• Published:May 6, 2013
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There's white marlin lurking off the south side of Cape Cod.

You might not think of New England as a marlin fishery, but the bite can go off in just 20 fathoms of water in the right conditions.
The quantity of fish varies from season to season because of oceanographic occurrences that are prerequisites to push the white marlin into the shallow, cool waters. The engine that drives the fishery is a sustained southwest wind that pushes warm water into the pocket created by the islands and Nantucket Shoals. The bait follows the warm water along with white marlin or "skillies" as we call them in New England.

The cold, nutrient-rich waters falling off the shoals creates an upwelling and a wall of cold water. The thermocline rises higher and higher in the water column until there is nothing but cold water. The white marlin move up to the surface when they encounter this cold water, and they can be found tailing.

The ideal times to find whites begins in late July and lasts till September when sustained days of southwesterly winds set the stage. By this time, the wind has driven the warm-water eddies in from the 100-fathom curve of the canyons. If the water is relatively cold all the way out to 100 fathoms you won't find white marlin in the shallow water. But when those warm waters push in, the fish will show.

Using a Sea-Surface Temperature chart of the Northeast such as the ones found right here on FishTrack.com, you can track the warm water and get a good idea if the marlin will be in the shallower water. The beauty of these tools is you can read the offshore water temperatures without ever leaving the dock.


There are many spots along the 20 and 30 fathom curves that fisherman target. Most are primarily known for shark fishing and school bluefin tuna but these same spots will hold whites. To the east, just off Nantucket Shoals you'll find the Star, Owl and Gordon's Gully and to the west are the Claw and the Fingers -- each spot makes a good starting point. I also like the Banana Shoal off the southern tip of the Nantucket Shoals, which consistently has a strong temperature break.

Do not be afraid to fish in the colder green water or shallow depths because you'll find white marlin in this 62- to 68-degree water. We've caught white marlin in water less than 100 feet deep! But watch the winds. If the wind turns to the north, northeast or east, the bite will shut down. You want a fresh southwesterly. That will resuscitate the bite.


Calm conditions will help you spot tailing white marlin. Ideally, you want greasy, slick-calm conditions. Concentrate on days of 10 knots or less of wind. I watch the wind forecasts on Buoyweather.com very closely. It's the best marine weather service I've found. Mornings are usually best because the breeze picks up in the afternoon, so try to be out there at sunrise.

Finding tailing fish requires a lot of driving with all hands watching the water for that telltale dorsal fin or tail fin peaking out of the waves. Put your best eyes in the highest point of your boat or tower to enhance the ability to spot fish.

Once you find a marlin, approach steadily and cast a bait in the vicinity of the fish to get the marlin's attention. You want to cast beyond the fish as the marlin will usually pile on the bait as soon as it sees it. Other times, however, they let the bait swim right by. If the marlin does not show interest after several attempts, cut your losses and look for another candidate.
"Calm conditions will help you spot tailing white marlin. Ideally, you want greasy, slick-calm conditions. Concentrate on days of 10 knots or less of wind."
White marlin will take a variety of live and dead bait. For live bait we prefer live eels and scup. However, tinker mackerel and snapper blues also work. Squid and ballyhoo are the top dead baits, especially small dink ballyhoo. Carry a variety of baits because they may want eels one day and ballyhoo the next.

Twenty-pound spinning tackle is perfect for casting to white marlin. Spool the reel with 20-pound monofilament and attached a leader no heavier than 80-pound. Some days you need only a long double or mainline straight to the hook to get them to eat.


On days where the conditions are not conducive to casting, trolling will extend your day. The typical trolling spread involves four rods in the riggers, two in the pit for pitch baits, and dredges and squid chains for teasers.

I like a spread consisting of small ballyhoo behind a small blue-and-white Munson Mahi by Beamish Custom Tackle in the long riggers. We run small naked ballyhoo in the short riggers, and have the pitch rods at the ready.

We'll rig the dredges with either natural or artificial offerings. If going the natural route, rig your dredges with ballyhoo because halfbeaks are the predominate bait in the area. Split Tail Mullet also work well on the dredges and hold up all day. Squid chain teasers are great additions to the dredges, or on their own.

I prefer Shimano TLD 25s spooled with 30-pound mono on a 20- to 50-pound class conventional rod. Attach an 80-pound leader and use a 6/0 nonoffset circle hook on your naked baits. For those baits rigged with lures I like a 6/0 or 7/0 Mustad 7691 hook.

When trolling for white marlin during the summer months be prepared to go through a fair amount of bait. The marlin sometimes mix in with school-sized bluefin tuna the occassional mahi.

The best game plan when chasing shallow-water marlin is to bring everything but the kitchen sink. Bring gear suitable for both casting and trolling because you may have great sight fishing conditions in the morning but an afternoon breeze could bring about a change of plans.

For more information on fishing with Capt. John Galvin visit www.mulberrycanyon.com.