Fish Species

Marlin on the fly Istiophoridae

There is no fight like the fight of a Marlin. This is the prized fish of most saltwater anglers all over the world. They span almost all of the waters of the globe and can be caught by a variety of methods at various times of year in many diverse places. Marlin fishing is considered by some game fishermen to be the pinnacle of offshore game fish, due to their power, size and the relative rareness. It is an expensive hobby, requiring considerable money to pursue on a regular basis, single day of Marlin fishing can cost over $1000. They are possibly the most well-known fish in the entire world which probably accounts for millions of dollars in commerce spent hunting them. The novel by Ernest Hemingway, “The Old Man and the Sea” chronicles the struggle of a Marlin fisherman who after 85 days of failure, ventures out to sea to change his luck and catch a Marlin. Hemmingway frequently fished for Marlin, quite successfully with his family. The Marlin is the largest of the billfish and comes in many variations: Pacific Black Marlin Pacific Blue Marlin Atlantic Blue Marlin White Marlin Striped Marlin


Blue Marlin
Blue Marlin are found in both Atlantic and Pacific waters. Scientists distinguish between two species of Blue Marlin, the Atlantic Blue Marlin and the Pacific Blue Marlin but large percentages of Blue Marlin found in the Atlantic are actually the same genetically as Pacific Blue Marlin. If you are just an angler and not a scientist, the differentiation is completely insignificant. The oldest known Blue Marlin is the 1656 lb. Blue Marlin caught in 1984 and aged by biologists at 32 years. Blue Marlin adult males seldom exceed 300 lb. (150 kg) whereas females may reach far larger sizes well in excess of 1,000 lb. (450 kg). Blue Marlin have the ability to regulate their body temperatures and can tolerate temperatures as low as 68o F (20o C) although individual fish have been caught in cooler temperatures it’s not very common. They move around a lot and make significant seasonal migrations in and out of the northern and southern hemispheres following warm waters to take advantage of feeding opportunities as northern and southern waters warm in spring and summer. Blue Marlin have been found in the open ocean, thousands of miles from land but they seem to be in greatest numbers in areas where the bottom structure is like islands, seamounts, banks, and at the edges of the continental shelves. These structures create upwelling that brings deep nutrient-rich water close to the surface, sparking off plankton blooms. These plankton blooms attract fish that feed and that results in bigger fish and a food chain that excites the large marine predators such as dolphins, whales, large tuna and billfish. Temperature breaks created where bodies of warm and cool water are pushed up against each other also act as a less tangible form of structure which attracts bait and game fish, including Blue Marlin. Blue Marlin are eclectic feeders preying on a wide range of prey species and sizes. Scientific examination of Blue Marlin stomach contents has yielded organisms as small as miniature filefish. Common food items include tuna-like fish (particularly skipjack tuna and frigate mackerel or frigate tuna), squid, mackerel and scad, actually they’ll eat any fish they can see, chase and catch. A 6 foot (almost 2 meter) White Marlin was found in the stomach of a 448 lb. (203 kg) Blue Marlin caught at Walker’s Cay in the Bahamas. As recently as the 2005 White Marlin Open, a 70 lb. (~30kg) White Marlin was found in the stomach of one of the winning Blues. 100 lb. (45 kg) Yellow Fin Tuna are frequently found in the stomachs of large Blue Marlin. It is not uncommon behavior for billfish to work cooperatively to feed. Sometimes when approaching bait busting on the water in a nice tight ball, you will see two or three Marlin corralling the bait and keeping the bait ball tight while the rest of the school takes turns feeding. In addition to spawning in tropical waters many Blue Marlin remain in tropical waters year round where food is plentiful. Spawning locations are believed to include the islands of the Caribbean in the western Atlantic, the Gulf of Guinea in the eastern Atlantic, Hawaii, and Mauritius (a small island east of Madagascar). Warm currents such as the Gulf Stream in the western Atlantic and the Agulhas current in the western Indian Ocean are warm water highways for Blue Marlin migration. This explains why Marlin are caught in non-tropical places like Maine & Massachusetts. In the western Atlantic, Marlin can be found as far north as George’s Bank and the continental shelf canyons off Cape Cod, following the warm current of the Gulf Stream, and as far south as southern Brazil. In the eastern Atlantic their seasonal range extends northward to the Algarve coast of Portugal and southward to the southern coast of Angola, Africa. Some Blue Marlin are found at the southernmost tip of the continent, though whether they are Atlantic stock or Pacific stock is debatable, especially since an individual fish tagged in the western Atlantic was re-caught in the Indian Ocean off the island of Mauritius. In the Pacific, Blue Marlin are found as far north as southern Japan and as far south as the Bay of Plenty in the North Island of New Zealand. Blue Marlin in the eastern Pacific migrate as far north as Southern California and as far south as northern Peru. The southern limit of their distribution in the eastern Indian Ocean appears to be the waters of Albany and Perth, Australia and in the western Indian Ocean Blue Marlin have been taken as far south as Cape Town. Larger individuals have the greatest temperature tolerance, and Blue Marlin encountered at the limits of their range tend to be large fish. The maximum size of Blue (and black) Marlin is often debated in both sport fishing and scientific circles. The largest sport fishing capture on record is a 1,805 lb. Pacific Blue Marlin caught in Oahu, Hawaii. This fish had a 155 lb. yellow fin tuna in its belly. Why they killed it I don’t know. In the Atlantic the largest sport fishing capture is a 1,402 lb. Blue in Vitoria, Brazil. Commercial fishermen have boated far larger specimens. The largest Blue Marlin brought into Tsukiji market in Tokyo allegedly weighed in at a massive 2433 lbs. (1,106 kg). This was not officially confirmed. This report is way larger, 600 lbs. larger than the 1805 lb. record. Numerous very large fish have been reported over the years, including a couple of photographs originating from southern Japan. Fisherman in both the Pacific and Atlantic, have reported encounters with, and in some instances captures, of Marlin thought to be in excess of 2,000 lbs., but obtaining verified weights and dimensions has been difficult, actually has never happened. A 1,000 lb. (450 kg) fish, a “grander”, has been regarded by Blue and Black Marlin anglers as the benchmark for an outstanding catch. For most Marlin anglers, a grander at 1,000 lb. is the fish of a lifetime. It seems not likely that sport fishermen will ever break the “tonner” 2,000 lb. (900 kg) mark with increasing pressure and destruction by commercial fisherman. Thankfully there are organizations like the IGFA that help study and protect the species.
Black Marlin
Without belaboring the minor difference between the various types of Marlin, there are a few points that make the Black Marlin different than the Blue. The Black Marlin are found in the Indo-Pacific and east Pacific oceans from near the surface and in depths of 3,002 ft. (1000 meters). There is no Atlantic Black Marlin; they are only in the Pacific. It is known as the largest commercial fish with a maximum published length of 4.65 m (15.3 ft.) and weight of 750 kg (1,700 lb.) but there is constant debate regarding this topic as mentioned above. This Marlin is second of the fastest fish on earth reaching speeds up just under 70 mph (110 km/h). When fishing for Black Marlin, the same techniques used for Blue Marlin are successful. This fish is highly prized if caught; in fact very few successful, accomplished fishermen can actually say that they have caught a Black Marlin.
White Marlin
White Marlin are only in the Atlantic Ocean, unlike the Black which are only Pacific based fish. They are the smallest of the Marlin species but sought after for their speed, agility and amazing leaping ability. These fish are streamlined and display their elegant beauty while making fantastic leaps and speed when making blistering runs. They are the premier light-tackle offshore game fish. White Marlin are distributed throughout the tropical Atlantic waters. They make seasonal runs following the Gulf Stream up the Atlantic Ocean as far north as the Blue Marlin go. They will often hunt and forage in warm, shallow water, well inshore of the continental shelf. They are very fast and take advantage of the plentiful baitfish there by means of ambush attack. They are smaller than other Marlin species, but usually bigger than sailfish. White Marlin may reach a potential maximum size of ~220 lb. (100 kg). The International Game Fish Association all-tackle record is 181 lb. Whites feed on a variety of schooling baitfish including sardine, herring, squid, mackerel, small tuna (frigate and bullet tuna), scad and whatever else they can catch. White Marlin will also ball bait and frequently group together to corral schooling baitfish to cooperatively feed on the bait ball. Most fly rod-caught White Marlin are far smaller than this and a prize fish is considered to be ~100 lb. (45 kg).
Striped Marlin
The striped Marlin is the Pacific version of the White Marlin in the Atlantic. While bigger than the White, the Striped Marlin is the smallest of the Pacific Marlin. It is found in tropical waters to temperate Indo-Pacific oceans as far north as Japan and south to Argentina in South America. They are abundant around Baja Peninsula in Mexico (Cabo is a well-known hunting ground) Hawaii, New Zealand, Madagascar and the south eastern coast of Africa. They do not usually no far from the surface and are often referred to as the “flying dagger” as they too can hit speeds around 70mph (~110kph). It is a large fish with a record weight of 420 lbs. (190kg), they are believed to be capable of reaching 500 lbs. (227kg) and a maximum length of ~14 ft. (4 meters). The striped Marlin is a predator that hunts during the day usually close to the surface but also in depths of 30 ft. (~100 meters) preying on baitfish, squid and whatever else might peak their interest. A favorite food of Striped Marlin is sardines, which are also very fast swimmers, making this predator/prey relations the fastest know hunt in the world. They like the other Marlin species, hunt as a co-op and ball bait, each taking their turns at feeding. In clear blue waters this is an amazing site.
Gear & Technique
Marlin are without a doubt, the fastest, strongest, biggest & baddest fish you will ever attempt to catch on a fly. One of the things that make any Marlin so special is the water walk it takes after being hooked. It literally will shoot across the water making fantastic leaps and dance on its tail while attempting to spit your hook. The larger fish tend to jump less, mainly because of their weight but they are all ferocious fighters and never give up. They have a wicked strike and after setting the hook, there’s no question that you are in for the fight of a lifetime. Billfish like Marlin, swordfish, and saifish would be apex predators if it weren’t for the sharks. Sharks and marine mammals like the killer whales are the only species in the ocean strong enough and fast enough to take down a Marlin. It usually happens when they are injured or sick, or on the end of a fisherman’s line. In Australia, it is not uncommon to have a large hammerhead or a great white that shows up to ruin a great day of fishing. They range from 50 lbs. to 2500 lbs. (~20-1100 kg), that’s huge considering the average weight of a compact car is about 3500 lbs. and we definitely recommend at least a 14 weight rod when fishing for the bigger beasts. Catching a White or a Striped Marlin on a 8 weight can also be fun, and you can get away with it in the Atlantic on a White Marlin. But we don’t recommend anything less than a 12 weight unless your experimenting if you’re going for a Striped Marlin, if no other reason, so you can turn a big salt water fly over and cast with efficiency. Your guide will tell you specifics but its best to be prepared for the worst, like breaking a rod or reel melt-down, always bring a backup. We can’t stress the importance of a good salt water reel. Also have plenty of leader, many use fluorocarbon but you can use monofilament as this species is not usually leader shy. Have some metal leader material with you as well at all times; depending on where you are there could be toothy critters following the ball that can cut you off and make for a really long, frustrating day. As mentioned, fishing for Marlin is location and species dependent. There are different methods but what is recommended is to hire a good captain and listen to his advice. That being said an over-simplification of the most common and probably the best way to fly fish for Marlin is the bait and switch method. This is done by various different techniques but again the over-simplified version is this. Scare them up. By dragging teasers behind the boat, making bubble trails, noise and flashes of light & color. They like this and it stimulates them creating a hot spot of aggregation. You attempt to get them chasing a teaser, remember we said they are fast; they can easily keep up with the boat. You then cast a carefully placed fly to them either in front of or behind the teaser while the mate removes the teaser. Again, I can’t stress this enough, it is a gross over-simplification, but the basics of fly fishing for Marlin. Some tease with bait or cast live bait to them to get them into range of a fly cast but honestly, we have little experience in this method but can say it has worked for sailfish in the Florida keys. If you are a lucky angler, there is always the hope of encountering a bait ball and being able to cast directly into the action as well. This is what you hope for, sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.
Flies most commonly used are on hooks from 2-0 to a 10-0 and are mostly baitfish, squid, octopus and poppers. Search our HD Video Fly Tying Library for specific flies & Fly Tying Videos Use our Destination Specific Fishing Calendars & World Map to help plan your trip

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More information on fly fishing in saltwater in Tail Fly Fishing Magazine