As the summer temperatures keep the offshore water temperature in the low to mid eighties, many Texas anglers are venturing farther and farther offshore in hopes of tangling with one of the most sought after classes of gamefish, the ever illusive billfish. Usually found feeding on the surface, billfish produce some of the most drawn out fights complete with long deep sounding and deft defying leaps. In order to learn more about how to encounter these drag pulling demons, I spoke with several of the top captains along the Texas Coast.
When fishing tournaments like Poco Bueno, out of Port O’Connor, Texas, Capt. Randy Bright targets big blue marlin by live baiting at rigs such as east cerveza, little sister, and a rig called 595. Capt. Randy runs a 50’ Viking out of Port O’Connor called Pass It On. As far as live baiting techniques are concerned, the crew on Pass It On typically pull two live baits, and won’t travel more than 100 yards the entire day. The key to live baiting is to keep your eyes open, and often times you will actually see the fish feeding. Capt. Bright has released three billfish, out of eight bites.
Capt. Bright said, “What we look for, when we’re live baiting, is…we look for a lot of bait, either on the bottom machine, or on the surface, and we also like to see a lot of current. If we don’t see either bait or current, then we won’t live-bait, and we’ll typically fish lures. We seem to get more bites and there seems to be more feeding activity, when you have a lot of current, or some sort of water movement.”
Capt. Kirk Elliott, of the 53’ Reelax, out of Galveston, Texas, prefers to troll five baits for billfish at a speed of around 6.5 or 7 knots. Capt. Kirk pulls a mixed spread of larger lures on the flatlines, smaller lures or ballyhoo on the riggers, and just about everyone’s all time favorite, the blue and white hawaain eye or islander, in front of a ballyhoo on the center or long-rigger. Capt. Kirk has caught six billfish, this year, pulling this spread. For teasers, Capt. Kirk typically pulls a daisy chain on one side and a larger lure, or big plunger on the other side. The key to pulling teasers on the troll, as far as Capt. Elliott is concerned, is to always have a pitch bait ready.
“You gotta have a pitch bait, because the teasers are so close to the boat, and the flat-lines are a little farther back there, by the time you tell somebody to get one up to it, it’s too late, it’s a lot easier for them to grab one of the pitch baits.”
Another method of trolling for billfish is to pull all natural baits, like Capt. Monte Love, aboard the 46’ Bertram, Awesome, out of Port Aransas, Texas. Capt. Monte typically pulls a mixed natural spread of mullet, mackerel, and ballyhoo at a speed of 5.5 knots.
“ I troll at about 5.5 knots, depending on the sea conditions, if its rough I will troll about five knots, but if its calm, slick calm, I’ll troll up to six knots.”
With first mate Hagan Heiligbrodt at attention, the Awesome crew typically pull a spread of seven lines. Depending on what the target species is, Capt. Love prefers to pull a black on black softhead with a horse ballyhoo, for a blue marlin teaser. Or, when targeting sailfish and white marlin, Capt. Love prefers a natural ballyhoo chain, or a squid chain. As far as trolling location go, Capt. Monte prefers to troll around rocks found off of Port Aransas, such as dutra, the east breaks, or the dumping grounds.
When it comes to locating billfish, Capt. Love says, “You basically want to find a temperature break, if you can find a complete degree temperature break, that is where you want to be.”
Capt. Peter Young