Heavy-tackle fishing for giant black marlin on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is about as extreme and exciting as fishing gets. These large billfish push anglers, crews, tackle and boats to their very limits. If you find yourself wanting to put out the heavy stuff during a big-fish tournament or fishing in a spot likely to hold your boss’ first grander, here are the basics and backbone of the tackle setup we used on the reef this past season.
First off, you need to acquire a set of high-quality 130-pound to unlimited-class rods with roller guides and a tip, with curved butts. And the rods need to fit the particular boat — they have to clear the corners.
| |Preparing Your Swimbait 1. Crews insert a set of weights under the chins of swimbaits to get them to swim deeper. They first pass a loop on the lead through the head of the bait. 2. Then they tuck the weight under the gills. 3. Finally, they close the gills and body cavity with Dacron and use the loop attached to the weight as the pulling point.|
Obviously, you’ll need matching 130-pound-class reels made by the manufacturer of your choice. I always like to have my reels, regardless of the brand, “blueprinted” by Cal Sheets in California (cals2speed.com) to eliminate the drag differential between a slow-turning spool and a fast-turning spool, which can be catastrophic at heavy-drag settings.
Using the backing/top-shot system, fill the spool with 130-pound-class Dacron to within about 1 inch of the top edge of the spool. If you’re not exactly sure how much Dacron to put on, it’s better to put on a little extra, because you can always cut the Dacron back some if you want your top shot to be longer.
Splice your 130-pound mono into the Dacron. I like to run the mono at least 6 feet up into the hollow-core Dacron, and then seize the end of the Dacron onto the mono, whipping the connection with half hitches of waxed twine.
Fill the spool to the top with the 130-pound monofilament. If you plan on using wind-on leaders, be sure to allow enough clearance between the mono and the crossbars of the reel. I like the length of the top shot to be between 150 and 200 yards.
For the Dacron/mono combination, I’ve had excellent results using Gamefish Technologies Marlin Braid IGFA Dacron and Amilan-T II Pre-Test Game Line (meltontackle.com).
I also prefer to use a “rigger mark” loop made out of Dacron to hold the line in the outrigger clip, so I slide one onto the bitter end of the mono before tying a double line using either a Bimini twist or an Aussie braid.
For our leader setup this past season, we used a wind-on section of Momoi Extra-Hard 650-pound mono leader that was 14 feet in length, with an extra-large, heavy-duty ball-bearing snap swivel crimped on the end. We use heavy-walled plastic chafe tubing around the mono loop, and whip the ring of the swivel that the mono loop goes through with waxed line/half hitches to help cushion the mono under extreme pressure.
| |Amilan-T II Pre-Test Game Line|
This wind-on leader section is attached to the double line with a double cat’s-paw knot. The “bait” leader (also Momoi Extra-Hard 650-pound mono) is also 14 feet long, with a chafe-tubing-protected loop crimped on one end and a Mustad 39960D circle hook, sizes 16/0 to 20/0, snelled onto the other.
The standard spread on the reef these days is a three-dead-bait setup, with one bait on the left rigger, one on the center rigger and one on the right rigger. Typically, you’ll fish skipping baits on one of the outriggers and the center rigger, and fish the lone swimming bait on the other outrigger.
Depending on the bait supply, and how many “chop-offs” we’re getting, one of the skipbaits may be removed from the spread to conserve bait.
The “rigger mark” on each line needs to be measured out to a set distance and whipped in place with waxed line, using your arm span as a measuring stick. Every boat is a little different, so you need to do some experimenting to find out where each type of bait works best behind the boat. I usually put our short baits at 20 arm lengths and the long ones at 40.
Skipbaits are head-rigged using 130-pound Dacron for the bridle, with the hook riding 2 to 4 inches in front of the bait. We also put a piece of chafe tubing on the bridle, prior to rigging, to help protect it from bill scrapes during the bite/drop-back period.
| |Aussie crews keep all of their dead baits pre-rigged on 600-pound mono leaders; the hooks are already attached.|
Swimbaits are also head-rigged with 130-pound Dacron bridles, without the chafe tubing, to twin lead weights inside the head to make the bait swim deeper. We also use 0.040 galvanized single-strand wire leader on these to help get them deeper in the water.
| |Baker uses a waxed loop and a snap swivel to control halyard creep.|
To keep the outrigger clips from creeping down while trolling, which is caused by the extreme weight of the baits, and during the bite itself, we whipped a small loop of waxed line onto the rigger halyard line, with the clip at the top of the rigger, and had a small snap swivel, with the curled locking bit cut off, tied to the bottom pulley. With the clip at the top and the loop at the bottom of the halyard line, hook the “open” snap swivel into the loop to “lock” the halyard in place.
Instead of keeping the line from the rod tip up to the rigger clip “tight” and out of the water, we would pull 40 to 60 feet of line off the spool and let it drag in the water in a big loop, creating instant drop-back to the fish after it pulls the line out of the rigger clip, thereby giving the angler a little time to get the reel into complete free-spool and continue to feed the fish for an additional five to 10 seconds.
At times during the season, especially late in the season, the bite on the reef slows down and the fleet spreads out wide, 10 to 20 miles, off the reef in search of tuna schools and marlin. For these occasions, we kept a drawer full of medium- to large-headed lures rigged with both double and single hook-sets on 650-pound mono leader. We trolled a three-lure spread using removable tag lines attached to each rigger halyard line and tag line return weights. Since the wake pattern was different at lure speed, our pre-set rigger marks were too long, so we used No. 64 rubber bands wrapped around the line 10 times to attach the tag lines at a shorter distance.