Billson on Billfish
Heartbreak corner on the outside of number 10 ribbon reef was certainly living up to its name, at least as far as I was concerned. It was coming up to 6:00pm and I headed the Viking towards the top of number 10. I had experienced enough frustration for one day watching the other 5 boats working the corner having full blown action, and catching some beautiful big fish. Big fish is what heartbreak is famous for. Its name derived by the early pioneers of the grounds off Lizard Island, describing the feeling of some anglers after one of those great fish were lost. On this particular day it was firing for everyone, everyone that is except me.
As any sport fishing charter boat captain would know, one of the most frustrating parts of the job can be to have everyone around you hooking up and you cannot even get a bite. We rafted up along side our mothership and I climbed down from the tower totally depressed and confused. That was and still is the worst day that I have had the displeasure of experiencing in my history as a captain. At dinner that night I talked about the day to my client and good friend Tom. Tom has been with me since I was a crewman, and we have had some exceptional fishing together. He has seen the highs and the lows. He knew we had a bad day but after I filled him in on the other boats results we both started worrying whether the boat had developed some problem. We all know the story about certain boats raising more fish than others with good harmonics, bad harmonics so on and so on. It was the 1990 Giant Black Marlin Season out of Cairns and back than I was a total believer in this philosophy. That same year I purchased the Viking from my boss at the time, re-powered her and gave her a total face-lift, had something gone wrong.
I was up earlier than normal the next morning for a few reasons, one was to figure out a game plan for the day, and what would be our strategy for the Lizard island tournament starting tomorrow, and for a swim to inspect my underwater gear. I popped up from under the boat just as Tom was climbing on board from the mothership, pulled myself through the transom door and received Toms normal welcome "Gdayaaa Billyeeeeee, what did you find mate?" in a classic American fashion. "All OK Tom" was my answer.
I was about to break the golden rule leaving fish to find fish. I had to make a decision, go back to heartbreak and hope that the day before I was zigging instead of zagging or try and find my own honey hole. I chose the later. In 1990 Viking won the 7 day Lizard Island Black Marlin Classic by 5 fish to its closest competitor.
So what is the moral to the story you may ask. Well in my 15 years of driving sport fishing boats for a living, I have observed some bazaar events and the example above as being one of them. I have seen this situation happen quite a number of times, but definitely more with black marlin than the other two species. The shoe has been on the other foot and I have had the pleasure of being the hot boat in a group getting consistent shots while the others are scratching for a bite. I believe that the fish can get turned on to a boat as well as get turned off a boat and this can happen at certain levels. Sure there are always other factors that could make one boat more successful than another when fishing in a group and I will discuss these in a future issue. If you are confident you are trolling the freshest bait, the best lures and everything is rigged to perfection, your marking fish regularly on the sounder and everybody is hooking up all around you and you can't see a damn thing you are doing wrong. Before you start to pull your hair out because you can't even raise a fish, time to break that golden rule, get the hell out of there.
The biggest fish-attracting device is the boat itself; all boats with engines transmit a signal of some frequency under water. Some owners have even gone to the trouble of trying to transmit the appropriate signal through speakers in the hull. Multiple world record holders Dick and Marg Love's, boat Sound Machine, was aptly named and had some interesting results. If the boat can be the biggest attracting device would it be fair to say at certain times it can also be the biggest deterrent? In my opinion yes. When a pod of fish is holding in one area, it is possible for that body of fish to turn onto a certain frequency. In most cases if you are the first vessel to find a pod of fish, and they start feeding while you are the only boat working the area, there is a good chance you may become the hot boat. They are relating that noise and that vibration to a place of food source, or a place of activity where there is potential of food. Other boats may move in when they realise your getting bit, but if the fish have turned on to the action that is behind your boat, the other boats may have to be content with watching you get all the bites. That pointy end of a billfish , that always does so much damage to my boat, and has been called such scientific names as hooter and snos, added with the lateral line is the G.P.S, Radar, Sonar, and fish finder of all Billfish. In my opinion they tune in to a particular frequency and if you are fortunate enough to be that boat make the most of it, believe it or not it does happen.
On the other hand if there is a bite happening all around you, and you cannot turn a reel, it is possible that the frequency of your boat is far enough different from the other boats around you, that the fish have no reason to raise to your baits. Often I have seen boats with outboards and sterndrives, use their speed on exceptionally good days, to run up to a ground that is producing a good small black marlin bite. The inboard boats that arrived a little later had substantially less action than the outboard boats on these days. As you would be aware they both use under water exhausts. Another one of my own very obvious examples was again during the Lizard Island Tournament some years ago. I was working a spot that had produced well for me in the past and was not as well known as some of the other grounds. I had it all to myself which to me is the ideal scenario. It was really starting to fire. As part of the rules of the tournament you are required to radio in each hook up, so it was not long before I had company. At the peak of the action, I was in a circle similar to the way we work a Spanish mackerel bite and getting shots consistently. The fish were not large so our hook up and capture rate, with the heavy terminal tackle we were using was poor. We still managed to tag three quick fish. The other boats that tried to move in on the action were ignored, no matter how close they attempted to get in on the action. After what I considered substantial time without a bite, they reluctantly moved on.
The equation can change depending on the group of boats working an area. Some boats may have identical frequency. Lets take a situation like the N.S.W Interclub Tournament held out of Port Stephens. With 260 boats with large groups working certain areas, 35ft Bertrams and Rivieras everwhere, many with the same power, a mixture of Volvos, Cummins, and Caterpillar, and because of fuel prices these days maybe one with the big petrol Mercruisers. From my experience I would but my money on the petrol powered Bertram.
Other examples that spring to mind I have given a name, "the odd man out syndrome". It can happen in two ways, a group of boats working a spot for some time with no action, maybe having all the good signs plenty of bait, marking a few fish on the sounder, great water etc. Suddenly along comes a new contender into the group, does one turn around the same area that the other boats have been working for hours and gets bit. Bugger! In a similar situation, one of the boats in the group decides to do something different. This could be go a bit faster or slower, change baits to lures or lures to baits, or the captain may hold his tongue on a different side of his face to the others (just kidding). The point I'm making here is that the fish have become accustomed to the boats that are working in the area and have sensed their frequency as a whole and have not been triggered to start feeding. The change in either the new boat's arrival or someone in the group doing something different can turn the switch.
Of course you always have to take the luck factor into consideration. You may be zigging when you should be zagging, or if your superstitious start looking for those bananas, get that unlucky angler off strike, pull out your favorite shirt or hat, and the one that works every time, sew a gold Rolex into the belly of your next bait.
I imagine by now some of you out there may be a little skeptical. Or on the other hand you may be starting to remember some of those days that you really would rather forget and have no explanation for, or the time you thought you were the greatest marlin fishermen on the planet. The benefit that a charter captain has over the average privateer, is many of them have saltwater flowing through their veins and even maybe through their brains, but nether the less have acquired a wealth of information from he or she's experiences. These are my own personal observations, and also the observations of a hand full of elite friends that I have had the privilege of enjoying a gold beer with, that also have that salty substance running out of their ears. Of course these observations have never been scientifically proven, but as we say in the tropics " works for me'.
I mentioned earlier that that day back in 1990 was and still is the worst day that I have ever experienced. You see since then my mentally has changed, and I will not stay in a spot and watch everyone else catch them except me, one experience like that was enough to last me a life time.
Personally where possible during a tournament, or when certain grounds look like the car park at Disneyland, I prefer to be the loner when I am fishing. You don't have to be a nuclear scientist to figure out, that if you divide the number of possible fish holding on a ground, by the amount of boats attempting to catch them, that the possibility of a result can only be but in the hands of the all mighty. By all means if you believe that the Grand poo-bah of all things that are real and unreal, is shining his perpetual light upon you while competing with such fierce competition, dig in and make the most of it. I prefer not to have the interference or the distractions.
To be truly successful you have to take all things into consideration. Countless articles have been written on the importance of tackle preparation. The correct way to rig this and that, a new way to rig this and that. Angling techniques on heavy tackle, light tackle, stand up tackle, and the elite fly fishing tackle. Of course all this information is very important. Even the greatest anglers and the best crew can not get a result if the boat is not positioned over the fish that are feeding. The decision on where to fish, when to fish, how long to work an area, when to leave, and when to stay, are the decisions if made correctly, will produce the greatest result. Taking in all the information that is available on the day using the tools that are available to you, (my personal favourites are a good powerful sounder and an accurate quality temp gauge set in Fahrenheit) will always assist in your decision. Never assume that with marlin that if they're catching them all around you that that's the place for you to be.