To leader a big fish such as a marlin is more about skill than it is about strength. The best method involves using a 'backwrap.' This is how it's done.
Geoff Lamond, one of the most respected skippers in the New Zealand charter fleet, has served his time on many top boats in some of the premier fisheries around the world. He now runs the the charter vessel "Arenui" in New Zealand's northern grounds (see www.nzgamefishing.com).
Each season Lamond leaders his fair share of billfish and he showed me a leadering technique he learned from one of the world's top wiremen. Called the "backwrap," it's a simple technique that I had not seen before.
"We were tied up beside Peter B. Wright's boat in Cooktown a few years back and I was talking with Charles Perry, one of the world's best wiremen, about his light-tackle fishing in Madeira, where they had caught some big blues on 20-pound and 30-pound line," Lamond told me.
"I asked him how he was getting that first wrap of the leader under pressure. He just laughed and told me that the first wrap always had to be a backwrap, and showed me how," Lamond said. "It's the cleanest and easiest way to get that first, important wrap. It also works great when a fish is digging down and you are struggling to get a wrap with the boat running forward and the leader under a lot of tension."
"It is easy when you get used to it. I went down and fished the big bluefin down south [New Zealand's South Island] and used the backwrap quite a lot. In fact, I use it all the time now. When those big fish are digging down on you, the backwrap is the easiest way to handle them. It is nice and clean and you don't get wraps up your arm."
Wiring big fish is not about brute strength, it's about using proper technique.
"Wiring fish is all about technique, not strength - keep your hands down at hip level to maintain balance. You need to get two clean wraps, and the backwrap gives the first one in a pressure situation, allowing enough friction to make the second wrap," Lamond said.
Some deckhands like to debate about how many wraps you can safely take on the leader. According to Lamond, Charles Perry was also clear about this. "He said 'never make less than two wraps, and never make more than two wraps.'"
When the best leaderman in the business talks, you should just shut up and listen.
You need two wraps to get enough friction to move the fish, but any more can create a leader crossover and increase the risk of getting trapped or entangled.
The backwrap allows the wireman to make that vital first turn with the slack line above the wrapping hand, rather than trying to make it with the tight line between the wrapping hand and the fish. Once the first wrap is on, the wireman has enough purchase to make the second wrap in a conventional fashion. Lamond recommends practicing the backwrap until it is second nature. Lifting a bucket from below the boat to the surface is one way, or if you want to see how much easier it makes things, try using this leader technique to pull in a big teaser when the boat is still at troll speed.
A good wireman also moves around the deck when working a big fish.
"Don't be afraid to step back to keep the slack out of the leader - stay mobile," Lamond says. "And always remember, there is no shame in letting go of the leader if you have to. Better to let the fish fight some more than to risk pulling the hook, breaking the leader, or someone getting hurt. Playing 'human bollard' is not very smart."
Essential equipment for a wireman includes good footwear, a safety knife and cutters for emergencies, and suglasses to protect your eyes from flying swivels, hooks, or cut leader ends.