Take a little island magic with you.
By Corky Decker
My love for big-game fishing has deep Hawaiian roots. I caught my first blue marlin in the early ’80s off Kona and it has been marlin fever ever since.
Fishing out of Destin, Florida, these past few years, I’ve noticed some ways in which Hawaiian-style techniques can increase hookups on Florida billfish. That includes our finicky Gulf of Mexico white marlin, as well as our abundant sailfish and the notoriously aggressive—though somewhat scarce—Atlantic blue marlin.
Most Hawaiian lures are manufactured with variable conditions in mind, to produce in a screaming gale (the channels) and also on a duck pond (the lee shores). One main design component is a radical concaved head with a built-in keel weight, to keep the lure tracking in rough seas. My favorite Takamotos, for instance, will throw a whitewater wake two feet in the air at five knots in the harbor and won’t blow out in a good Gulf gale.
A good test of a lure is to run it anywhere in the spread; if it goes off constantly on either the shotgun or short corner, you’ll know it is the lure and not the placement that brought on the strike. Keep a notepad on the bridge and record where the strike came (long port, shotgun…). The goal is to find your boat’s sweet spot and fine tune your spread. Smaller lures in the 7-inch range, lighter leaders and brighter colors seem to work better for both sails and whites, while 9- to 11-inch dark purple over hot pink, I’ve found, is the Gulf killer for blues.
Lighten up! To mark your drag settings on your reels, use a piece of masking tape where you can make the marks in felt pen. Use a drag scale each morning to dial each outfit in. This takes a little effort, but over the long term you’ll be happy with the success rate. For an 80-pound-class chair outfit, I’ll use only 8 pounds at setup (somewhere between free spool and the strike button), 20 pounds at strike (your fighting drag), and 40 pounds at sunset.
Single Stiff Rig
Use a 12/0 hook on big lures, 10/0 on 9-inch. I prefer semi-open hooks with the point facing up at the back of the skirt, positioned according to IGFA standards, such that the hook does not extend more than its length behind the skirt. With this setup, I’ve recorded a 75 percent hookup rate, and 80 percent of the fish are hooked in the top of the mouth. Ideal trolling speed for the concave-head lures rigged as described is 7 to 7½ knots. This creates less white water in the wake, on most vessels.
The Flash Wing
Long flash wings added to the skirts are another Hawaiian trick that I believe adds a lot of attraction to billfish. What’s the first thing you notice when you see a big flyingfish swimming around your boat at night or taking to the air? It isn’t its eye ball, but those magnificent wings of theirs. The same for small yellowfin tuna: They have massive pectoral fins that just stick out from their streamlined bodies. Somewhere in Hawaii this was noted and the idea took off; if you walk into a shop in Kona, or Pacific Ocean Producers in Oahu, you’ll notice shelves of hundreds of patterns of flash paper. Flash wings work and are easy to add when dressing your lures; the material comes with a wax paper that you peal off the sticky side, fold over the two halves and then cut out your wing shapes. The wings you then tie on with wax line after your outer skirt is placed.
Next time you head out into the Gulf of Mexico or the Gulf Stream, give these methods a go. I’ll betcha you’ll be smiling at the end of the day. Oh, and remember: If it doesn’t have a bill it’s just bait! FS