Catching stripers and spearfish
Hooking small billfish is an art that is altogether different from that required for hooking big billfish. The problem locally is that most Hawaii fishermen rig for big billfish or tuna, and the hook rigs being used are inappropriate for the smaller members of the billfish family.
If you want to catch more of this season’s stripers and spearfish, you’ll have to re-rig with their attack modes, feeding methods and size in mind.
Large billfish have large mouths and big bills. They can easily swallow any lure ever made and most bait fish, including fair-sized tuna. Although they may hit a lure or bait fish first with their bill, they generally don’t hesitate to take the whole thing in one bite.
Further, big billfish require big hooks to both secure and to hold them. Larger hooks stand a better chance of taking a bigger bite, setting through or around larger anatomical features, and have the strength to resist serious pressure from both the angler and leaderman.
Small billfish are quite different in several ways. For one, their size seems to make them feed differently. They seem more intent than larger billfish upon immobilizing their prey, and they often hold a bait or lure across the midsection before trying to turn and swallow it.
Smaller mouths and proportionately smaller body parts mean that smaller hooks can get sufficient bite to secure smaller billfish. Moreover, smaller fish put less stress on a hook – because they weigh less and have less power – so smaller hooks are adequate, strength-wise. Smaller hooks also penetrate much quicker and deeper than bigger hooks (with less force required).
So considering all of the foregoing, how do we go about catching more small billfish? Step one is to down-size your entire terminal tackle system. Smaller lures are generally more attractive to spearfish and striped marlin anyway, so why not use them?
The second step is to use lighter leader. You don’t need 500-pound test mono line to secure a 50-pound striped marlin, and it probably impedes the hooking process because it is so stiff. Try 120- to 200-pound test mono line.
Next, use smaller hooks. The new style saltwater “live bait hooks” made by Eagle Claw, Gamakatsu, Gorilla, Mustad and others with short shanks and slightly in-turned points are particularly effective. They set quickly, are plenty strong and are usually very sharp right out of the box. Hooks as small as 3/0 can be used for spearfish and small striped marlin, and you can catch virtually any small billfish (including blue marlin up to 250-pounds) on a size 7/0 live bait hook.
Hook placement is another critical consideration, as is the actual rig. The essence of a good small billfish hook rig’s effectiveness is to get one hook placed as far back in the skirt as possible. That places it outside of the billfish’s mouth when it grabs the lure across the mid-body. The second hook is run a few inches in back of the head – not as close to the head as possible, as you might rig a larger marlin lure. Your hookup rate should increase substantially.
With the two hooks placed to better take advantage of the way a small billfish grabs its prey, hookup ratios are enhanced. You can go from hooking less than 20 percent of your strikes to hooking over 75 percent using the methods and rigs outlined here.
Another trick that works well with smaller billfish is to let them get some loose line on the strike. This means using a clip or Roller Troller type release clip on the outrigger (no taglines) to allow for a brief slack line period after the clip releases on the strike and the use of lighter strike drags.
These tricks let the fish turn before the line comes tight, setting the hook much more certainly when it does tighten up.
It is the season for lots of little striped marlin and spearfish. With a light leader, small lure and small hooks, you are much more likely to hook any little fish that shows up in your lure spread.
Why not have some fun catching them, rather than letting them aggravate you all day?