• Published:May 20, 2013
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The best bites are the ones you work for. The ones you earn.

Let's say you've been trolling all day. You've got a full spread of lures and teasers splashing and bubbling away and you're in your favorite spot where you know the marlin live. Your one crew member that is still awake eyeballs you with a look of distain but just as you think about pointing the bow for home, all hell breaks loose.

"There he is -- on the left!"
Finally a lit-up marlin enters the pattern and begins to terrorize your plastic offerings. He appears on the short rigger at first then pops up behind the long flat. He looks like he is going to eat but then spots the short flat line and checks it out as well. He takes a half-ass swipe at that before disappearing.
Just as your heart sinks, the marlin piles on the long rigger and you are on. Once again the adrenalin is rushing through your veins as the crew clear the gear. As the last lure comes over the transom and you are about to give chase the marlin jumps high into the air in head shaking fury and you watch your lure go flying and the line go slack. He's gone!

Marlin fishing is indeed an emotional roller coaster and if the above scenario sounds familiar and you reckon there has to be a better way to convert more bites into captures then read on, because there is.

Enter the bait and switch. Bait-and-switch fishing is not new and there have been many articles written about the subject. Like most techniques, however, everyone has their own style. Over the last several years I have continually improved my systems through trial and error to the point where I can guarantee you will catch more billfish following the methods below than you will trolling a traditional lure pattern.

The first thing you and all your crew need to get right if you want to successfully bait and switch for billfish is your mindset. If your whole crew isn't committed to the procedure or wants to sleep half the day then you might as well stop reading right now.
"Experience has taught me that blue marlin prefer dead baits and striped marlin prefer livies."
Marlin fishing is a physiological game. And putting lures out without hooks can mess with some people's heads if they don't believe in the process. Confidence plays a vital role in marlin fishing so being confident in your technique is lesson number one.

The standard troll pattern for most marlin boats is four or five lines and maybe one or two teasers. This more is better mentality is one of the first things you will need to remove from your mindset if you are going to be successful at bait and switch.

Billfish are naturally inquisitive and they will see your boat's wake long before they see your lures. So it doesn't matter if you have five lures out or one, they will still come and have a look.

The big learning curve regarding bait-and-switch for me came while riding along with some of the world's best fly-fishing crews. These guys only ever towed two teasers and consistently raised just as many billfish as boats fishing nearby with full spreads.

I have spent many days at sea riding along with Dean Butler chasing world record billfish for renowned fly-angler Tom Evans. Dean is a master when it comes to teasing billfish I was able to convert his techniques to suit conventional bait-and-switch fishing methods.

My standard pattern consists of just two lures run from the outriggers but in fairly short. They obviously have no hooks in them and are run on short, heavy leaders. The reason for the short leader is it must be able to be wound out of the water. It is no good if your snap swivel is in the rod tip and the lure is still in the water.

As far as lures go, just pick your two favorites that you catch the most fish on. I favor soft head lures for bait-and-switch and have been known to use a belly strip of mahimahi or tuna inside the lures for a bit of extra flavor.

If I am towing two teasers I like to have four people on the boat. One person on each teaser, one angler, and of course the captain. If you only have three people onboard then the angler can pitch the bait after he has cleared a teaser. If you have a helm teaser reel the captain can run a third teaser but just make sure he can retrieve it in a hurry while calling the shots on what the fish is doing.

Having a boat with a fly-bridge or tower for extra vision is helpful but not essential. I regularly fish from a 24-foot Kevlacat with a single level deck and helm and we catch plenty using this method.


Unlike fly-fishing there is no need to run your teasers from specialized teaser rods. Any hefty rod and reel with plenty of drag will do the job as a teaser rod for conventional bait-and-switch fishing. I use two 80-pound chair rods and leave them in the covering boards. That way anyone can wind in a teaser. Just make sure the outfit is strong enough to pull the teaser away from the big fish you are targeting.

The next thing to decide is what line class you are going to fish and whether you will pitch live or dead bait. The beauty of bait-and-switch is you can have several outfits baited and ready to go so you can match the line class to the size of the fish raised. For this reason, world-record hunters almost always use bait-and-switch techniques when targeting billfish records.

Obviously it takes a bit of experience to call the size of the fish as he is eating the teaser but you can certainly tell the difference between a 100-pounder and a 600-pounder and can pitch an appropriate line class.

In my home waters in Australia, we have two distinct marlin fisheries, which we differentiate as "light tackle" and "heavy tackle." We catch our juvenile black marlin and sailfish on the light tackle grounds inshore and we generally pitch live yellowtail or slimey mackerel on 16-pound line class.

The heavy tackle fishery is located on or beyond the continental shelf where blue marlin are the target species with the odd striped marlin encounter as well. On the heavy tackle fishing grounds, we use dead baits rigged on a 50-pound outfit for blues under 400 pounds and an 80-pound outfit for anything bigger. We also have a live bait rigged on a 30-pound outfit in case we raise a striped marline.

Experience has taught me that blue marlin prefer dead baits and striped marlin prefer livies.

The techniques don't really change between light tackle and heavy tackle but they do change between live bait and dead bait.

Make sure to check back for part two of David Granville's Billfish Bait and Switch series next week. In the second instalment, the author goes into the various differences between using live bait and dead bait, as well as all of the tricks an angler needs to know to improve their hookup percentage.