Day: January 31, 2019

Fishing for Science – Tagging and Studying Sailfish and Marlin

Fishing for Science: Tagging and Studying Sailfish and Marlin Habits

By Todd Staley published for The Tico Times Jan 31, 2019

Left to right: FECOP member Henry Marin tagging expert Robbie Schallert, Captain Francisco Lobo, First mate Gerardo “McFly” Moreno, Dr. Danielle Haulsee, and Dr. Larry Crowder. (Todd Staley / The Tico Times)

The site of a billfish coming up into a spread of teasers, happily skipping across a deep blue ocean never gets old. Sailfish, named for their extremely tall dorsal fin and a sword-like bill, will light up in a purple hue when excited.

They generally come into the teasers — which are hook-less lures that trail behind the boat to attract sailfish — gracefully swatting them with their bills. This gives you time to place your bait in front of it. A marlin looks similar to a sailfish, but they’re much larger. They also almost always bust through the ocean like a linebacker blitzing the quarterback, or a bull tearing through the ring at Christmastime in Zapote. The adrenaline rush of catching one of these fish is always rewarding, but it’s even better when you know you’re helping science learn a little more about these fish.

FECOP’s Henry Marin brings a study subject on board

I recently helped a group of scientists, led by Dr. Larry Crowder from the Hopkins Marine Station at Stanford University, catch fish to better understand and manage ocean pelagics like sailfish and marlin.

It was a good day for fishing and science. There was enough fish for the scientists to be selective with the ones they tagged. They placed satellite tags in three marlin and nine sailfish They chose the healthiest looking fish to place the tags. The tags cost around $4,000 a piece, so it pays to be careful. The tags they use have a “double loop” system which limits the drag in the water and keeps the tag close to the body. It’s black so predator fish won’t be attracted to it.

The team several scientists from Stanford University, tagging experts and several local captains. The team of scientists were here to start-up a four-year project called Dynamic Marine Animal Research (DynaMAR) and are placing satellite tags on marlin and sailfish along several points off the Pacific coast.

 

The tag is black so it won’t attract predators. (Todd Staley / The Tico Times)

 

It was a good day for fishing and science. There was enough fish for the scientists to be selective with the ones they tagged. They placed satellite tags in three marlin and nine sailfish They chose the healthiest looking fish to place the tags. The tags cost around $4,000 a piece, so it pays to be careful. The tags they use have a “double loop” system which limits the drag in the water and keeps the tag close to the body. It’s black so predator fish won’t be attracted to it.

The team several scientists from Stanford University, tagging experts and several local captains. The team of scientists were here to start-up a four-year project called Dynamic Marine Animal Research (DynaMAR) and are placing satellite tags on marlin and sailfish along several points off the Pacific coast.

The tag is black so it won’t attract predators. (Todd Staley / The Tico Times)

The tags will gather information on movement, location, depths traveled and water temperatures. They are set to pop off at intervals of, six, nine, and 12 months and float to the surface. Then an antenna will transmit the data to a satellite. Scientists will compare that data from other sources the fish have traveled to.

They are especially interested in what these fish are doing during an El Niño period. During this period, the water warms and changes the upwelling of nutrients. The fish’s normal patterns change and they become more lethargic.

They plan to tag fish every month of the year in future visits and hope to have data on nearly 150 billfish after they’re finished.Dr. Crowder says a similar study on swordfish of the coast of California changed the thinking on Marine Protected Areas (MPA’s).

“Fish don’t always stay in the same place, especially pelagic species, they are always on the move,” Dr. Crowder said. “What we found was at times the fish and marine life we were trying to protect were not even in the area we were protecting”

Dr. Larry Crowder (Pictured Right –  by Todd Staley / The Tico Times)

With the information they gathered from the swordfish study, they were not only able to predict where the concentration of swordfish would be, but more importantly, they could predict where the highest concentrations of bycatch would be. In that case, it was blue sharks and Leatherback turtles, a highly endangered marine reptile.

That study led to the creation of Mobile Marine Protected Areas. By predicting the location of bycatch, areas could be closed to commercial swordfishing for a period and changed with the movements of the bycatch. This led to better conservation effort while allowing commercial fisherman a larger area to fish.

 

 

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Marlin Fishing – Bait Vs. Artificial

Marlin Fishing Tips – Baits or Artificial Lures When Fishing for Marlin

Published for Marlin Magazine by Sam White 2019

When Bart Miller died in 2018, he left behind a rich legacy as one of the sport’s most well-known fishermen-turned-lure-designers. His line of Black Bart lures has become the gold standard around the world for their ability to raise and catch marlin. Miller’s friends and longtime business partners, Jack Tullius and his brother Gary, continue that legacy as the current owners of Black Bart Lures.

man holding up two marlin fishing lures

One of sport fishing’s most well-known lure-makers, Capt. Bart Miller believed that lures out-fish natural bait for marlin because of the lure’s action as it moves through the water.

©️Scott Kerrigan/www.aquapaparazzi.com

And yet for all the popularity of artificial lures, natural bait remains a top choice in many areas of the fishing world. Mark Pumo grew up fishing off Miami and the Bahamas. He started fishing some of the local billfish tournaments after college, where he noticed a need for high-quality natural baits. His team at Baitmasters of South Florida has become one of the sport’s top bait suppliers. If you’re pulling a ballyhoo, Spanish mackerel, mullet or squid in your spread, there is a pretty good chance it arrived to you in one of those distinctive yellow-and-black Baitmasters packs.

To help better understand the specific benefits inherent to artificial lures and natural baits, we looked at a number of critical parameters. This is a head-to-head comparison: bait versus Bart.

Billfish Species

This is perhaps the most important factor to consider. If you’re chasing only blue or black marlin, then a spread of large, active lures fished on heavy tackle is hard to beat.

“Lures give you the ability to cover water at higher speeds, with the size and fish-raising action you need to get the attention of an apex predator like a marlin,” Jack Tullius says. “While elephants do eat peanuts, big fish usually prefer to hunt and consume large prey items that are worth the energy they expend to chase them down.”

However, if the target species include white marlin, sailfish and game fish, then bait may be a better choice. White marlin are especially notorious for their ability to whack even a small lure multiple times without finding the hook. In this case, a spread of chin-weighted ballyhoo fished on circle hooks is a much better option.

From Southern California down to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, teams pull artificial lures for striped marlin, but they almost always have a pitch bait ready, often a live or fresh-dead caballito already bridled and ready to go. If the marlin doesn’t hook up immediately, the bait is introduced to entice the fired-up stripey to switch over. It’s a tactic that allows the boat to cover territory as the crew searches for fish on the surface, while greatly improving their hookup ratio once they do raise a marlin.

cold chest of ballyhoo bait

In the billfish-rich waters of Central America, natural bait reigns supreme. Deckhands may spend hours rigging hundreds of ballyhoo in anticipation of a great day offshore, with a few larger mackerel in case a blue marlin shows up in the spread.

Austin Coit

Marlin Destinations

Where you fish has almost as much importance as the target species, and the two are certainly related. Specific locations in the world are almost exclusively dead-bait-centric locales, while others are the hallowed halls of lure fishing. In Central America,the dead-bait ballyhoo spread is the bread and butter of the charter-boat and tournament crews, just as it is throughout the Carolinas and Florida. But venture to Bermuda or Hawaii, and the name of the game is lure fishing. This isn’t to say there is not some crossover: The Costa Rica captains will occasionally pull lures at the seamounts for blue marlin, and the smart Bermuda captains will have a pitch bait ready for a white marlin on the Challenger Bank, but in general, the destination will often dictate the tactics on the water.

Release or Kill

It has been said that you pull bait to fly flags and fish lures to cash checks, and there is some truth to that bit of dockside philosophy. If the goal is to pile up billfish releases in a tournament, it’s hard to beat a dead-bait spread. With circle hooks, most fish will be hooked in the corner of the jaw, and it’s much easier to hook and quickly release double- and tripleheaders of sailfish or white marlin on bait. But if only the largest blue or black on the dock wins the Happy Gilmore-size check, a big hunk of skirted resin is almost always a better bet.

ballyhoo fishing bait

Natural baits offer a much higher hookup-to-release ratio than lures, especially when fished with circle hooks.

Austin Coit

Skill Level

While it does take experience and skill to become a really good lure fisherman, it’s also much easier for a relatively inexperienced team to start catching fish with lures (and a spread of five Black Barts fished at 8 knots is a pretty good start). Dead bait requires a higher level of skill, starting with the preparation. “Poor bait prep and sloppy rigging techniques mean that the bait will wash out quickly and not swim correctly,” Pumo says. “It takes dedication and lots of practice to gain proficiency as a dead-bait fisherman, but it’s also a great source of pride for those who achieve that level of ability.” Pumo also notes that Baitmasters offers expertly prepared, pre-rigged natural baits for those who may not have the time or experience to rig their own.

Availability, Storage and Refrigeration

The availability of high-quality natural bait in certain parts of the world is a big issue, often forcing teams to ship large quantities of frozen bait to a destination well ahead of time. Sometimes this isn’t an option, especially when overzealous customs officials become involved. I’ve even seen cases where ballyhoo is considered frozen food, even after we pointed out that it’s clearly labeled as bait on the package. On the other hand, it’s easy to pack a full spread of plugs in a soft-sided lure bag and take them with you anywhere in the world.

“Natural bait also requires storage and refrigeration/freezer space, either on the boat or elsewhere,” Pumo says. “It has to be kept frozen solid until it’s ready to be rigged, and natural bait doesn’t last long once it’s thawed. Once the baits are rigged, they need to be kept cold but not in direct contact with fresh water or ice, which means a separate bait cooler or storage area on the boat.” Lures, of course, require no special treatment.

Time

Do you or your crew have the time to properly rig a full box of natural baits, or do you want to hop on the boat and go fishing? Rigging ballyhoo or mackerel is a process that involves carefully thawing, prepping and rigging dozens of baits, and it requires a host of miscellaneous small items like chin weights, waxed floss, O-rings or swivels, copper wire, rigging needles and more. Meanwhile, the same lures you pulled yesterday are ready to go today. Just check those hooks for sharpness, snap the leaders in the swivels and you’re all set.

J Hook versus Circle Hook

One main disadvantage of lures over bait is in the release ratio. Most lure fishermen will say that if they can maintain a hookup-to-release ratio of 70 percent or so, then that’s doing pretty well. Some boast of much higher percentages, but then again, there are also plenty of stories of rubber-hook days where teams are zero-for-4 on blue marlin, where the fish is hooked and pulling drag but manages to elude capture during the fight for whatever reason.

Circle hooks, on the other hand, have a much higher percentage of hookup to release, thanks to their shape, which catches the fish in the corner of the jaw. “For a hard-jumping blue marlin, they can throw that J hook fairly easily, while they have a much harder time shedding a circle hook during the fight,” Pumo says

Interestingly, the mandated shift to circle hooks with natural bait, enforced by the National Marine Fisheries Service, caused a complete shift in North Carolina’s tournament blue marlin fishery. The standard Carolina marlin bait — a horse ballyhoo rigged on a J hook and fished in combination with a blue-and-white Ilander lure — was now illegal in tournament competition. Teams quickly learned to lure fish for big blues, while maintaining their prowess at dead-bait fishing for white marlin, yellowfin tuna and other species.

Action versus Taste

Lures are great at raising fish and getting bites, but it’s hard to beat natural bait in getting a marlin to actually eat the damned thing. Much like a cat chasing a toy, a blue or black will sometimes bat a lure repeatedly in an attempt to catch, kill and eat it, often resulting in some spectacularly unsuccessful bites. If you free-spool the lure, it loses its action and the fish quickly loses interest. With a ballyhoo or mackerel, a short drop-back gives the marlin a chance to grab it, and since it looks and tastes real, they can turn and swallow it easily. And while they don’t chug and splash like lures, it’s hard to beat the realistic swimming action of a well-rigged mackerel, mullet or ballyhoo in the spread. This one’s a draw.

fishing lures on a wooden deck

With their aggressive head shapes, these lures will raise plenty of marlin, particularly in the noisy white water close to the boat.

Joe Byrum

Teasers

Because of their fish-raising splash, color and shimmy, lures are a terrific option as teasers. Many a marlin has been raised to a Black Bart fished as a teaser before either being switched over to a pitch bait or hooked on a lure in the spread. On the other hand, a squid daisy chain with a ballyhoo chase bait is standard in just about any big-game fishery in the world. Having that natural bait gives the fish a taste of the real thing and keeps it engaged for those crucial few seconds needed to get a pitch bait in the water

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