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NY, NJ, CT, RI Edition
May 26, 2011
Volume 22 � Number 4


Blue Marlin in Your Backyard
by Chris Grech
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The trophy Blue Marlin is the undisputed king of all Atlantic game fish. They are the ultimate opponent that an angler can battle on rod and reel. Throughout history, anglers have traveled all over the world and spent millions of dollars just for a chance to battle these powerhouses of the open ocean. Did you ever dream of flying to exotic destinations to go toe to toe with the most badass fish in the ocean? Or maybe you already have and you're just itching to plan your next big trip? Guess what? The top trophy of fishing worldwide is right here in your own backyard.

There is a huge misconception in the Northeast fishing culture. Anglers, for whatever reason, do not target blue marlin in their home waters off Northern New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Big money marlin tournaments take place all over the world but are almost non-existent north of central New Jersey. Large and even extra large blue marlin are here so why not try something new this season? Some anglers are now beginning to see the light and feel the need to graduate to the next level for a variety of reasons. We've all heard that over the last couple of years the numbers of quality sized yellowfin tuna have decreased in our area. Smaller ones are around in decent numbers, but it has become increasing challenging to find the big ones consistently. Yellows and albies up to 50 pounds are actually bait and one of the main food sources for trophy blue marlin, who sit very comfortably at the top of the food chain. I don't know how else to say it but it really seems like people are getting tired of catching small tuna. I've heard of anglers returning from a canyon trip saying, "I landed three yellows and had seven marlin bites, man I hate those things!" My answer is that it's time to change the game and work your way up the game fish ladder.


Blue marlin fishing in the Northeast is a severely underutilized and under appreciated resource. A handful of anglers have been quietly targeting them for many years in our local waters and have had consistent success getting quality blue marlin to bite and eventually be pulled to the boat. Blue marlin are a great replacement for a slow day and an exciting change of pace. You can catch a dozen or several hundred tuna in a season and they basically do the exact same thing every time. Blue marlin are the complete polar opposite. Each one of these elite predators always manages to pull a rabbit out of their hat and show you something different. Simply said, no two blue marlin do the same thing. It's time to learn how to change your tactics and go for the gold, or in this case, go for the blue.

Enough about why you should target trophy marlin, let's talk about how. For that, I sought the knowledge of an angler who has traveled around the world to perfect his craft and become a true blue marlin expert. In mid-1990, Captain Steve Petras from Southampton, NY was busy building rods at a shop in Hampton Bays. After twenty years of working and fishing on Long Island, he developed a burning desire to peruse billfish. This passion is ultimately what made him pack up everything and move to Costa Rica in 2000. Steve immediately started a fulltime charter business and caught thousands of billfish over the course of five and a half years. Most of those were sailfish and smaller marlin, which were spectacular, but he decided to give up the numbers and trade quantity for quality. With that goal in mind, Captain Steve moved to Kona, Hawaii, the place where more granders (1000+ pound marlin) have been caught than anywhere else on the planet. He worked hard as a Captain and mate on different boats and at the young age of 33, Steve attained the billfish "Royal Slam" by managing to catch all nine species of billfish. These include Atlantic blue marlin, pacific blue marlin, white marlin, black marlin, striped marlin, Atlantic sailfish, pacific sailfish, swordfish and spearfish. According to the IGFA 2010 record book, only 90 people worldwide have ever accomplished this amazing feat. Sadly, due to the slumping economy of recent years which negatively affected sport fishing around the globe, Steve was forced to leave Kona and needed a new game plan. He had been buying tackle from Captain Bryce Poyer back home in Long Island through out the years. Recently, In 2009 Bryce opened up his new tackle shop, White Water Outfitters in Hampton Bays. Steve moved back to his home turf and now works at White Water Outfitters as their in-house marlin expert and rod builder. Ironically, the new shop is in the same building that Steve used to work at over a decade ago. Talk about coming back full circle! I had an awesome sit down interview with Captain Steve Petras and want to share his amazing international knowledge with the Noreast audience. The information below contains many highlights of our conversation.


Congratulations! You have now completed step one. You have decided to go blue marlin fishing in the Northeast. You have done your research and picked the brain of a "marlin man" like Steve Petras. What's the next step? Now is the time to be disciplined and try not to get frustrated. When you're specifically targeting trophy blue marlin, the result may be fewer bites per trip but those bites will usually be from very big fish. I'm not just talking about blue marlin; I'm taking about many different species of big hungry predators. With a blue marlin spread behind your boat, blues are not the only species that you'll catch. You will also raise yellowfin, bigeyes and mahi to name a few as you enjoy watching your trophy fish as a category increase dramatically. This success does not happen by accident; you need to do your homework and upsize your tackle accordingly.

The gear needed for trophy blue marlin is vastly different than your standard tuna equipment. Plain and simple, a 40-pound yellowfin is not a 700 to 800-pound marlin. Do not ever confuse the two. The blue marlin is on another level; a much higher, stronger, faster, airborne level. Those stand-up 30's and 50's are not going to cut the mustard. The days of fishing 8 to 12 rods at a time are gone. Dragging spreader bars and green machines on 8-foot leaders is not the way to target the kings of the food chain. Think about it. Short leaders pulling squid is not going to attract trophy blue marlin since they aren't designed by nature to eat squid…they are built to eat tuna! The solution is longer, heavier, chafe-resistant leaders. The bills of these beasts are like razor sharp files and you can control them more easily at the boat with longer leaders. The common wind-on for tuna fishing is not recommended here. Capt. Steve prefers a 3-foot double to snap swivel, then uses a bimini twist to connect a 25-foot length of 400 to 530-pound Momoi's X-Hard Leader. Remember to stick to IGFA rules which calls for a maximum of 45 feet combined and the double can be no longer than 15.

Ideally you need a boat with a fighting chair. If you must use stand-up gear, go with at least 70's and 80's. Captain Steve suggests 80's and 130's with a five rod pattern. On the 80's, fill them with 130 hollow core spectra with a 100 or 130 top shot. Use the same line setup with your 130's to stay within IGFA specifications. If that is not a concern, you can go bigger with 200 spectra and a 150 or 200 top shot. Bigger is not always better in this particular situation. The 130 spectra is so thin that it cuts through the water like a hot knife through butter and the huge spool diameter will give you a good ratio for the retrieve. Many times, the largest fish bite closest to the boat so if you have a pair of 130's they should be close on the corners. The boat literally raises the fish and once they figure out they can't eat the props they often inhale the closest available lures.


A five lure spread is the ticket, with your biggest lure closest to the boat, commonly referred to as the short corner. Capt. Steve drew up the sketch you see to give you a better idea. Large lures up to 20 inches, such as the Smash Bait by Aloha Lures or Black Bart Zulu, should be at the short corner riding the third wave. With the largest lure up close, you naturally want to have smaller and smaller lures further out in your spread. Next in line is the long corner. Here you want a 14 to 16-inch offering like a Joe Yee Super Plunger or Moldcraft Hooker on the fourth wave. The short rigger then follows on the fifth wave with a 12 to 14-inch lure. A Marlin Magic Ruckus works wonders in that position. Moving further from the boat, we're now at the sixth wave. Here on the long rigger the smaller trend continues with a 10 to 12-inch Gulley Boy by Aloha Lures or Black Bart 1656. Last but not least is the shotgun, also called the stinger. Here on the seventh or eight wave you should attach an 8 to 9-inch Ahi-P. It's important to note that the shotgun is the only position where you would substitute natural bait. One option is to use a select or horse ballyhoo on a blue and white Islander to maximize odd bites on the shotgun. Limiting the number of lures in the water allows the anglers to clear lines quickly and start back on the fish. This is of the utmost importance. An example of this would be a big fish that bites the short corner. The mate immediately goes to the short rigger and clears that to give the Captain a lane to back down, then clears the other side. The idea here is to keep the blue marlin as close to the boat as possible. Your chances of getting that fish boat side decreases drastically as it takes out more line.

Many lure colors will produce trophy blue marlin but it's another topic that is worth discussing. You should have at least one dark colored lure, such as black and purple, for the close baits. Standard marlin colors that imitate tuna, mackerel and flying fish work well for the other positions. Capt. Steve noted that a good example would be blue and silver over pink and white. Here in the Northeast, it will increase your odds to have at least one lure in a green mackerel pattern and another in blue, white and green to imitate a mahi. Also, don't be afraid to experiment with oddball colors like orange and yellow, black and orange or even all black. The best position for these experimental colors will be the long rigger. After some trial and error, you can modify and change the colors in various positions to see what works best in different conditions.


Hook set is another crucial factor that must never be overlooked. Certain lures need a double hook set to run properly. If two hooks are required, a nice double hook cable rig is one where the back hook is connected to the first hook with 600-pound cable for chafe resistance. If you can get away with only one hook and the lure runs properly that would be ideal since its much easier to release a marlin and it's better for the fish's health in all situations. A hungry blue marlin will usually attack the lures from the side and eat while swimming away. With that idea in mind, one of the top blue marlin Captains in the world recommended to Steve years ago that a single stiff hook way back in the skirt with the point facing down into the skirt was the best bet. Since then, Captain Steve has utilized that method with tremendous success.

Since the jaw of a blue marlin is mostly bone with little soft tissue, strong ultra-sharp hooks are mandatory. Owner Jobu hooks in sizes from 9/0 to 11/0 work great since they are designed with a very small barb which makes penetration much easier. They are also chemically sharpened hooks that do not require any sharpening whatsoever. If you take a file to these hooks, you will ruin their points and fish-catching ability. Other quality hooks that Capt. Steve recommended include the Mustad 7691 and Mustad 7732, again, in sizes from 9/0 to 11/0. Unlike the Owner Jobu, the Mustads must be sharpened by the angler to achieve and maintain a surgically sharp point. Stainless steel versus tin hooks is another topic that is up for debate. The advantage of stainless is that they do not rust but that can also be a negative to the health of a fish that swims off with a hook in it. Tin is stronger than stainless steel and it's better for the fish since it will rust away and fall out rather quickly.


One of the most important and commonly overlooked factors in a good spread is your trolling speed. This will determine how your lures swim and you want to maximize their ability to look as natural as possible. You will be trolling at a faster speed than when you're tuna fishing which burns more fuel but keep in mind that you will also cover much more water. Captain Steve said a speed of 7 to 9 knots is where you want to be. Everyday is different so sometimes you will be best at 7 knots while other times you will need to bump it up to 9. Ideally you want your lures to be surfing down the face of the waves. Sometimes letting the lures out or reeling them up just a foot or two can be the key ingredient to fine tuning your pattern.

Take a very close look at your wake and always remember that every boat is different and everyday is different. What worked great for one boat yesterday may not work for your boat today so keeping that in mind, be prepared to adjust your speed and lures accordingly at any time. Certain lures run great on calm days but not on rougher days. Heavier lures are preferred on rougher days to keep them from tumbling. Even so, sometimes it can necessary to move your entire pattern back one way for a better presentation. If you're working a fishy area but not getting bites, troll with and against the current and sometimes even going across to see if it makes a difference. It's imperative to try different angles of presentation and try to establish a pattern for that particular day and/or for that trip. Nothing is ever written in stone. It's basically trial and error to find the combination that attracts the most fish to your boat.


The clear blue waters of the Gulf Stream is where you must concentrate in, since generally, blue marlin will not be found in green water. A Captain must obtain the latest temperature charts before the trip and formulate a plan to work the warmest water available. Temperature breaks that typically hold tuna also hold blue marlin, since the tuna are a prime food source. When you're out there, always keep a sharp eye out on the horizon and your electrons for bait, skipjacks and small tuna. Any area that contains those forms of life would make an excellent starting point to hook-up with a trophy. Think about it for a minute. What does that big blue marlin want to eat? They want to eat those tuna that you usually catch.

As mentioned earlier, tuna are not the only food that big blue marlin enjoy. Another favorite menu item is mahi. A prime location for mahi is hanging around pots, weed lines and other floating debris. Since marlin are always on the move, they will readily cruise a line of pots or other surface items while picking off mahi along the way. Anything that is floating, from logs to dead whales, could hold mahi and blue marlin as well. If you come across a hot spot, troll down sea so the lures in your spread will swim better. When working bait schools, use common sense and never run right through them. Just work around all the edges of the bait until you get bit.


All of your hard work has paid off and you're hooked up to a big blue marlin. Now what? First, immediately back down and get as close as you can to the fish. This is the time when a marlin likes to put on an aerial show. Enjoy it but remember to relax, stay calm and keep the line tight. After a big run, many times a blue marlin likes to get down and dirty and will drive a couple hundred feet. This is where it quickly becomes a game of inches and technique. The angler needs to pump the rod and work that fish back up to the surface, and for a big one, this can take literally all day. Blue marlin are similar to a lot of offshore game fish in that they all require excellent boat handling and perfect technique to have success with a big one. As the fish gets closer you must make the decision on whether you will release the fish or get the gaff. Unless it's a tournament situation or the fish is dead, all billfish should be released. With that said, if you must take the fish, be properly prepared with two fly gaffs with an 8-inch minimum hook size. A 12-inch hook will be a much better option. When the fish is boated during a tournament, close its mouth shut to prevent anything from coming out which can account for significant weight loss.

If the marlin will be released, be 100% ready to go when one leader pops up. Have a good pair of gloves on and regardless of the situation, keep your head on straight. This is a dangerous job and one small mistake could result in serious injury. Captain Steve suggests taking double wraps to control the fish and prevent the leader from slipping through your hands while you get it boat side. If the fish is hooked deep on a single hook lure, just cut it of. If the hook is showing on the outside try and pop it out. Pop in a tag and prepare the fish for release. Reviving a blue marlin can take a while so take your time and do it the right way. Grab it by the bill and dorsal fin and drag it along side the boat to pump oxygen into its gills. Once the fish regains itself sufficiently, it will right itself and swim off to fight another day.

There is nothing else in the fishing world that is quite like hooking up with a trophy blue marlin. Once you get a taste of it and experience it for yourself, you will be addicted for life. Blue marlin fishing is a true team sport where all members must be at the top of their game. To learn more, go online and watch videos of top professional marlin anglers. If you and/or your crew need to sharpen your skills, go to a good location and charter a trip to help master your craft. Pay close attention on how the Captain and crew of the best marlin boats work together like a well oiled machine. You should also talk to blue marlin experts first hand and ask any questions you may have. With that in mind I'd like to take the opportunaty to thank Captain Steve Petras of White Water Outfitters for his time. If you want to go after these beasts, he's the guy to talk to. Maybe this season is the time to up the ante and graduate to trophy blue marlin. After all, they are right here in your own backyard.

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