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Tips for Light Tackle Billfishing

Globe-traveling angler with roots in Florida discusses light tackle billfish tactics.

Bit of teamwork to bring a sailfish to the boat on 4-pound test monofilament... though for IGFA consideration only one may handle the rod.

Over the years, Gary and Sherrell Carter have set some 31 International Game Fish Association (IGFA) line-class world records. Light tackle billfishing is their specialty.

The Carters today live in Las Ventanas Del Mar located in Carrillo, Costa Rica. But, they are past residents of Amelia Island, Florida, where they began saltwater fishing. I spoke with Gary recently to get some insights into the light tackle billfish game.

We always use up to the maximum IGFA leader length, about 14 feet, 11 inches.

“First of all, it's critical to be able to spot billfish taking a look at our teasers,” he began. “Both my captains, Albert Battoo and Yoan Algalae, are incredible at spotting billfish. We use two large Mold Craft teasers set at 40 and 65 feet from custom Ian Miller teaser rods in the starboard and portside gunnels. We typically troll at 8 knots.

“When a billfish shows interest, one of my mates reels the teaser closer to the boat, as the fish follows. Once this is accomplished, I will practice the bait-and-switch by dropping back a bait. With light tackle, hooking a large billfish close to the boat is critical—this way we can ensure the fish has taken the bait into its mouth where a good hookset can be made.”

When a billfish shows interest, one of my mates reels the teaser closer to the boat, as the fish follows.

For sailfish and smaller marlin, Gary mostly uses ballyhoo for pitch bait.

“We use rigging floss to cross-stitch from the head through the body. The hook—we use Eagle Claw circle hooks—can either be rigged tightly to the head as part of this process, or attached to the bait by pulling the barb under a cross stitch on the head of the bait. There are instructional videos on the IFGA and TBF websites. For blue marlin, my favorite bait is whole squid, stitched so that it will not easily break apart on the bite.”

Eagle Claw circle hooks.

Gary keeps the reel in free spool even after the billfish has taken the bait. After the fish detects the hooked bait and runs, the water pressure on the leader is enough to set the circle hook firmly in the corner of the mouth. Once the fish has calmed down, the reel is put into gear employing 30 percent reel drag.

Fighting a heavyweight billfish with 2- to 20-pound-test lines also depends on the captain's ability to back down while keeping the billfish in a position where the leader can be secured and the fish landed.

“I am very impressed with my new North Cape 34, powered by one diesel engine,” Carter said. “The boat handles the seas very well and backing down to large billfish has not been a problem. The fuel can be pumped to a third fuel cell located forward and in the center of the boat. This helps tremendously when backing down to billfish.”

Sherrell Carter with her IGFA Women's 8-pound lineclass world record blue marlin.

When billfishing with 2- to 20-pound test, “We always use up to the maximum IGFA leader length, about 14 feet, 11 inches, which can be of any breaking strength, considering the length and fighting characteristics of billfish,” said Carter. “We use less than a 5-foot length of double line. The line class is determined by the first 5 meters of the line above the double line.” For terminal tackle the Carters use Momoi monofilament fishing lines testing from 2- to 20-pound test. Shimano Tyrnos 30 II reels are paired with Bill Buckland's Fishermen Center custom-built fishing rods.

Sherrell Carter recently set a new IGFA Women's 8-pound lineclass world record by landing a 493.8-pound blue marlin! FS

Published Florida Sportsman Magazine July 2020

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