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Switch Baiting For Billfish

Decker Leadin

    Billfishing today is different from even 10 years ago. Almost all the serious marlin captains will be pulling dredges for everything that has a bill on it, teasing up the fish and then throwing them a switch bait.
    Setting your boat up to pull dredges is not cheap, however. The preferred dredge reels are Lindgren Pitman S-1200 electric 12-volt rigs, that go for $5,000 apiece. They are bulletproof winches that can take any abuse you can throw their way. The dredges also are expensive. Mudflaps and squid are the top choice for blue marlin, while cheaper flash rigs are really good on sailfish and such, there are a lot of new products on the market today. Setting up your outriggers to handle the stress of pulling a dredge is also going to cost you some; in any kind of weather you will need a 10-pound dredge weight, and the force of the dredge, and 10 pounds of lead at 8 or 9 knots, is a lot. You'll need to oversize your pulleys, you'll want 500-pound mono, and black marlin-size swivels.
    If you are going to go the dredge route, be prepared to write some beefy checks.
    The dredge is nothing more than a grand ol' teaser, but it will suck in more billfish than anything else you can tow behind your boat. I would highly suggest starting out only pulling one dredge; master that single unit, then if you have the crew, branch out to a second one. Pull one off each side, add two bridge teasers and you now have four offerings, and that is all you really need; but again, if you have a pair of good cockpit guys, a teaser rod on deck will increase the spread even more.
    Light tackle experts like Gary Carter and Bert Bouchard will usually not pull any hooks behind the boat; but is this really the most effective method? I'm going to use our April Cape Verde numbers on Bouchard's Hebe, a G&S production, for an example. The season in Cape Verde got under way at the end of March in 2016. We started fishing April 1, and my time was up on April 22. In 18 days we raised 43 blue marlin, hooked 24, and released 16.
    Three out of four of our first fish were caught on my Hawaiian lures. We pulled two lures behind the teaser spread on 80 chair rods before we lost a beast on a lure, and we went no hooks from that moment on.
    The next 13 fish all came on switch-baiting, but with that method we pulled the circle hook out on six fish. So our successful hook-up rate really was not that different: 3 out of 5 on lures, and 13 out of 19 on switching.
    Switch-baiting is an extremely exciting method to get yourself attached to a billfish, and blue marlin are so aggressive that a lot of the bites will be right at the back of the boat In-your-face, smash-mouth, holy-smokes hook-ups. It is really cool watching a 600-pound blue eat your offering 40 feet away. With that said, we had 19 fish that would not switch, they either just bill-whacked the teasers or just came in for a look. The lure we caught the three blues on I have logged more than 400 blue marlin in my life on. Nothing I have ever pulled behind a boat, be it in Vanuatu, the Bahamas, or Cape Verde, has ever produced more than this one. (We lost the only one I brought over on the third fish.) I have no doubt in my mind that if we did not lose my lure and continued to pull at least one lure we would have hooked up a few of those other 19 fish, but that is all speculation.
    Gary Carter and his wife Sheryl fish a line-class for billfish on his Silver Rod O, a G&S production, that most of us use to target brook trout: 6-, 8-, 12-pound test line. The Carters only practice switch-baiting, because on line that light they need to get the hook set and that is not happening pulling a lure. The lure strike of a blue marlin on line that light would break them off before they could ever get the rod out of the holder. There are not many marlin fishermen in the world like the Carters, so for the rest of us who use 50- to 130-class gear, I really think to capitalize on every opportunity that comes your way, you will be more successful pulling a combination of teasers and lures behind the boat.
    On the Miss Babbie, a 51 G&S owned by my good friend David "Doc" Conkle (you notice all my friends own G & Ss), Doc fishes 30-pound on his switch-bait rods and 30-pound test chair rods on his lures or rigged ballyhoo baits. Doc pulls two dredges, two bridge teasers, and two lures on the long riggers, and a naked ballyhoo on the center. This I think is your best set-up, increasing your odds to put a hook into as many marlin as possible.


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