In the game (Part 1)
  |  First Published: December 2005

There has been a resurgence in gamefishing over the past few seasons with a growing band of anglers realising the possibilities for tangling with trophy fish in blue water.

A broad range of species is available to anglers armed with a bit of knowledge and the right gear to get the job done. Even small boat owners can tap into the game arena because you don’t always have to travel far or own a large boat to have a crack at it.

Marlin and sailfish are high on the list for many gamefishers, however many other species, including Spanish mackerel, wahoo, cobia, kingfish and several varieties of tuna, can be caught as well.

Gearing up to seriously target these offshore pelagics can be a little daunting if you have never done it before, but a selection of basic equipment is really all you need to get in the game.

TACKLing up

Game rod-and-reel outfits can vary in type, quality and size. Lever-drag overheads are the ideal choice for serious gamefishing but star-drags can also be used if that is all you have at your disposal.

Star-drag reels are not quite as good, though, because they don’t allow different drag pressures to be brought into play quickly. The reel is either in freespool with no drag or on the full preset drag – there is no middle road.

Lever-drags allow a certain drag pressure to be preset (usually one-third of the breaking strain of the line) and then any drag pressure between full preset and free-spool can be used. This rules out the possibility of manually adjusting the drag too high during a fight, which could result in a bust-off.

Lever-drags also allow the drag to be backed off a little during trolling. This allows a hooked fish to tear away from the boat, which will clear it from the other trolled lures or baits, avoiding tangles and torn hooks.

When live-baiting and dead-baiting, a pelagic can run with the bait before the lever-drag is pushed up and the hooks are set. This gives the fish time to mouth the bait properly and definitely increases the chance of the hook setting in the corner of the fish’s mouth, especially when using circle hooks.

Quality overhead reels should be matched with a rod of around 5’6 to 6’0 long, preferably of the short-stroker design. These shorter rods with moderate-action tips have definite advantages over longer models with lighter tips.

Firstly, a shorter rod will exert less pressure on the angler during a fight than a longer rod. The tip needs to have some degree of shock-absorbing action but it should not be too light.

While trolling lures and live-baiting it is not important to be able to detect a bite. The targeted predators are usually big and a hit will either result in a hook-up or a miss. Therefore, having the ability to detect a small bite is not a consideration.

Secondly, longer rods put you at a disadvantage when it comes to trolling. Light-action rod tips bend a lot under the pressure of a lure being dragged through a wave or swell.

When the lure finally breaks free of the wave, the longer rod with light tip will see the lure flung out at speed. This usually results in a tangled lure or fouled swim bait, which is not enticing to a predator. If there is some twist in your line, there is a good chance that the rod will become tip-wrapped as the line goes momentarily slack when the lure is flung forwards. A hit in this situation will see a bust-off and loss of fish and lure.

Medium- to fast-action rods of 5’6 to 6’0 with moderate tips will help avoid this scenario.

If you need to use a longer rod for trolling, a rubber band can be used to lower the troll angle and decrease the negative effect of too much flexibility in the tip. Wrap the rubber band around the main line three times and then pass both loops on the ends of the rubber band over the handle knob of the reel.

Another method is to pull the main line down the front of the rod, level with the lowest guide. Loop a rubber band around the lowest guide and wrap it around the front of the rod and main line. Then loop the other end of the band over the guide again.

Baitrunner reels with spin rods of around 7’0 are also worth having on the boat as they can be useful for live-baiting smaller game, spinning and light-duty jigging. However, they are not recommended for trolling as they have a very quiet outgoing ratchet and often the first time an angler knows he has had a strike is when the line pops at the end of an empty spool.

The line class you decide to fish is up to you and the fish you think you will encounter. The general run of baby black marlin likely to be found off the NSW coast over the next few months will average 35kg with fish to 50kg. They can be handled best, especially for release, on 15kg to 24kg line to allow for an exhilarating fight that does not tire the fish excessively so it can be released and recover well.

A 24kg outfit will also give you a good chance against the odd larger striped marlin or big yellowfin tuna. For smaller targets like striped tuna, mahi mahi and mackerel, especially those meant for the table rather than release, a 10kg outfit can do the job nicely.

Heavier line will affect the way your smaller lures swim and probably reduce your enjoyment. The hook-up rate is often lower when trolling in windy conditions as the wind creates a big belly in the line between rod and lure, which makes it easier for a pelagic to spit the hooks before the line comes up tight.

Monofilament line is better than braid as the no-stretch factor in braid will result in more torn hooks on the strike and also during the fight.

Whatever type of tackle you decide to use, always buy the best you can afford. Your boat, motor, registrations, insurances and fuel make it an expensive exercise just to get on the water, so it makes sense to invest in quality gear that won’t let you down at a critical time.


There are a lot of different types of lures in a variety of actions, colours and sizes. Although they all have a use at times, you don’t need one of everything to be successful.

There are four main lure types that you will need for gamefishing.

High-speed skirted lures such as Hex-Heads, Fireheads, Wahoo Bombs, Braid Tuna Candy, TT Wild Things, Hoo-Nobs and Jet Heads are mainly used for targeting pelagics such as wahoo, Spanish mackerel, tuna, mahi mahi and others. They can be trolled between 6 knots and 15 knots.

Resin-headed skirted lures are designed for slower troll speeds between six and nine knots. These are the favoured lures for targeting marlin due to their enticing ‘swim-and-breathe’ actions as they break the surface and dive again.

Quality brands such as Meridians, Pakulas, Hollowpoint, Black Bart, Braid, Black Magic, Moldcraft, Tropic Angler and Marlin Magic range from $30 to $100-plus – and that is before you put a hook rig in them.

As a result, they are mainly used when billfish are the target species and are best left in the box when the wahoo and Spaniards are on the chew. A good stockist of these lures will be able to advise you on the hottest colours for the season and also which lures are best run in which position behind the boat.

There are a lot of bibbed minnows on the market but many of them can’t be trolled at the six to nine knots required for offshore action. In the turbulent wash at the back of the boat, they will frequently blow out of the water.

Bibbed lures need to have tight, stable actions to work well for blue-water trolling. Some of the better brands to look for are Rapala CD Magnums, Halco Laser Pros, Yozuri L-Jack Magnums and Williamson Impalas. These are great lures for working a little bit deeper, especially around rock structure, bommies and sea-mounts. They are especially effective on wahoo, Spanish mackerel and the tunas.

Bibless minnows are possibly the easiest to use and are definitely the best-value game lures available, with plenty of models under $20 to choose from. Favoured brands such as Reflectas, Braid Runners, Giant Tremblers, R2S Super Vibs, Mack Baits, Billy Bonitos and Tina Tunas are well-known for their productivity.

These lures can usually be trolled between six knots and 15 knots and will entice a broad range of species to strike.

A basic selection of a couple of each type of lure will do for starters. You should be able to get good advice on type, colour and size for your needs from a reputable store in the area you plan to fish. Any store that sells a good selection of game rods, reels, lures and accessories should have at least one knowledgeable member of staff to assist you with your tackle choices and other questions.

Next month we will look at all the other associated equipment for gamefishing, including terminals, leaders, gaffs, tag poles and other accessories. Are you game to have a go?


Top Producers

Bibbed MinnowsRapala CD18Mag, colour RH

Halco Laser Pro 160DD, colour R26

Halco Laser Pro 190 Crazy Deep, colour H50

Bibless MinnowsSW Lab 120g, colour NP3

River 2 Sea Killer Vib 160g, colour KV007

Lively Lure Mack Bait 7”, colour Bonito

Reflecta B18, colour Redhead/Chrome

Skirted Lure (Resin Head)Meridian Saltshaker 4, colour Phoenix

Pakula Mosquito, colour Hawaiian Slash

Pakula Cockroach, colour Lumo

Holllowpoint Teeny Magnum, colour Black Yakka

Skirted Lure (Hi-Speed)Hex-Head B, colour 8

Hex-Head C, colour 7

TT Wild Thing 180g, colour 104

TT Jet Fighter 160g, colour 109

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