Live baiting for black marlin is awesome. It is intimate. It is immediate.
The baits are close. The boat is into and out of gear. The cockpit is quieter than when you are trolling. The baits are in tight, there is less wake.
Without the whine of engaged diesels you might expect to hear the audible snap of a line bursting from a rigger clip. This is a good sound. One not often heard… experiencing it is a privilege imparted by this kind of fishing.
The clickers are serious here. The baits are large, the focus intense. The atmosphere is immediate and present.
You only live bait when you’ve found what you are looking for. It happens once you’ve come across the home of the man in the black suit… and maybe his cousin in blue. They are here. You can feel them. This is the bear cave… the wolf den… a lion’s kill site.
You see what they’re eating. If you’re live baiting over bottom structure, the ocean is likely slick ass calm. Currents deflected upward from bottom topography knock down chop and create a sheen.
You might have come upon something offshore. A floating tree. Covered in barnacles, with a root ball the size of the bed of a full-sized pick-up truck. Surrounded by bonito, tuna and maybe a horde of dorado.
You could be fishing a rock in the middle of nowhere. Covered in birds, streaked with bird shit, it juts from the sea without anything but blue water for miles around it.
The thing is surrounded by bait. Waves crash upon its shores, white foam swirls and undulates about its boundary as the current pushes by. Before you leave—maybe even while you’re live baiting—somebody will sling a big popper as close to the rock as you can get it. This is where big cubera snapper live… but who knows what other mauler might emerge from the depths.
Whatever the focal point, the fish are here. Maybe you see bait moving. If you do and its right, they’re movements are frantic. If you’re lucky you see a violent, massive swirl that happens when a marlin attacks a bonito or yellowfin.
You’ve just caught bait. You trolled silver Clark spoons or small squid heads through schools of bonito. You’ve loaded the tuna tubes.
The little tuna are perfect. You’ll use them from eight inches to about 12 pounds. If you’re gorilla fishing, a bigger bait might work. The bait fight hard enough that if you were fishing in Wisconsin, they themselves might be the main event.
Their tails emerge from the open end of the tubes. They’re face down in the current, a constant flow of clean water keeping them aerated and alive. They alternate between times of rest, episodes of kicking rhythmically and frantic bursts that sling white water about the cockpit.
When it’s time to get to start live baiting, the crew grab them. They will cradle the larger baits—holding them not unlike infants in the crooks of their arm. They grab the smaller ones in one hand, holding them in front of their chests. Some crewmen will hold the baits upside down to keep them calm.
With their free hands the mates run an open-eyed bait needle through the soft tissue above the bait’s eyes. A wax loop that’s fastened to the big circle hook is threaded into the open section of the back of the needle.
Pulling the loop through, they deftly remove the needle and run the point of the big 12/0 or 18/0 circle hook through the open end of the loop. In a seemingly endless cycle of movement, they next twist the hook a half a dozen times before running its point back through the smaller loop.
The bait is bridle rigged—effectively tied onto a free-swinging circle hook.
In a fluid motion, they complete the process of rigging as they toss the bait into the water behind the boat. If the angler is new to this… or the mate enjoys fishing with him or her… the crewman might give the bait a kiss or add some other theatrics meant to induce a smile or bring good luck.
The bait is tied to the free-swinging circle hook. The hook is snelled to somewhere between eight and 12-feet of 200-400 pound leader. The section of leader is crimped to a big ass barrel swivel. The other side of the barrel swivel is crimped to a wind one leader that is smaller than the terminal leader, but larger than the mainline. The end of the wind-on is a dacron loop that is fastened to the mainline with a Cat’s Paw. This set up allows the angler to reel down to the swivel that’s crimped to the leader.
The mainline is likely 50 or 80-pound monofilament. The 200 yards of mono-top shot ends in a Bimini twist that connects to the wind-on. The other end of the mono is fastened to braid backing that piles 1,200 or so yards of 80 or 100-pound hollow core onto the reel.
The reel will be a lever drag, with the clicker engaged. The crew will start by deploying two baits—one on each side of the cockpit. They’ll run each up the outrigger clip, held in place by a rubber band that is fastened to the line. When a fish eats the bait, the rubber band loop will snap and its game on.
Sometimes a big bait or a bad rubber band pop it out of the clip… This adds to the excitement.
Once these baits are out, the crew will probably run one down the middle. This bait might be a bit smaller and will be pulled father back. Depending on the boat and the crew, this one is sometimes clipped into the center rigger. Sometimes the captain fishes it from the bridge.
Now you’re fishing.
As you’re live baiting, you and everyone on the boat waits and watches. It’s intense—especially in the presence of actively feeding marlin.
For the hapless baits, this situation could not be any worse. They’ve been dropped off in the worst part of a bad place at 3 AM… with a suitcase full of cash strapped to their backs. Worse yet, because of the giant hook swinging above their head, they can’t swim right…. They look drunk.
Easy prey. They are the goat in Jurassic Park—you know, the one that’s tied to a stake to attract T-Rex.
With the baits deployed, your attention alternates between the water’s surface and the clips in the riggers. When the bait gets nervous it pulls harder. The rubber band strains, the outrigger line pulls toward the water.
Sometimes a nervous bait breaches the surface. You hope this to be followed by a giant swirl or a thunderous blast from the sea.
The rigger clip has popped. The clicker sings, waling its glorious, discordant refrain.
Somebody grabs the reel. If the angler is experienced, it will be him or her. If it’s a first timer or a charter guest whose new to this type of experience, a crewman will grab it.
Free spool for five or six seconds. Time for the fish to eat.
The angler then throws the reel into gear. You come tight. The rod arches…
The drag’s strain imposed on the reel, the fish flying away… dumping line into the sea as if the drag’s 15-pounds were no resistance at all.
The other side of the line is a mystery. The antagonist is a giant sea creature whose identity is as of yet unknown.
The bonito could have been eaten by any number of monstrous animals… a 70-pound dorado, a 250-pound yellowfin, a blue marlin, a black… or a sailfish.
Then comes rapture. Midway through its first 200-yard run your giant black marlin thrusts itself into the air. From the place it exits the sea to where it reenters is more than 20 feet. At its apex the lowest part of the fish is 4-feet out of the water.
If you are predisposed to such things—a passionate angler who has never before witnessed what a marlin can do—your life has just changed.
A profound joy comes over you thoroughly, completely, and otherwise inexplicably. Maybe its joy… maybe its shock. A cardiologist might worry that you’d stroke out.
Marlin fishing… live baiting for black marlin… is now part of your life. You want to do it more often. It is awesome.