Tag: Marlin

marlin fishing costa rica

Marlin and Sailfish Action in Costa Rica

Marlin and Sailfish Action off Quepos, Costa Rica

FECOP Featured Marina: Pez Vela, Quepos

Calm seas and great fishing equal good times in Costa Rica

Published for Marlin Magazine by Sam White

Perched on a narrow strip of rugged Pacific coast, snugged between the mountains and the sea, Quepos, Costa Rica, has always produced great fishing, not to mention generations of top-flight Costa Rican captains and mates. And with the world-class Marina Pez Vela fully online, Quepos is poised to take its rightful place among the world’s top destinations.

I got the call from Brent Brauner, the global brand manager for Columbia Sportswear’s PFG line of performance fishing gear. He wanted to field-test some new warm-weather clothing and capture some blue marlin action on camera. The only catch was that the trip had to take place before the end of 2018. Over the next few weeks we narrowed down the choices, finally deciding on Costa Rica.

With the seamounts producing the most reliable blue marlin fishing on the planet, we elected on a sort of combination expedition: two days offshore with a bonus day trip to target tuna on the spinner dolphins, sailfish on baitballs or anything else we could find. With its calm seas and a great transitional bite, we chose Quepos as the place to be in mid-December.

Brauner brought Columbia’s ace cameraman Joshua VanPatter, while I tapped Marlin Senior Editor Jen Copeland to round out our team. We needed a vessel large enough to support not just our crew but a medium-sized mountain of camera gear, so I called up Ken and Amanda Cofer at Tranquilo Charters. Fortunately, their 57-foot Spencer was available. After a recent refit in Florida, the boat was perfect for our needs: The staterooms had been converted to bunks for added sleeping and gear storage, and the addition of a Seakeeper gyro meant a rock-stable platform. The plan was to arrive in Costa Rica, head for Quepos and jump straight aboard, steam all night for the distant seamounts around 100 miles offshore, fish the first day, spend the night, fish most of the next day, return to port, and day-trip out of Marina Pez Vela for our final day.

marlin leaping out of the water

Multi-day seamount trips for blue marlin often incorporate a variety of fishing techniques. Crews may start the day pulling lures in order to find productive water before switching to slow-trolled live baits.

Sam White

The Transformation

The first time I fished out of Quepos, there was no marina, or even the thought of one. Charter boats used anchor-ball moorings in the lee of the protected coastline, and fishermen arrived and departed by way of an ancient concrete quay that also served as a commercial dock. Despite the rustic conditions, the fishing has always been outstanding pretty much all year round.

Packs of sailfish arrive to reinforce the local resident fish around Thanksgiving and stay well into April most years. There are also enough blue marlin around that you have a very good shot at raising at least one, especially earlier in the season, and multiple-marlin days are a definite possibility. Blacks and stripes are not considered a common catch but it’s certainly not unusual to add one of either species to the tally, either.

Fast forward roughly two decades and my, how things have changed. Marina Pez Vela now sports a modern cofferdam system that means a safe, calm basin year-round. It has 195 slips in operation with the ability to add an additional 100 slips in the future, all with a safe operating depth of 14 feet for vessels up to 200 feet in length. The fuel dock has high-speed fuel delivery, and each slip has fiber-optic internet and digital cable.

fisherman putting live bait in a tuna tube

Daniel Arrieta loads the tuna tubes on Tranquilo with bonito and small yellowfin tuna caught on spoons fished behind a planer.

Sam White

Perhaps one of the most important yet often overlooked features is the boatyard. Before the development of Marina Pez Vela, the options to haul out a sport-fisher in this region usually meant a trip up to Puntarenas and the commercial yard there. Now, Quepos is home to Costa Rica’s first 200-ton Travelift. The full-service facility can handle just about any maintenance needs, from routine service to full refits. There also is a dry stack with a forklift for smaller vessels up to 38 feet in length.

On the upland side, Marina Pez Vela is home to six restaurants including the famed Runaway Grill, as well as a provisioning center and supermarket. There are also numerous retail stores, tour operators, car-rental agencies, Promerica Bank, a medical center and more, plus storage bodegas and even a captain’s lounge with private conference center and work stations. The entire operation is first-class and on par with any high-end marina in the world, yet it feels at-home comfortable

I asked Marina Pez Vela’s sales director, Scott Cutter, for his thoughts on the project.

“We’re seeing continued expansion over the next five or six years,” he says. “We are also committed to the boat owners and anglers as the key to the success of the project, which is why we’ve invested heavily in the conditions of the docks and things like providing high-speed internet to each slip. This is a community marina, and the original vision — amazing fishing, warm-hearted people and a strong connection to the land and the sea — continues.”

fishing reels on the bow of a boat at sunset

A beautiful sunset over 100 miles offshore ends a long day of fishing.

Sam White

The concept of a community marina was an intriguing one. Rather than be walled off in a private enclave, Marina Pez Vela is right on the main road in Quepos and is open and inviting to visitors and locals alike. Friday nights are free movie nights with free popcorn, where everyone gathers to watch movies under the stars on a big-screen projection setup, and the Bright Lights Christmas boat parade was overflowing with people. Marina staffers dress up like Santa Claus and pass out presents to the kids. It’s what Cutter calls “good human friction” — but it also creates a sense of connectivity to the local community that makes it authentic. It’s also a culture that nurtures the next generation of captains and mates.

Heading Offshore

It is roughly a two-and-a-half-hour ride to Quepos from the Costa Rican capital of San Jose. We stopped about halfway down for lunch and then again to check out the giant saltwater crocodiles hanging out on the banks of the Tarcoles River. We arrived in Quepos in time to meet the Cofers at the Runaway Grill for a cocktail before departure; Capt. Roger Muñoz and first mate Daniel Arrieta secured all the camera gear and we were underway around 8 p.m.

Fishing on the seamounts begins at first light well before dawn, and continues past dusk, basically until you can’t see the baits any longer. We began by trolling a spread of four lures on 50s to scout the area at a faster pace. It wasn’t long before we had our first knockdown — but the hooks failed to find purchase, one of the small frustrations of lure fishing that comes with the territory.

We did catch our first blue around midmorning on a lure, then transitioned to live-baiting for a bit, then back to the lures. By the end of the first day we had released four blue marlin and had seen or jumped off a few more. Not red-hot by Costa Rica standards but four blues in a single day is damn good fishing anywhere else in the world. After a hot shower, a few rum drinks and an outstanding steak dinner, not to mention more than a few fish stories, it was time to hit the bunks.

The next day, Muñoz chose to run and gun among several locations looking for the mother lode. We released a blue in the morning but never found a hot spot, so we picked up and ran home in the afternoon, fishing for about two hours on one of Muñoz’ favorite spots 45 miles off Quepos. Right away the conditions looked better: There were bait and birds, and the first bite was a 30-pound dorado. A little while later we raised one blue and then another but unfortunately failed to connect on either fish. As we got ready to pack it in for the day, I asked Muñoz what he wanted to do the following morning. The reply was an easy one: Come right back here!

Offshore Bonanza

Our last fishing day was a standard day trip out of Marina Pez Vela. First up: tuna under birds and spinner dolphin. The ocean was alive with these mammals, showing off their wild aerial antics and swimming within a few feet of the boat as we trolled past. It’s one of those National Geographic moments offshore, and for guys like Brauner and VanPatter who had never experienced this before, it is awe-inspiring. Brauner even broke out the fly rod, casting at busting tuna from Tranquilo’s broad Carolina bow.

striped marlin below the surface of water

A striped marlin makes an unexpected appearance while fishing around schools of yellowfin tuna and spinner dolphins approximately 45 miles off Quepos. Day trips can produce outstanding action.

Pat Ford

It wasn’t long before we had a couple nice tuna in the fish box, then one of the lines took a strange angle as it headed for the surface. “That’s no tuna,” I thought. Sure enough, a billfish erupted from the calm surface and put on a blazing display for the cameras, a real Hollywood fish. Upon closer examination, it was a striped marlin, and a nice one at that. Even more amazing, we had hooked the fish on a purple rubber-worm-and-jig combination that would have been more at home on Lake Okeechobee than in 5,000 feet of salt water off Costa Rica. (The mates have found that these rubber jigs work great on yellowfin tuna.) After a few more photos and video, we sent the striped marlin on its way.

fisherman handling a fishing reel with a blue marlin on the line

Brent Brauner puts the heat on a tough blue marlin while Joshua VanPatter captures the action. Fishing days often last more than 14 hours, including those critical periods around sunrise and sunset.

Sam White

We released two blue marlin after the stripe, a couple chunky yellowfins and a half-dozen 30-pound dorado. We missed a couple more marlin as well, all on dead baits, dredges and 30-pound-test tackle. It was a blast, and all of this took place on seas that were as flat as your dining-room table. If there was one tiny disappointment, it was that we did not catch a sailfish for our boat grand slam. Costa Rica in December, and we did not raise a single sailfish the entire trip. Odd, but that’s fishing — and the marlin more than made up for it.

The next time you find yourself seeking a destination where exceptional fishing intersects with beautiful weather in a safe, welcoming country full of truly warm-hearted people, you’ll find it all and more in Quepos.

Quepos Confidential

Lodging: By far the most convenient and luxurious option for lodging are the Marina Pez Vela Villas, located just a short walk from the docks. There are 10 luxury villas available, with two- and three-bedroom options. Amenities include high-speed Wi-Fi, full kitchens and even a rooftop pool for the exclusive use of villa owners and guests. Our group stayed here during our trip. The luxury, decor, proximity to the docks and personalized concierge service make for an unforgettable and easy experience. The Hotel Parador, located on the edge of Manuel Antonio National Park, is another great option. It’s the official host for the Offshore World Championship.

the balcony of a villa at marina pez vela

The Marina Pez Vela Villas are conveniently located just a short walk from the docks.

Courtesy Marina Pez Vela

Dining: The Runaway Grill is the unofficial base of operations for anyone fishing out of Marina Pez Vela, with an extensive menu and happy-hour specials at the bar each afternoon. They also have a hook-and-cook policy where guests can bring in their own catch of the day and have it prepared that evening. We had several memorable meals at other restaurants in the marina as well, which run the gamut from fine dining to fast-casual sports pubs.

Fishing: Ken and Amanda Cofer have been chartering Tranquilo in Central America since 2012, relocating from Nicaragua to Costa Rica in 2014. “We wanted to offer a larger and nicer boat for people that wanted to experience a premier-level charter, with a great crew and all the latest equipment,” Amanda Cofer says. “Teams from the U.S. can come to Central America in their offseason to keep their anglers up to speed, and we offer them the same tackle, dredges and other gear they use on their own boats. We’re tournament-grade fishing every day, on every charter.” There are a host of additional charter operations based in Marina Pez Vela to fit nearly every species and budget. If time allows, don’t overlook the outstanding opportunities for roosterfish, cubera snapper, potential world-record snook and other species closer to shore.

Fishing the Offshore World Championship

The Offshore World Championship has been held in Quepos since 2013, thanks in large part to the support the event has received from Marina Pez Vela and the Costa Rica Tourism Board as well as the local community. According to OWC tournament director Dan Jacobs, Quepos is an optimal location for the event thanks to several key factors.

“The first is the weather,” he notes. “In April it’s nearly always flat-calm. And because the participating anglers rotate daily among the boats, the availability of a substantial charter fleet and a host facility large enough to accommodate everyone is also a critical element.” A plethora of hotels and restaurants check another must-have box.

Then there’s the fishing: Quepos has a world-class fishery, as noted in the OWC tournament records. In 2014, 64 teams video-verified 2,735 billfish releases; in 2015, 67 teams released 2,840 billfish, for an average of more than 42 billfish per team over four days of fishing. The OWC celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2019 with this year’s tournament running April 29 through May 3.

Article courtesy MarlinMag.com Marlin Magazine – Please visit our supporters!

Blue Marlin Biology

Costa Rica Fishing Species

Sport Fishing Generates Nearly 500 Million Dollars Annually in Costa Rica

First Sailfish On The Fly – Costa Rica Fly Fishing

What is a Billfish?

Read Blog Detail

First Sailfish On The Fly – Costa Rica Fly Fishing

First Sailfish on the “Fly” by Todd Staley

Photo above by Pat Ford

Published for The Tico Times

The Tico Times

The angler stood on the veranda of Marina Pez Vela in Quepos, Costa Rica and looked at the vast sport fishing fleet in awe. A Colorado native and avid fly fisherman, he had never been on the ocean before. He was quite adept on his home waters, walking the bank or wading in streams, casting a dry fly to trout.

He had seen fishing shows on television and read many an article about anglers casting to and challenging big pointy nose fishes with a flimsy fly rod on a deep blue ocean. It became a dream of his. Then an obsession. It moved to the top of his bucket list. Finally, the day had come. He walked down the stairs at the marina to the boats and stepped aboard the Big Eye II.

Captain Franklin Araya shook his hand and confirmed the angler’s mission was to catch a sailfish on the fly.

“There are plenty of fish out there, but they are muy mañosa,” Araya said, explaining that the fish are lazy and finicky.

Stop Illegal Fishing in Costa Rica

El Niño is the culprit — the weather phenomenon that makes every blue water fisherman in the Eastern Tropical Pacific cringe. The water temperature goes up, the fish don’t follow their normal patterns, and they become lethargic.

Captain Franklin Araya. Photo via Todd Staley.

The Big Eye II idles out of the marina and Araya pushes the throttle forward. The angler from Colorado is paying attention to every detail. They pass green water, then emerald water. The water turns blue and they pass a large pod of pilot whales. Araya motors forward. Finally, the water turns a deep cobalt blue that boat captains like to see. Sailfish feed mainly by sight. The cleaner the water, the happier the sailfish. Deep blue means nutrient-rich, clean water.

Araya throttles down and begins trolling around 6 or 7 knots. For fly fishing, he prefers to pull four teasers, lures without hooks to entice sailfish to the surface. The Sailfish are fooled into thinking it is something they usually prey on, like a bonito, flying fish, or one of several other tasty species.

The theory behind fly fishing for sailfish is quite simple. The sailfish comes up chasing and slashing at the teaser. The mate reels in the teaser with the sailfish chasing behind, and at the last second jerks the teaser from the water. At the same moment, the captain is putting the boat in neutral and the angle is casting the fly. Only a short cast is necessary. The only option for the charged-up sailfish is the fly that was just presented and a hungry sail will almost always strike it. It is really a team effort. Floating flys with a popper head works best in Costa Rica. When asked for his top three-color choices Araya replied, “pink, pink and pink!”

Teaching people or taking folks to catch their first sailfish on the fly is a passion for Araya. He says first timers or novices are his best students, because they listen well to instruction. People with saltwater fly experience sometimes seem more set in their ways and don’t always take instruction well. Every ocean is different. What works in Florida might not work so well in Costa Rica, and vice-versa.

They had been trolling nearly three hours and passed at least a half dozen “floaters,” sailfish cruising the surface with either their tail fin or their whole sail above the surface. One or two came into the teasers, took a quick sniff and faded off. The fish were definitely lazy. Araya put out a couple “naked ballyhoo” in the spread of teasers. Natural baits which will give the fish a scent to follow or even a taste, but with no hook in the bait.

Sail on the surface. Photo via Todd Staley.

Shortly, a sailfish showed up in the spread of teasers that was ready to play. It smacked the left long teaser, then charged into the short, the closest teaser to the boat. It was lit up like Christmas in a purple hue, and Araya knew with thiCosta Rica Real Estates fish it was game on.

Araya dropped the boat into neutral and hollered down to the Colorado angler to cast. In all the excitement, he remembered the captain’s instructions. “Fish it just like you would with your dry fly. When the line comes tight strike him, and hang on.” He made his cast. It was picture-perfect after that. The sail hit the fly going away, and the line immediately went tight. He struck hard. Line screamed off his reel, and the reel handle slammed into his knuckles hard for a painful initiation of hooking one of the fastest fish in the ocean.




Sail hook up fly. Photo via Todd Staley.

He recovered nicely, and 150 yards of line screamed off the reel while the sail did a fast-forward ballet across the surface before it slowed. The rest was simple angling knowledge. You don’t beat a big fish with strength; you beat it with finesse. It pulls left, you pull right; it pulls right, you pull left. When it runs, you rest. When it stops, you work.

He had the fish boat-side in around twenty minutes, an amazing time for a first sail on the fly. They gently released it. He even managed a second before the day was over, sin busted knuckles.

It might be months before someone can wipe the smile off his face.

The last thing he said to Franklin as he left the boat was, “see you next year — I think I am ready to try a marlin!”

Capt. Franklin Araya is willing to answer any of your questions about fly fishing in Costa Rica. On a busman holiday, he travels over to the Caribbean side of the country to tangle with tarpon on a fly. He can be reached at 8379-1702. 

Todd Staley has run fishing sport operations on both coasts of Costa Rica for over 25 years. He recently decided to take some time off to devote full-time to marine conservation and is the communications director at FECOP. Contact him at wetline@hotmail.com.


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What is a Billfish?

The Circle Hook Revolution

Explaining The Costa Rica Tuna Decree

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Costa Rica Circle Hook Fishing

The Circle Hook Revolution

Costa Rica Fishing Conservation – The Circle Hook Revolution


Marlin Magazine

Published for Marlin Magazine

The Beginning

In 1998, circle hooks exploded on the American sport-fishing scene with Capt. Ron Hamlin’s declaration that he would use nothing but circle hooks when fishing with bait. The announcement came as he was accepting the annual release award for the most Pacific sailfish in a single season (546 sails caught on J hooks in 1997). Tired of seeing gut-hooked billfish gushing blood, that night he denounced the J hooks that had brought him so much success. What the spectators did not realize was that Hamlin had experienced a catch-per-unit effort rate of 65 percent or better for circle hooks on sailfish in Guatemala, compared to 50 percent with J hooks. From his perspective, it was a no-brainer that would tremendously benefit the fishery.

black and white image of boat captains

Capt. Ron Hamlin, Joan Vernon and Tim Choate each made a substantial case for industrywide circle-hook use, which prompted the rest of the fishing world to follow.

Richard Gibson

His employer, Tim Choate, had mandated the use of circle hooks by all five of his Artmarina-owned charter boats even before science had proved that billfish survival rates greatly increase with circle hooks. In his speech that night, Hamlin acknowledged Capt. Peter B. Wright and angler Skip Walton for bringing circle hooks to Guatemala after first using them in the giant bluefin tuna fishery off North Carolina.

A charter captain, and owner of Red Drum Tackle in Hatteras, North Carolina, Capt. Bob Eakes had a lot to do with pioneering the area’s bluefin tuna fishery, bringing in Wright and marine scientists such as Dr. Eric Prince

Prince, now retired from his post as head of the NOAA Fisheries Service Southeast Fisheries Science Center in Miami says it all began in 1995, approximately two years before they started tagging bluefin tuna with implantable, archival and pop-up satellite tags. “The big question was how to minimize the damage and stress of capture so the tuna would survive the surgical implantation of the oversize tags, which then cost about $4,500, so survival was essential,” he says.

Wright and his mate, Scott Levin, suggested a plan to bring the fish aboard through the tuna door and insert a saltwater washdown hose in the tuna’s mouth to oxygenate the fish, along with using a cloth to cover the eyes and body.

“This helped eliminate stress from handling,” Prince relates. But it was the circle hook that Eakes first suggested that eliminated gut hooking, ensuring the long-term health of the fish. “On our fishing trips, every tuna caught on circle hooks was hooked in the hinge of the jaw. Looking at it with a little biological insight, I could see the benefits not just for endangered bluefin tunas, but also to reduce gut-hooking sailfish.”

After expressing those insights to Wright, Prince shared them with Choate, who suggested a fishing trip out of Guatemala, where catch rates exceed 40 sailfish per day, to provide a suitable test. The success of that expedition led to a scientific study by Prince in March and May of 1999.

Dead-bait trolling off Iztapa, Guatemala, showed conclusively that circle hooks produce more fish that are released without evidence of bleeding. Out of 461 sailfish bites, they hooked 360. Using an equal number of J hooks and circle hooks, 125 were caught and released on J hooks versus 235 on circle hooks. Out of those 235 releases, only 14 sailfish showed any signs of bleeding, six of which were deemed severe. Of the J-hook-caught fish, 71 had bleeding, 32 of which were deemed severe. The conclusion? Sailfish caught on J hooks are 21 times more likely to suffer hook-related bleeding — and possible death — than fish caught on circle hooks. Furthermore, circle hooks had a higher hookup percentage. Follow-up studies all came to the same conclusion: Significant conservation benefits can be realized in dead- and live-bait fisheries for billfish and tuna by simply changing the terminal tackle from J hooks to circle hooks.

“The simplicity [of one change] really touched a chord,” Prince says.

sailfish jumping in the air

Sailfish caught on circle hooks benefit both angler and fish with higher hook-up ratios and lower mortality rates

Bubba Naquin

Central America Leads the Way

Like a messiah spreading the gospel, Hamlin broadcast the success of circle hooks to every influential angler he knew. In Joan Vernon, he found a disciple. Since the year 2000, she has personally caught more than 2,200 billfish — all on circle hooks.

“Hamlin explained he had a new hook he wanted me to try,” she recalls. “At first, I was a little skeptical about using circle hooks with the 8- and 12-pound-test tackle I used for sailfish, but I had no trouble hooking them. Every fish was hooked right where Hamlin predicted: in the hinge of the jaw. I was convinced, but getting everyone else on board would be a challenge.”

Vernon is also the executive director of the Presidential Challenge of Central America tournament series. Founded in 1996, the tournaments were originally held in Panama, Costa Rica, Venezuela and Guatemala (now also in Aruba for the past decade). They are fun events, but at their core they are meant to ensure the continued abundance of healthy billfish populations throughout Central America and the Caribbean through research and education. At the 1998 Sport Fishing Economic Conference of Central America — held for scientists, resort and charter operators and politicians — she floated the idea of circle hooks as a tool in reducing billfish mortality.

Putting her money where her mouth is, Vernon announced the 1999 Presidential Challenge series would become the world’s first all-circle hook release tournament.

“I had no idea if the anglers would go for it, but there was no opposition,” she says. A few years later, Costa Rica and Guatemala declared circle hooks mandatory for recreational billfish caught in their territorial waters.

“By 2005, virtually every tournament in Central America had gone to circle hooks,” she adds. “And in countries with no recreational circle-hook laws, they were mandated by the local resorts and lodges in these fishing destinations.”

Vernon also helped found the Yamaha Contender Miami Sportfish Tournament — previously known as the Miami Billfish Tournament — and was its executive director in 1982.

“The whole premise was to raise funds for conservation and education, but committee members were afraid of losing participation if we went to circle hooks,” explains longtime tournament committee member Capt. Bouncer Smith. Despite Prince’s convincing research that circle hooks produced better hookup rates while substantially reducing mortality, the others on the board were resistant. “Finally it was suggested we ease into circle hooks by creating a separate division.

Vernon refused. “‘It’s a complete rule change, or nothing,’ she said at the time, making it the first tournament in the United States to require the use of circle hooks,” Smith relates.

circle hook rigging bait

In just 10 years, a small change in terminal tackle has made a significant difference in billfish survival rates around the world. The design also produces higher catch rates for most species.

©️Scott Kerrigan/www.aquapaparazzi.com

Bridling and Larger Hooks

Smith first joined the circle-hook revolution after hearing an impassioned talk by Hamlin and Choate at the Miami Rod and Reel Club in 1998. Experimenting first with 5/0 Eagle Claw circle hooks that matched the size of the J hooks he used for sailfishing, he was discouraged.

“I lost two sailfish in a row on them, so I went back to my J hooks,” Smith says. “Months later, I caught a white marlin on a J hook that bled to death. It was then I recalled Hamlin’s speech at the fishing club. So, I upgraded the size of the circle hooks to a wide-gap 7/0 and gave them another try. I started having immediate success. Larger-size hooks were the answer.”

Twenty years later he’s still having success, having gone from using 7/0 Eagle Claws to 6/0 VMC circle hooks for sailfish and other species.

“I’ve found the more exposed the hook is, the better the hookup percentage,” adds Smith, who primarily fishes bridled baits with non-offset circle hooks. Another refinement is using slightly rounder rubber bands when rigging his baits. “They solved the problems I was having with common rubber hair bands that cut into the baits.”

Capt. Bobby Brown first used circle hooks for pitching baits to marlin well before it became the norm. In 1996, he was working for Fonda and Wayne Huizenga of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, teaching them the pitch-bait technique with a favorite blue marlin bait — fresh squid — when he encountered a problem. “The squid was wrapping around the J hooks, so I decided to try circle hooks. On the first cast we caught a blue marlin,” he says.

After a month of marlin success, he tried trolling for sailfish with circle hooks, but the only hooks available at the time were made of heavy wire, and in sizes too large for sailfish. “The fish were coming to the bait and fading away,” he explains. He had all but given up on circle hooks for smaller billfish when Eagle Claw and The Billfish Foundation launched a lighter wire hook that became an instant hit.

circle hook in fish jaw

Keeping the circle hook a short distance from the bait gives it enough room to find its way to the corner of the fish’s jaw — where it belongs — without obstruction.

©️Scott Kerrigan/www.aquapaparazzi.com

East vs. West

In the early 1990s, long-range fishermen out of San Diego began experimenting with circle hooks while chunking for southern bluefin tuna. Using small-diameter fluorocarbon leaders and circle hooks with live sardines, the catch rates skyrocketed. Not only were the hooks stronger for their size, the bait swam more naturally. By using circle hooks that tend to lodge in the hinge of the jaw, they also solved the problems they’d had with fish chafing the light leaders

Since then, circle hooks have become standard equipment, says well-known Southern California angler Ben Secrest. “Circle hooks are like a mousetrap for bluefins; once they latch on, they don’t come off,” he reports. These days, he fishes skipping Yummee flying fish and bridled natural baits with Owner 11/0 circle hooks — straight from the rigger or from a kite stabilized with a helium balloon. “I have had the best results with larger-size hooks, and my hookup ratio is running 20 percent better with circle hooks.”

ringer swivel bait

The Ringer Swivel makes changing baits easier as well as allowing the hook to rotate freely.

ringer swivel bait

Rigging Techniques Vary

Capt. Kyle Francis of Jensen Beach, Florida, has been fishing circle hooks since he was 15 and has complete confidence in them. Francis — who regularly works the Costa Rica, Florida and Bahamas billfish circuit — says there have been innovations like the rubber O-ring for ease in bridling the hooks to the bait. He prefers a small barrel swivel though. “The O-rings impede the natural movement of the bait,” he explains.

When rigging combination baits such as a chugger or Ilander, he is more open. “With the Ilander, I position the bait with the hook crimped down tight to the lure. With a chugger-and-bait combination, I use one size larger hook. Instead of a 7/0, I’ll go with an 8/0 or 9/0 and add a swivel connected by copper wire with the bill going up into the chugger. It may be simple but it works great,” he explains.

Creating a streamlined circle-hook rig — with the maneuverability of a barrel swivel and ease of rigging with an O-ring — was the concept behind James Turner’s invention of the Ringer Swivel.

Article courtesy Marlin Magazine

Sport Fishing Generates Nearly 500 Million Dollars Annually in Costa Rica

Sailfish – The Evolution of The Hero Shot

Explaining The Costa Rica Tuna Decree

Read Blog Detail
Costa Rica Billfish

What is a Billfish?

Can I Catch Billfish in Costa Rica? What are Billfish?

Billfish can be found in Costa Rica year round, and peek in various months depending on whether or not you are in the North, Central or South Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. Please ask your fishing lodge, or captain the best months to find these species in Costa Rica. It is illegal to remove a billfish from the water in Costa Rica, but don’t worry you can still take your photo with one while leaving the billfish safely in the water for release. Read this article by Todd Staley about why not to take billfish out of the water and the proper way to catch and release them. The most common billfish anglers release in Costa Rica are Sailfish, Pacific blue marlin, black marlin and striped marlin.  Although other billfish such as swordfish and long billed spearfish can be found in Costa Rica, they are usually difficult to fish for due to the limited access to them. Read this article by Todd Staley on why Sailfish are worth more alive then dead to Costa Rica’s National and local economies.

The term billfish refers to a group of predatory fish characterised by prominent bills, or rostra, and by their large size; some are longer than 4 m (13 ft). Billfish include sailfish and marlin, which make up the family Istiophoridae, and swordfish, sole member of the family Xiphiidae. They are apex predators which feed on a wide variety of smaller fish, crustaceans, and cephalopods. These two families are sometimes classified as belonging to the order Istiophoriformes, a group with origins in the Late Cretaceous around 71 million years ago with the two families diverging from one and another in the Late Miocene around 15 million years ago.[3] However, they are also classified as being closely related to the mackerels and tuna within the suborder Scombroidei of the order Perciformes.[4] However, the 5th edition of the Fishes of the World does recognise the Istiophoriformes as a valid order, albeit including the Sphyraenidae, the barracudas.[5]

billfish graphic Billfish are pelagic and highly migratory. They are found in all oceans,[6] although they usually inhabit tropical and subtropical waters; swordfish are found in temperate waters, as well. Billfish use their long spears or sword-like upper beaks to slash at and stun prey during feeding. Their bills can also be used to spear prey, and have been known to spear boats (probably accidentally), but they are not normally used in that way. They are highly valued as gamefish by sports fishermen.

Billfish are exploited both as food and as fish. Marlin and sailfish are eaten in many parts of the world, and many sport fisheries target these species. Swordfish are subject to particularly intense fisheries pressures, and although their survival is not threatened worldwide, they are now comparatively rare in many places where once they were abundant. The istiophorid billfishes (marlin and spearfish) also suffer from intense fishing pressures. High mortality levels occur when they are caught incidentally by longline fisheries targeting other fish.[55] Overfishing continues to “push these declines further in some species”.[56] Because of these concerns about declining populations, sport fishermen and conservationists now work together to gather information on billfish stocks and implement programs such as catch and release, where fish are returned to the sea after they have been caught. However, the process of catching them can leave them too traumatised to recover.[36] Studies have shown that circle fishing hooks do much less damage to billfish than the traditional J-hooks, yet they are at just as effective for catching billfish. This is good for conservation, since it improves survival rates after release.[57][58]

The stocks for individual species in billfish longline fisheries can “boom and bust” in linked and compensatory ways. For example, the Atlantic catch of blue marlin declined in the 1960s. This was accompanied by an increase in sailfish catch. The sailfish catch then declined from the end of the 1970s to the end of the 1980s, compensated by an increase in swordfish catch. As a result, overall billfish catches remained fairly stable.[59]

Costa Rica billfish

“Many of the world’s fisheries operate in a data poor environment that precludes predictions about how different management actions will affect individual species and the ecosystem as a whole.”[60] In recently years pop-up satellite archival tags have been used to monitor billfish. The capability of these tags to recover useful data is improving, and their use should result in more accurate stock assessments.[61] In 2011, a group of researchers claimed they have, for the first time, standardized all available data about scombrids and billfishes so it is in a form suitable for assessing threats to these species. The synthesis shows that those species which combine a long life with a high economic value, such as the Atlantic blue marlin and the white marlin, are generally threatened. The combination puts such species in “double jeopardy”.[62]

More about billfish

Blue Marlin Biology

FECOP to Tag 25 Marlin and 25 Sailfish – Seeking Volunteers

Explaining The Costa Rica Tuna Decree

Read Blog Detail
Top 100 Game Fish

Worlds’ Top 100 Game Fish

The World’s Top 100 Game Fish – Where Does Costa Rica Rank

A ranking of the world’s major saltwater game fish according to 61 top anglers and skippers

The world's top 100 game fish.png

A unique ranking of game fish based on scores from many of the best-known and most-respected names in the world of sport fishing.

Sport Fishing magazine

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When it comes to game fishes, most anglers have their favorite species. How do yours rank as game fish among the species that anglers pursue? Now, that question can be answered thanks to Sport Fishing’s unique, authoritative list of The World’s Top 100 Game Fish.

In brief, we devised a quantified rating system using eight key indicators of a species’ value as a game fish and assigned a point range to each.

You can read a more detailed explanation of our rating system and its methodology.

Then we asked 61 of the world’s top captains and anglers to use this system to rate separately 100 specific saltwater game fish. That proved a very time-consuming task, and their participation offers a good indicator of their commitment to this extraordinary list.

See the complete list of experts and read for each a short bio and see their number one game-fish picks.

We’ve divided the top 100 game fish into two lists. After you’ve discovered what species occupy numbers one through 50, see the rest of the world’s top game fish — number 51 through 100 — in this gallery.


The World’s Top 100 Game Fish

albacore tuna

Thunnus alalunga

Photo by Barry Wiggins; Computer Generated Map for Thunnus alalunga (albacore). www.aquamaps.org

SCORE 50.1 (out of 100 points possible)
See the scoring breakdown

Found in all the world’s warm/temperate seas, albacore are sometimes known as “longfin tuna,” thanks to their unique, distinctively long pectoral fins. Marketed commercially for their very white flesh, the species supports popular sport fisheries off California, Oregon and Washington in late summer, as well as off South Africa and elsewhere. Larger albies remain well offshore, often feeding in deep water. The all-tackle record of 88 pounds, 2 ounces came from the Canary Islands in 1977.

Greatest attribute: Stamina


The World’s Top 100 Game Fish


Pomatomus saltatrix

Photo by Jason Arnold / jasonarnoldphoto.com; Computer Generated Map for Pomatomus saltatrix (bluefish). www.aquamaps.org

SCORE 50.5 (out of 100 points possible)
See the scoring breakdown

One of only three species in its family, this piranha of the seas can be caught in subtropical and temperate coastal zones around the world. Bluefish are popular with shore and boat anglers alike in southern Australia (where they’re known as tailor), as well as in the U.S. Northeast and mid-Atlantic regions. With a mouthful of razor teeth and a vicious, voracious attitude to match, roving packs of bluefish are slash-and-burn predators that churn through schools of baitfish, boiling the surface. Although it’s hard to beat live bait for blues, as you might suppose, they’re likely to strike anything moving. That has been known to include unlucky or careless anglers’ fingers; caution in the boat is warranted. Fierce fighters, bluefish occasionally jump when hooked. Some anglers find them delicious; others eschew the strong, dark flesh. The all-tackle record of 31 pounds, 12 ounces came from Hatteras, North Carolina, in 1972.

Favorite of: Dave Bard

Greatest attribute: Speed (8.9 out of 15)



The World’s Top 100 Game Fish

bluefin trevally

Caranx melampygus

Photo by Doug Olander / Sport Fishing; Computer Generated Map for Caranx melampygus (bluefin trevally). www.aquamaps.org

SCORE 50.5 (out of 100 points possible)

Found in much of the Pacific and Indian oceans, bluefin are one of the most striking of trevallies, unmistakable with their brilliant neon-blue fins, tail and upper-body spots. Bluefin inhabit nearshore reefs and enter harbors, reef channels and lagoons as well. They’re typical of the jack family, in that they aggressively strike lures, jigs, flies and bait, and offer a balls-out, tough fight to the end. The IGFA all-tackle world record is 29 pounds, 3 ounces from Clipperton Atoll (2012); however, Fishbase.org suggests they get larger — much larger, citing a maximum published weight of nearly 100 pounds.

Greatest attribute: Stamina (10.8 out of 15)

Here’s more about bluefin trevally:


The World’s Top 100 Game Fish

red steenbras

Dentex ruprestris

Photo courtesy John Rance; Computer Generated Map for Dentex ruprestris (red steenbras). www.aquamaps.org

SCORE 50.6 (out of 100 points possible)
See the scoring breakdown

Porgies are common, generally small, food fishes of tropical reefs worldwide. But red steenbras are giant porgies of frightening proportions, rapacious appetites and impressive power. Their range is limited to the rocky coast and estuaries along the southern part of Africa, where strict laws fully protect the prized — and delicious — slow-growing species today. The IGFA all-tackle-record red steenbras weighed 124 pounds, 12 ounces, taken off South Africa in 1994.

Greatest attribute: Stamina (11.4 out of 15)

Read more about steenbras:



Top 100 Game Fish

white seabass

Atractoscion nobilis

Photo by Jim Hendricks / Sport Fishing; Computer Generated Map for Atractoscion nobilis (white seabass). www.aquamaps.org

SCORE 51.1 (out of 100 points possible)
See the scoring breakdown

One of the larger members of the family of drums and croakers — which includes the spotted seatrout and weakfish of the Atlantic Coast — the white seabass is one of the most coveted saltwater prizes among anglers from northern Baja to central California. It frequents nearshore sandy areas, particularly around kelp beds, feeding on a variety of small baitfish as well as squid and crustaceans. Anglers catch them on a variety of lures and baits, with live squid leading the top of the list. The all-tackle record has been unbroken for more than a half-century: Caught in 1953 off San Felipe, in the northern Sea of Cortez, it weighed 83 pounds, 12 ounces.

Greatest attribute: Fight dynamics (11.9 out of 20)

Read more about white seabass:



The World’s Top 100 Game Fish


KAHAWAI Arripis trutta

Photo by Sam Mossman; Computer Generated Map for Arripis trutta (kahawai). www.aquamaps.org

SCORE 52.6 (out of 100 points possible)
See the scoring breakdown

The kahawai (or Australian salmon) is unique to Australia and New Zealand, where it’s an important and highly valued light-tackle and fly-rod game fish among coastal and inshore anglers. Kahawai often gather in large schools to crash bait, à la bluefish. When hooked, they’re nimble fighters, often leaping repeatedly. There is only one genus in the family (Arripidae), with three species. Commonly two to 10 pounds, the world-record kahawai is 19 pounds, 4 ounces, taken in Australian waters in 1994.

Greatest attribute: Fight dynamics (11.2 out of 20)



The World’s Top 100 Game Fish

jack crevalle

SCORE 53.0 (out of 100 points possible)
See the scoring breakdown

Photo by Michael Patrick O’Neill / mpostock.com; Computer Generated Map for Caranx hippos (jack crevalle). www.aquamaps.org

SCORE 53.0 (out of 100 points possible)
See the scoring breakdown

In an odd way, the jack crevalle actually resembles Rodney Dangerfield a bit. In any case, it sure don’t get the respect by many anglers that it deserves, since in reality, few species fight harder or give it their all more than the crevalle. Perhaps their lack of trophy status is because they’re so ubiquitous (they’re abundant throughout much of the temperate and tropical Atlantic, and similarly abundant in the Pacific version) and widely considered inedible (strong, dark, bloody meat). But plenty of anglers do appreciate tough battles with even small “jacks,” as they are often simply known. Jacks don’t jump or tailwalk, but they slug it out to the bitter end. They’re often found in schools, and make top-notch sight-casting targets; few species more readily strike lures and flies. The all-tackle world record was caught in 2010 on the coast of Angola and weighed 66 pounds, 2 ounces.

Greatest attribute: Stamina (12.1 out of 15)

Read more about Jack Crevalle:



The World’s Top 100 Game Fish

cubera snapper

Lutjanus cyanopterus

Photo by Albain Choinier; Computer Generated Map for Lutjanus cyanopterus (cubera snapper). www.aquamaps.org

SCORE 53.1 (out of 100 points possible)
See the scoring breakdown

Brute power — that’s what these giants of the snapper clan are all about. And stopping power is what an angler who would tangle with them needs to have, or he’ll find his quarry back in its reef or wreck in a flash. Atlantic cubera range from deep reefs to estuaries on occasion (especially when smaller). A specialized springtime, full-moon fishery using whole lobsters occurs off Miami and the upper Keys, but the species is found in most warm waters in the western Atlantic. Anglers often hook it incidentally. Slightly smaller Pacific cubera (record: 78 pounds, 12 ounces) lurk over shallower reefs where they’ll come up to strike (explode on) large poppers. Somewhat larger African red snapper (record: 132 pounds, 4 ounces) can be caught from sandy beaches in southwest Africa. The all-tackle Atlantic cubera weighed 124 pounds, 12 ounces, from Louisiana’s Garden Bank in 2007.

Favorite of: Todd Staley (“They have the power to put you on your knees.”) and Julien Lajournade

Greatest attribute: Stamina (11.7 out of 15)


The World’s Top 100 Game Fish

narrowhead mackerel

Scomberomorus commerson

Photo by Peter Zeroni; Computer Generated Map for Scomberomorus commerson (narrowbarred mackerel). www.aquamaps.org

SCORE 53.1 (out of 100 points possible)
See the scoring breakdown

While quite similar to king mackerel, narrowbarred (also called narrowbarred Spanish or often simply “Spaniards” by Australians) grow a bit larger, have a prominent barred pattern on their sides. and skyrocket even more readily on surface-schooling baitfish as well as anglers’ baits and poppers (especially early and late in the day). The leaps might be 20 feet or higher and nearly as far horizontally. When hooked, narrowbarred turn on the afterburners for searing runs. Found throughout the Indian and tropical Pacific oceans, the species is a favorite with many anglers who, typically, catch them while trolling dead or live baits and lures. The all-tackle record, in place since 1982, was caught off South Africa and weighed 99 pounds.

Greatest attribute: Speed (11.7 out of 15)

Here’s more about narrowbarred mackerel:

Video: “Soaring Mackerel: Unbelievable Leap Caught on Video”



The World’s Top 100 Game Fish


Sphyraena barracuda

Photo by Adrian E. Gray; Computer Generated Map for Sphyraena barracuda (great barracuda). www.aquamaps.org

SCORE: 53.3 (out of 100 points possible)
See the scoring breakdown

The great barracuda is by far the largest of many species of ‘cudas. It’s found in warm Atlantic waters, particularly the Caribbean, and in the Indo-Pacific region, but is absent in the eastern Pacific off the Americas. Larger ‘cudas hooked in deep water seldom jump, but when hooked over sandy/mangrove flats, they often explode in spectacular leaps. Their flesh is tasty but widely avoided, as it’s frequently implicated in ciguatera poisoning. The all-tackle record of 84 pounds, 14 ounces was caught in 1991 in the Philippines.

Greatest attribute: Dynamics of fight (10.5 of 20)


Lichia amia

Photo by Antonio Varcasia; Computer Generated Map for Lichia amia (leerfish). www.aquamaps.org

SCORE: 53.3 (out of 100 points possible)
See the scoring breakdown

Limited to the Mediterranean and tropical eastern Atlantic, the leerfish (aka garrick) is a member of the jack family and, accordingly, a powerful and determined fighter. In appearance, the species is unique and unmistakable. Like many coastal pelagics, the leerfish migrates seasonally. Anglers fish live baits along Atlantic beaches and rocky headlands, both from boats and often from shore. The all-tackle record is 61 pounds, 4 ounces from Spain in 2000.

Greatest attribute: Stamina (10.6 out of 15)



The World’s Top 100 Game Fish

striped bass

Morone saxatilis

Photo by Ethan Gordon; Computer Generated Map for Morone saxatilis (striped bass). www.aquamaps.org

SCORE: 54.2 (out of 100 points possible)
See the scoring breakdown

The striper is one of a few species on this list that qualifies as an all-American game fish. It’s enormously important along the coast and in estuaries from Maine through the mid-Atlantic states, locally important south into northern Florida; it’s sometimes taken even in northern Gulf of Mexico estuaries. Stripers also thrive in San Francisco Bay and San Joaquin Delta waters, where they were introduced, and a few still hang on in southern Oregon rivers. They’re naturally anadromous but can also thrive landlocked in fresh water. A widely imposed moratorium on any retention in the 1980s helped populations come roaring back after heavy overfishing. A classic game fish that looks, eats and fights great — what’s not to love? The all-tackle world record was recently broken with an 81-pound, 14-ounce brute taken off Long Island Sound in 2011.

Favorite of: David Hadden (especially “when a thousand hungry bass explode into a surface blitz… It’s a species that can go airborne better than any tarpon and rip into the backing with any fish on the flats.”)

Greatest attribute: As a sight-casting target (9.6 out of 15)

Read more about striped bass:


The World’s Top 100 Game Fish


Lobotes surinamensis

Photo by Will Drost; Computer Generated Map for Lobotes surinamensis (tripletail). www.aquamaps.org

SCORE: 54.9 (out of 100 points possible)
See the scoring breakdown

There’s no other saltwater game fish anything like a tripletail, its shape more like a large sunfish than a sleek predator. But this slab-sided species proves its agility and speed when it suddenly attacks a bait, lure or fly. It also proves its capricious temperament all too often, as saltwater anglers around the world know from tripletail encounters. When spotted finning near buoys or other surface objects, the surface-loving tripletail might turn up its nose at every offering, even live shrimp. When trips do strike, they hit hard, and run and even jump from the water with surprising dexterity. By most standards, tripletail qualify as one of the best eating fish in any ocean. The all-tackle record came from Zululand, South Africa, in 1989; it weighed 42 pounds, 5 ounces.

Favorite of: Capt. Sonny Schindler

Greatest attribute: As a sight-casting target (12.4 out of 15)

Read more about tripletail:


The World’s Top 100 Game Fish

blackfin tuna

Thunnus atlanticus

Photo by Doug Olander; Computer Generated Map for Thunnus atlanticus (blackfin tuna). www.aquamaps.org

SCORE: 54.9 (out of 100 points possible)
See the scoring breakdown

Widespread throughout the temperate and tropical Western Atlantic, this very accessible and aggressive surface-schooling tuna is a favorite of anglers. When thrashing baitfish or chummed into a frenzy, blackfin are great targets for fly-rodders as well as popper enthusiasts. Although considered good eating, the blackfin is not as choice as its larger relative, the yellowfin. However, their dogged fight is, pound for pound, the equal of any tuna. While footballs of five to 10 pounds are often thick, at times they might run two or three times that size. The all-tackle record is a 49-pound, 6-ounce fish caught off Marathon, in the Florida Keys, in 2006.

Greatest attribute: Speed (12.4 out of 15)

Read more about blackfin tuna:


The World’s Top 100 Game Fish


Scomberomorus cavalla

Photo by Doug Olander; Computer Generated Map for Scomberomorus cavalla (king mackerel). www.aquamaps.org

SCORE: 55.4 (out of 100 points possible)
See the scoring breakdown

One of the larger mackerels, the king (widely, just “kingfish”) is an everyman’s coastal game fish, found both in large schools and as solitary individuals, from inlets and just off beaches to open nearshore waters. The species is also a booster of coastal economies, particularly via the monstrous SKA (Southern Kingfish Association) tournament circuit. Common from the mid-Atlantic through the Gulf and Caribbean south to Brazil, this coastal pelagic typically follows seasonal migration routes. Light tackle makes even smaller “snakes” a blast, with their sizzling initial runs. Though they don’t jump when hooked, it’s a thrilling sight to see kings skyrocket high into the air when attacking a lure or bait at the surface. Kings in the 10- to 30-pound range are common, but it takes “smokers” of 40 pounds or more to raise eyebrows. The all-tackle world record is 93 pounds, caught out of San Juan, Puerto Rico, in 1999.

Greatest attribute: Speed (12.5 out of 15)


RED DRUM — #35

The World’s Top 100 Game Fish

red drum

Sciaenops ocellatus

Photo by Doug Olander / Sport Fishing; Computer Generated Map for Sciaenops ocellatus (red drum). www.aquamaps.org

SCORE: 56.1 (out of 100 points possible)
See the scoring breakdown

Being one of the most accessible, available game fish over a very large area (from the westernmost Gulf of Mexico to the mid-Atlantic states) helps account for the tremendous popularity of the red drum (aka redfish) among inshore and nearshore anglers. Redfish are found in a great variety of habitats, from clear flats to muddy bays to Atlantic beaches to the base of structure in more than 200 feet of water offshore. They’ll readily strike bait, lures and flies. Their habit of tailing in shallow water and the schooling of bull reds at times in open water off beaches make them a favorite target of sight-casters. Reds hit hard and run strong, particularly in skinny water. They’ve been given game-fish-only status in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, South Carolina and Texas; in all federal waters, no red drum may be kept by anyone. The all-tackle record weighed 94 pounds, 2 ounces, from North Carolina in 1984.

Favorite of: Morgan Promnitz

Greatest attribute: Sight-casting opportunities (12.5 out of 15



The World’s Top 100 Game Fish


Acipenser transmontanus

Photo by Doug Olander / Sport Fishing; Computer Generated Map for Acipenser transmontanus (white sturgeon). www.aquamaps.org

SCORE: 56.2 (out of 100 possible points)
See the scoring breakdown

Living fossils — it’s a description often attributed to these heavily armored bottom feeders with sharklike heterocercal (asymmetrical) tails. Neither the phrase nor their appearance suggest sturgeon would make a good game fish capable of repeated leaps clear of the water — both when hooked and just free-jumping. White sturgeon are anadromous, and often caught in estuaries such as California’s San Pablo Bay and the lower Columbia River between Oregon and Washington, as well as farther up the Columbia and British Columbia’s Fraser River. Their delicate chin barbels and sensitive tubular mouths make them a challenge to hook, usually on crustaceans or small baitfish. The all-tackle record of 468 pounds came from Benicia, California, in 1983. Soon after, and still today, white sturgeon are protected throughout their range with upper size limits that guarantee the world record won’t be beaten. But white sturgeon grow to at least a reported 1,800 pounds!

Greatest attribute: Stamina (11.5 out of 15)

Read more about white sturgeon:

Fishing for Columbia River Sturgeon


OPAH — #33

The World’s Top 100 Game Fish


Lampris guttatus

Photo by Bill Roecker / fishingvideos.com; Computer Generated Map for Lampris guttatus (opah). www.aquamaps.org

SCORE: 56.5 (out of 100 points possible)
See the scoring breakdown

The opah surely gets top billing as the least-caught fish on this list. While not rare, these solitary and unique predators of the open ocean’s middepths are nowhere abundant: they patrol waters often too deep for anglers. Off California and Baja, speed jigging with heavy metal jigs accounts for some of those caught on rod and reel — always incidentally, usually when albacore, bluefin or yellowfin tuna are the targets. Opah are found worldwide in tropical to temperate waters and are occasionally caught in the Hawaiian Islands, as well as off California and Baja, and often found in markets; their orange flesh is superb eating. The IGFA all-tackle record was caught in 2014 off San Quintin, Baja. It weighed 180 pounds, 12 ounces, but fishbase.org cites the capture (presumably commercially) of an opah just shy of 600 pounds.

Greatest attribute: Stamina (11.5 out of 15)



The World’s Top 100 Game Fish

dogtooth tuna

Gymnosarda unicolor

Photo courtesy Capt. John Pearce; Computer Generated Map for Gymnosarda unicolor (dogtooth tuna). www.aquamaps.org

SCORE: 59.0 (out of 100 points possible)
See the scoring breakdown

There really is no tuna anything like the dogtooth. It’s one of the larger tunas, but unlike yellowfin or bigeye (in fact, the scaleless dogtooth is a species of bonito), it sports a mouthful of daggerlike teeth — and rather than patrolling the high seas in big, predatory schools, the solitary dogtooth prowls slopes and channels through large coral reefs. But it is a tuna and known for its very tunalike endurance when hooked. Dogtooth are found throughout the Indo-Pacific, and readily strike metal speed jigs, baits and trolled lures. The IGFA all-tackle record of 236 pounds, 15 ounces, came from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in 2015.

Favorite of: Nicola Zingarelli

Greatest attribute: Stamina (12.9 out of 15)

Read more about dogtooth tuna:



The World’s Top 100 Game Fish

California yellowtail

Seriola lalandi dorsalis

Photo by Barry Wiggins; Computer Generated Map for Seriola lalandi dorsalis (California yellowtail). www.aquamaps.org

SCORE: 59.2 (out of 100 points possible)
See the scoring breakdown

Mostly geography alone distinguishes the California from the southern yellowtail. In terms of geography, the California subspecies is more limited than most game fish, common only from Southern California south into the Sea of Cortez. The powerful, aggressive jack is a staple of the Southern California fleet, both day boats and long-rangers that find phenomenal fishing along the Pacific coast of Baja where anglers vie for the largest “mossback” yellowtail with live baits and metal jigs (“iron”). Private boaters and kayak anglers tangle locally with yellowtail — considered excellent eating, —along the south coast from spring through fall around structure or kelp. They’re common from 15 to 30 pounds, but the all-tackle world record, from Japan, tipped the scale in 2009 at 109 pounds, 2 ounces.

Greatest attribute: Stamina (12.2 out of 15


The World’s Top 100 Game Fish


Seriola lalandi lalandi

Photo by Alistair McGlashan; Computer Generated Map for Seriola lalandi lalandi (southern yellowtail). www.aquamaps.org

SCORE: 60.7 (out of 100 points possible)

There’s not a lot of difference between southern yellowtail and (the next fish in this list) California yellowtail — which are, in fact, the same species but believed to be different subspecies — except size, slightly. The southern variety grows just a bit larger. It’s also found over a much larger area — Southern Hemisphere oceans, both the Pacific (off New Zealand’s North Island and off southeastern Australia, in particular, where they’re known as yellowtail kingfish or just “kingies”) and Atlantic (off southern Brazil and southwest Africa). It’s a member of the jack family, similar in appearance and toughness to amberjack. Two fish tie for the all-tackle world record of 114 pounds, 10 ounces; both were taken off northern New Zealand, one at White Island and the other out of Tauranga.

Greatest attribute: Stamina (12.8 out of 15)


COBIA — #29

The World’s Top 100 Game Fish


Rachycentron canadum

Photo by Michael Patrick O’Neill / mpostock.com; Computer Generated Map for Rachycentron canadum (cobia). www.aquamaps.org

SCORE: 60.9
See the scoring breakdown

Anglers not intimately familiar with the cobia’s appearance and habits often shout “shark!” when they see one or a group approach a drifting or anchored boat (which cobia very often do, seemingly among the ocean’s more-curious fish species). The resemblance from above is legitimate at a glance, but in fact, cobia are the only species in their own family, unrelated to sharks. Most tropical/warm waters in the world are home to cobia (though oddly, the eastern Pacific is an exception). Tough fighters and delectable eating, cobia are always a welcome addition to any angler’s day. The world record was caught in remote Shark Bay, along the south central coast of Western Australia, and weighed 135 pounds, 9 ounces.

Greatest attribute: A tie — Stamina and as a sight-casting target (both 11.2 out of 15)

Read more about cobia



The World’s Top 100 Game Fish

blacktip shark

Carcharhinus limbatus

Photo by Pat Ford; Computer Generated Map for Carcharhinus limbatus (blacktip shark). www.aquamaps.org

SCORE: 61.1: (out of 100 points possible)
See the scoring

Blacktips are one of the world’s most ubiquitous inshore/nearshore sharks, found around the globe in tropical and temperate waters, in habitats ranging from muddy estuaries to clear coral reefs. They’ll aggressively strike baits, lures and flies, and they make sizzling runs when hooked, often leaping and twisting in the air (as does their close relative, the spinner shark). In areas such as the Florida Keys, blacktips make a popular flats target. Though on the flats they’re usually of modest size, the species can grow large: The all-tackle record, from Malindi Bay in Kenya, weighed 270 pounds, 9 ounces.

Greatest attribute: Stamina (10.6 out of 15)

Read more about blacktip sharks:


The World’s Top 100 Game Fish


Albula vulpes

Photo by Jason Arnold / jasonarnoldphoto.com; Computer Generated Map for Albula vulpes (bonefish). www.aquamaps.org

SCORE: 61.2 (out of 100 points possible)
See the scoring

One of the game fish most coveted as trophies by flats anglers, bonefish are the dragsters of shallow water. At the sting of a hook, they become horizontal missiles, sizzling away on an initial run that lasts far too long and is impossibly fast for a fish of its size. There are several species of bonefish in the world, but the largest is the common bonefish of tropical oceans. There are many outstanding spots in the Caribbean to try for bones, but the Florida Keys remains one of the best bets for big bones. They might move into deeper waters off the flats as well. The IGFA all-tackle record of 19 pounds has held since 1962, when it was caught from the surf off South Africa (though not A. vulpes — another species).t

Favorite of: Mike Mazur, Ed Truter

Greatest attribute: As a sight-casting target (14.6 out of 15)

Read more about bonefish



The World’s Top 100 Game Fish

thresher shark

Alopias spp.

Photo by Jason Arnold / jasonarnoldphoto.com; Computer Generated Map for Alopias spp. (thresher shark). www.aquamaps.org

SCORE: 61.3 (out of 100 points possible)
See the scoring

Many species of pelagic sharks look similar, and some might be easily confused, but never the thresher, with a tail about as long as its body. Several species of threshers are found around the world in warm to cool, temperate waters. Some thresher species feed in the upper water column, while bigeye threshers inhabit the depths. Threshers use their tail to herd and stun prey (and are commonly foul-hooked in the tail). With their small mouth and teeth, threshers are not feared as man-eaters, but feed on small fish. They’re stubborn fighters, capable of uncanny bursts of speed, and can make spectacular leaps into the air. Threshers are known to be one of the better-eating sharks. Regulations vary from region to region; for example, the bigeye thresher is protected in Atlantic waters. The all-tackle world-record thresher was caught out of Bay of Islands, northern New Zealand, in 1983; it weighed 767 pounds, 3 ounces.

Greatest attribute: Stamina (11.9 out of 15)

Read more about thresher sharks:

Black Papuan Snapper — #25

The World’s Top 100 Game Fish

Papuan black snapper (aka black bass).jpg

Lutjanus goldiei

Courtesy Halco Lures

SCORE: 63.4 (out of 100 points possible)

Aficionados of “black bass,” as Papuan black snapper are widely known, often proclaim it the world’s toughest fish. Both its habits and habitat are part of that mystique. The black bass likes to ambush prey in the convoluted confines of downed trees and rugged rocky areas in the current of lower rivers; this powerful, hard-to-stop predator starts its fight amid snags. Adding to its mystique is the species’ limited range: It’s found only in southern Papua New Guinea. The all-tackle world record is 47 pounds, 8 ounces, from Papua New Guinea’s Tauri River in 2015.

Greatest attribute: Fight dynamics (15 out of 20)

Read more about Papuan black bass:



The World’s Top 100 Game Fish


Scomberoides commersonianus

Photo by Herle Hamon; Computer Generated Map for Scomberoides commersonianus (talang queenfish). www.aquamaps.org

SCORE: 63.4 (out of 100 points possible)

The queenfish is one member of the jack/trevally family that has it all, including a great aerial show when hooked, making it an ideal light-tackle opponent. The talang queenfish isn’t found in the Americas but is widely distributed about the Indo-Pacific. Australians value them as black marlin baits. Queenies inhabit lagoons (but avoid low-salinity estuaries) and shallow reefs, preferring clear waters. The world-record talang stands at 39 pounds, 7 ounces from South Africa, caught in 2010.

Greatest attribute: Aerial acrobatics (13.7 out of 15)

Herre’s more about Talang queenfish:


The World’s Top 100 Game Fish

thresher shark

Alopias spp.

Photo by Jason Arnold / jasonarnoldphoto.com; Computer Generated Map for Alopias spp. (thresher shark). www.aquamaps.org

SCORE: 61.3 (out of 100 points possible)
See the scoring

Many species of pelagic sharks look similar, and some might be easily confused, but never the thresher, with a tail about as long as its body. Several species of threshers are found around the world in warm to cool, temperate waters. Some thresher species feed in the upper water column, while bigeye threshers inhabit the depths. Threshers use their tail to herd and stun prey (and are commonly foul-hooked in the tail). With their small mouth and teeth, threshers are not feared as man-eaters, but feed on small fish. They’re stubborn fighters, capable of uncanny bursts of speed, and can make spectacular leaps into the air. Threshers are known to be one of the better-eating sharks. Regulations vary from region to region; for example, the bigeye thresher is protected in Atlantic waters. The all-tackle world-record thresher was caught out of Bay of Islands, northern New Zealand, in 1983; it weighed 767 pounds, 3 ounces.

Greatest attribute: Stamina (11.9 out of 15)

Read more about thresher sharks

Black Papuan Snapper — #25

The World’s Top 100 Game Fish

Papuan black snapper (aka black bass).jpg

Lutjanus goldiei

Courtesy Halco Lures

SCORE: 63.4 (out of 100 points possible)

Aficionados of “black bass,” as Papuan black snapper are widely known, often proclaim it the world’s toughest fish. Both its habits and habitat are part of that mystique. The black bass likes to ambush prey in the convoluted confines of downed trees and rugged rocky areas in the current of lower rivers; this powerful, hard-to-stop predator starts its fight amid snags. Adding to its mystique is the species’ limited range: It’s found only in southern Papua New Guinea. The all-tackle world record is 47 pounds, 8 ounces, from Papua New Guinea’s Tauri River in 2015.

Greatest attribute: Fight dynamics (15 out of 20)

Read more about Papuan black bass:



The World’s Top 100 Game Fish


Scomberoides commersonianus

Photo by Herle Hamon; Computer Generated Map for Scomberoides commersonianus (talang queenfish). www.aquamaps.org

SCORE: 63.4 (out of 100 points possible)

The queenfish is one member of the jack/trevally family that has it all, including a great aerial show when hooked, making it an ideal light-tackle opponent. The talang queenfish isn’t found in the Americas but is widely distributed about the Indo-Pacific. Australians value them as black marlin baits. Queenies inhabit lagoons (but avoid low-salinity estuaries) and shallow reefs, preferring clear waters. The world-record talang stands at 39 pounds, 7 ounces from South Africa, caught in 2010.

Greatest attribute: Aerial acrobatics (13.7 out of 15)

WAHOO — #23

The World’s Top 100 Game Fish


Acanthocybium solandri

Photo by Doug Olander / Sport Fishing, Computer Generated Map for Acanthocybium solandri (wahoo). www.aquamaps.org

SCORE: 63.8 (out of 100 points possible)

Built for speed — one look confirms that description of wahoo: torpedoes with fins. Many anglers believe wahoo to be the fastest fish in the sea — and perhaps size for size they are — but in any case, their first run (particularly if on tackle of appropriate size) is simply smokin’ hot. A testament to their velocity: Some wahoo trollers pull lures at speeds exceeding 15 knots. ‘Hoos are found around the world in tropical/warm seas and may travel in packs. They typically patrol near the surface, from blue water far offshore to the edges of steep rocky shorelines and submarine shelves. Hurricane Bank and other areas off Baja provide great numbers of wahoo to long-range anglers. One of the largest members of the mackerel family, wahoo are esteemed for their white flesh. The all-tackle world record weighing 184 pounds was taken off Cabo San Lucas in 2000.

Greatest attribute: Speed (14.4 out of 15; highest rating of any game fish)

Read more about wahoo:

“12 Wahoo-Fishing Techniques”



The World’s Top 100 Game Fish


Lates calcarifer

Photo by Doug Olander; Computer Generated Map for Lates calcarifer (barramundi). www.aquamaps.org

SCORE: 64.2 (out of 100 points possible)

It’s easy to see the family resemblance of barra to snook. The barramundi is a bit more thick-bodied and lacks the distinctive lateral-line bar. But the two are clearly kissing cousins in the same genus. Barramundi share all the hard-fighting, high-jumping characteristics of snook, and they get considerably larger. They’re also estuary-based ambush predators, hiding around mangroves or rocks in channels to dart out and snatch a live bait or lure. Barra are found around the upper half of Australia, where they’re the No. 1 inshore game fish, and north through much of tropical Asia. Like snook, these popular game fish are highly regarded for the table. Down Under, barramundi have been stocked in freshwater reservoirs, where they often grow to gimungus proportions. In fact, the all-tackle-record barra, weighing 98 pounds, 6 ounces, was pulled from Lake Monduran in Queensland in 2010.

Greatest attribute: Aerial acrobatics (12.4 out of 15)



The World’s Top 100 Game Fish

giant trevally

Caranx ignobilis

Photo by Doug Olander; Computer Generated Map for Caranx ignobilis (giant trevally). www.aquamaps.org

SCORE: 64.2 (out of 100 points possible)

Quick, let’s play word association. I say “giant trevally.” You say — ? If you know much about this species, your immediate response is “Brutal!” or some synonym. One of the largest members of the jack (Carangidae) family, giant trevally (widely known as GT) are quite simply one of toughest fish on rod and reel in the world. Not surprisingly, that challenge attracts anglers far and wide to pit their skills and tackle against big GTs in areas such as Oman, Australia, New Caledonia, the Andaman Islands and Hawaii. GT are common over rugged oceanic reefs throughout the western tropical Pacific and Indian oceans. The frightening power in a GT attack on a popper (which they often demolish before they can be brought to the boat) is unforgettable. Most serious GT enthusiasts use at least 80-pound braid with a locked-down drag to try to stop monsters from powering back over sharp coral reef or bommies. The IGFA world record is an amazing 160 pounds, 7 ounces caught in Japanese waters in 2006.

Favorite of: Capt. Rick Gaffney, Jim Rizzuto, Chris Tan

Greatest attribute: Stamina (13.8 out of 15)

Read more about giant trevally:

“Biggest Trevally Ever Caught?”



The World’s Top 100 Game Fish


Tetrapturus spp.

Photo by Doug Olander / Sport Fishing; Computer Generated Map for Tetrapturus spp. (longbill spearfish, shortbill spearfish). www.aquamaps.org

SCORE: 64.8 (out of 100 points possible)
See the scoring

The IGFA lumps into two categories these smallest of the billfishes: the shortbill and the Atlantic species. The shortbill spearfish inhabits most of the world’s oceans except for the Atlantic and Mediterranean, inhabited by the longbill, Mediterranean and round-scale spearfishes. Spearfish are seldomly targeted because they’re seldomly found in numbers; they’re typically caught incidentally (and often on tackle too heavy to allow much of a fight, though the novelty of releasing a spearfish is reward enough for many anglers). Kona is one exception; there, shortbills can be around in sufficient quantity for directed fishing by anglers for whom catching one is a goal (often to complete an offshore slam). Besides their small size, spearfishes are characterized by bills quite short compared with other billfishes. The all-tackle record shortbill weighed 110 pounds, 3 ounces; it was caught off Sydney, Australia. The all-tackle record for the longbill spearfish, caught in the Atlantic off the Canary Islands, weighed 127 pounds, 13 ounces.

Greatest attribute: Aerial acrobatics (12.8 out of 15)

Read more on spearfish



The World’s Top 100 Game Fish

Pacific snook

Black Snook and White Snook
Centropomus nigrescens and C. viridis

Photo by Doug Olander / Sport Fishing; Computer Generated Map for Centropomus undecimalus (Atlantic snook). www.aquamaps.org

SCORE: 65.0 (out of 100 points possible)
See the scoring

Although six species of Pacific snook inhabit tropical estuaries of the Americas, the two largest — black and white — are of primary interest to anglers. Very similar and not easily distinguished, the species are lumped together by the IGFA for the purposes of records as “Pacific snook.” As with their Atlantic counterparts, a fertile mangrove coast, particularly in lower rivers, offers the best chance to find these elongated predators. In estuaries where local netters fish them hard, Pacific snook populations might be mostly smaller fish; finding lightly fished waters where trophy fish remain can be a challenge. In the eastern Pacific (only), snook range from Baja to Peru (including the Galapagos). The IGFA record Pacific snook is a 59-pound, 8-ounce black caught near Quepos, Costa Rica, in 2014.

Greatest attribute: Aerial acrobatics (12.3 out of 15)



The World’s Top 100 Game Fish

king threadfin

Polydactylus macrochir

Photo by Doug Olander / Sport Fishing; Computer Generated Map for Polydactylus macrochir (king threadfin). www.aquamaps.org

SCORE: 65.7 (out of 100 points possible)
See the scoring

Relatively few anglers enjoy the opportunity to catch king threadfin since they’re geographically limited mostly to northern Australia (where they’re often called salmon) and New Guinea. But those who have tangled with threadies recognize the species as “a tornado on a string once hooked, seemingly going in all directions at once,” as the IGFA species’ description puts it, including out of the water. King threadfin live in muddy, silty intertidal waters, where they use their characteristic long filamentous feelers beneath their throat to sense prey. They readily strike lures and bait. Although king threadfin are reported to reach 100 pounds, the IGFA all-tackle record is more modest, at 27½ pounds, from northwestern Australia in 1966.

Greatest attribute: Aerial acrobatics (12.2 out of 15)



The World’s Top 100 Game Fish

coho salmon

Oncorhynchus kisutch

Photo by Doug Olander / Sport Fishing; Computer Generated Map for Oncorhynchus kisutch (coho salmon). www.aquamaps.org

SCORE: 66.0 (out of 100 points possible) See the scoring

While considerably smaller (typically five to 15 pounds) than chinook, coho (aka silvers) are more abundant and qualify as one of the world’s great light-tackle gamesters. Coho strike hard and run fast, their fight characterized by sudden shifts in direction and wild leaps. Coho tend to feed higher in the water column than chinook. Naturally abundant, many wild runs along North America have been decimated by human development damming and degrading rivers, though hatchery programs have helped augment recreational fisheries. Coho mix with chinook but can be distinguished in several ways, including the lack of spotting on the lower half of the tail. They range from south-central California, throughout the northern Pacific and in the Great Lakes, where they were introduced decades ago. The all-tackle record, in fact, came from the Salmon River in New York in 1989, weighing 33 pounds, 4 ounces.

Favorite of: Joan Vernon

Greatest attribute: Aerial acrobatics (12.9 out of 15)



The World’s Top 100 Game Fish

chinook salmon

Oncorhynchus tshawytscha

Photo by Doug Olander / Sport Fishing; Computer Generated Map for Oncorhynchus tshawytscha (chinook salmon). www.aquamaps.org

SCORE: 66.7 (out of 100 points possible)
See the scoring

One of the world’s most valuable species commercially and recreationally, chinook (aka king) salmon are easily the largest of six Pacific salmon species. They range naturally from central California to northern Alaska (though introduced into the Great Lakes, South America and elsewhere). Their complex life history involves conditions in the rivers of their birth, where they’ll spawn several years later as well as unpredictable ocean conditions, making management difficult at best. Anglers generally troll for a combination of wild and hatchery chinook, using herring, anchovies, plastic squid (Hoochys) and hard plugs, often on downriggers set at 50 to 200 feet. The IGFA all-tackle record came from Alaska’s Kenai River in 1985, weighing 97 pounds, 4 ounces.

Favorite of: Capt. Andy Mezirow (“wily, hard fighting and unpredictable”)

Greatest attribute: Stamina (10.5 out of 15

chinook salmon


The World’s Top 100 Game Fish


Nematistius pectoralis

Photo by Adrian E. Gray; Computer Generated Map for Nematistius pectoralis (roosterfish). www.aquamaps.org

SCORE: 66.8 (out of 100 points possible)
See the scoring

The distinctive high, comblike dorsal fin of a lit-up roosterfish cutting through green inshore waters, hot on the trail of a live bait or popper, is one of sport fishing’s most memorable sights. Roosters are unique to the eastern Pacific, where they’re caught from Baja into northern South America. Once thought to be a species of jack (Carangidae), roosters are in fact in their own family. They do, however, certainly fight with jacklike stubbornness and power — but add to that fight the ability to jump, which further explains their appeal as game fish. Roosters are fish of beaches and rocky shores. They can reach weights in excess of 100 pounds, witness the IGFA record since 1960 of 114 pounds from La Paz, Mexico.

Favorite of: Antonio Varcasia and Raleigh Werking

PERMIT — #14

The World’s Top 100 Game Fish


Trachinotus falcatus

Photo by Doug Olander / Sport Fishing; Computer Generated Map for Trachinotus falcatus (permit). www.aquamaps.org

SCORE: 67.4 (out of 100 points possible)

Widely considered the most elusive and wary trophy among flats fishermen, permit range throughout tropical waters of the western Atlantic. Other species occur elsewhere, notably in tropical Australia, but T. falcatus is the largest. Permit are a favorite target of fly-fishermen; for those using conventional gear, a live crab or a half-crab gets the best results, since crustaceans form a major part of their diet. When hooked in skinny water, they use their speed and flat sides to full advantage. Permit range widely out to shallow reefs and wrecks, where they might gather in large schools, much less spooky and striking far more aggressively than when stalked on the flats. The all-tackle world-record 60-pounder came from Brazil in 2002.

Favorite of: Bill Classon, John Frazier, and Paul Sharman

Greatest attribute: Sight-casting opportunities (13.9 out of 15)

Read more about permit:


The World’s Top 100 Game Fish

yellowfin tuna

Thunnus albacares

Photo courtesy Capt. Josh Temple / primetimeadv.com; Computer Generated Map for Thunnus albacares (yellowfin tuna). www.aquamaps.org

SCORE: 70.2 (out of 100 points possible)
See the scoring

Yellowfin (and the very similar bigeye) tuna are incredibly popular worldwide among sport fishermen, whether running-and-gunning to throw poppers into great breaking schools of 20-pound “footballs,” or fishing kite baits for the world’s largest yellowfin (in the 300- to 400-plus-pound range) off Mexico in the eastern Pacific. The current all-tackle world record is 427 pounds, caught off Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, in 2012.

Favorite of: Dave Bertolozzi, Bill Boyce, Louis Chemi (“It’s always been my favorite”), Jim Harnwell, and Dave Pfeiffer

Greatest attribute: Stamina (14.2 out of 15)

Read more about yellowfin and bigeye:



The World’s Top 100 Game Fish

Atlantic snook

Centropomus undecimalus

Photo by Jason Arnold / jasonarnoldphoto.com; Computer Generated Map for Centropomus nigrescens, C. viridis (Pacific snook). www.aquamaps.org

SCORE: 71,.4 (out of 11 points possible)
[See the scoring](Centropomus undecimalus)

Most of the game fish occupying the top-12 slots in this list are found around much of the world. Not so for snook. That level of interest in fish limited in distribution to a small swath of tropical Atlantic — in shallow coastal waters from southern Florida and Texas south into Central America — says something about the species’ appeal. In fact, there are a half-dozen Atlantic species and as many similar species in the Pacific, but only a few grow large. Snook frequent mangrove estuaries, lagoons and inlets, at times dwelling in fresh water. They explode readily on plugs and flies, and usually put on an exciting aerial display. The underslung jaw and dark lateral-line stripe make snook hard to mistake for anything else. A 53-pound, 10 ounce Atlantic snook has held as the all-tackle world record since 1978, where it was taken in Costa Rica’s Rio Parsimina.

Favorite of: George Large (“They can be caught on light tackle, hit hard, pull drag with strong runs, jump multiple times, are not easy to catch — especially on lures — and taste good.”)

Greatest attribute: Sight-casting opportunities (11.1 out of 15)

Read more about Atlantic snook:



The World’s Top 100 Game Fish

bluefin tuna

Thunnus thynnus

Photo courtesy Capt. Josh Temple / primetimeadv.com; Computer Generated Map for Thunnus thynnus (bluefin tuna). www.aquamaps.org

SCORE: 71.8 (out of 100 points possible)

Only marlin, among all bony fishes, can rival the bluefin tuna as the oceans’ largest predators, and none can rival it in commercial value; large fish can be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars on the Japanese market. The largest bluefin are found in summer and fall off Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, where food is abundant and where these endothermic (warm-blooded) giants are able to thrive in the frigid waters. A winter fishery has also developed off the mid-Atlantic coast for giant bluefin. Management of this precious resource by the international agency charged with doing so has been problematic, and stocks remain severely overfished. A Pacific species of bluefin provides anglers off southern Australia and New Zealand with action for fish almost as large. The world-record bluefin has remained unbroken since 1979, when Ken Fraser caught his 1,496-pounder off Nova Scotia.

Favorite of: Ray Rosher

Greatest attribute: Stamina (14.2 out of 15)

Read more about bluefin:



The World’s Top 100 Game Fish

Atlantic sailfish

Istiophorus platypterus

Photo by Scott Salyers; Computer Generated Map for Istiophorus platypterus (Atlantic sailfish). www.aquamaps.org

SCORE: 77.9 (out of 100 points possible)

Both elegant and iconic, the gorgeous sailfish is an “accessible trophy,” ranging from nearshore to blue waters on both sides of the Atlantic. High-jumping sailfish readily take trolled baits and lures as well as live pitch-baits, and can be teased in to strike large flies. With a widely cited measured speed of more than 68 mph, sailfish are considered the world’s fastest fish. Recent years have seen great numbers of sailfish off southeast Florida, but the largest Atlantic sails prowl the waters off West Africa; the all-tackle world record of 141 pounds, 1 ounce was caught in 1994 off Angola.

Greatest attribute: Aerial acrobatics (18.5 out of 20)

Read more about Atlantic sailfish:



The World’s Top 100 Game Fish

white marlin

Tetrapturus albidus

Photo by Ken Neill: Computer Generated Map for Tetrapturus albidus (white marlin). www.aquamaps.org

SCORE: 78.1 (out of 100 points possible)
See the scoring

This smallest of Atlantic marlins — typically 50 to 70 pounds — is found in all temperate and tropical areas, where it often comes relatively close to shore. Great jumpers (see video below), whites are particularly popular among anglers in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast states. Its rounded fins distinguish it readily from blue marlin — but not from the round-scale spearfish, so closely resembling white marlin that only a few years ago did scientists realize these were separate species (see first item below). The all-tackle record white marlin weighed in at 181 pounds, 14 ounces; like the world-record blue marlin, it was caught off Vitoria, Brazil.

Greatest attribute: Aerial acrobatics (17.8 out of 20)

Read more about white marlin:



The World’s Top 100

Pacific sailfish

Istiophorus platypterus

Photo by Doug Olander / Sport Fishing; Computer Generated Map for Istiophorus platypterus (Pacific sailfish). www.aquamaps.org

SCORE: 78.6 (out of 100 points possible)

Sailfish range throughout warm waters of the Pacific and Indian oceans. I. platypterus tends to run considerably larger in size than does its Atlantic counterpart, with 100-plus-pound fish being run of the mill. The fishery off Guatemala is known to be a leading sailfishery in the world, with some charter boats enjoying dozens of shots in a day. Malaysia’s burgeoning sailfishing in the Sea of China off Kuala Lumpur is another fishery with often-astonishing numbers. The world record has held since 1947: a 221-pounder taken off Ecuador.

Greatest attribute: Aerial acrobatics (18.5 out of 20)

Read more about Pacific sailfish:



The World’s Top 100 Game Fish


Xiphias gladius

Photo by Doug Olander / Sport Fishing; Computer Generated Map for Xiphias gladius (swordfish). www.aquamaps.org

SCORE: 81.1 (out of 100 points possible)
See the scoring

Arguably the most amazing of the ocean’s apex predators, the swordfish — found around the world in tropical and temperate seas — is often seen basking at the surface (especially in the chilly Pacific off Southern California), and at night hunts in the upper reaches of the water column (where it is taken by trolling lures and bait in geographically disparate areas such as New Zealand and Kenya). Yet much of the time, it prowls the extreme depths — black, cold and with limited oxygen — associating during daylight hours with what is known as the deep-scattering layer, typically 1,500 to 1,800 feet down. Here it feeds on squid and other organisms (aided by heaters that keep its large eyes warm and provide visual acuity). In recent years, protection from longliners by the U.S. government has seen a tremendous surge in populations in the Atlantic off the Southeast and in the Gulf of Mexico. Swords are known for their incredible power and endurance on rod and reel. The world-record broadbill, a 1,182-pound monster, came from the waters off Chile in 1953.

Favorite of: Bill Shedd

Greatest attribute: Stamina (14.5 out of 15 — the highest ranking game fish of all for stamina)

Read more about swordfish:



The World’s Top 100 Game Fish


Coryphaena hippurus

Photo by Doug Olander / Sporf Fishing; Computer Generated Map for Coryphaena hippurus (mahimahi). www.aquamaps.org

SCORE: 81.9 (out of 100 points possible)
See the scoring

“The ideal and arguably most popular offshore game fish: a willing striker, sight-casting friendly, determined and often aerobatic fights, stubborn tendency to sound, great table fare, and beautiful. What else could one want?” George Poveromo’s comment nicely explains the universal popularity of mahi among warm-water offshore anglers around the planet. “The perfect game fish,” says Dave Ferrell, past editor of Marlin Magazine. The flashing neon hues of emerald, peacock blue and brilliant yellow among a lit-up school of rapacious dolphinfish around a boat is both common and extraordinary; there’s nothing quite like it in fishing. Mahi eat insatiably and grow at an astounding rate, up to 18 inches in a year. The all-tackle-record 87-pounder was taken off Papagallo, Costa Rica, in 1976.

Favorite of: Jim Hendricks, Doug Olander, George Poveromo, Phil Richmond (“Beautiful, hard fighting, plentiful and tasty. Can’t ask for much more in a game fish.”), and Harry Vernon III

Greatest attribute: Aerial acrobatics (17.5 out of 20)

Read more about mahi


The World’s Top 100 Game Fish

striped marlin

Kajikia audax

Photo by Brandon Cole; Computer Generated Map for Kajikia audax (striped marlin). www.aquamaps.org

SCORE: 83.7 (out of 100 points possible)
See the scoring

A favorite blue-water target throughout the tropical Indian and Pacific oceans, stripes seldom fail to put on a great show once hooked. The waters off southeastern Baja each fall offer some of the best numbers, while New Zealand is the place for monsters — including the 494-pound world record (1986).

Favorite game fish of: Capt. Dan Kipnis (“Great fish to cast to”)

Greatest attribute: Aerial acrobatics (18.0 out of 20)

Read more about striped marlin:



The World’s Top 100 Game Fish

black marlin

Istiompax indica

Photo by Alistair McGlashan; Computer Generated Map for Istiompax indica (black marlin). www.aquamaps.org

SCORE: 85.9 (out of 100 points possible)
See the scoring

While blue marlin inhabit all warm seas, blacks are strictly limited to the Pacific and Indian oceans. And while blue marlin seldom venture from the deep-blue open ocean, blacks are known to prowl shallow banks and near-coastal waters. Australians often use huge live or rigged dead baits to hook grander blacks, which are also taken off Hawaii, Panama and north into Mexican waters, and elsewhere. Along with the blue marlin, this apex predator is one of the ocean’s ultimate trophies. And the ultimate black to date — the all-tackle-record 1,560-pounder — came from Cabo Blanco, Peru, in 1953.

Favorite of: Ray More (“magnificent animals of strength and beauty”), Neil Patrick, and Tom Yust

Greatest attribute: Aerial acrobatics (17.8 out of 20)

Read more about black marli



The World’s Top 100 Game Fish

mako shark

Isurus spp.

Photo by Doug Olander / Sport Fishing; Computer Generated Map for Isurus spp. (mako shark). www.aquamaps.org

SCORE: 86.0 (out of 100 points possible)
See the scoring

Few fish strike more awe in the hearts of blue-water anglers than does the mako. The streamlined predator is widely reputed to be the fastest shark; it can turn on a dime, and most amazing of all is its ability to jump. When hooked, makos may leap high into the air — 20 feet or more — and do so, in hang-time somersaults, repeatedly. Longfin and (more commonly caught by anglers) shortfin makos are circumglobal in distribution — found in all tropical and temperate oceans. Their close cousins, the porbeagle and salmon shark, take up residence in colder waters. Makos are excellent eating, but can be dangerous in a cockpit. The all-tackle record mako was caught in 2001 off Massachusetts, and weighed 1,221 pounds.

Favorite of: Conway Bowman (“I can sight-cast to makos up to 300 pounds within two miles of my front porch — plus, no fish jumps like a shortfin mako!”), Paul Michele and John Raguso

Greatest attribute: Speed (13.1 out of 15)


The World’s Top 100 Game Fish


Megalops atlanticus

Photo by Jason Arnold / jasonarnoldphoto.com; Computer Generated Map for Megalops atlanticus (tarpon). www.aquamaps.org

SCORE: 87.1 (out of 100 points possible)

While most major game-fish species have similar relatives, the Atlantic tarpon is one of a kind. Found on both sides of the Atlantic, the air-breathing chrome-plated tarpon is an amazing jumper and dogged fighter; it strikes lures, flies and bait. It has recently extended its range by migrating into the Pacific through the Panama Canal; tarpon are now caught regularly off Panama and Costa Rica, and appear to be breeding in the Pacific. Enduringly popular fisheries exist around all of South Florida, and for sheer numbers, Costa Rica’s Rio Colorado is hard to beat. The all-tackle world record — a whopping 286 pounds, 9 ounces — was taken off Guinea Bissau, Africa, in 2003.

Favorite of: Dean Butler, Larry Dahlberg, Adrian Gray, Mark Hatter, Dave Lewis (“an amazing game fish that ticks all the boxes, caught in a wide variety of amazing locations”), Skip Nielsen, Jason Schratwieser (“of any size on fly; it’s the best bite in the piscatorial world”), and Chris Woodward

Greatest attribute: Aerial acrobatics (18.8 out of 20 — the highest ranking game fish of all for aerial acrobatics)

Read More About Tarpon:

The World’s Top 100 Game Fish

Blue Marlin

Makaira nigricans

Photo by Adrian E. Gray; Computer Generated Map for Makaira nigricans (blue marlin). www.aquamaps.org

SCORE: 88.9 (out of 100 points possible) See the scoring

Hooking and releasing a large blue marlin qualifies for many anglers as sport fishing’s greatest challenge, thrill and accomplishment. Blues are caught in oceans around the world on live and dead baits and large trolled lures. Seeing the bill of a big blue in a trolling spread and then watching an amazing display of power as hundreds of pounds of angry billfish repeatedly go airborne, make for angling’s most unforgettable sights. Blue marlin populations are under siege primarily by (often illegal) commercial longline fishing, which is a threat to the species. The all-tackle record for the Atlantic is 1,402 pounds, 2 ounces, caught off Vitoria, Brazil, in 1979. For the Pacific: 1,376 pounds, taken off Kona, Hawaii, in 1982.

Favorite of: Capt. Antonio Amaral, Capt. Eduardo Baumeier, Dave Ferrell, Ken Neill, and John Pearce

Greatest attribute: Aerial acrobatics (18.7 out of 20)

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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.


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


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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Blue Marlin Biology

Blue Marlin, unlocking the evolutionary secrets of an apex predator.

Most of us are somewhere between infatuated and obsessed with blue marlin, but unless you’re a billfish scientist, you probably don’t understand how these lightning-fast finely honed eating machines are able to swim thousands of miles, populate the vast tropical and subtropical oceans of the entire world, and detect and chase down the fastest, most elusive prey species — and to have done it successfully for literally millions of years. The short answer is incredibly engineered anatomy and physiology.

While all top-level fish hunters realize that detailed knowledge about one’s quarry is the key to finding it, getting the bites and converting them into captures, most lack exposure to many of the cutting-edge scientific advances that can give them an edge. I recently reviewed these during the course of writing a chapter about blue marlin biology and ecology for Capt. Steve Campbell’s outstanding book, Blue Marlin Magic. I was fortunate to interview and work with a number of the top scientists in the field, and the information they graciously shared blew me away.

Blue Marlin Biology

The moment of truth, as a blue marlin is released at the boat. These fish have evolved over millions of years to become one of the ocean’s apex predators.

Austin Coit

The Billfish Evolutionary Tree
Professor John Graves, of Virginia Institute of Marine Science, shared with me results of DNA and morphological analyses he conducted with colleagues. Some of the billfish evolutionary tree we would all have guessed correctly — such as white and striped marlin being closely related, as are the four species of spearfishes. All billfish — marlin, spearfishes and sailfish — belong to the family Istiophoridae, with broadbill swordfish the sole species of the offshoot family Xiphiidae. Now, which billfish species would you guess is the closest genetic relative of blue marlin? I’d have guessed black marlin, but the correct answer is actually sailfish.

My next surprise came in reviewing just how long blues have been around. The branch of the billfish evolutionary tree we know as a blue marlin was sufficiently perfect that they are the most common billfish identified in fossil records dating to the late Miocene epoch. This means they were dominating their environment, worldwide, more than 12 million years ago. Sea levels were much higher than they are today. These fossils have been found scattered in locations as varied as Italy, Virginia, North Carolina, California and Mexico. To put this in perspective, we hadn’t even evolved yet — the closest things to humans roaming the earth were some humanoid apes. So the next time you feel humbled by a lit-up blue crashing your spread, you have every reason to be: They’ve been around for a very long time.

Blue Marlin Biology

The gills of a blue marlin provide oxygen utilizing ram-jet ventilation. It is an incredibly efficient system for long-term endurance as well as for short, speedy bursts.

Will Drost

Satellite Tagging and Open-Ocean Behavior
Research scientist Michael Musyl provided a fascinating look at the incredible capabilities we are learning about blue marlin through pop-up satellite archival tags. Everything these creatures do is finely tuned, and the more we understand, the better we can adapt our techniques to encounter them more often. The continuous data produced by tagged individuals tells us their position, depth and ambient water temperature over considerable periods of time. Interestingly, some of this data only serves to confirm what far-flung artisanal fishermen independently figured out a long time ago. By the time Ernest Hemingway wrote The Old Man and the Sea, he was aware that the old Cuban hand-liners would set their baits deep — 300 to 800 feet — and catch blue marlin as well as big yellowfin and bigeye tuna. Meanwhile, Polynesian hand-liners were doing exactly the same thing, using rounded volcanic stones and a special slipknot to sink flying fish and other baits, in which a sharp tug on the line releases the weight. Modern-day swordfish and tuna longliners catch large numbers of blues by fishing dead natural baits much deeper than sport anglers. PSAT results tell us why, and suggest options for thinking outside the box.

Blue Marlin Biology

[A] Eyes: Proportionate to their body size, blue marlin have the largest eyes of any billfish species, comparable to the eyes of a swordfish. Blue marlin also have the ability to heat their eyes using special cells, further increasing their visual acuity even in low-light conditions. [B] Bill: Thought to decrease hydrodynamic drag as well as provide improved feeding capability by stunning its prey, a marlin’s bill is covered with millions of rough denticles. [C] Inner Ear: A blue marlin’s tiny ear bones, or otoliths, can detect sound from long ranges and in a variety of wavelengths. Marlin have exceptional hearing. [D] Lateral Line: The fish’s lateral line uses sensory hair cells to trigger nerve responses and function as hydrodynamic receptors of low-frequency wavelengths emitted within two body lengths of the marlin. This allows them to sense prey and predators at close ranges, even in near-total darkness. [E] Gills: Blue marlin use ram-jet ventilation, pushing seawater past millions of tiny leaflike structures stacked along each gill filament to maximize oxygen extraction. The efficiency of this arrangement is unequalled in the animal kingdom. [F] Jaw: A predentary bone joins the tips of the two lower jawbones, allowing the jaws to open much wider than usually possible without coming apart. This allows blue marlin to consume very large prey, weighing as much as 10 percent of the marlin’s own body weight. [G] Dorsal, Pectoral and Pelvic Fins: With grooves and depressions along the fish’s body, a blue marlin can completely retract these fins for a more streamlined shape as needed. When extended, they give the fish incredible maneuverability. [H] Brain: A huge optic center processes information from the eyes, giving blue marlin excellent vision. They essentially see in black and white as they look down, but in shades of color as they look up toward the ocean’s surface. [I] Tail: A blue marlin’s extended tail lobes can reach water that is undisturbed by the passage of the fish’s body, making them extremely efficient swimmers.

Craig Smith

We now know that blue marlin spend much of their time easing along at 1 to 3 knots in warm, turbulence-mixed water above the thermocline, within a temperature range of 72 to 88 degrees, preferring a range between 75 and 81 degrees. However, during the daytime, they exhibit what Musyl calls a “W-pattern,” frequently diving to depths between 500 and 650 feet, and sometimes as deep as 2,600 feet. Stomach-content analyses show these fish are feeding on squid and deep­water fishes (“stuffing themselves” might be a better description), then surfacing to repay oxygen debts and warm up their muscles. Are island hand-liners and industrial longliners catching blues that are on their way down or perhaps swimming back up from these dives? Are there times and locations where large numbers of blue marlin are present but mostly feeding down near the thermocline? Would sport-fishing operations be far more effective drifting deep baits or presenting something completely different and yet-to-be-designed in the deep, such as large, scented soft plastics? Sometimes research raises more questions than it answers.

Recently, I was offshore of Islamorada, Florida Keys, out near the continental shelf drop-off, aboard my 20-foot SeaCraft. The sea was mirror-calm, and I spotted the dorsal and tapered tail lobe of a 250-pound-or-so blue marlin, motionless and flushed nearly black. We eased over and swam a schoolie mahimahi in front of the fish, which slowly sank out of sight in response. We circled, dropped live and dead baits: nothing. I wonder if it had just surfaced from a deep, cold dive, stuffed with prey, muscles oxygen-deprived, chilled to the bone, just trying to soak in some warm sun. I could almost hear the marlin say, “Are you kidding me?”

Blue Marlin Biology

A marlin’s proportionally enormous eye is heated by special cells in the brain, allowing the fish to process images very rapidly, even in low-light conditions.

Scott Kerrigan / www.aquapaparazzi.com

The Eyes and Ears Have It
Imagine a blue marlin swimming in the cold, inky darkness. How do they effectively sense prey? For one thing, blue marlin have the biggest eyes in the billfish family, comparable to the enormous eyes of broadbill swordfish. Eye size is proportional to the capacity to gather light and other visual information. In addition, blues, like other marlin, swordfish and some sharks, have the ability to heat their brains and eyes using a counter-current exchange method and special warmth-producing cells contained in tissue located at the base of the cranium. The ability to process “frames per second” is proportional to heat, which gives these predators a huge advantage over schools of deeper-dwelling, slower-reacting prey animals that lack this heater organ.

Two other sensory apparatus also aid feeding capabilities: the inner ear and the lateral line system. The inner ear includes tiny otolith bones, which sense linear accelerations like sound waves, gravitational forces and body motion, and a canal system, which responds to angular accelerations of the head. The combination confers the ability to hear and also to orient in space. A marlin’s lateral line system, like the inner ear canals, operates by using sensory hair cells that trigger a nerve signal to the brain. These channels containing them run in networks down the sides of the body, and interestingly, the pattern of the network differs between Atlantic and Indo-Pacific blue marlin populations. They function as hydrodynamic receptors of low-frequency wavelengths from 10 to 200 Hertz being emitted within two body lengths of the marlin, which could come from prey, predators or even inanimate objects such as a fishing lure. It is highly likely that blues use their lateral line system to assist in close-range tracking and attacking of prey or lures. The inner ear system, on the other hand, detects sensations from much greater distances, such as the harmonic patterns in hulls and diesel engines, and sound-making knocks or rattles from a lure.

Blue Marlin Biology

The fish’s lateral line allows it to detect small vibrations at close distances. A marlin can actually feel a dredge moving through the water.

Doug Perrine

Long-Range Marlin Migrations
Both PSAT and conventional tags have provided incredible advances in our knowledge of movements and migrations of blue marlin, and anatomy and physiology studies tell us how they do it. Worldwide, cyclic movement patterns occur in sync with migratory food sources or to prime feeding areas, followed by travel to spawning areas in which prey items may be relatively scarce. It’s interesting that some individuals make large-scale movements, while others might hang around a given area for extended periods of time. One blue tagged off of Delaware was recaptured in the Indian Ocean, near Mauritius. Another moved from the Tasman Sea off southeastern Australia to the Indian Ocean off southeastern India. Another individual tagged near Puerto Rico had its PSAT pop up 120 days later, 4,776 miles away, offshore of Angola, Africa. Others swam from Hawaii to Mexico, and to French Polynesia. Some blues circulate around the Western Pacific, and others between the Coral Sea off of northeastern Australia to the South Pacific islands. And then there are the homebodies, PSAT-tagged blue marlin that stayed in limited areas, such as Hawaii, the Gulf of Mexico, the Kuroshio Current system and the Caribbean Basin, for extended time periods.

What are the secrets that enable these incredible fish to accomplish all of this? Biologist Nick Wegner explained to me that seawater is far more viscous and oxygen-poor than air. Blues utilize ram-jet ventilation of seawater entering the mouth and flowing aft through the millions of tiny, leaflike structures called lamellae stacked in rows along each gill filament. Blood pumps counter-current (or forward, opposite to the water flow) through these highly vascularized structures to maximize oxygen extraction. The efficiency of this arrangement is unequaled in the animal kingdom.

Blue marlin anatomy contributes enormously both to efficient distance swimming and to burst speeds as high as 72 mph. Elongated tail lobes reach undisturbed water beyond the turbulence created by the body. The bill may provide a hydrodynamic advantage, and certainly, the grooves and depressions for folding the dorsal, pectoral and pelvic fins against the marlin’s body help significantly. I can remember so many times gazing down from the tuna tower of assorted boats I was captaining and marveling at the effortless swimming motion of that fusiform body, head relatively motionless as the scythe-like tail swept the body forward. Forty miles a day for these fish on a transoceanic journey? No problem. Explosive bursts exceeding highway speed limits? Easy.

Blue Marlin Biology

Blue marlin are ambush predators, often appearing suddenly from the white water to crash a teaser, lure or bait.

Austin Coit

Marlin Feeding Behavior
We know from assorted studies that blue marlin are flexible, opportunistic feeders. Stomach analyses from around the world often indicate that blues have been feeding on primarily a single species, whatever they are following, or timing their migrations with which to coincide. Documented examples include chub mackerel off southern Portugal, skipjack tuna off southwestern Japan and bullet tuna off the Pacific coast of Mexico. However, the presence of other species indicates flexibility and opportunism, the marlin equivalent of, “Hey, we might be here to eat skipjack and smaller yellowfin, but if we run into a cloud of something else, we won’t turn it down.” Hence, we often find individuals packed with tiny filefish, puffers or triggerfish, or loaded up with deepwater fishes and squid.

Blue Marlin Biology

A powerful tail gives the fish plenty of horsepower for dazzling aerial displays as a pair of remoras hangs on for the ride.

Jessica Haydahl Richardson

I experienced the other end of the scale working as a guide for Nomad Sportfishing, a seaplane fly-in mothership operation in northeastern Australia, where we put to good use the scientific fact that blue and black marlin have the jawbone adaptations and stomach elasticity and size to consume prey up to 10 percent of their body weight. We targeted school yellowfin, narrow-barred mackerel, and dogtooth tuna from 8 to 50 pounds for both live- and dead-rigged baits, and did not shy away from baits on the larger end of the scale. We regularly slow-trolled live yellowfin weighing 40 pounds and more, and had them slammed by huge fish. We also did things like drill longitudinal holes through full-size Boone Lu Lu teasers and rig them with 400-pound stainless-steel cable and a 12/0 single Mustad 7692 to form what was in effect a giant fat version of a cedar plug. They got crushed even by smaller blues, particularly around the sunken reefs and atolls out in the Coral Sea, such as Kenn, Wreck and Frederick reefs. And, of course, we all know how much those big Hawaiian blues like shortbill spearfis

How do they do it? One key element is a cap, called the predentary bone, that joins the tips of the two lower jawbones. Unique to billfish, this bone allows the jaws to open much wider than otherwise possible without coming apart. We observed big marlin flashing in and attacking whole live tuna, open-mouthed, like predators without bills. The hits were so hard that the bait would have to be stunned just from contact with the jaws. Nonetheless, there were also instances of marlin firing in and drilling the baits in the head with their bills. Campbell actually has a video of one such incident that occurred in Tonga.

Blue Marlin Biology

From below, a marlin would see these rigged ballyhoo in shades of violet, blue and green.

Austin Coit

Color Schemes and Vision
Scientist Kerstin Fritsches, a leading authority on vision in billfish, enlightened me about key aspects of the way blue marlin see their world. The ability to detect, track and capture often very fast and elusive prey items contributes heavily to their evolutionary success. Blue marlin have eye muscles essentially identical to those of humans, which allow them to swivel and focus multidirectionally, yet their eyes are located on the sides of their head, so their vision is less binocular. They track items more often one eye at a time, and they possess high flicker fusion frequency, which means they can process a very fast rate of frames per second.

Perception of specific different colors requires the possession of a pigment, housed in a rod or cone, which is stimulated by the specific wavelength of the color, and this signal transmits to the giant optic lobes of the marlin brain. This has all been examined and tested with fresh eyes from specimens brought to the dock. The bottom line is that blue marlin see essentially in black and white with the dorsal portion of the retina (the portion that looks down, into the darkened depths), and they can see as color mostly shades of violet, blue and green with the ventral part of the retina (the part that looks up into the sunlit layers). Other fish, such as freshwater trout, can see the full color spectrum in a manner similar to humans. This means a blue marlin would see red as black, and various other colors as perhaps shades of gray. They still see them as different shades, but not in the way we humans do. Remember that

they are perfection incarnate in their environment, so whatever they see, and however they see it, is the pinnacle of millions of years of evolution.

About the Author: Capt. Scott Bannerot has worked in professional fishing since 1976. He earned his Coast Guard captain’s license in 1982 and a Ph.D. in marine biology from the University of Miami in 1984, and has worked as a charter captain, author and scientist in the Caribbean, Central America, South Pacific and Australia, with home base always in Islamorada in the Florida Keys.

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The Science of Offshore Fishing

Effective management of offshore fisheries helps pelagic species become hard-fighting machines

Rather than droning on about stock-assessment updates, I’d like to discuss what drives anglers to ensure that pelagic species like tuna, wahoo and billfish are properly managed. Hopefully most folks realize that these creatures need to be conserved because they have a natural role in pelagic ecosystems as top-level predators. Anglers, however, are likely to have their own reasons to make sure there is an ample supply of these critters.

All of the aforementioned species share similar characteristics that make them endearing to recreational anglers. Most are aesthetically pleasing to the eye, even beautiful, and a few grow to colossal sizes. Some, in the case of tunas and wahoo, make for some of the best table fare that the ocean can offer. But there is one defining feature that really makes anglers love these fish: They are high-performance animals that pull like hell on the end of the line. The thrill of a big tuna, wahoo or marlin effortlessly pulling drag from a reel is one that is hard to beat.

These species’ capacity for speed and stamina is derived from unique adaptations evolved over the millennia that are truly fascinating. Tunas, for example, have a muscular composition that sets them apart from the rest of the pack and makes them masters of both speed and stamina. Virtually all fish possess a combination of fast- and slow-twitch muscle. Fast-twitch, or white muscle, as the name implies, is designed for burst speed. However, its white appearance means that it is not highly vascularized. As a result, white muscle can fatigue quickly and doesn’t afford much in the way of stamina.

Stop Illegal Fishing in Costa Rica

Slow-twitch muscle, which tuna have a lot of, is red because it is highly vascularized and well-­oxygenated, so it provides the necessary stamina for extended cruising — or in the case of a big tuna, thoroughly beating you up, whether you’re fighting one in the chair or standing up. The unique positioning of red muscle within white muscle, along with an amazing countercurrent vascular system, allows tunas such as bluefin the ability to generate and retain heat, so their body temperatures can be significantly higher than the surrounding ambient water temperatures. Keeping their eyes, brain and muscles warm gives these fish a performance edge in colder waters.

Pelagic species don’t lead ­sedentary lives; they derive oxygen from the water through ram ventilation, where the act of swimming actively moves water over their gills. As such, gill adaptations are critical for supplying oxygen to brain and muscle. Tunas have the largest gill surface area relative to size, with billfish, wahoo and the rest of the mackerels right behind with more surface area than virtually any other fish. Tuna’s individual gill filaments are also uniquely shaped to allow them to be tightly packed without collapsing during high-speed swimming to maximize surface area and oxygen exchange.

More Conservation News

Billfish possess unique spinal ­adaptations that benefit their energetic lifestyle and acrobatic tendencies. They have highly modified neural and hemal spines that overlap the ­intervertebral joints and interlock with fibrous connective tissues. This particular vertebral morphology is thought to act like a spring, which transmits force and power to the tail. These spinal adaptations are also thought to guard against shearing and compression of the intervertebral joints during bending, which also might explain how marlin can display such wild acrobatic gyrations without throwing out their backs.

This is just a brief glimpse into what makes these species some of the world’s most supremely engineered fish. The adaptations make them the game fish that they are, but it’s important to note that it can take millions of years of evolution to gain these refinements. That is why it is critical that we do all we can to ensure that these species are properly managed and conserved.

Article from Marlin Magazine

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Blue Marlin

Costa Rica Fishing Species – Pacific Blue Marlin

FECOP  Costa Rica Fishing Species

Pacific Blue Marlin

Pacific Blue Marlin

WHERE FOUND IN COSTA RICA: Marlin can be found all along Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast. They are a pelagic and migratory species which means they live near the surface in deep, off-shore waters. They typically are found in warmer tropical waters between 70-85 degrees, which Costa Rica has year round.

Marlin Time in Costa Rica: Marlin can be and have been caught year round in Costa Rica. Historically, the best months for blue marlin in the Southern and Central Pacific regions of Costa Rica (Osa Peninsula, Quepos, Jaco) are November through January. Most years there is usually a ‘second run’ of marlin around June and July which may include an increase in black and striped marlin mixed in with the blues. Marlin are also found in the northwestern part of Costa Rica – Guanacaste from May to September when the bite then moves north along the coast with the drier weather and warmer waters.

Marlin Facts – Did You Know:

  • Sometimes referred to as “The Lady in Blue”
  • Average life span: 27 years (females); 18 years (males)
  • It is illegal to take a sailfish or marlin out of the water for photos in Costa Rica
  • Marlins are “Catch and Release” ONLY fish – Learn why it is against the law to remove these fish from the water in Costa Rica
  • Best time of year to catch a Pacific blue marlin in Costa Rica – Year round peaking in Nov – January and again in April – times vary depending on which part of Costa Rica you are fishing – contact your Costa Rica guide or lodge for details.
  • The Blue marlin is very large fish. Females are 3 to 4 times larger than males. Larger specimens can reach 14 feet in length and weight of almost 2000 pounds. On average, blue marlin usually reaches 11 feet in length and between 200 and 400 pounds in weight.
  • Dorsal (back) side of blue marlin is dark blue while the belly is silver white in color.Blue marlin has elongated body, long tail, pronounced dorsal fin and sharp, spear-shaped upper jaw.
  • Blue marlin uses its spear-shaped jaw to stun, corral and catch food. It feeds on crustaceans, fish (mackerel, tuna), dorado and squids.
  • During the hunt, blue marlin will pass through a dense school of fish and inflict injuries with its spear. Dead or injured fish will float around and blue marlin will easily scoop them afterwards.
  • Blue marlin relies on the eye sight to find food. It hunts during the day (diurnal animal).
  • Blue marlin has 24 vertebrae which allow fast movement through the water. It reaches the speed of 60 miles per hour.
  • Because of their large size and sharp spear-shaped jaw, blue marlins have only couple of predators: white sharks, mako sharks and humans.
  • Blue marlins are very active and strong animals. They like to leap out of the water. Also, they will show powerful and acrobatic movements while trying to release of the hook.
  • Blue marlins are solitary creatures. Sometimes they swim in pairs. Rarely, they will gather in larger groups (schools).
    Blue marlins are migratory species. They will move from one location to another to escape low water temperatures (they prefer life in warm waters).
  • Mating season of blue marlins takes place late in the summer or early in the autumn.
  • Females become sexually mature when they gain the weight of 265 pounds. Males reach sexual maturity at the age of three years.
  • Females are able to spawn 4 times per single mating season, releasing up to 7 million eggs. Only small percent of released eggs (less than 1%) will survive until the adulthood.
  • Majority of eggs will be eaten by other marine creatures.
  • Current Pacific World Record:1,376 – Females can reportedly grow to 1,998lbs
  • Common Name: Blue Marlin
  • Size: Up to 14 ft
Pacific Blue Marlin

Photo by Pat Ford

On any day of the year it is possible to release (catch and release species by law in Costa Rica) a Pacific blue marlin in Costa Rica (Pacific) but recorded releases are historically highest from November to January when the big dorado run is on. There is also a small peak in April as sailfish numbers drop. July through September there is a better chance at a black or striped marlin mixed in with the blues in Costa Rica

More About the Pacific Blue Marlin

From IGFA Fish Database

IGFA FISH DATABASEThis pelagic and migratory species occurs in tropical and warm temperate oceanic waters. In the Atlantic Ocean it is found from 45°N to 35°S, and in the Pacific Ocean from 48°N to 48°S. It is less abundant in the eastern portions of both oceans. In the Indian Ocean it occurs around Ceylon, Mauritius, and off the east coast of Africa. In the northern Gulf of Mexico its movements seem to be associated with the so called Loop Current, an extension of the Caribbean Current. Seasonal concentrations occur in the southwest Atlantic (5°-30°S) from January to April; in the northwest Atlantic (10°-35°N) from June to October; in the western and central North Pacific (2°-24°N) from May to October; in the equatorial Pacific (10°N-10°S) in April and November; and in the Indian Ocean (0°-13°S) from April to October.

A Japanese report indicates that the blue marlin is the largest of the istiophorid fishes. It apparently grows larger in the Pacific. All giant marlins are females, and male blue marlin rarely exceed 300 lb (136 kg). The pectoral fins of blue marlin are never completely rigid, even after death, and can be folded completely flat against the sides except in the largest specimens. The dorsal fin is high and pointed anteriorly (rather than rounded) and its greatest height is less than the greatest body depth. The anal fin is relatively large and it too is pointed. Juveniles may not share all the characteristics listed above, but the peculiar lateral line system is usually visible in small specimens. In adults it is rarely visible unless the scales or skin are removed. The vent is just in front of the anal fin, as it is in all billfish except the spearfish. The back is cobalt blue and the flanks and belly are silvery white. There may be light blue or lavender vertical stripes on the sides, but these usually fade away soon after death, and they are never as obvious as those of the striped marlin. There are no spots on the fins.

They are known to feed on squid and pelagic fishes, including tuna and mackerel. A powerful, aggressive fighter, they run hard and long, sound deep, and leap high into the air in a seemingly inexhaustible display of strength. Fishing methods include trolling large whole baits such as bonito, dorado, mullet, mackerel, ballyhoo, flying fish and squid as well as various types of artificial lures and sometimes strip baits.

Photo(s) by Pat Ford

Some taxonomists believe that the Atlantic and Pacific blue marlins are closely related but separate species. They apply the scientific name Makaira nigricans, Lacepede, 1892, to the Atlantic species only and the name Makaira mazara (Jordan & Snyder, 1901) to the Pacific and Indian Ocean species. Others treat the two populations as subspecies, Makaira nigricans nigricans and Makaira nigricans mazara

Black or Blue? – It is hard for most captains and anglers to tell the difference at times unless they are close to the fish. At closer range, one can be quickly and positively identified since it is the only marlin that have rigid pectoral fins that cannot be folded flat up against the body without breaking the joints. It is also set apart by the airfoil shape of the pectoral fins and by its very short ventral fins, which almost never exceed 12 in (30 cm) in length, regardless of the size of the fish. The first dorsal fin is proportionately the lowest of any billfish, usually less than 50 percent of the body depth. The body is laterally compressed, rather than rounded; much more so than in similar sized blue marlin.

World Record Details from Marlin Magazine:

World Record Blue MarlinNote: It is against the law in most countries to remove billfish from the water for photos – These are catch and release fish ONLY – To learn more read Leave the fish in the water, why your dream photo isn’t worth it – by Todd Staley

On May 31, 1982, angler Jay de Beaubien caught the biggest Pacific blue marlin ever recorded by the International Game Fish Association while he was fishing aboard No Problem, a 43-foot Merritt captained by Bobby Brown. The bite took place at approximately 1 p.m. while they were trolling a silver and blue Kita lure off Kona, Hawaii. According to the angler’s account, “All hell broke loose with that first run.” Within minutes, the fish had nearly emptied the spool. However, despite several strong runs and the immense size of the fish, de Beaubien and the crew had the fish boat-side in just 40 minutes. Not long after, the crew officially weighed the 1,376-pound blue marlin, bringing the All-Tackle record back to Kona where it has remained ever since. This photo is for historical purposes only, it is illegal to remove billfish from the water.


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