Mar 7, 2011

Small Lures For Billfish

by Peter B Wright

Bait and switch, also known as pitching bait, is a great way to fish for world records.  By trolling hookless lures as teasers then throwing out a bait on the appropriate line class results in almost every bite being a potential world record.  It is also an exciting way to fish for billfish.  It is dramatically NOT the most efficient way to catch billfish!

 “That was a cluster!” is often the last word from a frustrated captain, who could see it all unfold and come unraveled.  The average amateur crew will foul up far more fish than they can catch when using bait and switch.  Artificial lures are the way to go if you do not have an expert, professional crew and want to catch billfish on light tackle.  AND, you should be able to catch at least half the fish that bite your smaller lures. 

For tag and release angling on sail fish, white marlin and striped marlin, use small lures and small hooks. There is no need to free spool the lures.  Instead, hold the rod tip high over your head and drop the rod tip rapidly down toward the fish when you see it start to strike.  This technique throws several feet of slack into the line and allows the fish to get the lure and hooks into its mouth.  It is called “Rod Tipping”.

I use lures even on light line.  When I am trying to find a body of fish in tournaments, even with 12 lb. and 16 lb. line, I troll lures.  The lures I use have heads with a diameter at the forward tip of the head of, at most, 9/16” to 3/4”.  Flat heads pull easier than slanted heads or cupped heads. Nothing makes more fuss or pulls harder for a given diameter than a cup-headed “chugger” lure. They are great lures but need to be used at slower speeds if used on light line.

Slant faced lures, “straight runners” or plungers are intermediate between chuggers and cylinders. Even the largest cone shaped lure heads pull surprisingly easy. The diameter of the tip of a cone shaped lure is almost zero and a light lure will tend to plane along the surface. “Green Machines” and Moldcraft “Hi Speed” (A terrible misnomer as it is awful over 7 or 8 knots.) are true cone shapes and pull lightly enough to use on 6 pound line! 

Truncated cones like MoldCraft “Wide Range” and other similar lures, truly cylindrical lures like the  MoldCraft “Hooker” or “Four Eyed Monster”, as well as many excellent  similarly shaped  custom lures, are very stable even at very high speeds (up to 17 knots) if the length of the head is 3 times the diameter. Head diameter, lure weight and trolling speed determine how hard the lure pulls and what line classes can be used with that lure.  With long 10” or 12” skirts and a truncated cylindrical head shape no more than 5/8” in diameter, I would happily fish at 8 knots for any billfish up to at least 100 pounds on 6 or 8 pound line.  With a pair of 5/0 to 8/0 hooks on similar “needlefish” lures, the average angler should catch over half the billfish that bite on 12 pound test—much better than all, but the most expert anglers can achieve on dead natural bait.    

The limiting factor on how big a lure you can pull is ultimately related to how hard the lure pulls at 8 knots.  Light monofilament stretches up to 30% and light rods bend under tension, then spring back when the tension is released.  A lure that surfaces and comes partly clear of the water, pulls less hard for a fraction of a second.  In that time, the stretchy nylon contracts and the rod straightens out and the lure is catapulted toward the boat.  This is unacceptable!  It results in tangled hooks and leaders, causes high rpm spins, and on very light line, can cause a broken line because the lure is now being pulled sideways through the water.  Some so-called experts hate lures because novices that use them commonly beat the pros in tournaments!

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