Apart from one tournament in Key West in July, we don’t really target marlin in my region, but we do seem to catch a lot of them during the full moons from May through August. More often than not, our marlin come as incidental catches when trolling ballyhoo for dolphin.
Off Key West, there’s an area known as Woods Wall that’s a small atoll where tuna, dolphin and bonito tend to congregate, and they catch a good number of blue marlin in that spot. Throughout the rest of the Keys, the majority of blue marlin are caught in 400 feet of water or more, but I’ve seen them caught as shallow as 120 feet of water.
There are guys who will target blue marlin around the full moon, and they do it by pulling large Kona-head lures with the Halloween and darker blues, blacks and purple combinations the favored colors. They’ll also pull horse ballyhoo or rigged Spanish mackerel, and even large live blue runners or small bonito or blackfin tuna.
You’ll certainly catch more by targeting them, but a marlin can pop up anywhere, and I’m convinced that you stand just as good of a chance catching them in the areas that are holding a lot of dolphin by having a larger bait in the spread. The marlin come in to feed on the smaller dolphin, so anywhere you have a concentration of dolphin, there’s likely to be a blue marlin in the mix.
Our blue marlin vary in size from 100 pounds to 400 pounds or more, so if you want to target them, you’re best served fishing with 50 and 80-pound tackle. When you hook a marlin, it’s going to run, and if it’s a big one, it’ll take 300 to 400 yards of line on the first run, so you want to make sure you have a reel with a lot of line capacity. Two-speed reels are nice in that you can change to a lower gearing when the fish gets difficult to move, and that makes it easier on the angler and doesn’t wear them out.
I’ll beef up the leader to 200-pound test, and use a 12/0 “J” style hook if we’re pulling live or rigged baits. Live baits are bridled through the eye sockets or top of the head using rigging thread. With lures, you want to go with two offset 12/0 to 14/0 hooks and something large and dark that has a lot of action and leaves a good smoke trail in the water.
A lot of times, it seems cyclic. Some years there’s a lot of marlin caught, and other years, it’s just a few. July is a great month for dolphin in my region, so it’s one of the top months where we encounter blue marlin.
We also catch a fair number of white marlin and spearfish, but those also come as incidental catches and aren’t a consistent enough fishery to target. It seems like these two species are found more in the fall and early winter, than in the summer months.
While the Keys are not your typical marlin destination like Hawaii for blue marlin or Maryland for white marlin, if you come down here and specifically target them and put in your time, you are going to catch one. The thing about marlin fishing is that the bite is so spectacular and the leaping runs so memorable that once you catch a blue or white marlin, you absolutely must do it again.