Australia’s Other Marlin Fishery
It has been my lifelong dream and passion to chase the amazing blue marlin. This dream has taken me all around the world to some truly amazing destinations and let me meet some of the great personalities involved in the sport. It has taken me from being a mate in Kona, Hawaii, for some great captains to captaining boats myself in hot spots such as Cape Verde and the Azores. The fishing is nothing short of outstanding in all of these places, but like any die-hard blue marlin fisherman, I am always on the lookout for the next hot spot.
Fueled by this passion, I always have my ear to the ground, and one spot kept popping up among crews and captains I spoke with: Exmouth, in Western Australia. I could find little information about the fishing or people who had fished there, but the rumors of amazing blue marlin fishing still remained. It was not until I received a fortuitous phone call from a young captain named Eddy Lawler that I actually got my chance to hear firsthand just how good the blue marlin fishery is. After this phone call and a short meeting with Lawler, I booked some tickets and was on my way.
Exmouth is a small seaside town situated 790 miles north of Perth, on the west coast of Australia. Originally settled back in the 1960s as a military support center, it is now a major tourist destination that attracts thousands of visitors each year who come to see the Ningaloo Reef and swim with the whale sharks that migrate through the area every fall. But with the addition of a couple of local charter boats the word is getting out, and more and more people are coming for the amazing fishing.
The blue marlin season in Exmouth usually runs from October to the beginning of May, peaking between November and January, when the water temperature rises to around 78 degrees. Lawler says the season could be longer but no one is fishing for the blues in the winter months; on the occasion when a boat does venture wide, it is not uncommon to find a blue marlin in the spread during the day. I am sure after talking about this with Lawler that he will be watching more and more for warm eddies to push in over these winter months to go and have a look. Exmouth might have a year-round blue marlin fishery.
“In peak season, it is not uncommon for boats to raise 10 blues a day, averaging at least one or two captures per day.”
In peak season, it is not uncommon for boats to raise 10 blues a day, averaging at least one or two captures per day. That is an impressive capture rate that is right up there with all the best spots I have fished. The fish size is also good, with the majority being between 250 and 500 pounds. Every so often, you find one that pushes the 700-pound mark, and the Australian 130-pound-class-record blue, weighing 811 pounds, came from Exmouth. This area has the potential to produce Australia’s first blue marlin over that magical 1,000-pound mark.
I joined Lawler for 10 days in December to sample the fishing firsthand, and I was certainly not disappointed. Lawler runs a 25-foot Contender, the ideal boat because the fishery in Exmouth is so diverse. Although his major passion is chasing blue marlin, Lawler can also guide clients to excellent inshore fishing that requires a platform set up for lure and sight-casting. The run to the grounds is a short one, taking around 15 minutes to cover the 6 miles from the back of the reef to the drop-off where the lures are set and the action can start. Exmouth is known as a windy location, and you are generally greeted by a 15- to 20-knot southwest trade wind but a relatively friendly sea, because at that time of year the swell is normally less. While I was there, the weather was spectacular, and we never saw more than 15 knots the whole trip. But take a good jacket with you; the spray is going to get you wet.
Lawler prefers to run lures on stand-up tackle while targeting blue marlin because he says the fish can move quickly as the water moves. The lures allow him to cover more ground and move with the fish. He also says he has a good capture ratio fishing lures. The spread he fishes is a very simple one: He runs four hooked lures with two large teasers in short. I saw firsthand just how effective this spread was after only 30 minutes on the first morning of the trip as we made our first pass into one of the many offshore canyons. The lure on the short disappeared into a hole of foaming white water, followed quickly by a 400-pound blue marlin tearing up the surface off to the side of the boat. It was a quick, spectacular fight, with Lawler and deckhand Murray Teasdale working seamlessly, getting the gear cleared and the angler up to the bow of the boat. This is one of the huge advantages of a center-console boat, allowing for the fish to be fought off the bow and the captain to have the ability to run down quickly on the fish. It is also the reason for the use of stand-up tackle, so the angler has the ability to move around the boat. This style of boat driving enables the angler to keep light drag on the fish. Our first blue reacted by remaining on the surface, making for some spectacular aerial displays close to the boat. This would be my experience on a regular basis during the next 10 days.
Lawler likes to keep a belly in the water and drive more toward the fish and not so much down the line. This style helps keep the fish on the surface. I certainly could not argue with his results — by the end of the season, he had more than 100 blue marlin, with a staggering 72 percent hookup rate. It was also interesting to note that his hook rigs were a mixture of singles and doubles, with no great difference in success rate. He does admit to a thorough approach to preparation. Keeping the hooks razor sharp, combined with his driving and angling style, has played a large part in these results. With the spectacular blue marlin fishing that Exmouth has — the reason I was drawn to the area — it would be foolish of me not to mention the bycatch we experienced on the trip. That alone was nothing short of spectacular. The first day we fished, we successfully released a grand slam of a blue marlin, a striped marlin and a sailfish. That’s a pretty spectacular day in anyone’s book. Lawler has made a habit of this, being the only boat ever to tag and release three grand slams in three consecutive trips using Billfish Foundation tags.
Getting There: Exmouth is easily accessible via Learmonth Airport, with daily flights from Perth by Qantas and Virgin Australia that take approximately 1½ hours.
Climate: During summer and peak blue marlin season, temperatures are in the high 90s, but it feels cooler while fishing due to the constant trade winds.
Accommodations: There are many accommodations options, from caravan parks to five-star resorts. Take a look at the Exmouth Visitors Centre’s website for details (visitningaloo.com.au).
On top of this grand slam, we caught a number of black marlin, with one going 450 pounds; wahoo, yellowfin tuna and mahimahi were thrown into the mix as well. There was never a dull moment in between blue marlin bites. While I never experienced the crazy fishing action that Lawler reports is possible, we still caught enough blue marlin to make the trip a resounding success and got to see the potential that this untouched fishery has to offer. With the news slowly getting out, and more and more boats starting to target blue marlin here, it will be interesting to see just what this place can produce. I know there are a lot of spectacular blue marlin fishing destinations around the world, but I would highly suggest keeping an eye on the reports coming out of Exmouth, and maybe even jumping on a plane and coming to experience the best blue marlin fishing Down Under has to offer.