Marlin Fishing: The Complete Guide

Marlin fishing is one of the most exciting challenges facing any angler. Marlins are fast, they’re athletic, and they can be darn huge. The Striped Marlin is the second fastest fish in the world after the sailfish, swimming at up to 50 miles per hour, and the speed of Black and Blue Marlins also leaves most other fish trailing in their wake.

Once hooked, all species of Marlin display an acrobatic showdown worthy of a ballerina – or perhaps it would be more accurate to compare them to a bull fighter. They dance, skip and leap through the air on the end of your line, often giving the angler the fight of their life. And somehow, Marlins manage to pull off these lightning speeds and aerial maneuvers despite their humongous size. It’s little wonder that fishing for Marlins has almost legendary status amongst anglers the world over.

Blue Marlin jumping

We at FishingBooker, just like all serious anglers, dream about catching a ‘grander’, one of those legendary Marlins that weights over 1000 lbs. The record for the biggest Marlin fish of all time goes to the enormous 1805 lb ‘Choy’s Monster’. This beast of a fish was caught on a charter fishing boat out of Oahu, Hawaii, in 1970 and still stands today as the biggest Marlin caught on rod and reel. As far as IGFA is concerned, though, the current all tackle record for black Marlin was recorded in Cabo Blanco, Peru, in 1953. It weighed in at the not-so-impressive (but still pretty large) 1560 pounds (707.61 kg). IGFA also states that the biggest recorded blue Marlin weighed 1376 pounds (624.14 kg) and was caught in Kona, Hawaii in 1982.

Like Sailfish and Swordfish, Marlins are Billfish, a highly predatory species that uses its spear-like ‘bill’ to slash at and stun their prey. A migratory species, they are usually found in tropical or sub-tropical waters and change their location according to the warmth of the water. There are four Marlin varieties: the Blue, the Black, the White and the Striped Marlin. Despite their names they all display a fairly similar color scheme and characteristics, meaning that the untrained eye could mistake, say, a Blue Marlin for a Striped Marlin or a Black Marlin for a Blue one.

The Blue Marlin

The Blue Marlin tends to dive deeper and tire quicker than other Marlin. However, it is a powerful and aggressive fighter that can run hard and long, leaping high in the air in amazing displays of acrobatics. Females can weigh up to four times the amount of males, which rarely exceed 300 lb. Some experts consider blue Marlins living in the Pacific and the Atlantic oceans to be two distinct species, although this point of view is contended. However, it does seem to be the case that Marlins in the Pacific ocean tend to be larger than those in the Atlantic.

How to recognize a Blue Marlin:

Blue Marlin diagram

 

 

The Black Marlin

Black Marlins usually reside in the tropical Indian and Pacific oceans. They swim in nearshore waters and around reefs and islands, but can also dispers in the open sea. Very occasionally they come to temperate waters, sometimes traveling around the Cape of Good Hope into the Atlantic.

Black Marlins tend to be bigger than Blue Marlins caught on rod and reel, although it’s debatable whether or not this is simply due to the fact that they inhabit more accessible waters.

The largest ones are usually caught off the coast of Australia, Peru, Panama, and Mozambique. While males can occasionally grow to over 15 ft long and weigh as much as 1600 lb, most of the time they are smaller than females.

They are sometimes referred to as the ‘bull of the sea’ due to their extreme strength, large size and the long time it takes them to tire once hooked, making them a very popular game fish. They can sometime have a silvery haze covering their body, meaning they can sometimes be labeled a ‘Silver Marlin’.

How to recognize a Black Marlin:

marlin_black

The White Marlin

White Marlins live in tropical and seasonally temperate Atlantic waters, including the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean Sea and the Western Mediterranean. They can frequently be found in relatively shallow waters close to shore. Despite the fact that they are the smallest Marlin species, weighing a maximum of about 220 lb, they are sought after due to their speed, elegant leaping ability and the difficulty of baiting and hooking them. Unlike other Marlins, they catch their prey by overtaking it, rather than slashing and stunning it with their bill. White Marlins can also be known as ‘Spikers’.

How to recognize a White Marlin:

White marlin diagram

The Striped Marlin

‘Stripers’ are found in the Pacific and Indian oceans, usually in colder waters than the black or Blue Marlin. They migrate by season, moving towards the equator in the winter and away from it in the warm season. Famous for their fighting ability, Striped Marlins have a reputation of spending more time in the air than in the water once they’ve been hooked. They are known for long runs and tail walks, as well as ‘greyhounding’ across the surface in a series of leaps and bounds.

How to recognize a Striped Marlin:

Striped marlin diagram

Best Places to Fish for Marlin

When you’re deciding where to book your Marlin fishing trip it’s important to think about the season you’ll be going in and the specific Marlin species you want to target. Fishing charters specifically targeting Marlin are particularly common in  Mexico, Hawaii and Panama among many others, and in some destinations, Marlin fishing trips run all year round. A good way of working out the Marlin fishing season of an area is by considering the local water temperature at that time of year: both Blue and Black Marlins love warm water.

Dispersal of Blue Marlin in main fishing hotspots throughout the year:

animation of Marlin migration patterns

Red = High season

Orange = Very good Blue Marlin fishing

Yellow = Good Blue Marlin fishing

Marlin fishing in Hawaii

Some of the best Marlin fishing in the world takes place in the warm pacific waters around Hawaii. There are probably more Blue Marlin caught here by rod and reel than anywhere else in the world, and some of the biggest Blues ever recorded were caught fishing from this island (Choy’s monster, again). The western town of Kona is famous worldwide for its Marlin fishing, due not only to the frequency of Granders (over 60 fish over 1000 lb have been recorded in the Hawaiian waters), but also because of the skill and experience of its top skippers. Marlin fishing in Kona tends to be based from the Honokohau Harbor, and if you’re in the area around the beginning of August make sure you don’t miss the well-established Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament for some hot Marlin fishing action.

Marlin fishing in Mexico

From late March to July charter boats operating from Cozumel, Isla Mujeres and Cancun encounter numerous Blue and White Marlin, as well as other billfish such as Sailfish that follow the warm waters of the Gulf Stream into the area. Blue Marlin here tend to be smaller than those in the central Pacific, topping a maximum of 500 lb. However, the smaller fish, the more athletic they are, so you’ll still be in for an exciting fight.

To the west, Marlin fishing in Cabo San Lucas is famous all over the world. The prestigious Bisbee’s Black and Blue tournament is one of the most well-known annual Marlin fishing events, bearing witness to the fact that Marlin fishing in Cabo is about as good as it gets. Here, Black Marlin are most likely found around offshore structures such as Corbetana Rock and ‘El Banco’ near Puerto Vallarta, and some large specimens have also been found round the Revillagigedos Islands. Come here in September and October to be in with a chance of experiencing the thrill of feeling a Marlin jump at the end of your line.

Marlin fishing in Australia

The first Black Marlin ever caught on rod and reel was landed by a Sydney-based doctor fishing from Port Stephens, New South Wales, in 1913. Nowadays the east coast of Australia is a mecca for Marlin fishing, with Blue and Black Marlin frequently caught on fishing charters in this area. While fishing for Marlin is often successful from Cairns, Sydney and Port Stephens, Marlin fishing on the Gold Coast around Main Beach is the most productive in terms of numbers.

The Great Barrier Reef is the only confirmed breeding ground for Black Marlin, making eastern Australia one of the most popular Black Marlin fishing destinations in the world. Cairns boasts of being the world capital of Marlin fishing, and anglers flock to the area from September to December to try their hand at catching the fish of a lifetime. It doesn’t stop there though: the Black Marlins then move south towards Port Stephens, where the season stretches out to March. Port Stephens is famous for being the site of the Southern Hemisphere’s largest Billfish tournament, the Port Stephens Interclub, which takes place in early March.

You can fish for Blue Marlin in Australia from January to May-June, and usually you notice that the warmer the temperature of the water, the bigger the fish.

Marlin are also common on the west coast of Australia, with Exmouth, Broome and Rottnest Island off Perth all important and highly productive Marlin fishing spots.

A mere 1200 miles offshore to the east of Australia lies a magical Marlin hotspot: Vanuatu, a chain of 80 idyllic islands in the South Pacific. This paradise offers Blue Marlin fishing all year round, although it’s best from May to November. Black Marlins are around in the same period, and Stripers are best from August to November.

Marlin fishing on the US East Coast

Due to its proximity to the Gulf Stream, fishing for Marlin in Florida is very rewarding. The Florida Marlin fishing season seems to be dictated by  the ‘loop current’, which the fish follow into the gulf of Mexico through the Florida straits past Miami and Key West. Marlin fishing in Key West is excellent from roughly April to July,

White Marlin is common further north up the east coast from mid-July onwards. This species famously sticks to the continental shelf offshore of Marlyland, Virginia and Delaware, with the ‘Jack Spot’, a bottom structure 22 miles south of Ocean City, Maryland, being probably the best known spot for White Marlin fishing in the United States. The 29th July 1939 stands out as one of the best marlin fishing days of all time, when 171 Whities were boated here in a single day. Now, Ocean City is home to the world famous White Marlin Open fishing tournament, held annually in August.

Marlin fishing in Central America

Marlin fishing in Central America became famous in 1949 when the Panamanian fisherman Louis Schmidt landed the first recorded Black Marlin grander caught on rod and reel. The beast tipped the scales at 1006 lb. Nowadays the reef areas in Piñas Bay and other reefs along Panama’s Pacific coast are some of the best Black Marlin fishing spots in the western hemisphere, and both blue and Black Marlin can be found here all year round. The abundance of Marlin is also present in the north, where Costa Rica also benefits from warm waters and productive Pacific reef areas. The southern Costa Rica Marlin fishing season runs from August to December, and Marlin fishing charters running from Jaco and Quepos are at their most successful from September to December. Marlin fishing in the northern areas of Playa Flamingo and Tamarindo, on the other hand, is best from November to March. However, it is possible to find Marlin in the waters around Central America all year round.

Marlin fishing in New Zealand

Striped Marlin is traditionally the main Billfish species around New Zealand, although anglers have caught an occasional Blue Marlin over 1000 lb there. Over the last ten years catches of Blue Marlin in the Pacific have increased, and now they are consistently found off the eastern coast of the North Island. Waihau Bay and Cape Runaway are particularly well known local Marlin fishing spots, and catches in this area tend to be of large average size, weighing in at roughly 300-500 lb.

Marlin fishing off the west coast of Africa

The whole strip of Atlantic coastline that runs near the equator to the west of Africa is a hotspot for Marlin.

Cape Verde, located 350 miles off the coast of Africa, is home to some of the best Marlin fishing in the world, although it is only just emerging as a charter fishing destination. While big Blue Marlins are common here, it’s also not unlikely to catch smaller, more agile specimens as well. August to December is the prime Blue Marlin season, although it’s possible to find the odd White Marlin in these waters all year round.

Usually frequenting the Canary Islands between May and October, blue Marlin in these parts tend to be larger than those in most of the rest of the world, ranging from about 400 to 600 lb, with some weighing in at over 800 lb. Marlin charters tend to run from Tenerife, Lanzarote and Fuerteventura, as well as from Puerto Rico de Gran Canaria, which has historically been the main starting point for Marlin fishing trips on the Canary Islands. Blue Marlin can be caught both inside the island’s shelf, where there are rich schools of bait fish, and offshore.

Further north into the Atlantic, Marlin fishing on the Portuguese island of Madeira is also productive from May to October and can raise fish of a similarly large size as those found further south. Even further off shore, and perhaps even better for catching some of the biggest Marlin in the ocean, are the warm, deep waters round the Azores.

Other places to fish for Marlin

Southern California is the northernmost point of the Pacific Blue Marlin’s migration path, and it is sometimes possible to find these fish in the waters around San Diego. A Blue Marlin weighing over 600 lb was recently caught nine miles west of San Diego, becoming the heaviest Marlin caught in these parts since 1931.

Marlin fishing in Mauritius, an island in the Indian ocean, can also be great fun. Here the high season for both black and blue Marlin extends from November to February, although you can still be in with a good chance of finding one as late as April. The largest Blue Marlin caught in Mauritius weighed 1430 lb, and the longest recorded fight lasted 26 hours before the line broke! Sounds like a grueling day!

The Caribbean islands are fantastic spots for Marlin fishing, with a season that runs roughly from June to October, although it’s possible to find Marlin year round. Reports of catching several Blue Marlin a day are not uncommon, and White Marlin are also a fun target in these parts. A fishing holiday in the Dominican Republic or Cuba, like many on this list, could be the perfect combination of extreme game fishing and a relaxing tropical island holiday.

Marlin fishing: A group of anglers with a Black Marlin

How to fish for Marlin

You could write a book about how to catch a Marlin, but here are some basic Marlin fishing tips.

Consider fishing for Marlin with artificial lures…

Marlin are aggressive, highly predatory fish that respond very well to the splash and trail of a well presented artificial lure. Hawaii has long been at the forefront of developing artificial lures for catching Marlin, and it is recognized as being the first place to develop this method. They originally made lures from materials such as carved wood, glass jars and bath towels, but today Kona skippers have refined their techniques and are making some of the best Marlin lures out there.

The question of which is the best lure to use when trolling for Marlin is a divisive one: friendships have been broken and enemies made as a result of criticism over which lure you use. Not wanting to cause a virtual riot, I’ll leave the question of which specific brand of artificial lure to use up to you.

… But don’t write off live bait

You should use live bait only when the fishing area you’re covering is quite small, as trolling with live bait requires the boat to travel slower in order to keep the bait alive. Areas such as those near buoys and steep underwater ledges, where fish congregate, are the best places to use live bait. Live bait can be a good alternative to artificial lures if you’re in a dense fishing spot and want to limit damage to your lures caused by Wahoo, Mahi-mahi or Spanish Mackerel.

Use the best quality tackle

It might sound obvious, but you don’t want to spend all your hard-earned pennies on a Marlin fishing holiday only for your tackle to let you down just as you feel the pull of a big Marlin on the end of the line. There are no right or wrong Marlin fishing rods and reels to use, but make sure your tackle is heavy enough to withstand the pressure it will go under. Reels at size 50 are good for this job. Charter fishing boats will supply tackle, but make sure you check their previous customers’ reviews to ensure that everything they supply is in good nick.

Marlin fishing with the family

Got questions about fishing for Marlin?

Still can’t decide which destination to chose for your Marlin fishing holiday? Want to know where to buy lures in Madeira? Or do you have anything to add about what you find works best when fishing for Marlin? Let us know in the comments section below!

9 Responses to “Marlin Fishing: The Complete Guide”

  1. Gareth rees

    When and where is the best marlin fishing peru or equador

    Reply
    • Catherine Tyack

      Hi Gareth,
      Marlin fishing is amazing in the north of Peru between Cabo Blanco and Punta Sal. The whole Ecuador coastline is also great for Marlin, and Manta is particularly popular. While Marlin can be caught all year round, Blues are most common between May and July, and Blacks are around in large numbers from December to February.

      Reply
  2. karen congdon

    Good morning, we are looking at your fishing trips, we definitely would like to book one for this summer, but we are wondering whereabouts you are located as we would need to find a hotel in the close proximity and then figure out where to load for the boat. Looking to fish for marlins and perhaps keep it for mounting, is this a possibility???? thank you in advance for your assistance.

    Reply
    • Cat

      Hi Karen,

      We have boats offering Marlin fishing all over the world, so take your pick! Some of the best places to go are south Costa Rica, Hawaii , and Cairns – you can see more destinations and links in the article above.

      As for mounting, that will depend on the charter you go on. It is standard practice (and strongly recommended) to release Marlin after catching them in order to preserve this amazing species. You will have to ask the captain what their specific rules are about this.

      Reply
      • John Stingel

        Karen – These days a good picture and keeping the leader and lure or hook is all you need to remember a great catch. If you do want a mount all you need to provide is some dimensions along with your pictures and a good taxidermy can provide you a replica without killing the fish. Dimensions also allow for an approximate weight and a good boat should be providing tagging to track the fish if caught again.

        Reply
  3. Josh

    How many are you allowed to catch in one day?

    Reply
    • George

      Hi Josh,

      Thanks or your question!

      It depends on where you are, which Marlin you are targeting, and when you are fishing. If you could narrow down your question, I’d be happy to give you the specifics!

      Tight lines,
      George

      Reply
  4. Barrie Hall

    Hi I am hoping to take my son Marlin fishing in July 2019 in Kona for a special birthday can you give me a rough guide has to how much it would cost per person per day I have tried emailing a couple of the charter companies but neither have responded thank you Barrie

    Reply
    • Stefan

      Hi, Barrie, thanks for reading the blog.

      There are two options here, and I will explain both of them.

      First, you have shared charters, where you and your son will be fishing with other anglers. The price per person for a half-day trip ranges from 120-150 USD. This is affordable, but I doubt you will have enough time to catch a Marlin. Plus, you won’t have enough flexibility as there will be other people on the boat too.

      Second, I’d recommend going on a private charter. You will need a full day trip to have the best chances of landing Marlin. But, on a private charter, you and your son will have the entire boat to yourselves, which means you will have more flexibility in deciding how to spend your day. Plus, the captain will be fully focused on making sure to put you on fish. These full day private trips would cost about 890 USD for both you and your son, and anyone else you’d like to bring along. Since it’s a special occasion, I’d say this would work better for you.

      You can have a look at some of the charter captains we work with in the area:

      Bite Me Sportfishing Charters
      Camelot Sportfishing

      They have both put anglers on Marlin – check out the photos from their fishing trips.

      Hope this helps.
      If you have any more questions, I’d be happy to help.

      Tight lines,
      Stefan

      Reply

Leave a Reply