Black magic
  |  First Published: February 2003

PHIL ATKINSON begins the first of a 12-part series on popular fish of NSW and how to catch them.

SECTION: Fish of the Month




So you want to catch a black marlin? You’re most likely to target these fish from the rocks or a small boat and there are many similarities in the way both brigades target their beakies.

Being one of the co-producers, this may sound like a gratuitous plug but, if you want to catch a black from the rocks, you really should watch the video Marlin From the Rocks (in which I have zero financial benefit nowadays).

Following a group of anglers over season at Jervis Bay, there is a lifetime of ‘warts-and-all’ learning in this video that a whole book could not cover.

The greatest concentrations of marlin occur wherever the warm current and big concentrations of slimy mackerel coincide. From a land-based point of view, although the current sweeps in hard against the stones at many headlands along the NSW coast, it’s really only on the South Coast – more specifically Jervis Bay – that billfish and bait are simultaneously within reach of LBG anglers.

Although each season there are marlin hooked by live-bait and lure anglers on dozens of North Coast, Metropolitan and South Coast headlands, Jervis Bay is the only place where an angler can, with some small degree of confidence, say he is targeting marlin from the stones.

Although they may pass by the outer ledges on the Beecroft Peninsula (northern side) and St Georges Headland (southern side) of the bay, it’s out of the main coastal current, just inside Point Perpendicular, that the slimy mackerel schools feed during the night – and during the day get fed on by black marlin, kingfish and sometimes tuna.

The most popular and successful ledge that accesses the current eddy and the slimy schools is the Outer Torpedo Tubes and it’s there during the middle of the night that LBG anglers cast out baited bait jigs under corks with cyalume lights attached in the search for slimy mackerel. Some nights there can be dozens fishing for live bait, with every fish caught put straight into large wading pools with water pumps or aerators attached.

If, by dawn, a supply of baits hasn’t been caught, anglers may as well pack up and go home. There are generally no other baits around that will interest a black marlin, particularly when it’s got a taste for slimies.

You’ll probably find that the best marlin fishing will occur around the tide changes, particularly low, and usually after lunch when the nor’-easter is blowing its guts out. The problems with land based fishing inside the bay are plenty, but thankfully the active nature and strength of a slimy mackerel means that you’ll often get the necessary 30- or 40-metre drift.

Over the years I’ve seen dozens of marlin take baits from the rocks and they’re fairly exciting affairs, with the bait getting nailed in a massive flurry of white water and bill or, perhaps, in a deep upwelling about the size you might expect from a midget sub..

Either way you’ll be in no doubt that something significant has scoffed down your bait. Sometimes if you’re not watching the take will appear as a slow-motion affair with the line steadily ticking off the reel without the blur of ratchet associated with a tuna ambush.

Even though you might suspect a squid, rat kingfish, bonito, or salmon, when fishing for marlin it’s best to give plenty of line (up to five metres) and hope the bait is well down before you strike. Without the advantage of a boat to help you get rid of your slack line before you attempt to set the hook, it’s probably not a bad idea to strike and keep striking until you come up solid on the fish.

It’s at this lock-up stage that all hell can break loose. If you’ve watched Marlin From the Rocks you’ll notice that all fish fought differently and while some headed straight out to sea without jumping, others wasted all their energy on acrobatics along the way. It’s these frisky fish that stand the greatest chance of being landed by rock anglers.

Constant pressure throughout the fight, and not letting the line go limp during an aerial episode, will keep most fish connected. Unfortunately, because most fish are hooked at low tide, fights that drag out too long can mean an exhausted or dead fish will come in deep in the water and snag up on many of the shallow boulders and reefs that line the ocean floor near Point Perpendicular.

It’s at this stage that anglers may need to climb higher above the water and attempt to quickly plane a fish into gaffing range.

Small boats

Blacks are the perfect marlin for the small-boat angler, particularly anywhere large inshore slimy mackerel schools congregate over reef with current eddies running over it, usually just out of the main flow. These inshore areas at times have massive concentrations of bait and billfish with locations such as Trial Bay Jail at South West Rocks and Broughton Island at Port Stephens two of our state’s most small-boat-friendly marlin grounds.

As with rock-based anglers, securing live slimy mackerel is the pivotal part and these excellent baitfish can usually be caught in numbers on recognised bait grounds.

Marlin seem to have a definite preference for bigger slimy baits so at times it can pay to fish the wider bait grounds in search of the biggest slimies you can find. During the past couple of seasons the best slimies have been caught on bait jigs on the marlin grounds themselves. This is particularly the case about half a kilometre off the Trial Bay Jail.

Once caught, slimies can be slow-trolled with a bridled 7/0 hook attached to the head, or by simply inserting the hook through the nose of the bait. Most anglers troll with a couple of baits out. A walking pace is usually fast enough to cover plenty of ground throughout the day. It can pay to keep an eye on your sounder and make sure you stay near any bait schools.

During the smooth morning seas finding bait schools is as simple as keeping your eyes open. However, last season we found that most of our hook-ups occurred once the schools sounded deeper in the water – towards midday.

Most live-bait trollers in small boats handline their baits or troll in free spool with the ratchet on, ready to take over once the bait becomes nervous. Either method enables the angler to quickly feed a marlin the bait. Boat anglers then have the luxury of putting the reel into gear and using the boat to help set the hook. This is an exciting technique that often induces an instant aerial response from a fish.


As with LBG anglers, 90kg to 140kg trace is popular with inshore black chasers and 24kg line on a 50 or 50W reel ensures that most fish are landed efficiently and able to be released.

Short-stroker rods are popular with small-boat fishos and two-metre fast-taper sticks are the practical equivalent for rock fishos.

And lastly, don’t assume that the inshore black marlin run will be small fish. The past few seasons have produced regular hook-ups on a range of fish from 20kg rats to 120kg hulks. Many anglers on rocks and in boats found themselves well under-gunned on fish that in some cases took hours to get anywhere near the gunwale or rock ledge.




A black marlin getting some air over the inshore grounds.


A nice black, tagged and ready to be set free.


The author with a black next to the boat.


A well set-up marlin trailer boat, slow-trolling the inshore grounds.


Waiting for a run at Devils Gorge at Jervis Bay.


A nice black taken from the stones.


Getting ready for a day at the Tubes.

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