baits is perhaps the greatest drawback to using them.

     Considering the distance one must travel to reach marlin territory, artificial baits may be the best bet. Artificials are used worldwide to produce awesome catches. These days, they are constructed of high impact materials giving them durability and affording the angler the chance to use them numerous times. Perhaps the biggest benefit of using artificials is the ability to troll them at higher speeds than live baits thereby allowing more area to be covered in a fishing trip. Marlins are found scattered and generally do not congregate in large schools making a high-speed lure especially effective in finding them.

     Artificial baits are available in a vast array of shapes, sizes, and colors. The head shape of a trolling lure is what produces the action of the bait. Flat-nosed or dished heads provide an erratic swimming action that will entice a strike. Some anglers even go so far as to modify the heads to produce irregular actions and bubble trails, or "smoke". Holes drilled into but not through the head will produce the smoking effect.

     Colors, however, do not seem as important. It is thought that these fish are colorblind and can only see dark and light shapes. When a high-speed lure is dragged at 15 knots, it is only visible as a silvery streak amongst a trail of bubbles. But this logic may go out the window, as some anglers believe color has everything to do with effectiveness and will use the same color that has produced the best results. Green, blue, red, orange, and yellow seem to be the most widely used colors in lures with black gaining in popularity. Lures such as the Rapala Fire Tiger and the Hooker are extremely effective in producing marlin.

     Once a marlin has successfully attached itself to the end of the line, the fun has just begun. The angler must set the hook hard and allow time for the fish to get used to the idea. Some fishermen will head for the chair, but fighting a marlin standing is becoming just a popular. One thing is for certain, the equipment had better be in tip-top shape.

     A good skipper will help the angler by backing the boat to the fish, but the angler must provide a steady pressure and keep the rod tip up. Any slack will allow the fish to either break the line in a sudden jerk or gather too much speed and spool the reel. Every angler has his or her own techniques for fighting the fish, and the fish usually determines the techniques used. Some fishermen prefer to actually fight the fish and wear it down, but as tag and release becomes more popular, getting the fish to the boat as quickly as possible is the object.

     Once the marlin is to the boat, the fish is leadered, tagged, photographed, and released or it is kept (smoked marlin is excellent, by the way). Tag and release, however, is quickly becoming the most accepted alternative to killing marlin, or any billfish for that matter. It enables us to learn more about them by tracking them, and allows them the opportunity to further reproduce and provide us with more sportfishing action in the future. Not a bad deal.

Vol. 1, Issue 32,   July 26 '98

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