When it finally happened, catching our first striped marlin seemed almost easy. The planning, set up, thinking and money spent paid off. On Friday April 1 we set out from Whangaroa, almost a year
since the last time we had gamefished on Bender – although the last time we weren’t all that serious, if you’ll remember. We came home in the late afternoon with a striped marlin that weighed in at 91.6kg on the Whangaroa Game Club scales. Yes really, despite theinauspicious date … it was after midday, I promise. Extra preparation necessary on the boat since the last article in this series was written was to rig the Penn rods (two VSW 50s and two Formula 24s) and some new lures. Ass I did the plaits and crimps necessary I said a little prayer that the terminal tackle would all hold together. I chose to follow the rig demonstrated by top deckie Matt Watson in the Blue Water video (remember, that’s the bloody Christmas present that started all this business in the first place!) I used doublers formed by a plait, wind-on leaders and 400lb traces on the lures. To supplement some lures I was given by a member of fishing.net website, I bought some Pakulas that were on sale at a chandlery supplemented by one of the famed “lumo sprocket” lures bought from
Trademe. I also invested in some Legend lures because they seemed to be bringing success for other fishos and hot dang they look good. Spending hours rigging all that lot included doing the doublers and wind on leaders four times because each time I left something out. Starting to suffer sense of humour failure for a while there. So we were all dressed up and ready to go in December and were waiting for warm water to arrive when … disaster struck. A back injury put me out of action for a good six weeks. I lay in bed reading reports of the best gamefishing season in years, if not the best ever. Marlin seemed to be jumping into boats everywhere. It’s fair to say that those weeks tested my sense of humour to its very limits.
When I did get clearance from the Irish Goddess physio to get back on the water I was invited to spend two weekends on my mate Bushpig’s new diesel powered Surtees 6.7 off the West Coast. I decided to gain more experience and a chance to get out off the West Coast during a hot bite was too good to miss. We spent two fantastic days out off Manukau and got four hits (two of them on my lumo sprocket) but dropped them all. It was great fun, but I still hate that bloody bar and there’s nothing that will convince me to ever take my small 560 out there. The following week I once again got out the hooks and the single cut file and gave them another going over until they were even sharper. I’d been stung by the disdain of my “blunt” hooks (two fish dropped on the sprocket) even after I had spent hours sharpening them. I’m still not happy with the hooks and plan another session soon. Man these things have to be sharp. Eventually we found ourselves fully rigged and on the water at Whangaroa in Northland. The team was Geoff Green – who is no stranger to these pages –my fishing buddy John Mac and I. A quick tow up Thursday evening saw us scorching out of bed at the crack of 8.30am on Friday for giant breakfast before being ready to do battle. You can’t rush these things…We ran out wide for about 10 miles in lumpy but essentially windless conditions, into azure water. The water smoothed out, the sun shone hard and it was absolutely magnificent. We put the lures in the water, running the lumo sprocket and the three Legends – the big andromeda, mid-size merlin and smaller enki. My thinking was that with relatively little wake from our small boat we wanted to convince the fish that there was something going on, so the biggest lures went out on long rigger and short rigger. Lumo sprocket on long and the purple/silver andromeda, imitating skipjack, on short. A free jumping marlin leaping four or five times just ahead certainly gained our attention but didn’t seem to be interested in our lures. Hearts racing, we went back to trolling. Spectacular schools of skipjack tuna, all lit up with purple flashes, worked schools of smaller bait around the area. We stuck to them, remembering the mantra of one of my Fishing.Net mentors, “never leave a bait school to find marlin.”We trolled around the bait schools into the afternoon. We changed the lures running off the outriggers a couple of times, but left the close in lures – the enki and merlin, alone. We kept the bigger lures out the back – in contradiction of the normal practice of running the big lures in close to attract marlin to the boat. Not sure whether it was a case of ignorance being bliss or a little knowledge being dangerous, but the one constant I have found in gamefishing is that there are few hard and fast rules – so we made up some of our own. Round and round we went, trolling away the hours, with plenty of bait schools to chase most of the time. Eventually we decided we’d had enough and elected to troll back to Stephenson Island, off Whangaroa Harbour. We wanted a crack at some of
the big kings we’d seen giving the tackle on other boats a serious workout earlier that morning. “Once more around this last bait school” was the call and we had just finished the circle, with Geoff setting a skippy lure to get some fresh bait, when I saw a big fish break the surface about 80m away. I steered towards the splash and soon after Geoff called “marlin in the gear.”I turned and sure enough, just 10ft behind the boat, was the dorsal fin of amarlin. The short corner reel screamed as the marlin shot through with the enki in his mouth.
The Penn Formula 24 reel was howling … unloading line at a jillion miles an hour. And I was on strike – just two minutes left of my time “in the chair” not that we have a chair. There was a slight problem in that we had become lax with boredom and lost our routine. I was on strike, but was driving the boat and didn’t have the stand up harness on. I calmly leaped down aft like a maniac, grabbed the rod and left the boat to steer itself. I then proceeded to shout orders at John to steer the boat, clear the other rod, lift the outrigger and also put the Black Magic stand up gimbal belt around my waist. Poor bugger. We got everything under control and squared away and settled into the fight, with me down aft against the transom and the line forward about 40 degrees off the starboard bow. Keeping the boat moving towards the rapidly departing fish, but with enough tension on the line to keep the pressure on it, we settled in to wear the fish down. This fighting technique was excellent and Geoff drove the boat superbly. He retained the full manoeuverability of a runabout while keeping maximum pressure. He let the fish try to tow the boat to wear it out and I was able to gain line back pretty steadily, except when the marlin ran. We were able to manoeuvre the boat to stay with the fish – and get of its way when it tried to swim under the keel. The marlin stayed deep in the water, but about 20 minutes later we had it next to the boat – it took off a couple of times but we finessed it back each time and soon it was ready to gaff. Until we saw the fish we hadn’t decided whether or not to release or take it …in the end the desire for some fresh smoked marlin was too strong and we sunk the gaff before the three of us manhandled it into the little Ramco.
Game, Set, Match
What exhilaration and what satisfaction. We’d done it. We had joined the ranks of fishos who have caught a marlin from a small trailerboat. The Ramco 560 Outsider had more than proven itself, in fact it continues to surprise with how well it performs in this demanding role. We’ve had no problems with the boat or the Yamaha 90 outboard. Let’s face it, when you’re 15 or 20 miles offshore in a 17footer, safety comes in the form of a bloody good hull and a flawlessly reliable outboard. We had both.
One problem that weekend had been the loss of our bait tank. Three years through all weather it had sat clipped to the swim step … a moment’s carelessness from me, not clipping it on properly, and it was gone. I’ll replace it with an identical tank but this time with an extra security line in case I get careless again. It disappeared over the back containing three kahawai, fully rigged as live baits, ready to be thrown at any marlin that came near. Back to the drawing board on that one – although the basic set up won’t change, just the water pumping system to give me more oomph for the tuna tube (which still sits in the garage ready to be plumbed in. Just ran out of time for that one.)There were a couple of other problems. The battery switch key was smashed by the marlin and we had to jimmy it up to get power back to the boat and electronics. I’ve since bought a new switch key and a spare one for the next fish. Then on Saturday morning we awoke to a dead VHF radio … it had worked fine the previous day. Just one of those things I guess, but it did prevent us from heading out wide again on Saturday, having lost our frontline safety device (and with a dodgy battery switch.) What else would we change about the boat set up? Well for a start I would not injure my back. That really mucked us up. The standard Perko spring clips on the outriggers really started to hack me off. The long rigger clip could not handle the pressure of the twin-hooked lumo sprocket and we were constantly having to re-rig it. I’ve decided to replace them with Blacks clips, on which we can pre-set the release tension. The Tel-o-riggers were a fantastic choice. We were able to pull the rigger in, telescope it and put it out of the way during the fight – you would not be able to fight a marlin on such a small boat with a standard, non-telescoping outrigger, which would just get in the way. I’d still like to take greater advantage of the downrigger. It has awesome potential but we haven’t really had a decent crack at it. Just need some more time on the water and opportunities to drag livies around. I must also remember to take off that white floppy brimmed hat when being photographed because it makes me look like a demented Benny Hill. Or so my wife said when she saw the last article. Best of all, catching the fish proved that these articles weren’t just about theory. The sifting of information, setting up and quite intensive research which led us to attempt this madcap thing were all worth it.