Marlin Fishing: The Complete Guide
May 15, 2019 | 12 minute read Comments
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Reading Time: 12 minutes

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

A White Marlin jumping out of the water after being hooked by and angler on a fishing trip

Once hooked, all species of Marlin display an acrobatic ability 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, giving the angler the fight of their life. It’s little wonder that fishing for Marlin has almost legendary status amongst anglers the world over.

Billfish Basics

We at FishingBooker, just like all serious anglers, dream about catching a “grander,” one of those legendary fish that weights over 1000 lb. The record for the biggest Marlin of all time goes to the enormous 1,805 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 the 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) 1,560 pounds (707.61 kg). The IGFA also states that the biggest recorded Blue Marlin weighed 1,402 pounds (635 kg) and was caught in Vitoria, Brazil in 1992.

Like Sailfish and Swordfish, Marlins are part of the Billfish family. These highly predatory species use their 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: Blue, Black, White and Striped. 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. Let’s meet this ferocious fish family and learn a little more about each one.

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 Marlin living in the Pacific and the Atlantic oceans to be two distinct species, although this point of view is contended. It does seem to be the case that Marlin in the Pacific ocean tend to be larger than those in the Atlantic, though.

How to Recognize Blue Marlin

A diagram showing how to recognize a Blue Marlin, with writing describing the fish's pointed dorsal fin, cobalt blue back, foldable pectoral fins, and cylindrical body. The precise information is listed in bullet points below.

The telltale signs of a Blue Marlin are as follows:

  • A pointed front dorsal fin that is never as high as the maximum body depth (read, the hairdo is never longer than the fish is fat).
  • Pectoral (side) fins aren’t rigid, but can be folded back against the body.
  • A cobalt blue back that fades to white. It made have pale blue stripes that always fade after death.
  • The overall body shape is cylindrical.

Black Marlin

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

Black Marlin tend to be bigger than the Blue Marlin 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, 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.

People sometimes refer to Black Marlin to as the “Bull of the Sea” due to their extreme strength, large size, and incredible endurance once hooked. All this obviously makes them a very popular game fish. They can sometime have a silvery haze covering their body, meaning they occasionally get labeled a “Silver Marlin.”

How to Recognize Black Marlin:

An illustration explaining how to recognize Black Marlin. Information is written about their short dorsal fin, less elongated body, rigid pectoral fins, and dark blue and silver coloring. This information is summarized in bullet points beneath the picture.

These are the top ways to know you’ve hooked a Black Marlin:

  • Low dorsal fin relative to body depth (smaller mohawk than most Marlin).
  • Bill and body are shorter than other species.
  • Dark blue back fading to a silver belly.
  • Rigid pectoral fins that can’t fold flat.

White Marlin

White Marlin 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 Marlin, 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 White Marlin:

A drawing of a White Marlin with writing describing their rounded dorsal fin, light coloring, and spotted underside. These points are repeated in bullets underneath the picture.

White Marlin are easy to recognize. Here’s what to look out for:

  • A rounded dorsal fin which often exceeds their body depth.
  • A lighter, occasionally green coloring
  • Spots on their belly, as well as their dorsal and anal fins.

Striped Marlin

‘Stripes’ are found in the Pacific and Indian oceans, usually in colder waters than 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 Marlin 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:

A diagram on how to recognize Striped Marlin. Writing, which is repeated in the text below the picture, describes the fish's long, pointed fins, visible blue stripes, flexible pectoral fins, and lean body shape.

The signature traits of a Striped Marlin are as follows:

  • A pointed dorsal fin that can be taller than its body depth.
  • Visible pale blue stripes that remain even after death.
  • A thinner, more compressed body shape.
  • Flexible, pointed pectoral fins.

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 precise Marlin species you want to go after. Fishing charters specifically targeting Marlin are particularly common in Mexico, Hawaii and Panama among many others.

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. In some destinations, Marlin fishing trips run all year round.

Blue Marlin Fishing Hotspots Throughout the Year:

An animation of Blue Marlin fishing hotspots throughout the year. Areas are labeled in red, orange, or yellow, depending on how good the fishing is. Red is best, orange is medium, and yellow is worse.

Red = Blue Marlin 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 Hawaii’s waters), but also because of the skill and experience of its top captains. Marlin fishing in Kona tends to be based from the Honokohau Harbor. If you’re in the area around the beginning of August, make sure you don’t miss the Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament for the hottest Marlin fishing action.

Marlin Fishing in Mexico

From late March through July charter boats operating out of Cozumel and Cancun encounter masses of 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, maxing out at 500 lb. However, the smaller fish, the more athletic they are, so you’ll still be in for an exciting fight.

A close-up of a Striped Marlin in the water with a green fishing lure in its mouth

No matter the size, Marlin will put you through your paces

To the west, Cabo San Lucas is famous all over the world for its epic Marlin fishing, partly thanks to the prestigious Bisbee’s Black and Blue tournament. This is one of the most famous and high-stakes fishing events in the world. Safe to say, Cabo’s the perfect place for it

Heading south from Cabo, the biggest Black Marlin here are most likely found around offshore structures such as Corbetana Rock and ‘El Banco’ near Puerto Vallarta. Some monsters have also been landed around the Revillagigedos Islands. Visit 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.

A Black Marlin in the water next to an angler. The fish has just been caught and is about to be released

It doesn’t stop there though: the Black Marlin then move south towards Port Stephens, where the season stretches out through 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.

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 May through November. Black Marlin are around in the same period, and Striped Marlin are best August though 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 Sunshine State’s Marlin fishing season seems to be dictated by the ‘loop current’, which the fish follow into the Gulf of Mexico past Miami and Key West. The area’s Marlin bite is excellent from roughly April through July.

White Marlin is common further up the East Coast from mid-July onwards. This species famously sticks to the continental shelf offshore of Maryland, 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.

A White Marlin being held by two anglers on a fishing charter out of Ocean City, Maryland

The 29th July 1939 stands out as one of the best Marlin fishing days of all time. On this fabled date, 171 Whities were boated here in just 24 hours. 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 to the north, where Costa Rica 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 the occasional Blue Marlin over 1000 lb there. In fact, over the last ten years catches of Blue Marlin in the Pacific have increased. They’re now consistently found in the Bay of Islands. 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 action in the world, although it is only just emerging as a charter fishing destination. While big Blue Marlin are common here, it’s also not unlikely to catch smaller, more agile specimens as well. August through December is the prime Blue Marlin season, although it’s possible to find the odd White Marlin in these waters all year round.

Two men and a woman holding a large White Marlin at the back of a boat, with sea and sky behind them

Blues usually frequent the Canary Islands between May and October. They tend to be larger in these parts 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 big game fishing trips on the Canary Islands.

To the north, the Portuguese island of Madeira is also productive from May to October and can raise fish of a similar size as those found farther south. Even farther 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.

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 through 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!

An angler wearing sunglasses and gloves holding a Marlin alongside a boat before it is released

Marlin fishing is exhausting at the best of times

The Caribbean islands are fantastic spots for Marlin, with a season that runs roughly from June through 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 Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic, like many on this list, could be the perfect combination of extreme game fishing and a relaxing tropical island.

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 style of artificial lure 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 other big game bruisers.

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 adventure only for your tackle to let you down just as you feel the pull of a big fish on the end of the line.

A man Marlin fishing with his son. The pair have caught a large Black Marlin and a deckhand is helping them pose with it before it is released

There are no right or wrong rods and reels to use, but make sure your tackle is heavy enough to withstand the pressure it will go under. Charter fishing boats will supply tackle, but make sure you check their previous customers’ reviews to ensure that everything they supply is in good condition.

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!

Comments (11)
  • Gareth rees

    Feb 16, 2016

    When and where is the best marlin fishing peru or equador

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      Catherine Tyack

      Feb 16, 2016

      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.

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  • karen congdon

    Apr 19, 2016

    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.

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      Cat

      May 11, 2016

      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.

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      John Stingel

      Aug 19, 2018

      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.

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  • Josh

    Apr 19, 2018

    How many are you allowed to catch in one day?

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      George

      Apr 30, 2018

      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

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  • Barrie Hall

    Jul 3, 2018

    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

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      Stefan

      Jul 11, 2018

      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

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  • Brent

    May 21, 2019

    Great read. I actually plan on going to Kona one day soon I hope. I’m wanting to catch an sb spear and possibly a blue.

    When/where is a good place to have a great chance at a white? I’m trying to catch them all in case you’re wondering. I’ve already gotten a striped and an atl. sail. I’m headed to Cabo in late August for hopefully a pac. sail or blue.

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      Albert

      May 22, 2019

      Hi Brent,

      Wow, sounds like you’re really on a mission!

      Kona is certainly your best bet for Shortbill Spearfish, and probably ties with Cabo for the best Blue Marlin bite.

      In terms of White Marlin, I would have to say somewhere like Ocean City, MD, although the high season there is also in August.

      Let us know how you get on in Cabo, and feel free to get in touch if you want any charter advice.

      Tight lines!

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