Posted on March 15th, 2017
Every Man’s Marlin
by Captain Franky Pettolina
Blue Marlin grow to be the largest. Sailfish are the most recognizable and probably the most readily available billfish in the world, although they are a little hard to come by in the Mid Atlantic. Swordfish are reputed to be the toughest. Black Marlin are the most geographically limited and get almost as large as Blue Marlin, and there have probably been more thousand pound plus Blacks caught than grander class Blue ones. Striped Marlin are exotic and a fierce fighter once hooked. Spearfish are the rarest of all the billfishes. Having been fortunate enough to have caught at least one of all of the aforementioned flavors of billfish, in some cases in both the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans, people often ask me which one is my favorite. Well I will tell you. The one that I didn’t mention yet. The one that is not the top of any category or quantifier. The one that gets the least recognition out of all the billfish. The White Marlin.
Ol’ Whitey doesn’t get to be the biggest. Whitey is not as easily recognized as its big finned cousin the Sailfish. You don’t need heavy tackle to catch Whitey. If you live on the East Coast you don’t need a plane ticket, and honestly, if you go fishing at the right time of the year you have a high probability of catching multiple White Marlin. So why are they my favorite you ask? I guess it is a combination of things. For those of you that have not had the chance to pursue and capture a White Marlin, let me try to take you there with words. It won’t be the same, but maybe, just maybe, it will shed a little light on why I think they are best of all of the billfishes.
Have you ever teased a kitten with a feather on a string? Sometimes your feather will get pounced on instantly. Other times the kitten will follow the feather a while before pouncing. And of course there are the times that the kitten just wiggles its butt, arches it back, and then strolls over to the litter box and craps on the whole idea! Very similar to a White Marlin. Why is that fun? Maybe it will make more sense if I put it in fishing terms.
The most productive way to catch a White Marlin is to lure it to the boat using hookless teasers and then switching the teaser for a small hooked bait to feed the Marlin. My favorite teasers for White Marlin are either a chain of rubber squid rigged in a row with a ballyhoo behind them or a specialized teaser called a dredge, armed with rubber squid or natural baits like mullets or ballyhoo. The dredge is similar to an umbrella without the fabric, turned backwards, with multiple hookless baitfish or rubber squid on each of the wire arms. (on a side note, in the author’s humble opinion, Squidnation produces the best rubber squid and dredge products- check them out at www.squidnation.com)
We troll these teasers behind the boat, but close to the transom. Maybe 50 or 60 feet. Sometimes closer. The squid chain runs on the surface, while the dredge runs anywhere from 5 to 20 feet below the surface. These are my feathers on the string, and the White Marlin is just an overgrown kitten. When you drag these chains and dredges past one or more White Marlin it will usually get their attention. A White Marlin will typically follow these teasers, getting more and more excited, and ultimately trying to eat them. As a White Marlin gets excited its fins will change from silvery black to neon blues and purples. Its tail will kick harder (like the kitten wiggling its butt and arching its back). And all of this is happening 50 ish feet, or less from the boat. The real trick is getting the teaser away from the Marlin and getting your hooked bait over to it. The best hooked bait for a White Marlin is probably a small to medium ballyhoo rigged on a circle hook on 50 or 60 pound monofilament leader fished from 20 or 30 pound tackle.
That is another great thing about the White Marlin. From a big burly guy down to a well coached pre-teen, almost anybody can handle the tackle necessary to catch a White Marlin.
Now where was I? Oh yeah the White Marlin is lit up bright purple 50 feet from the boat and the angler is trying to get the hooked ballyhoo in front of it while the crew is trying to get the teaser away from it. This is sometimes easier said than done, and if not done properly, actually sometimes even if it is, Whitey will head for the proverbial litter box and drop a deuce on your plans. But for our purposes, the Marlin will lose interest in the teaser and decide that the little hooked ballyhoo is the tastiest looking gum drop in the candy store. So what happens next?
Imagine if your nose was a foot and half long and your eyes were on the side of your head, and you were trying to swallow the letter Y. That is what is going on with the Marlin you have lured up to your bait. In order to see your bait the Marlin needs to swing its head from side to side because of its long snoot and location of its eyes. To keep itself from choking on the bait it needs to swallow it head first (the little end of the Y is the head, the wide part is the tail). So as an angler, your task is to present the bait to this fast moving target with the reel in free spool so that when it grabs the bait the Marlin is able to position it in its mouth and then swallow it head first. The real trick is to feed the fish with just enough pressure on the spool to keep it from over spinning on itself and creating a backlash/rat’s net. I was taught that if you can feel the fish the fish can feel you. It takes practice but with time an angler will learn to use something just above the air pressure between their thumb and the spool of line when feeding a White Marlin.
Once the Marlin has the bait in its mouth and is swimming away with its feather…err… ballyhoo… the angler should give it a 5 to 10 second count before engaging the reel and winding the slack out of it to see if the circle hook has found a home in the Marlin’s jaw. If all has gone well and the hook has caught in the jaw a White Marlin will usually take off on a series of leaps across the ocean surface. White Marlin are acrobatic and can change direction better than the highest priced sports car. The angler will have to wind fast when the White Marlin charges the boat. If the Marlin decides to go deep and cool off after a wild leaping session the angler will have to pump the rod and wind the fish to the surface. The Captain will have to maneuver the boat to keep the Marlin in close proximity while the Angler is working the rod and winding on the reel. The whole goal is to get close enough to the fish to get some pictures. The International Game Fish Association Rules state that a fish can be counted as caught once the leader connection is on the rod tip or the mate can grab it. The leader is the last 20 or 30 feet from the main line to the hook. I always try to pull the fish close enough to the boat to get good pictures, but not remove the fish from the water. Pulling the fish from the water is illegal, and really not that healthy for the fish, when you are intending to release it.
My words can not do justice to the excitement that is experienced when catching a White Marlin, but I hope they are enough to have piqued your interest. I encourage those of you that have not been White Marlin fishing to check out videos on youtube, or vimeo, or whatever file sharing sites you frequent. That will help my words make more sense, and also help you understand why good old Whitey is my favorite Marlin to catch.
Captain Franky Pettolina runs the charter boat Last Call and is current President of the Ocean City Marlin Club.
Check out Hooked on OC’s video from the Sea Slammer with Captain Franky to get an idea on why it’s so fun to catch a white marlin.