Screaming drags, a yahooing crew and lit-up pointy-nosed missiles greyhounding across the surface. That is the scene so often repeated in Hervey Bay waters this time of year. It is marlin time right now, and the juvenile blacks have arrived!
Once considered the domain of the wealthy, game fishing has changed dramatically in recent years, and is now within the capacity of virtually anyone with a capable vessel. Hervey Bay’s unique billfish fishery enables fishos with even the smallest of craft a crack at these exciting fish in protected waters tucked in behind Fraser Island.
In fact, Hervey Bay’s juvenile black marlin are of a manageable size for many kids too, and swags of youngsters have caught their first marlin in our waters (and some have caught multiple). If you can imagine your kids hooked up and squealing as a crazy billfish dances all over the paddock, then the next couple of months is when you can make it happen.
Each spring, numbers of small black marlin migrate down the Qld coastline and spend time feeding in the bay during their southerly migration. The waters surrounding Rooneys Point on the north-western tip of Fraser and the sheltered waters of Platypus Bay are the happy hunting grounds for most inshore marlin fans. The average size of these fish is 10-30kg, with a few smaller and a few larger models sharing those waters each year.
Marlin can turn up all the way into the southern bay during each season. Incidental captures are reported from many fishos out on the bay chasing mackerel, tuna or occasionally even reef fish. Whilst there is a slim chance that you might accidentally catch a marlin whilst soaking a live bait or pillie out the back, if you really want to experience the excitement that only billfish can provide, then actively targeting them with proven methods is the go.
Gearing up for Hervey Bay blacks is a reasonably simple affair, yet there are a few key elements to success. First of all, you must run a teaser behind your vessel. This is to attract the billfish to your spread of lures or baits. We stock many different teaser set-ups, catering for vessels of all sizes.
You only need a couple of rods matched to reels with sufficient line capacity and a smooth drag system. Set several out if you have the crew on board to manage them, with your lures spaced at select positions in your wake. The terms shotgun, short corner, long corner, short rigger and long rigger have been part of the game fishing vernacular for eons. Google ‘trolling lures for marlin’ and you will see many images to explain, or ask our staff and we can do so.
Overhead reels have always been popular, yet medium-sized spin tackle is fine and potentially even more commonly used these days. Many experienced crews will even have spin outfits pre-rigged with alternative lures ready to cast at raised fish. Mono mainline is popular amongst the experienced game fishos, whilst many folks will utilise their existing braid-filled reels and catch fish just fine.
Leaders need to be tough enough to withstand the scuffing from a marlin’s raspy bill. 80-100lb is ample for Hervey Bay’s blacks, whilst heavier leaders are deployed wide offshore when chasing larger quarry. We make leader choice super easy for you, with custom-made semi-stiff rigs that will perfectly match the smaller skirts you need for these smaller black marlin.
We stock a comprehensive range of skirted lures from the Pakula, Black Pete and Buku stables. Colour selections can vary depending upon the waters fished, light conditions and likely bait sources, so we stock a vast range to suit.
We also make the extra effort each season to source quality garfish for those that prefer to troll baits. These baits were caught locally recently and are vacuum-packed to maintain their condition. Rigging garfish has never been easier since the introduction of “ringer swivels”, so grab some of these little gems and you will find rigging either skipping or swimming gar easier than ever.
So, you are all geared up and ready to go, so now what? It is simple really. Head up towards Rooneys Point or into the central or northern sectors of Platypus Bay. Set your teaser/s and your spread of lures or baits, and troll the subtle contours that meander through that region, or watch the horizon for bird activity and focus your attention on the bait schools and their lesser predators.
Flats fishing for marlin is incredibly popular these days and the flats fringing the northern sector of Fraser is where most will concentrate their efforts. The obvious contour line that denotes the drop-off of the flats is the place to be trolling when the high tide is peaking. Whilst marlin can be caught right throughout the tide phases, they tend to rise to the surface during the tide changes, so hopefully you are on the fish at these times.
Numbers of black marlin arrived in the waters of northern Platypus Bay just last week, riding the big flood tides preceding the super moon. They will hang around for some time now, and spread throughout the bay. More will follow, and with any luck we will have a red-hot season like last year.
New moon periods are considered to trigger the best billfish bite in these parts, both inshore and offshore. However, you can go and target them whenever the weather allows. Interestingly, some of the best bites experienced locally are immediately after a northerly blow diminishes.
A unique aspect of the Hervey Bay black marlin fishery is its potential for the avid fly fisho. From actively seeking shots at free-roaming blacks cruising the flats up towards Rooneys Point, to bait ‘n’ switch techniques, there is ample opportunity to score a billy on fly.
So, once you have a handle on catching billfish, and have a few under your belt, perhaps you can challenge yourself and try your hand at bait ‘n’ switch. This is not for the solo fisho, and best attempted with a well-versed crew, during periods of calmer weather.
In essence, it involves trolling a spread of teasers and hookless lures to raise the billfish. Once a fish is raised and actively attacking your spread, your team then retrieves the teasers and lures just as the angler casts their lure/fly at the lit-up marlin. Timing is everything, so ensuring your crew is tuned in is paramount. Perhaps they will only gain this knowledge through experience, so take the mishaps as they come and keep at it until you succeed.
Heading offshore is a whole new ball game and offers those with larger vessels the opportunity to get away from the crowds in the bay. Even bigger numbers of baby blacks can be found east of Breaksea Spit and Sandy Cape. Crossing the 4 Mile or the 13 Mile can put you straight onto the marlin, with the waters east of the 13 Mile being typically the most productive.
Sailfish also turn up north of Fraser Island early each season, so keep an eye out for schools of these spectacular billies. Again, the 13 Mile has the runs on the board, and some incredible captures have been recorded there over the years. Sails have also been caught west of the spit at times, as well as back down closer to Rooneys.
As much fun as baby blacks are for most of us, there are many keen game fishos out there keener to tangle with the larger fish that frequent our offshore waters each spring. Often enough, after a torrid morning session on the light 8kg tackle closer in, many will deploy the heavier 24kg or 37kg tackle and troll the deeper waters of the continental shelf during the afternoon.
Very large vessels often have the full armament, consisting of 8, 10, 15, 24, 37 and 60kg outfits, however, trailer boats simply cannot carry this much tackle. A couple of light outfits, and 37kg heavy tackle suits many of the local crews.
Large black marlin can be found out wide, along with their harder-fighting cousins, the blue marlin, and a number of striped marlin. Three-way marlin grand slams have been achieved by a small number of crews in the past, and Fraser Island’s offshore waters is where such achievements are possible. Bycatch at this time of year mostly consists of mahi mahi and yellowfin tuna out wider, though other pelagics are possible back closer to the bar.
Hervey Bay Game Fishing Club holds its annual fishing competition in November each year. Set the dates of 10th-12th aside if you are keen to join the fun. Motherships and a fuel barge are typically parked up near Rooneys each year to enhance the comfort and fuel range of those in smaller vessels.
One final, yet very important, comment about marlin fishing is regarding fish handling. Please remember that juvenile black marlin in particular, are just that – babies. They are learning from their mistakes, but are often captured more than once here in the bay. These fish exhaust themselves trying to escape and must be handled with extra care.
Have cameras or phones at the ready and have your crew well-versed in best practices. Minimise any handling and lift them from the water only briefly to get your happy snaps. Do not lay them on a hot deck. When ready to release, do so with your motor in reverse, trimmed-up, whilst swimming the fish in the white water coming from your prop. This will give them a much-needed boost of oxygen and you will likely see them light back up in the process.
So, if you are a fisho keen to score your first marlin, or an experienced old hand just happy to get back out and enjoy the most exciting fishing Hervey Bay has to offer, then gear up and get out on the bay this spring. The high-flying antics and blistering speed of these crazy fish will have you coming back for more.