Marlin will eat some ridiculous-looking lures at times. But when someone is consistently getting the most bites in the fleet, you can bet they're paying attention to the finer aspects of tuning their lures.
If you've ever experienced twisted line after trolling a lure, take a close look at the balance of the lure. Keel-weighted lures are by far the most successful, as they resist spinning.
The further back the lure is set and the lower the angle of line to the water, the longer the lure head should be and the longer the lure's skirt should be. Both the longer head and longer skirt add more planing surface, which helps the lure rise more readily to the surface, where it can breathe, deliver its action and "e;smoke"e;.
The closer to the boat and the higher the angle to the lure, the shorter the lure head can be. When trolled with a steep towing angle, short-headed lures can offer a distinct advantage because they pivot on their face and may have a stronger, more erratic action. As the action comes mostly from the face and shoulders of short lures, the length of the skirts isn't critical on these types of lures.
Drifting/power fishing for swordfish is uncomfortable when it's rough, but still do-able.
If you have swivelling rod holders, a lot of times you can adjust the angle of the rod so the line is still coming off the centre of the rod tip. Then you can put the boat in the most comfortable position while fishing. If the current is strong, the easiest thing to do is use a heavier weight to keep your bait down.
Swordfish are unlike any other fish. I have never seen another species of fish charge a boat as often as swordfish do. They go right for the props, so you need to be ready to get out of the way when they do.
You need to watch where the line is coming off the rod tip at all times, so you have an idea which way the fish is moving. When they tire, they usually come up doing big circles like a tuna but, when they're "green", you need to be ready to manoeuvre the boat.
Dogtooth tuna can easily consume baits 25 per cent their own body weight. This means a live 10kg tuna is not too large for even a 40kg dogtooth.
The largest dogtooth I've seen was over the Cape Washington seamount in Fiji. It ate a 25kg yellowfin while we were still holding the other end of the leader! These days we regularly target dogtooth using large livebaits of skipjack tuna, rainbow runner or (my personal favourite) yellowfin tuna from 7 to 10kg.
When bigeye tuna are at the surface and on the bite, they'll strike almost anything that moves. As with almost any other species of tuna, to catch more when trolling, position all your lures in pairs set at an almost equal distance from the boat. For example, have the two short lines set at the same distance, then the next two lines at an equal distance further back – and so on. This can double your catch and regularly result in multiple strikes. This is because the school will be tightly packed, so when one rises to a lure, others will be right beside it.
Tuna are often wary, so try smaller lures and rig with lighter leaders, even fluorocarbon leaders can help. Always keep terminal tackle, such as swivels and connectors, to the smallest practical size, or eliminate them if you can.
Trolling with skirted lures has proven the most successful way to fish for blue marlin. Although adding some form of teaser to the spread is a popular way to go, I'm not too sure about their benefits. I believe the sweet noise of clean propellers and wash is by far the most important attractor.
When it's hard to hook a blue because they're not biting properly, you'll find that everyone else that day is having the same problem, so you're not necessarily doing anything wrong.
I've seen many cases where a slow-moving blue marlin keeps missing the lure. When this happens, I get my deckhand or angler to tease the fish by first cranking the lure away from the fish, then free-spooling it back when the marlin shows signs of aggression.
When dealing with a very large fish, I might even throttle down to slow the boat speed. Another tactic would be to go into a hard turn, throttling up into the turn. These moves seem to stimulate the attack response in a reluctant and wary marlin.
Striped marlin are notorious for striking lures, then coming unstuck before they can be captured. We keep a live mackerel hooked and swimming in the aft livebait tank so we can drop it back immediately when we see a fish come up in the lure pattern.
We find that, by hooking the mackerel cross-wise though the back skin just behind the gill plates, causes the bait to instantly dive below the prop wash and into easy view of a lure-following stripey.
After a long battle with a fish down deep, sometimes the leader can suddenly appear and catch everyone by surprise. To prevent that, on each of your outfits, use dental floss to make a 2cm (1in) bind of half-hitches around the line 30m (100ft) up from the end, then paint it black with a waterproof permanent marker pen.
The bind (whipping) will be seen by the deck crew, and felt by the angler as he winds it onto the reel, serving as an early warning that the fish is getting close. This bind helps everyone to prepare for the end-game, that is, picking-up their tag pole or gaff, getting cameras ready, and preparing to take the leader.