View single post by Hammertime
 Posted: Tue Sep 9th, 2008 10:26 pm
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Joined: Fri Sep 28th, 2007
Location: Cape Town, South Africa
Posts: 2982
Now a few guys on the site asked for Billfishing info and a general Big Game how to.
Then along came Finnseeker and I knew exactly who to ask to write this for us.
It felt as if before my request had even left the outbox, I got a reply of “Hell Yeah how detailed you want it?” Well I asked for as much info as time would allow and I think the Sealine offshore crowd and all other interested members and guests are going to appreciate this one.


Enjoy the read and info overload, I certainly did. Now to put it into practice.



Firstly I.G.F.A. rules may apply to affiliated game fishing clubs rules. Rules maintain that when using two hooks they are at least the distance of the larger hook apart, and that part (not all!) of the trailing hook is within the skirt, i.e. at least the eye of the hook.

My best hook up ratio trolling is with double hooks as close as possible to each other setting them as far back in the skirt as possible.


I have always used double hooks in my trolling lures.  In my experience especially for tournament fishing the use of a single hook in a lure is asking for trouble. The possibility or one chance a fish may wack the lure and a single hook may not be in position could cost you the tournament right there. Single hooks have a far lower hook up ratio in my opinion and experience than all the double hooks I have used. Single hooks are not as effective or have a high hook up ratio as the double hooks do. It is true however that it is a lot easier to release a billfish safely for the mate with a single hook. There are many instances of getting a flailing hook stuck in one hand while the other is still connected to a very large and very lively fish. A double hook requires a lot more time and experience. Obviously if the double hooked lure is not correct, this to will impede your hook up ratio.

When using a single hook, if you use a loose loop and pull it through the water it will not ride point up as it will have a natural wobble going through the water since it’s swiveling on its loop and not a good thing for billfish to strike at. If using a single hook lure you should use a stiff set up with the hook in strike position and not left loose to wobble behind the lure. My theory behind this is that a loose hook can possibly get foul hooked in the skirt while trolling and there goes that one hook up chance again.

If your hook is not accurately aligned in the lure with a stiff set up it may cause the lure to spin or run incorrectly. You must stop the chance of your lure spinning in order to increase your strike ratio and hook ups.  Rig the single hook behind the lure with a rubber grooved grommet and beads/spacers to position the hook well back in the skirt, with its point at least level with the end of the skirts and in the correct position facing up. This prevents the hook from tangling in the skirts.

Don’t forget to sharpen every hook after you finished rigging and moments before you deploy your lures in the water. I prefer for a healthy release of all billfish by cutting the line and leaving the hooks in as the billfish have more chance of survival if the hooks are left in the fish.

To many times an angler will try bring a hot or wild billfish to the side of the boat and drag it on the boat – wrong you scrape all the protective coating off the side of the fish, can damage the gill plate, eye etc and the fish will die. Dragging a billfish over the gunnel can damage the fish’s internal organs as well.

Bringing a hot billfish to the boat and trying to remove the hooks can be very dangerous to both angler and fish. The angler/deckhand or mate will try grab the bill to remove the hooks. The potential that the hook or hooks will get the angler or mate that is releasing the fish can happen, the fish will struggle and try to get free bashing itself against the side of the boat potentially damaging the fish’s eye, gill plate and organs or break the bill off trying to get away not to mention that the exhaust fumes been ingested at boat side from inboards with side exhausts or stern exhausts with diesel fumes. Cut the line as close to the billfish as possible with a line cutter.

Many argue that a lure will have a more active action when using a single hook, this is not true based on many variables and set ups. There is no doubt that a double hooked lure outperforms any single hooked lure

With the double hooks if the lure is taken from the side the hooks will pass across the jaws, and if taken from behind the hooks are further down the throat. No matter how the fish attacks there is a greater chance of hooking it securely. The fact that the hook point and bend are totally visible does not in any way disturb the fish.

Fixed stiff or Chain gangs



The eagle Claw 2004EL 8’0 thin wired hook is my most successful and chosen hook. I have caught big Tuna, blue marlin, black marlin, swordfish on them without any problem. There are so many ways to rig a circle hook but I prefer with the hook up above on the head as with the quick rig system for deads and bridling all live baits.
1.) The thin wired hooks penetrate into the jaw easier and requires less drag and pressure to do this.
2.) They rust out within 3 days of been cut at the fish increasing the fish’s chance of survival.
3.) Snelling the circle hook is the best method for both dead and live baits
4.) They do not gut hooks like J hooks do and the fish has a greater chance of survival
5.) Its very difficult for any fish to throw a circle hook as apposed to a j-hook and the hook up ratio circle hook vs J - hook the circle hook is 10 :1 better
6.) Circle hooks are all bridled with floss through the eyes of the dead and live bait using a rigging needle, closed eyed needle. The floss is attached to the circle hook prepared and ready to go so grab your live bait with your floss and needle and slip it through the eyes, twist the hook through and loop over and the hook so the circle hook sits up .
7.) When using live and dead baits – fluro is best to be used for leaders as they are more resistant to abrasions etc.
8.) The other method is using the new quick rig system which I have found to be very successful with dead baits but not live baits see below (

One Method Of Circle Hook Rigging

#8/0 Eagle Claw L2004EL Circle Hook
8 Piece of Monel
80lb - 100lb. Mono Leader

Today more than ever Sport fishing crews around the world are utilizing circle hooks in an effort to decrease potential risk to fish while practicing catch and release. Arguably the circle hook may not only be less harmful to released fish but the hook up percentage when utilized properly may be higher.

Step 1
To begin (assuming you already have a leader ready), Twist the monel onto the circle hook as shown in the picture below.

Very important: twist the wire leaving just enough room so that the loop around the hook slides freely but unable to slip off the hook completely.

Step 2
Place the circle hook as per picture up against the broken off ballyhoo bill. Place the twisted monel under the bill. Take the end of the monel, poking downward; pierce the center flap or mouth from the top. The monel is now facing down when pulled through. Next, run the monel behind the gill plate over the head and behind the other gill plate. Now take the monel and pierce under the chin upward through the center flap or mouth and finish with tight wraps around the bill.

Step 3
The finished circle hook rig. This method will allow the bait to skip and swim.

Guatemalan Circle Hook Rig methods
1. 8/0 Eagle Claw Circle Hook
2. 130lb. Barrel Swivel
3. 20lb Monel – 15in.
4. 1/2oz Egg Sinker
5. Ice Pick
1. Remove the eyes from the ballyhoo.
2. Trim the bill.
3. Take your 15in of monel and do a series of haywire twist around the barrel swivel.
4. Using the ice pick, put a hole on the top of the ballyhoo just in front of the eyes.
5. Thread your monel, with the barrel swivel on top, through the top of the head bringing the monel out between the 2 gill plates.
6. Pop the swivel into the head of the ballyhoo.
7. Install the 1/2oz egg sinker into the monel and dead center the sinker underneath the ballyhoo’s throat.
8. Take the monel and come around the gill plates. Pass the tag end of the monel through the eves 3 times. Secure and pull tight after each pass.
9. Take the tag end monel and insert it from the lower jaw through the top lip creating what would normally be your post.
10. Rap the mouth shut and clip of bill off.
11. Insert the circle hook into the eye of the swivel.


I prefer reels that can hold lots of line, around 1,000 meters so that you have less chance of being spooled by that one in a thousand fish that run forever or a record fish that fish you've been waiting all those years for. A large spool also retrieves line and terminal tackle quickly. The reel should have good drag systems, preferably with a lever drag, that remain at their settings so you can trust it enough to put on lots of drag and keep it there. The gearing should be powerful, giving you lots of power so you can pull the stretch out of the line if a fish goes deep. This also helps retrieve large lures without stopping the boat. This is where Shimano Tiagra reels really perform!  For me this is my preference and that’s all I use.

My reels are blueprinted so that my strike is at 30% full or full is 65%, that’s where you want to have the drag when the fish has settled down. The only reason you ever back the drag off is when you are been spooled and your line capacity and the spool on the reel has not much line left, therefore the drag will be much higher so you need to back the drag off a bit. The other time is when your fish is jumping or when someone has grabbed hold of the leader and in his hand.
Reels that are the larger and heavier with heavy line, are harder to handle as is for the line to turn in the water, creating a large bow in the water with lots of stretch and pressure. This is why I use Spectra as it has a smaller diameter and does not have the same drag in the water as mono does especially on a large fish running out all your line.

The less line on the spool the greater the drag. Using a reel that hasn’t got a full load of line makes setting drags and setting hooks more difficult than it has to be, plus the more line on the spool the faster your retrieve rate. Each turn of the handle with a full spool retrieves more than twice as much line than the same reel with half a spool.

Your reels need to store the line capacity but also to control the amount of pressure on the line via the drag system and its setting. I know most line used for trolling is mono, I have been trolling spectra since 1998. Mono is a nylon and a fact it stretches lots, somewhat over 20% mostly between 0 to 30% of it’s breaking strain. Drag settings of anywhere under 30% will simply result in a stretchy rubber band and this too can be fatal when you trolling and trying to get a good hook set or strike. Think of this you trolling all day in the heat and your reel is hot, line is hot and heating up, you get a strike and all that stretch from the warm line . Again this is why I use spectra, no stretch and better hook set and hookup ratio. It’s not until you get over 30% drag pressure that you even start to get it to set.

For big blues and blacks. I highly recommend you carry these two tools on board
Snooter. Or Make your own by double twisted 900 lb. cable and rope to a pvc pipe.  Cut to fit your boat.
This simple tool allows a single crew member to hold a marlin's bill and control the fish from a balanced, standing position. It also keeps the fish at a safe distance, allowing both crew and fish to come away from the experience in good shape. Using the snooter, one crew member can control the fish, keeping its head below the surface, while another balances the fish by holding its dorsal. The loop can be cinched around the bill without lifting the fish's head out of the water, which keeps it calm. This, along with the extra working space between crew members that the tool provides, allows for easy removal of hooks. Resuscitation of worn-out fish is a snap with the snooter; most regain their  release a fish, get a good grip on the PVC pipe and let go of the cinch rope. Pull up on the pipe, and the fish's weight will pull the cinch rope and cable out the bottom of the pipe, freeing the fish. Parts List * 3 feet of 1-inch schedule 40 PVC pipe * 6 feet of 600-pound stainless-steel cable * three non-aluminum crimps * One 1/8-gauge stainless welded ring * 4 feet of 3/8-inch nylon line * Heavy cord (enough to make a handle) First, back-splice the stainless-steel ring onto the 3/8-inch line. Thread the stainless-steel cable through the ring and two of the crimps. Double the wire over and twist a 2-foot section of the cable, securing the twist with the crimps. (Note: I found that double twisting the cable would stiffen the loop and make it easier to slip over the marlin's bill.) Using a 1/8-inch drill bit, drill three holes in one end of the PVC pipe about 1/2 inch from the bottom edge of the PVC and about 1/2 inch apart. Starting from the bottom hole, carefully thread the end of the cable inside out through the three holes. Pull the cable through until the twisted section rests near the first (bottom) hole, then cut off excess cable, double over and crimp the end. Wrap some heavy cord around the top of the PVC to make a good handhold. Feed the entire rope section up through the PVC, and the snooter is ready for action

Hook shaker (de-hooking tool) - Heavy duty SS model - custom made - works great on lure caught fish - keeps your gloved hand safe in de-hooking them.
This is what I do when I’m Lure Fishing -
Use sliding dacron loop on your main line attached to a Black's Pin Release clip mounted to your halyard lines.  The 22 lb is also excellent to hold a line in the halyards - but you need to cut it off and re-tie if you want the lure to run in a different spot.
Use this with your heavy tackle for blues and blacks and also can use the teaser pins for fishing ballyhoo.  I have my pins on each rigger line (5 of them) attached 6" below Aftco Rollers (use the Rollers on 30-50 lb. trolling lures).  I set my pins on a scale to open at 12 lbs. matching my lure trolling drag of 12 lb. with 100 lb. Spectra main line (Suffix or Amilan are the best heavy tackle mono lines ).

On the bite we bring the drag up to 26 lbs. for a few seconds to drive the hook in and then back off to 12 lbs. again until the fish stops jumping.  Fighting the fish with 12 - 26 lbs. and max out at a marked 35 lb. on the reel.  Have the angler back off the drag if the fish is close and starts jumping near the boat so you can keep some line / belly trailing the fish and not a direct pull to the fish / lure and hook. 

With the Owner Jobu and Hays hooks combined with a light release / drag and then heavy once the fish turns away - the single 10/0 - 11/0 is driving all the way through the "v" of the mouth through the bill!
The Extreme Breakfast by Bart is a killer big teaser!  I am running a pair of them off 1,000 lb. cord attached to 900 lb. leader and a 500 lb. Aussie swivel.
Bridge Teasers - I run off the bridge teaser lines.  I like the white headed model and then do the skirt in a bright red / orange green hues or Petrolero.  These dig and splash right on the front of wave one with the the Extreme Breakfast diving around inside wave 2.  Put your short corner lure off the rigger on left side right on the face of wave three following and running between the bridge teaser and cord EB.

The next key component is the line, some are rated to I.G.F.A.  FYI - I.G.F.A. does not rate, approve or sanction any fishing tackle brand. Line that is rated as I.G.F.A. simply means that the manufacturer believes the line will break under its rated breaking strain, theoretically so that any record will not be rejected because the line breaks over the line class indicated. Nowhere does it say that you have to use I.G.F.A. line for game fishing, though it is certainly traditional to do so for some club events and tournaments. But be careful some line manufacturers rate their I.G.F.A. lines with a great degree of safety, some break 30% under. As an angler you want to know where your line is going to break at, not what it is going to break under. It is not fair to expect a line manufacturer to check and label each spool of line. This is something you have to organize yourself before fishing, most tackle stores, line suppliers and fishing clubs, tournaments have line-testing machines. Be prepared you only have yourself to blame if you do not.

Spectra on the other hand breaks above the rating so choose spectra wisely well under the rated line class you wish to use as it’s a lot stronger and durable than mono.

The considerations for the line you choose are diameter, elasticity, stretch and knot strength. Normal diameter lines are more abrasive resistant than super thin lines, but you may not get enough of it on a reel depending on your targeted species.

All mono stretches somewhere between 10 and 35 percent under varying loads. The best lines are the ones that are elastic enough to try and recover as much of the stretch as possible. An easy way to check this is break the line under load. If the line is very wrinkly after it breaks like a little pigs tail, it has little recovery or elasticity. If the line is relatively straight then it has high recovery. In the act of fighting a fish, the stretch is a disadvantage as the fish can pull away without the line trying to pull it back or the angler knowing until its to late. The greater the elasticity of the line, the more the line tries to regain its original length and therefore the greater the pressure to keep the hook in the fish.

As a rule normal diameter line has a better knot strength than thin line, as the thicker line can better absorb the heat generated by the friction when tying the knot. The larger surface area of the thicker line also aids in holding the knot together. Spectra does not have this problem and another good reason why I use spectra.

Line colour is not a problem when trolling lures since most the line is out of the water, however for live baits it is important. Main line colour can help angler and captain when backing down on a fish and the captain and angler can see the line in the water against the sun


These are the most important and successful piece of equipment to catch your fish.  Action and length are vital for the hook up ratio for trolling rods. Next comes placement of your lures and how. Soft spongy long rods that are like cushions don’t tire anglers, nor do they tire fish, or set hooks of the size used in trolling lures. There are significant differences between rods used for fishing from anchored or drifting boats with bait and rods used for trolling lures.

In a trolling situation the hooks used range from 6/0 to 18/0. You cannot reasonably expect to set this size hook in most targeted species such as marlin that have very tough jaws mostly of bone with a rod designed for live baiting.

The correct action of a trolling rod should be very stiff and short. Ideally it should only bend a maximum of a third at a third the line class used and two thirds at two thirds the line class used. The rod is the tool used to set the hook with the drag setting to put pressure on the fish. The pressure applied should be 1/3 to 2/3 the line class during the fight and equal to or over the line.

To sink a large hook in a jaw bone you have to hit it in with a heavy hammer, regardless of how sharp the hook is you still have to get the mass of the hook into the fish.

A long rod can put a great deal of strain on an angler with incorrect technique and boat handling. Regardless of line class the angler should have a well fitting gimbal and hip harness set-up. The boat should be maneuvered to keep the angle of the line towards the surface. Fighting fish directly under the boat puts a great deal of strain on the angler and little on the fish. Avoiding this stand-off involves driving away from the fish as soon as the fish begins to dive to plane it up to the surface.

Though the guides on a rod do not directly increase or decrease hook up rates it is important to consider the type and number of guides on a rod. Today a range of trolling rods would have roller guides, the heavier the line class the more chance the rod would have roller guides. How many of you have roller guides on a 6kg rod? Almost none! How many have a 60kg rod with stainless steel or ceramic guides?

When you consider that you are far more likely to have an extended fight on light tackle than heavy tackle this seems to be the wrong way around. Add to this that lighter, thinner the line is more easily damaged by friction and abrasion from guides than heavier, thicker line.


Outriggers are a standard and vital to trolling patterns with electric teasers used by most boats that troll either lures or baits or both as I do to increase the width of your trolling spread by placing them on the outside of your turbulent prop wash in the clear water.

I know you will think I am crazy but my theory is that all predators are attracted to a bait/bait ball and instinctive, every video you have ever seen shows masse of bait balls surrounded by many billfish. This is why I have a line in the water basically for every rod holder I have on the boat 18 rods and lines, and 4 x teasers.

What I have done is replicating a massive moving bait ball. Any fish that is looking up at my lines would think wow I have a bait ball and create that natural instinct and attack mode. Think like a billfish, if I chase that big bait ball I am going to be successful and expend less energy getting food. Fish are like humans and lazy conserving energy and taking the easy way out. The other  reason is if I am trolling near a lot of boats in an area and they are trolling with two or 4 lines a fish may look up and think that its too much energy to chase only 2 or 4 moving baits when my spread is more inviting more natural to the fish. My hook up ratio is better than anyone else doing this but you do have to have a good crew and knowledge to retrieve lines and not get tangled whilst turning etc. A bit more concentration and skill but results in double triple and quad hook ups . Don’t try this with tuna all hell will break loose. I do this with tuna as well then pitch a big live bait in the middle of an intense bite and get a big one.

In bait fishing outriggers are also used to spread the lures out wide so drop back has less chance of tangling. In slow trolling baits I mix dead baits with lures and teasers and then leave room in the center for pitch baits and drop backs.

Outriggers are a weak link if you not careful. There are three factors that can contribute to the success or failure of outriggers in hooking fish on lures, live and dead baits. Depends on your method of connection of the line to the outriggers and the amount of slack in the system between the time the Outriggers release and the line comes tight on the rod and reel.

The softer the outrigger and the more it flexes during a strike the more it is cushioning the impact of setting the hook. Ideally the stiffer the outrigger the better it functions in trolling lures. The sharper the release the better. To overcome outrigger flex, stays can be run from near the tip of the outrigger to the superstructure of the boat. To further increase rigidity you can pre stress the rigger with the halyards, though if you do this make sure the tip and base guides are well secured to the outrigger blank. Your outriggers set up should be as rigid as possible.

Part of the outrigger set-up is the release mechanism. Roller trollers and other assorted types of aftco clips and / or rubber bands. If the outriggers are not rigid and indeed the efforts to make the system as rigid as possible but may not be practical then the release should be as light as possible so that the rod and not the outrigger can effect the hook setting.

 If your set-up is rigid like mine and strong then set the release as close to the drag setting as possible for example on 15 kgs the release would be set at 5 kgs. This involves checking the release mechanism with a set of drag scales. Rubber bands in particular are quite variable in the strain it takes to break them and should always be checked.
Another potential weak spot in the outrigger is the amount of drop-back or slack generated when the line is released from the outrigger to when it takes up on the rod tip. This can be reduced by the use of tag lines. The longer the tag lines the less the slack in the system, the longer your tag lines there is a chance of them twisting in the line and the more trouble you may have when turning the boat as the slack line often tangles in rod tips. A reasonable length is from the outrigger tip to the base of the rod used. Once again, if your system is rigid, the release on your tag line, usually a rubber band, should equal strike drag. If your system is not rigid, the release should be as light as possible.

In many cases for small boats an alternative is running rods from the rocket launcher. You can improve also by setting the rod holders on the ends at a 45 degree angle.


When setting a pattern for lures it should be noted that the further back the lure is set the more line there is therefore the more belly from the weight of the line etc and wind can and will effect this too. Also the longer the length of line out the more stretch there is in your line.

I prefer to set the largest and most aggressive lures closer to the boat with the lures getting smaller and less aggressive towards the end of the pattern with the smallest one furthest from the boat generally the stinger or whisky line down the middle waaaay back


The thickness and weight of your leader can restrict your action in both lures and baits, the leader itself is rarely a weak link in the system. In fact the leader weight, thickness and length is generally a massive case of overkill, as we all add a heavy wind on leader. The percentage of fish lost due to actual leaders breaking or wearing through is very small, somewhat less than 2%. Out of this 2% corrosion of crimps, incorrect crimp size and bad swaging or bad knots would account for most of the problems.


The hook itself is a major factor in the success or failure of trolling lures. Other factors include the thickness of a hook, a thicker hook has more mass to punch through a fish’s bony jaw even if your hook point is sharp and has been cut down or the barb removed. A sharp thin gauge hook is much easier to set.

There are many good hooks for trolling. Choose a hook that is ideal for lures but watch out for chemically sharpened hooks as they deteriorate quickly when used for trolling applications. I use mustad hooks on my lures and eagle claw circle hooks on all live and dead baits


Speed is important when you’re trying to set a hook. Basically the faster a projectile travels the further it will penetrate. As a fish grabs the lure a quick strike with the rod will certainly increase your hook up rate especially on soft rods. Anglers should be in the cockpit as close to the rods as possible. Increasing the speed of the boat may achieve this hook setting to some extent, but even the fastest boats do not accelerate as fast as an angler striking the fish with the rod.
Again this is where a shorter stiff rod helps t set the hook on a strike.


The more you realize this the importance and the better you are at "matching the hatch" or been successful out that day. Again the important aspect is presentation. One of the most important aspects of all successful fishing is the understanding of where to fish. Indeed it is as simple as "Fish where the fish are, at least where they will probably be. The oceans are not uniform puddles of water. They are full of movement and differences in current, eddies, changing depth, wind, oxygen levels, tides, bathometric, barometric change, sonars, thermo cline, radars, chlorophyll and very importantly, temperature breaks. Fish react to all these things and are not at all randomly spread throughout the ocean. They are quite easily found if you understand the basics of reading the signs.
It is well known that visual signs such as splashing feeding fish and bait, diving birds and such things as floats are known signs to show you where to fish. By understanding how to interpret the signs of the oceans in respect of finding fish you will automatically end up where all these well known visual signs occur. To do this it is best to imagine the ocean currents as a system of rivers endlessly flowing around the surface of the earth, interacting with coastlines, drop-offs, islands, canyons etc. These are the rivers of life through which the ocean inhabitants migrate and in which they feed.
All fish/predators must all feed efficiently to survive, they must use less energy to feed than they use to catch it. ( that’s why my big pattern trolling is more effective and natural to the predator. Oceanic predators have learned to use the systems to enable them to reliably find food and feed using relatively little energy so they not only survive but also gain rather large mass and grow very quickly to survive. The bigger you get the safer you are, but never totally safe.
The basic rule to work on as an angler is that most predators are capable of swallowing other creatures at least 20% of their own weight. A 100lb Marlin would be quite happy about catching and easily swallow a 20lb Tuna. The largest lures we troll are really quite small compared to much of the food actually swallowed by these creatures. The problem with food in these large sizes is that it is usually not worth the predators' energy to try very hard to catch a single fish.
Many of the larger species of predators are designed to enable them to cross major temperature changes with immunity. For example species such as Yellowfin Tuna are warm blooded, Billfish species have brain, eye and muscle heaters.
Predators are able to feed easily by forcing schools of fish against a temperature change, almost the same thing as forcing them up against a brick wall. The smaller the baitfish the less able it is to put up with temperature changes. Though it is often believed that the predators are found out on the warmer side of a temperature change, this is not necessarily the case, as predators can use both sides of a temperature change as a barrier to bait.
The way predators feed on these smaller bait fish, can make it difficult for anglers to catch them. They quite often ball bait tightly against these temperature walls and then feed on them by charging through them with their mouths open gulping many individuals with each pass. In these cases it’s very difficult to make your single offering stand out as being worth the effort to catch and eat when it’s so easy for them to charge through the bait schools with their mouths wide open.
Temperature changes occur in many places throughout the ocean system, all of these areas are hunting grounds for predators and therefore, logically, should be the main hunting areas for you to start fishing.
Rivers, deltas or estuaries are the breeding and feeding grounds for many species of fish. Their entrances to the sea are incredibly busy bottlenecks of species coming and going with the tides, seasons and moon phases. Many species remain at these waiting for certain conditions such as rain or a change in barometric pressure change before running into the rivers from the sea or to the sea from the river. Predators such as Sharks, and Billfish know these shoals of fish will be present under these specific conditions and will come in to these shallow and often murky waters for a relatively easy feast. The waters move with the tides and are often very different in temperature from the coastal waters. Any small fish that are forced to cross over from the tidal to the coastal waters are somewhat stunned and easy prey.

The water colour changes from green to a pale blue and the nature of the baitfish change as well. In the tidal waters the bait species are often quite stubby and quite plain in colour, generally with olive, brown or grey backs and silvery white bellies. As we move out into the offshore water the baitfish have brighter backs that are more bluish and green also becoming more streamlined plus they often have spots on their sides. As we move through to oceanic waters the colour of the water becomes much bluer to almost being dark cobalt violet. The markings of the baitfish have more stripes mixed in with darker larger spots. Their colours turn to very dark backs of blue, green and purple and their shapes become very streamlined. Interestingly and rather obviously using lures and baits that match these colours and profiles increases results. In fact even matching their relative speeds also increases results for example trolling inshore waters at 6 knots and around the continental shelf at 8.5 to 9 knots makes sense.
The currents that run through this system interact with each other and every obstacle in their way such as coastlines, islands, reefs, and drop-offs, canyons and ocean floor contours. The results are up-wellings, eddies and current lines all of which have temperature breaks. The faster the current the greater the temperature difference over a short distance will occur. The shorter the distance and the greater the temperature change the more solid the wall becomes to bait fish and the more likely hunting predators will be along them. Indeed on the other hand when there is little or no current little or not tide swing, there is little change in temperature over distance and the fishing is generally poor.
For example where the inshore tidal waters meet the offshore water is worth looking at. These currents generally move at different speeds and often in opposite directions. By looking south of the estuary there is an area that funnels the inshore and offshore water between the mainland and the continental shelf. The current here would be raging and if the weather is not perfect, quite likely to be very rough.
The reef looks perfect for finding sports and game fish. At the northern end there would be up-welling from the canyon and eddies around the top of any Island. The island itself would be a refuge for baitfish around which predators would be lurking. The eastern side of the island would be worth trying as it very close to the shelf. Fish it by trolling, zigzagging between the island and the shelf from north to south, assuming that the current is coming from the north.
Trolling down current will generally result in more fish being raised and will also result in a better hook-up rate, as billfish naturally feed on bait coming down current. By zigzagging down current you will cover more temperature and depth ranges plus you will stay in a given area much longer than you would by steaming with the current. Once you have completed the run, return to the top of the troll by going straight into the current to get you back into position as quickly as possible. Of course if you find action or get a strike you should stay in that area. If you're fishing for bream, you don't pull up the anchor and go to a different spot every time you get a bite or a hook up. It's the same when trolling lures, if you get a bite you've found the fish! Stay there! All predatory fish are pack animals, if you've found one you've found more and never leave fish to find fish.
It would certainly be worth concentrating on the eddies and up-welling formed by the canyons, however they may not be easy to find as they may be quite some distance down current before they reach the surface and in some instances they may even be up current.


Many will try say soft heads work better than hard heads and to tell you from my experience releasing 2615 billfish a season I only troll hard heads. I have not seen any difference other than to say I ended up having to replace my soft heads more often than hard heads. Trolling skirted lures through the ocean in search of pelagic fish ranging from small tuna to grander sized marlin is easier than just about any other form of fishing. The technology in electronics, rods, reels, sonars, harnesses, to hunt these fish these days are far easier than in the old days.
There is nothing better to give you that adrenaline rush as witnessing a rising bill or fin accelerating to intercept a surface run lure or smashing a teaser or turning and crashing on your live bait you pitched or trolled. These are unbelievable moments to see the strike the take, the movements the aggression seconds before the strike and then following a strike. Its incredible power, speed and  very addictive.
As with all forms of fishing starting seems very technical, learning how the gear works on its own and interacts with the other equipment is essentially a technical exercise. Only when that has been understood and using it becomes second nature can you effectively start enjoying the art of trolling.
Somewhere on the planet a season is just ending and another just starting, anglers may have cracked their first successes, or they are just about to. The conditions and currents might have something to do with this, though I suspect that many of the marlin captures are a direct result of anglers having a better understanding of the workings of the ocean and skills of trolling.
It is, at long last, accepted that trolling is a lethal and effective weapon for catching large game fish and the most spectacular of all. In many cases it is the most effective, being responsible for many wins against those using other methods.
Those who consistently miss out on success may do so for a many number of reasons, not the least of which is sheer bad luck. Though I suspect the main reason for failure is because of a misunderstanding of basic lure, live bait or dead bait trolling principles that decreases the chance of success.
Anglers generally experience some form of trolling before using skirted trolling lures for game fish. It might be trolling for, circling schools of small pelagic fish or trolling for kingfish and small tuna along rocky shores and reefs.
These forms of trolling have many things in common. They all involve relatively low trolling speeds, under five knots, and often at a slow walking pace. Lures are placed a long way behind the boat so the lures will be in the ‘zone of convergence’ that is, the distance behind a moving boat where disturbed fish converge and resume normal behavior and hopefully, resume feeding. In most of these types of trolling it is assumed that the boat scares the fish. (In most cases in all forms of trolling this assumption is incorrect, however the assumption remains ingrained as fish are not scared of the boat.
Unfortunately this type of trolling has nothing whatever to do with trolling for large oceanic game fish. In fact, it’s generally just the opposite. When converting to blue water trolling, you have to abandon the idea that the lures should be as far away from the boat and its wash as possible. When trolling for the big game fish, the boat and it’s wash are actually part of the system and the trick is learning how to use it to your advantage.

THINK OF YOUR BOAT AS A MOVING F.A.D. ( Fish attracting device)

When using skirted lures, the biggest difference is the speed as with live baits. In blue water skirted lures are pulled along at effective speeds from a minimum of 6.5 knots, mostly 7.5 to 8.5 and as fast as 19 knots for lures and 1.5 – 3 knots for live baits and 6.5 for dead baits with the accompanying noise, vibration and white water. These components actually combine to form an effective ‘Fish Attracting Device’. The fish are attracted to the boat noise, look behind any trawler they have learned years of experience to follow trawlers for scraps and easy pickings of hake or tuna boats etc. The white water acts as foaming tuna crashing braking the surface or a bait ball been attacked by predators so it strikes an instinct to come and investigate

Many anglers, because of their previous experience with other forms of trolling, run their lures way back out past the end of the wash, fearing that the boat noise and wash will scare the fish. In this form of fishing this is not the case. The action is concentrated in the area between the transom and the end of the prop wash and turbulence. This is known as the Strike Zone. This area is where you should run your lures, baits etc.

Don’t get me wrong, I have also caught more fish and hooked up more fish on lures a long way back, but they were probably on their way to the boat or attached to the boat, whitewater or boat. The chance of getting a solid hookup on a fish are far better on a short line, due to less line stretch and belly as discussed earlier.

The prop wash itself makes it appear to be a shoal of tiny bait fish foaming the surface in a feeding frenzy, or perhaps they have come to know that the motor noise and vibration could mean a trawler dumping trash over the side resulting in an easy meal, perhaps it does attract small predators like striped tuna and frigate mackerel that search the white water for a feed or camouflage, this may in turn attract larger predators. Regardless of what we imagine the wash represents to fish the boat does not in any way scare these predators. The larger, bolder predators have even less fear and will come in so close to the transom they almost ram it as if they were attracted to it.


Before you place lures, baits out, set your desired trolling speed of about 7 knots for lures and have a look at the Strike Zone, the area between the transom and the end of the prop wash or turbulence created by the boat hull. You can read the wash behind a boat in a similar manner to reading the water around a headland, island, reef or beach.

Down the center is the prop wash, a very concentrated boiling confusion of white water, or so it seems. This white water is at its deepest at the transom, with the maximum depth at the props. Perhaps it is not as deep as you might have imagined, and comes very close to the surface within a few feet of the props. Although it looks like solid white water, it is quite translucent, allowing enough light to enable even small tuna to find tiny lures in the midst of it.  
Along the side of the prop wash there are alleys of clearer water with little or no white water turbulence, a nice place to run a lure, teaser or baits as it would be very visible. Remember though that predators are used to chasing tiny bait fish that are very well camouflaged. No matter what size or colour your lure or bait is, it will show up very clearly no matter where you run it, as will your leaders and rigging.
Notice the white water coming off the sides of the boat. This Side Wash is very shallow and almost transparent consisting mostly of surface bubbles. A lure that is run in this area is probably more visible than in any other area, as the frothy white surface will highlight the lure’s silhouette.
Every boat has a different wash format at every speed, in every sea condition and in every direction traveled. For example the wash is longer going into a current than it is going with it. To maintain the lures position you may lengthen a lures distance going into the current and shorten it going down current. 


These are pressure waves kicked up by your boat in a strike zone and vary in size depending on the boat size and hull type. The distance between them is the waterline length of the boat. These waves are the most important part of the wash for trolling skirted lures, as they are run and carefully positioned or tuned on the leading face of the pressure wave.
They are largest at the transom and gradually get smaller further back in the wash and generally fade out around the end of the prop wash and turbulence. The top of the wave is steeper than the bottom of the wave. The face of the wave is far more visible from behind than the back of the wave, this is the ‘window’ The further down the face of the wave, the larger the ‘window’ and the more visible your lure is or will be.
It is important to note that some boats don’t have pressure waves, in which case the positioning of lures is less critical. It is also important that the rougher and choppier the sea the harder it is to distinguish where the pressure waves are, though with experience you will get to know how to properly set your lures for your boat which appear and behave behind your boat.


Without any doubt some lures consistently catch more fish than others. They work because they create an instinctive trigger feeding frenzy and, or aggression responses. In the world of all predators anything that moves is game like a lion and easily caught is food. The more wounded it appears the more likely a predator will commit its precious energy resource to an attack.
This is a natural hunting response. A lion will attack anything that comes within range. A child will try and catch anything that is thrown towards it. The factors that contribute to the effectiveness of a lure are size, shape, colour, vibration, action, rigging and of course, but often overlooked fact of, using them in an area likely to produce results.


When running skirted lures behind your boat, or trolled, they tend to ‘work’ in a repetitive cycle. A lure that is working properly comes to the surface, grabs air popping, dives down leaving a long bubble trail, ‘smoking’ and when it stops smoking, it comes up for another pop. It should not run under the water without a smoke trail for any length of time, if it does, this is not right or it may be tangled in the hooks/skirts or your speed or position is wrong. Also, it shouldn’t come skipping out of the water popping along the surface.
All lure shapes and sizes go through motions with different aggressions and timing. Many sliced headed lures the cycle is repeated every 15 seconds, some as long as 30 between pops, lures are at their best when they pop every 5 seconds. Some lures come to surface and softly pop before diving, others explode on the surface causing a sonic boom. Some dive as straight as an arrow, others may ‘swim’ off the side or dive in deep consistent arc, others shake their heads or tails as they dive. Smoke trails vary from pencil thin to almost creating their own prop wash. This mainly depends on the shape of the lure head, lure length and trolling speed. How often a lure goes through the working cycle depends on sea conditions, boat speed, lure position, line class and rigging.


This is generally based on the level of information you’ve got, varying from getting a set of lures recommended by your local tackle store or from anglers fishing in the same areas, or from personal experience and preferences based on your own experiences.
Select lures by specifying them according to the species of fish you want to catch, such as Blue Marlin Lures, Sailfish Lures, Tuna Lures, Wahoo Lures etc..
Match the hatch so a lure pattern should imitate a selection of wounded or fleeing bait species that are likely to be in the area at the time you’re fishing. As most predators will feed on any available food source over any given period, if you get this right and you’ll target whatever predatory species are around from small tuna to monster billfish.
“Matching the hatch” is actually quite easy, as the species of blue water bait are very similar throughout the world’s game fishing areas, though it is very important to note that the food types change as they migrate through an area at certain times of the year. By following this system through you’ll also notice that through any given period there are many available food species. By working out which food is most likely to be in the area you can more accurately select a lure that “matches the hatch” in action, colour and size. There is no doubt that if you get this system right you’ll even catch the fish you’re after out side the period considered to be a normal season. I also troll identical lures if I know and think that there is only one dominant bait species at that time in that area


Number of Lures
I’ve mentioned before, yes I’m crazy but you will need to decide how many lures you wish to run and the line classes involved. The number of lures run varies greatly. In areas where the fish are in great numbers, or there is a small crew to handle the gear the number of lures is less than in areas where there are less fish or more crew on board to handle your gear


Each line class has a maximum sized lure that can be effectively trolled due to the drag setting used. There is however no minimum sized lure for any line class. Nor is there any minimum sized lure for any species or size of fish you are chasing.

Granders have and will eat lures as small as five inches long, however as they are rarely rigged to catch fish of this size they are normally lost on smaller lures. As a guideline most predatory fish, particularly billfish can swallow a meal of twenty percent of their own weight. The largest lures that are readily available are eighteen inches long that is equivalent to a bait of around four to six pound, so even the largest lure you’ll use is not out of the question for a small sixty pound marlin.

I mentioned the strike zone which is from the back of the boat to the end of the wash or turbulence. To enhance this you must select lures from highly aggressive to large near the back of the boat to more sedate and smaller as we get to the end of the prop wash which is also the end of the strike zone. The greater the range of sizes used the more species of fish you are likely to target.
In SA for the smaller boats eight to five lure spread would consist of two fourteen inch, two twelve inch, two ten inch and an eight inch lure. There may be times when you may wish to eliminate smaller species such as Skipjack or Bonito, in which case you wouldn’t run lures under eight inches.
Lure Shape
Its important to choose a set of lures that’s compatible with each other in action, vibration and effective trolling speed. The simplest way to do this is run lures that are all similar in type, i.e. all Scoop Faced, Chuggers, pushers, slant heads, or all Sliced Head Lures. Mixing lures types when your just starting out is really making catching your fish far more difficult and unsuccessful.


Whether a lure works in a certain position in a pattern relative to the others depends on the angle at which the lure hits the water. There are certainly many methods of adjusting the angle at which the lure enters the water such as simply raising or lowering the rigger halyards or by putting the rods in straight or angled rod holders and or using rubber band and release clips to the gunnels to lower the angle on flat lines. Other aspects that affect the angle are the line class and size and length of leader, the heavier they
-The longer the head and the smaller the face the longer the position.
- The shorter the head and the wider the face the shorter the position.
- If a head is both long and has a wide face the more likely it is to work in all positions though because it would have a more aggressive action it is best used in a short position.
- If a head is both long and has a wide face the more likely it is to work in all positions though because it would have a more aggressive action it is best used in a short position.
It is important to place the more aggressive and active lures closer to the boat. If this simple rule is not followed and you put the larger or more aggressive lures at the tail of the pattern you can set up a “Blocking Pattern”. Many fish will not go past a larger lure to attack a smaller one. Unlike many land predators many predatory fish have very delicate skins evidenced by how easily the skin and fins are damaged when handling them and the line marks inflicted on their bodies even though minimal drag is used. Without the protection of armour such as heavy scales it is unlikely that they would risk damage or injury by challenging

Billfish are known and proven to have colour vision.
With the amount of information in the form of anecdotal evidence and individual catch rates of specific lures and lure colours with reference to the proportion of that colour produced I firmly believe that colour is a vital aspect of lure choice. Not only do I believe that predators see relevant colours, it would seem that they also have a wider range of colour recognition into ultra violet, luminescence and  infra red.
In 23 years of research of all fish in every tournament that I have conducted and  been able to see and record in photos and pictures of billfish I have found four colour groups that have accounted for the highest catch statistics and even more than that these colours would appear to have certain best positions while trolling in your spread.
A fourteen foot boat with a 40hp motor would have a very long wash and up to ten waves to work with. In reality the positions are not that important as long as the lures are within the Strike Zone.

Short Corner:
The largest lure in the pattern is your Black colours as it is run closest to the boat at the position in the most turbulent part of the wash the dark silhouette shows up clearly. (Though in reality most bait species are well camouflaged so regardless of what colour a lure is it will show up clearly regardless of where it is run and even if it were invisible the vibration that its action puts out would be felt by the fish’s lateral line making it easy to track down in any case). Main combinations are Black over Pink, Black over Purple, Black over Green. In some patterns you may wish to substitute a very bright Pink or Orange combination in this position.

Long Corner:
The next lure in the pattern is the second largest and is a Blue combination such as Blue and Silver over Green and Gold, Blue and Silver over Pink or Blue and Pearl White over Pink and White.
Short Rigger:

The most successful colour in this position is Purple in combinations of Blue and Black.
Long Rigger:

Without doubt the best colour for this position is Green preferably Lumo over Green and Chartreuse
The above colour groups in their specific positions have more than proven their effectiveness over many years successfully replacing many game fishing areas traditional hot colours. This set of colours matches the most common baitfish colours found in all game fishing areas around the world. You will also see that these colours range from very bright to very dark, giving maximum variation in their silhouettes.
The fifth lure on the stinger/shotgun/whisky line and any supplementary lures in various other positions are the “experimental or new ” lures. This is also where you should run an area’s own particular ‘hot colour’ for example black and red or yellow around tropical reefs. Any lures you wish to try out in new colours or shapes should be run in these positions.


Hooks should be checked for sharpness, leaders for any nicks or abrasions.
As the lures are readied or put in the water the hooks should be checked and adjusted relative to the lure head within the lure skirt. With lures that have a symmetrical head shapes, the positioning of the hooks control which way up the lure runs in the water. If you run a two hook rig at the recommended 60 degrees angle by placing two points of the hook in the dark side of the skirt will ensure that the dark side rides upwards. The hooks will not spin within the skirt and they will maintain this position. Other types of lures may require a toothpick placed in the back of the lure head to fix the leader and hooks in position.


The lures that you plan to run farthest back should be put our first, in order to avoid tangling with the closer ones. The Shot Gun is generally the longest lure and is set just past the end of the prop wash or turbulence whichever is the furthest. The Long Rigger is put out next and set near the end of the prop wash and turbulence. The actual ‘pattern’ is not very important, but you must keep the lures far enough apart so that they don’t tangle even when the boat makes a tight turn, though it is also a good idea to have the lures close enough to each other so that if a fish doesn’t like a lure as it is drawn through the pattern it can easily be aware of others to chose from. This tends to excite a fish into either taking the lure it is following or race over and to attack the other. There are other reasons for keeping the pattern relatively short and tight such as the longer a lure is set the the more line there is to stretch if you using mono but not if you using spectra.

Remember that your boat is a moving F.A.D. that attracts fish looking for something to eat in the wash. The most important factors in determining the number of lures to run are the sea conditions and the number of hands on deck.


Once you set the approximate distance behind the boat the lure is fine tuned by adjusting its position on the face of the pressure wave. The action of the lure can be adjusted from very aggressive to quite sedate. Remember that the wave is steeper at the top than at the bottom. The higher the lure is run on the face of the wave the more aggressive the action, however in this position the lure will often pop out of the surface and possibly tangle double hooks if loose like the chain gangs. The lower you run the lure in the face of the pressure wave the more sedate the lure becomes. To start off run the lure in the lower third of the waves face since the positioning of the lure is how hard or easy it is for a fish to make a clean take. If your lure pops out of the water often you can simply wind the lure towards you, down towards the bottom of the pressure wave. If it still keeps popping out will you can drop it back to the next wave or slow the boat down. Unfortunately this may mean that you have to drop all the lures behind it back and re-tune them.
Another simple method is adjusting the angle or height of the line by either raising or lowering the halyard on outriggers or incorporating a mini tag line off the transom to adjust flat lines. There are lots of ways of adjusting the height of lines from the water line to the tip of the riggers, but it is important to keep any system as simple and straightforward as possible


Trolling skirted lures only results in catching fish given certain situations. In fact they are the same situations that lead to success in every other form of fishing. Quite simply fishing where the fish are, and even more than that, being where the fish are at the time they are feeding
As it is unlikely that you’ll know specifically when this period of action is going to happen it is important to develop a central core pattern of lures that are never replaced so they are available to the fish during the “bite or tides”. I don’t change my lures like most who get impatient and think their or another lure is better. As I have said in over 23 yrs studying and my proven results on my 4 lure colour selections have worked for me. Only the size of my lure or weight has changed according to the area, sea conditions and line class, never the colour or head shape. The only lure I change is the middle or shotgun lure which is set up so that it can be run from a high central rigger all the way down to a snap off the transom so that any shaped or sized lure can be run off it. As it is the central lure it has a clear position anywhere from the back of the boat to as far back as required.
Other lures may be run in and around the rest of the pattern, but the central core remains not only because they have proven the most consistent but they are also a good indication of how good the other lures you are trying stack up against them. Indeed should you have consistent results on one of the fringe lures then by all means move it into the core pattern. Other lures may be run in and around the rest of the pattern, but the central core remains not only because they have proven the most consistent but they are also a good indication of how good the other lures you are trying stack up against them. Indeed should you have consistent results on one of the fringe lures then by all means move it into the core pattern. As mentioned previously the species of bait fish in any area vary through the fishing season. By using the four main colours green, blue, purple and black in lures of varying sizes you’ve got most species covered. However there are times and circumstances that may require an expansion of the pattern. For example in many areas Squid may at times be the most abundant bait species so introducing colours such as pink, brown orange and white may be appropriate. In areas where the current is raging, especially near reefs and undersea mountains, deep-water species may be pushed to the surface in the up welling. As most of these are red in colour it may then be time to add this colour say red and black to the spread.

Last edited on Tue Sep 9th, 2008 11:01 pm by Hammertime