Squidgy Tailgunner Rig

Ok, so it’s not about Billfish but I hope someone finds it useful anyway.

So in World War II and the Korean War the Tail Gunner was the guy whose’ job it was to save everyone’s bacon but he was also often the first to cop it. Much like the rig I’m about to show you which has produced time and again turning dud trips with tough conditions into winners.

This Rig is the secret weapon of many an Impoundment Barra Pro and come Comp time most guys will have a variation of this theme. Personally it has accounted for a swag of Barra for me in both the fresh and the salt including my two largest fish at 107 and 121cm. The 100-130mm versions are great in the fresh but the real kicker for me was the discovery of just how deadly the 100mm models could be in the salt. Not only that, but due to the fact that the best retrieve is a dead easy slow roll and the stinger can convert bumps into takes it has proven itself as my go-to novice lure and is perfect for the “wannacatchabarra” Southrons who turn up when conditions are comfortable for them, not the Barra.


There are many variations to this rig, most notably Jason Wilhelms’ Area 51 Slick Jig by TT lures, this rig is undoubtedly good but I find it fiddly to use, it doesn’t come in enough sizes and weights to expand on its’ application and the treble hook isn’t far enough back in the body for my liking. Not to mention it being horrendously expensive and not coming with my preferred hooks, not that there is anything wrong with VMCs’. By far the most common variation to this rig is to trim the tail wrist of the lure to achieve the desired “floppiness” needed for slow speed use. The one big advantage to this method is the ability to do it on the fly during a fishing session however it does come with a few drawbacks. The main drawback of trimming is that it doesn’t address the problem of bent tails. The smaller sizes are particularly prone to this, many so bad that they are essentially useless. Trimming also makes it more likely that the Barra will be able to pull the tail off of the lure. Again, this is more of a problem in the smaller models.


So, time to get on with the mod. For this you will need:

• Crimping pliers

• Heavy duty pliers or sidecutters

• Short length of wire or similar

• Lighter

• Pot of boiling water

• Bowl of iced water

• Tongs

• 80lb mono leader

• 2 x Crimps to suit (preferably a snug fit)

• Squidgy Slick Rig in preferred size and colour, in this case a 130mm original series in Black and Gold

• 1 x Heavy duty treble hook sized to suit #2 for 110-130mm #4 for the 100mm. In this case a #2 Owner ST66.


Step 1. Take the squidgy and remove the jig hook taking care to not tear the plastic. Some times this is unavoidable but the main thing is to try and limit the damage.

Step 2. Take the lure and drop it in boiling water for approximately 25-30 seconds. Use the tongs to remove from the water and take the lure by the tail wrist and the middle of the body and stretch it right out to the point just before where you think it might break. This is a feel thing and takes a bit of practice, you can reheat a lure if you don’t go far enough but you can’t shrink one back down so start off slow. Checking that the tail is in line with the body (remember one of the things we are trying to achieve is to correct any kinks and twists) and whilst still holding the lure stretched out dunk it in iced water hold it there until cool. What we are trying to achieve here is to set the lure with a thinner elongated tail wrist, the colder the water is the quicker the lure sets and the better(and easier) the results. Boiling also softens the lure giving further action but the stretch and cool technique is the real secret. In the below shot you can see the difference between two lures from the same pack. The boiled and stretched lure has a visibly thinner tail wrist and droops down from the softening. Ignore the colour difference this is due to dipping in Spike-it.

Step 3. Take up the piece of wire and heat the end of it then melt the hole for the treble rig on the centreline of the body between the last two ribs towards the tail and at the same angle as the ribs. If the wire is hot enough this will be very easy. Go slow so as to not go too far as we don’t want a hole in the top section of the lure.

Step 4. Take the leader, treble and crimps and form the Stinger rig, the key to this to form the front loop so it just fits over the eye of the jig hook but to leave the back loop for the treble quite large to hide the crimp in the lure body and give the treble hook freedom of movement. When it comes to crimping make sure you are using the right type of crimp for the leader you are using as well as the right type of tool. I’m not going to go into it here, there is plenty enough information floating around on this already but it is important enough to mention. You may notice in the photo below that the crimps have been double swagged, this is a personal preference but it makes the rig sleeker and I haven’t had one fail yet. Additionally you may wish to melt “mushrooms” on the tag ends of your leader after crimping as extra insurance. For the 130mm rig the loop to loop distance is approx. 60mm, 55mm for the110mm and 50mm for the 100mm

Step 5. This step is optional depending on whether or not you are using the Original or Pro series of Slick Rig and what depth of water you will be fishing. One of the main reasons the Pro series was introduced was the need for a lighter version of the lure to be able to work shallow water such as estuary flats and above weed beds in the impoundments. To lighten the original series take your jig head and work the cutting blades of the pliers or side cutters around the lead with firm pressure with each cut applied at 90 degrees to the last until the excess lead comes away from the head of the jig. The aim is to seperate the unwanted lead without scoring or otherwise damaging the hook. Once the excess has been parted it is a simple matter to bring it down to the length of the hook to the bend and then cut it lengthways to totally remove it once again applying just enough force for the lead to seperate, not enough to damage the hook. Please note, the tip of the lead in the jig head is very important to the way a Slick Rig swims and the way the hook sits in the lure and this in turn affects hook up rates, so don’t mess with the nose of the jig head!

Step 6. Thread the treble rig up through the lure body and place the front loop over the eye of the jig hook like so:

Step 7. Finally, Slide the Jig hook back into the body taking care to minimise tearing around the rear hook slot and give the lure a tug test to ensure the treble rig is securely looped over the jig eye, there’s nothing more embarrasing than getting a solid hit and finding out the hard way that the treble was just sitting there! Ready to swim!

Hope this helps someone out there get onto a few.



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Twin Hook Garfish Rig

Hi All,

In response to numerous queries about a Garfish Rig for Billfish that would also score Mackerel I decided to put up the following tutorial. There’s nothing new about this rig, it’s just another take on it. I was recently shown this variation by John McConkey aboard MAXIMUS and I’m not ashamed to say I know a good rig when I see it and have since adopted it. This rig is good in any position but I primarily use it on the downrigger to prevent false releases from short strikes and to prevent towing around half a bait after a Mack attack.
The Twin Hook Garfish Rig

  • 1m 100lb leader
  • 2 x Aluminium Crimps to suit (1.0mm)
  • 135lb 49 Strand Wire
  • 2 x Brass Crimps to suit (size 4)
  • Long Open Eye Bait Needle (May Be made using 1.5mm SS Tig Wire or similar if not able to source)
  • 2 x Hooks to suit – Must be Non Offset (In this case Gamakatsu SL12s’ one in 8/0 and one in 6/0)
  • Crimping pliers for Aluminium Crimps
  • Crimping pliers for Brass Crimps
  • Light Rigging floss – waxed & unscented dental floss is identical and easy to acquire
  • Size 3 Bean Sinker
1.Prep the Bait.JPG
Prep the Bait

1. To prep the bait start by running your thumb down its’ belly to get rid of anything in the gut and flexing the bait side to side to break the rigor.  Doing both these things will make it more supple and therefore it will swim better in the water. Trim the bill off Square approximately 5mm from the top lip using a sharp knife and remove the eyes by poking them through with a suitably sized piece of dowel or the blunt end of a thick pen.

2.Construct the Stinger.JPG
Construct the Stinger

2. Construct the Stinger hook using the 135lb 49 Strand wire and Brass crimps in conjunction with the 6/0 size hook, ensure the integrity of the rig by using the correct crimping tool and crimp size. The length of the wire should have the hook coming out of the Gars’ waste vent and the front loop level with the eye socket, make things easier for yourself by ensuring you have a large front loop as you will be threading your leader through the loop later.

3.Thread the Needle .JPG
Thread the Needle

3. Thread the bait needle through the Garfish starting from the waste vent and exiting out of the eye socket just to one side of the base of the backbone, take your time and “feel” your way up the middle of the stomach with the point of the needle. Make sure the needle opening is just open enough to accept the wire loop of the stinger rig to avoid hangups and attach the loop of the stinger.

4.Pull the Stinger Through.JPG
Pull the Stinger Through

4. Pull the stinger through the body of the bait taking care to not tear it with the needle eye or crimps, a little bit of force will be required to pull the needle eye and loop into the eye socket. Detach the needle from the stinger.

5.Add the Front hook.JPG
Add the Front hook

5. Add the front hook, in this case an 8/0 Gamakatsu SL12. Start by figuring out the placement with the eye of the hook in the middle of the eye socket, gauge where the bend of the hook will exit the body of the Garfish and make a 10mm incision in the belly so the hook will come out of the middle of the cut. Next, thread the eye of the hook up through the slit in the belly into the eye socket. Once again this may take some force to achieve.

6.Create a hole for the leader.JPG
Create a hole for the leader

6. Create a hole for the leader to be threaded through by taking the bait needle and punching it down through the centre of the skull in line with the centre of the eye sockets, this will work for up to 100lb leader, but you may need to use something with a larger diameter if you wish to use heavier leader. At this point it helps with aligning the hook eye and stinger loop if you run the needle through them.

7.Thread the leader.JPG
Thread the leader

7. Thread a crimp onto the leader line and then thread it through the hole ensuring that it passes through both the hook eye and the stinger loop. I repeat, make sure it passes through both the hook eye and the stinger loop!!

8.Crimp the leader.JPG
Crimp the leader

8. Take the leader tag end and pass it back through the crimp and snug the crimp tight to the nose of the bait, you will notice at this point that the line will want to centre on a groove in the centre of the nose. Keeping the crimp snugged up to the nose of the Garfish take your crimping pliers and crimp the sleeve. To finish off take the other sleeve and crimp a loop in the other end of your leader. At this point your Bait is ready to go if you wish to use it as a skip bait. Another variation of this that can be deadly is to add an Octopus Skirt or lure over the front of the Gar prior to installing the final front crimp.

9. Make it Swim!.JPG
 Make it Swim!

9. To turn the Bait into a swimmer take a 30cm length of rigging floss and fold it in half to form a loop and thread the size 3 bean sinker onto it. Pass the loop over the bait’s head and flare out the bait’s gills. Pass the floss loop behind both gill plates.

10. Ready to go.JPG
Ready to go

10. Slide the weight/tube up the floss until it starts to tighten the lasso around the bait’s head. Pull it down tight, and then tuck the sinker/tube up into the bait’s throat, making sure to keep the lead in the centre. Bring the two tag ends up and over the mouth of the garfish and tie off using a reef knot, lock it off with an extra overhand knot and trim the tag ends. The beauty about adding the sinker with the floss is that it can be added at any time so you can do up your baits as skippers and then make them swim at a moments’ notice.

So there you have it, a Rig for both Billfish and Mackerel. My preference will always be for circles for Billfish but this is certainly a good way to hedge your bets if there is some good bycatch getting around.




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Light Tackle Billfish Part 4 – Finding Fish


Hello and welcome to the fourth instalment of Light Tackle Billfish Part 4 – Finding Fish.  To anyone who is visiting for the first time I suggest you start with Part 1 of the series “Gearing Up”.

   Well, to all those who have read the previous parts of the series you will have to bear with me on this one as it wasn’t easy to do and may not be so easy to read but I can guarantee that there will be some good information here anyway!


   This topic really should have been brought up earlier in “Part 1 – Gearing Up” but better late than never.  Get the best set of polarised sunnies in a saltwater tint you can possibly afford and don’t use them for anything but fishing. (I need to heed my own advice on that last bit)  They are by far your best tool for finding fish.  If you don’t have a good set of polarised lenses you might as well forget going Billfishing until you get a pair THEY ARE THAT IMPORTANT.  You are just going to have to take my word on this until you see a couple of fish in the water and then you will understand exactly what I am talking about.

Where To Start?

   Ok, so you have spent all week prepping your boat and gear to go chase some stick fish and you just can’t decide where to go… How do you figure it out?  Well the easiest way to do this when you are starting out is to research your area and target specific areas that are known to produce Billfish either historically or currently.  The reason I make this distinction is that many people hold off going fishing for other species if they don’t hear reports.  Well I’m here to tell you if you are chasing Billfish in the Territory and also in other locales then you may just have to bite the bullet and go because if you wait for a decent report you may never go!  On the other hand if you get a report that a certain area is firing get there pronto!  If you are relying on historical catch data to target an area just be sure that you are giving yourself the best chance possible by making sure you are there at the right time.  For example, from my observations there are two runs of fish in the Territory one from Febuary to June and another during the build up from September to November although I suspect there are fish in the Territory year round.  In my opinion the grounds wide of Dundee fish better in the earlier part of the year with the deeper water of the gutters fishing better later in the year.  All this brings me to an important point, to catch Billfish you really need to fish where they are likely to be so going to places they have been caught before is a great way to start.  Below is a rough map indicating the areas that have produced fish around Darwin.

Darwin Billfish Map

On The Water

Have a Game Plan

  Ok, so you have finally made it out to the grounds, deployed your trolling spread and settled in to try and catch some fish the question is what do you do now?  Well the first thing you need to do is have a game plan for the day.  This plan can change rapidly as the day progresses but it always pays to have one.  A good example of this is when I fish North Gutter I will start my day at the top of the Fenton Patches and head for the eastern end of North Gutter.  When I reach the gutter I will then run along either of the drop offs switching sides when I come to a choke point in the depth contours.  I will generally plan to be at the western end of the gutter during the change of the tide for the optimum bite time.  However, if at any time I find bait or sight/raise/hook a fish I will give the immediate area a good going over and may not move far from that point for the rest of the day.


   The first thing to look for when trolling for Billfish is structure.  This holds true for all types of fishing and billfishing is no different but the structure itself may be not as readily visible nor be what would traditionally be described as structure in an estaurine situation.  Even if there is no discernable predator or prey movement in association with structure it is still helpful to the fisherman as a point of reference whilst trolling. When trolling for billfish anything that deviates from a flat bottom and bare water column can be considered structure.  To make it easier to get a handle on I will seperate open water structure into two parts, surface and subsurface structure.  Lets start with subsurface structure, we will classify subsurface structure as anything that cannot be seen by the naked eye.

Bottom Contours

If you look on a GPS Map you will see countour lines which indicate points of the same depth on the seabed as different contours show different depths this then makes it easy to pinpoint peaks, shoals, gutters and holes in the sea floor all of which either provide structure to hold bait or influence the current to varying degrees or both.  A prime example of using the contour lines on your GPS maps to find fish is targeting Cul-de-sacs formed by the contour lines along a gutter.  These cul-de-sacs act to funnel the prevailing current to the surface in the form of nutrient rich upwellings which in turn attracts the bait and predators.  North Gutter is a prime example of this phenomenon, in fact, at certain times of the year it is that reliable that every large cul-de-sac in the gutter holds a school of tuna or Mackerel and of course the billfish will be lurking somewhere nearby.

Bottom Strata 

   Some types of bottom strata seem to hold bait better than others.  Mud or sand doesn’t appear to hold much in the way of bait unless it is packed into tight travelling schools whereas a firm mixed rubble bottom seems to hold looser schools of scattered bait more consistently.  Areas like this are excellent to target if the Billfish are scattered and not really herding bait as they tend to produce consistent singles and pairs of fish.  The long Lost grounds wide of Dundee are a perfect example of this type of ground.

Wrecks, Shoals and Pinnacles

   Wrecks, shoals and pinnacles are fairly obvious forms of subsurface structure and all are prime bait holding locations found by using your GPS maps and a quality sounder.  Even a small lump has the ability to attract bait and influence a wide area so anything holding bait is worth a closer look.  Here is a screen shot of some hard structure holding bait.  Whilst bait is holding hard against the structure we also can clearly see that it influences the bait density across the entire water column and this is what we are interested in.

Lowrance HDS screenshot.

Current Lines And Upwellings

   Current lines can be regarded as both surface and sub surface structure.  There are a huge variety of current lines, some with debris such as weed or foam caused by wind and friction between the bodies of water moving at different speeds and often in different directions.  Distinctly seperate bodies of water form due to differences in both salinity and temperature which both affect the water density.  Different densities of water resist mixing and therefore have the ability to form these separate currents. Current Eddies are caused by the friction of the water currents both on and below the surface. And it is in these areas, especially on the edges that we find the greatest mix of nutrients, oxygen levels and temperature variances.  This in turn attracts the greatest concentrations of bait and predators.  In addition, from a predator/prey perspective small bait fishes are unable to travel through temperature changes and associated salinity and oxygen levels easily. Larger predators take advantage of this “wall” to herd bait fish more easily than in the open ocean.  Here is an example of some current lines with both rough and calm water corridors evident and a distinct colour change in the fore ground.

Current lines with colour change


   Weed is considered to be a nuisance by many fishermen but it is an excellent form of structure to look for when  searching for billfish.  By far the best is Sargassum weed as one of the billfishes’ favourite prey food the Flying Fish uses the weed to spawn on in addition to using it as cover.  If you see any commotion in or around floating weed get up there fast as it is quite likely there will be a lit up fish waiting for you.  A particularly memorable example of this happened at Long Lost last year.  We spotted a commotion on the surface close to some floating weed some distance ahead of us and proceeded to head in that direction.  When we got there a Sailfish of around 20kg was there.  He was that lit up and aggro from chasing flying fish around that he was batting a small piece of driftwood around with his bill!  Needless to say he didn’t turn down the bait we pitched to him….   This is an example of a Sargassum weed raft if you look closely you can see it has formed on a current line. 

Sargassum Weed Raft

 Assorted Floating Rubbish and FADS

   Any floating rubbish at all no matter how small has the ability to hold baitfish and is always worth a look.  As example me and a mate were fishing Darwin harbour recently and came across a couple of empty chip packets floating in the water.  When we went over to pick them up we discovered there were 5 or 6 small baitfish sheltering underneath each of them.  If nothing else floating debris may be holding Dolphin fish, Tripletail or Cobia. The shipping pallet in the photo below is a prime suspect.

Pallet FAD

Other Predators

   Other predators in the area are always a good indication of bait in the area and are invariably worth taking note of.

Turtles And Sea Snakes

   Both Turtles and Sea Snakes are excellent indicators of good bait fish concentrations in an area.  Turtles in particular seen to have a preference for the sort of water Billfish are found in and I always regard them as a good sign.

Tuna And Mackerel Schools

   Depending on the size of the individuals in a school versus the size of the Billfish in the area Tuna and Mackerel schools may or may not be prey items.  Billfish will still hang around Tuna and Mackerel  schools even if not feeding on them and they may be feeding on the same baitfish so it is always worth a troll around the vincinity of a school.  In addition Tuna schools in particular can serve as excellent points of reference when trolling in an area.  For example wide of Dundee I will regularly troll from school to school if there are tuna spread through a large area of interest, it breaks the monotony and is often a productive technique although it can be hard to resist putting a lure through sights like this…

Tuna School


   There are a vast array of seabirds that can indicate the presence of bait and predators but in the tropics there are three of particular note to the Billfisherman.  All birds exibit certain behavioural characteristics in the presence of baitfish and predators and only time on the water can really key you in to what is happening but in short any bird that is trying to hold station in a given area or is diving consistently is worth investigating.

Common Tern

   The common tern is the most prevalent bird you will encounter offshore in the tropics.  It will reliably indicate the presence of small to mid size bait and is common on both Mackerel and Tuna schools.  It will also be in attendance when Sails and small Blacks are feeding on Sardines, Anchovies and Herring.

Common Tern

 Northern Gannet

   The Nothern Gannet is an excellent indicator of both large bait and the apex predators that go along with it.  A single Northern Gannet holding station is always worth closer investigation as it is more than likely there will be a large predatory fish underneath.  Northern Gannets possess the ability to dive deep after bait and watching a flock of them do this is Awesome.

Northern Gannet

 Check out this video to see what I mean.  I watched a flock of Brown Boobies do this in Broome and it just blew me away.

Brown Booby

   A close relative of the Northern Gannet, Brown Boobies exibit the much same behavioral characteristics.  If you see a number of these birds in one place chances are the action isn’t too far away!

Brown Booby


   Needless to say baitfish are the key to success in finding Billfish and the old adage “find the bait and you will find the fish” will lead to success the vast majority of the time.  All of the above is aimed at finding both the bait and the attendant predators but sometimes bait won’t have birds on it and will be seen as a slight ripple on the surface or it may be picked up on your sounder in the middle of nowhere just to remind you that there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to fishing.  Billfish can, and will feed on just about any fish that they can swallow but there are predominant bait species in any area and they do have their favourites.

Sardines, Pilchards, Herring and Anchovies

   All these baits are much favoured by Sailfish and small Black Marlin and are assumed to comprise a large proportion of the inshore Billfish diet in the tropics.  This grouping of baitfish is sometimes hard to tell apart but will look something like the following:




 Flying Fish

   If there is one bait that screams Billfish the Flying Fish is it.  This bait is the main cause of free jumpers and they really get the Billies revved up and in the mood to feed.  As previously stated Flying Fish spawn on Sargassum Weed and the Billfish will hang around in hope of a feed if Flying Fish are in the area.

Flying Fish


   To be honest I’m not sure how prevalent Garfish are as forage species for Billfish but I do know they inhabit the surface of offshore waters.  Regardless of this one fact is undeniable, Billfish love them and in my opinion they are the Numero Uno billfish bait in Northern waters.   Garfish lend themselves well to rigging with circles.  They can be quickly and easily rigged to swim like Ian Thorpe and given their slender shape they pitch very well.


Mackerel and Tuna

   Make no mistake for any reasonable sized Billfish both Mackerel and Tuna are very much on the menu.  In the North small Spotted Mackerel in particular make excellent skip and swim baits.  A very similar species that Americans call Spanish Mackerel is used extensively in US waters.  Towing a Mackerel as a skip bait on 15 or 24kg tackle gives a two fold advantage. Firstly it puts you in the game for a serious sized Marlin and secondly the bait will work just fine as a teaser for any smaller fish that may show up.  Small Queenfish are a good substitute for this senario, in fact they are probably even better.


 Sighting Fish

   So far we have talked about observing the signs that will increase our chances to find Billfish when on the fishing grounds but by far the most exciting way of finding fish is to sight the fish themselves.  The slightest sign of movement on the surface should be investigated.  At the least it may be baitfish movement which is one of the things we are looking for anyway.  But it is surprising just how often it is a Billfish and depending on the mood of the fish these sightings can most certainly be converted into hookups.  For years the Striped Marlin fishery in Southern California has relied on this as their primary method of catching fish.  To put it into a local perspective here’s some stats from my last season, out of the 21 fish the boat released in the 2010 season 6 out of the 21 releases were from free swimmers.  Nearly a third of the total and that included the largest fish for the season a 80-100kg Black.  So as you can see keeping your eyes open is well worth the effort.  This is also the reason why I make such an issue out of having a pitch bait ready and waiting at all times.  When it comes to Black Marlin be aware that in the water they don’t often look Black.  Expect them to be any colour from pale blue to a deep purple, light moss green and even a drab brown. The fish will most likely change colour as it “lights up” to attack your bait. Sails are mostly a beatiful blue/purple with neon blue highlights when they are “lit up”.

Free Swimming Sail

    I hope this has helped someone out there in their quest for a Billie.  Stay tuned for the next installment Light Tackle Billfish Part 5 – Trolling tactics.



Posted in Light Tackle Billfish Part 4 - Finding Fish | 4 Comments

Billfish Tutorials

Hi All,

The big problem with Blogs is that they run in chronological order from newest to oldest post so to help those coming here for Billfish info a link to each of the Billfish Tutorials has been set up on the righthand side of the screen.  Clicking into the link will take you to the tutorial page you wish to view



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Tales from the Tinny and Darwin Billfish Marks

Hi All,

   Had a blast with the boys from ABC Darwins’ Tales from the Tinny this morning. Here’s the link to this mornings show.


   Thanks go to Mario for lining it up and I hope you all got something out of it even if I do run off on tangents at times !  During the show I promised to put up some marks for people to utilize so here they are, the first list is a set of my personal marks for the fog bay area that consistently produce fish, the marks are very localised but is a good starting point for the area.  The second list is a collated list of shared knowlege courtesy of Balls from the Darwin GFC.

   Good Luck!


Personal Marks

S12*45.625′ E130*05.216′   S12*45.412′ E130*04.168′   S12*45.882′ E130*04.395′   

S12*45.629′ E130*04.465′   S12*45.941′ E130*06.836′   S12*47.351′ E130*06.823′

S12*46.118′ E130*06.894′   S12*46.408′ E130*06.870′   S12*46.258′ E130*06.842′  

S12*46.167′ E130*07.019′   S12*46.161′ E130*06.775′

Shared Knowledge

S 12 04 017 E 130 27 901   S 12 11 509 E 130 28 032   S 12 11 652 E 130 28 119   

S 12 08 388 E 130 37 808   S 12 09 694 E 130 39 122   S 12 06 092 E 130 37 297

S 12 05 932 E 130 28 492   S 12 05 355 E 130 28 827   S 12 04 934 E 130 35 584  

S 12 10 981 E 130 39 530   S 12 10 819 E 130 41 019    S 12 04 600 E 130 27 750

S 12 11 899 E 130 47 900    S 12 11 383 E 130 40 333   S 12 10 786 E 130 39 818

S 12 10 205 E 130 39 054   S 12 10 188 E 130 45 489   S 12 09 557 E 130 39 046

S 12 10 968 E 130 39 886   S 12 10 763 E 130 39 663   S 12 10 409 E 130 39 544

S 12 10 452 E 130 39 705   S 13 12 442 E 129 47 427    S 13 10 423 E 129 47 800

S 13 09 182 E 129 48 009   S 13 09 177 E 129 44 439   S 13 08 819 E 129 44 410

S 13 07 816 E 129 48 185    S 13 07 782 E 129 44 475   S 13 07 284 E 129 44 609

S 13 06 981 E 129 45 651    S 13 05 955 E 129 45 751   S 13 01 484 E 129 53 409

S 13 00 464 E 129 55 182   S 12 59 974 E 129 53 799   S 12 59 711 E 129 54 902

S 12 59 566 E 129 54 996   S 12 59 427 E 129 55 238   S 12 59 203 E 129 54 976

S 12 56 323 E 129 56 862   S 12 55 189 E 129 56 858   S 12 49 960 E 130 02 003

S 12 44 092 E 129 55 937   S 12 41 186 E 130 06 806   S 12 35 823 E 130 10 425

S 12 30 668 E 130 20 227   S 11 38 290 E 129 55 100   S 12 57 623 E 129 56 131

S 11 37 340 E 129 57 281    S 12 50 031 E 130 29 228   S 12 13 907 E 130 12 712

S 12 20 425 E 130 19 320   S 12 06 107 E 130 15 030

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Light Tackle Billfish Part 3 – Setting the Spread

Hi there to all you budding Billie tragics tuning in once again!  To anyone new to this Blog may I suggest starting with Part 1 of the series- Tackle and Teasers.   

   Trolling for Billfish can be as simple as towing two baits behind the boat and in the Cairns heavy tackle fishery during a hot bite many top boats will do exactly that to try and keep things simple on big fish.  At the other end of the spectrum some boats geared up to troll lures will tow up to six lures and a couple of teasers.  However, for switch baiting the style of fishing I will be outlining the name of the game is to find a balance between simplicity and fish raising ability.  Before we go into the four different spreads I use for switch baiting there are a few things common to them all that you need to know. 

 Pressure Waves 

   Pressure Waves are permanent standing waves in your boats’ wake formed by the boats forward movement.  In rough weather they may be hard to pick up on until you know what you’re looking at.  In calm conditions they look like this: 

Pressure Waves

     At this stage you are probably wondering why I am bothering to point this out right?  Well this is important information because it actually dictates how far back you will put your baits and teasers.  Your baits and the trailing teaser in your daisy chains should be positioned on the front face of the pressure wave from the bottom of the wave to a third of the way up the face.  This does several things, firstly the bait tracks better when placed in this position and is less likely to blow out.  Secondly, it places the bait in the clear window of water at the bottom of the wave where it is easier for both you and the fish to see.  Last but by no means least is the fact that Billfish, and Blacks in particular don’t really like sticking their heads out of the water to take a bait and if your bait is on the top of a pressure wave they have to stick their head out of the next trough to take it whereas if your bait is placed on the bottom third of the wave the fish actually has more water above it when it goes to strike.  I actually think this may be why small blacks have a thing for swim baits.  Be aware that the distance between pressure waves changes with the speed of the boat so if you change your trolling speed during the day you may find you have to adjust your spread accordingly. 


   Ok, let me preface this by saying that in no way do you need outriggers to catch Billfish but there are several reasons why if you become a tragic like myself you may want to consider obtaining a pair.  Firstly using outriggers gives you width in the spread which enables your baits/teasers to be run in the clear water out to the sides of the wake.  Using outriggers also increases the height of the tow point above the waterline which in turn increases the angle of the line in relation to your bait or teaser.  What this means is that there is less of your line and/or leader in the water and this vastly improves bait/lure action.  Outriggers also enable tighter turns when trolling so it becomes easier to work bait schools.  If you go all out with your setup it is also possible to run your teasers from your outriggers and have dedicated teaser reels in your cabin or t-top for retrieval so you can run your spread like this:  

T-Top Outrigger Setup

 My Boat is being set up like this at the moment but that’s a subject for another post. 

Release Clips and Strike Settings 

   When trolling baits overheads work ok but you are limited to running very light drag settings and then manually free spooling the bait when a fish strikes at the bait. This is to avoid a fish pulling the bait under heavy drag and spooking or pulling the bait off the hook and copping a free feed.  Be aware that by running a very light drag setting you do run the risk of a hard and fast strike over running the spool.  This is where in light line classes good quality spin reels come into their own as you can leave the bail arm open and use a rubber band or release clip to hold the line until a fish strikes at the bait.  In my opinion Dubro make the best clips for this purpose, they look like this when set on the rod: 

Dubro Spinning Reel Clip

Unfortunately this type of Dubro clip can be very hard to find so you can use any type of peg type downrigger release clip attached to your boat, this works well for rods you may primarily use for other types of fishing I like the Dubro peg type clip but Cannon, Scotty ect. all make clips that will do the job, the set up looks like this: 

Using A Downrigger Clip

   Alternatively you can go old school and use a size 18 rubber band for 8-10kg line.  It is advisable to check the breaking strain of the brand you buy though they should break under 4kg and preferably at 2kg remember, we aren’t trying to set hooks here, the rubber band is just to hold the line until the bait is hit.  Here’s how you set a rubber band:

1. Make 6-8 wraps around the line with the rubberband making sure you hold one of the loops open.

2. Take one end and pass it through the loop you held open and gently pull up tight.

3. To complete the rig simply loop the rubberband over the reel handle.

   If you choose to use outriggers as part of your spread you will need a release clip of some description for them as well.  Many people use rubber bands the same way as shown above for this but I find that resetting or adjusting the spread can be a never ending job with rubber bands and use a pair of  Aftco Goldfinger bar type releases as they allow the line to be adjusted.  Rupp Zip Clips are also very good.  You could use a peg type downrigger clip but I really would go for the bar type as they are far less prone to tangling.

Aftco Goldfinger Outrigger Release Clip

  The Pitch Rod/Rods 

   Unless you are an absolute gun at casting light tackle overheads you will want your pitch bait rods to be in spin.  Not only will you use this outfit on fish you raise but once you start to look you will be surprised just how many fish you find just cruising on the surface ahead of the boat, a quick cast lobbing a bait ahead of them with the pitch rod can often result in a hook up hence the reason why a spin rod is so useful.  In addition spin has the ability to provide a true freespool.  In all the following spreads you will notice that there is at least one rod that is just sitting in the rod holder not deployed, this signifies the pitch bait rod and it should be ready to go at all times rigged with a skipping bait of some description. 

     Right, now that we know where to place the baits on the pressure waves and keep them there it’s time to look at some patterns you can use.  

Pattern 1 – The Basic Spread 

Pattern 1 - The Basic Spread

   The above spread is what I would recommend for most people starting out as it doesn’t require outriggers and you only need three rods to run it.  This is not a true switch baiting spread as it runs two baits with hooks in but it is very useful for a few reasons.  It is a good solo or shorthanded spread as fish will often appear directly behind a bait and it is then simply a matter of freespooling the bait down the fishes throat, this also lends itself well to putting inexperienced crew onto fish.  As a bonus  either of the baits can be brought forward to perform the switch when a fish raises to the teaser.  I like to run my teasers so that the trailing lure is situated on the 3rd wave but if you can’t see the teasers properly don’t be scared to bring them forward onto the 2nd wave so it is more visible, bring the baits forward one wave as well.  This can be applied to all the patterns, find what works best for you.  Remember, when switch baiting the aim of the game is see the fish as soon as possible so you can effect a smooth switch.  As you can see in this setup the teasers are simply run tied off to of the transom and are pulled in by hand. 

Pattern 2 – The Basic Outrigger Spread 

Pattern 2 - The basic Outrigger Spread

 This spread has all the advantages of the basic pattern and adds the versatility and additional advantages of a set of outriggers to your spread.  I have found outriggers to be a real asset for the Darwin grounds where it is common to be raising singles and doubles to the boat.  I think they maximise bites in this situation by the bait being in good clear water to maximise visibility.  Outriggers really come into their own when there is a need to make tight turns and there are a few tactics that require this which I will discuss later. 

Pattern 3- The Shorthanded Spread 

Pattern 3 - The Shorthanded Spread

    I enjoy solo billfishing and almost always fish short handed so for general trolling this is the spread I will go for every time.  For starters it spreads both the baits and teasers into clear water and gets the teasers working hard.  But where it really comes into its own is when it comes time to clear the teasers after a hookup.  If you are fishing solo you can clear the teasers one handed and leave them on the outriggers dangling clear of the water whilst the fish is taking its first run and as an added bonus there is no more teaser line on the deck to get tangled in either (this is one of my pet hates!).  The Rolls Royce of trailer boat outrigger/teaser reel setups is of course to run a couple of pancake style reels mounted in the roof the t-top or cockpit but for most people this is either not viable or undesirable.  There is a solution I recently came up with that you can use on removable gunnel mounted outriggers that utilises a cheap star drag level wind loaded with heavy flouro dacron mounted with the reel clamped to the metal angled base pole.  A couple of stainless steel hose clamps covered with pvc insulation tape on the reel foot adds extra security.  The end result looks like this:

Removable Outrigger Teaser Reel Setup Side View

Removable Outrigger Teaser Reel Setup Top View

Pattern 4 – The Traditional Switch Baiting Spread

Pattern 4 - The Traditional Switch Baiting Spread

   The above pattern is what could be described as a traditional switch baiting spread the biggest advantage it has is the control achievable by running the teasers off the rods.  This is the spread I would use when the fish are thick or when trying for a fish on fly gear as the timing of the switch appears to be more critical.  If running this setup I don’t generally troll any baits but there is no reason why you can’t, in fact if you have enough rods in your shed already this could be the spread you end up using simply because the outlay for a very user friendly spread would be minimal.  Any 15-24kg outfit considered adequate for bottom bashing for Jewfish can double up as a teaser rod and in this case the heavy braid you are probably running will stand you in good stead.  The one drawback to using rods for teasers is that you are limited to small daisy chains, the upside is that they are very easy to clear and store and there is no particular need for outriggers which makes this spread ideal for the occasional Billfisherman who has enough rods to run it. 

   The daisy chains I make for use on rods are constructed the same as the teasers outlined in  except that I use 135lb uncoated 49 strand stainless wire for the whole teaser and reduce the modified ball bearing snap swivel size to suit a Tsunami  size 4 works well.  I also limit the teaser to four 18cm pink squid and a pink Richter Soft Grassy to keep the drag on the rod to a minimum as the squids are more streamlined than normal lures.  Length of the teaser assembly should also be kept to a minimum to enable easy clearing.

   I hope this helps someone out there.  Stay tuned for the next installment Light Tackle Billfish Part 4 – Trolling Tactics



Posted in Light Tackle Billfish Part 3 - Setting the Spread | 2 Comments

Light Tackle Billfish Part 2 – Bait and Bits

   Hi, if you haven’t visited my blog before and you are about to read this article I suggest you start with Part 1.  To anyone who has been here before welcome back and I hope the following rigging how to’s are helpful.  When I started rigging baits the thing I soon found was that while there were numerous tutorials on how to rig Garfish on J hooks there was very little on anything to do with using circles.  All of the following rigs can be used with J hooks however, I really would recommend that with the exception of the swimming mullet rig that you use circles.  The primary reason for this is that circles very rarely gut hook fish and are much better for a healthy release.  This is great for the fish but for fishermen there are even better reasons to use circles.  Firstly, the design of a circle hook is such that it is most likely to lodge in the jaw hinge in the corner of the mouth, one of the few areas on a billfish that is not just hard bone covered by a thin layer of skin.  The design of a circle also ensures that once it is in any pressure or movement of the hook just serves to drive the point further into the jaw hinge.  This also creates a situation where the leader is less likely to spend extended periods of time in contact with the bill a very important point given its’ incredibly abrasive nature.  These are all good arguments in favour of circle hooks but for me numero uno is the fact that because the fish doesn’t feel the point of the hook until it’s too late it won’t spook easily.  This means that if you can keep your cool during a bite missing the fish on the first try is not the end of the world as it will most likely stay in the area looking for another crack at an easy meal.  The one drawback of circles is that due to the way they are rigged they are prone to short strikes.  Deal with it.  You are not fishing for Mackerel.  In fact if you develop a billie addiction you will learn to loathe mackerel.   Having said all that, lets’ do some rigging. 

The Bulletproof Tube Rig 

   There are a few different variations on this rig, the first I am going to show you is the best but it’s also the slowest to rig.  This is the rig of choice for pitch baiting.  I would most commonly have a dozen of these prerigged for the days fishing and switch to the quick rig if the fish were thick.   The advantage of stitching the body is that it will hold up better under repeated strikes.  A very important consideration if you only get a shot at one fish for the day.  For the purpose of the demonstration I will use black floss rather than white as it is easier to see.  All photos can be enlarged by simply clicking on them. 

The Materials

  Materials Required: 

  • 1 x Bait Needle (closed eye preferred)
  • 140cm light weight rigging floss
  • 1 x Circle Hook and Leader
  • 1 x Short piece 8mm Dowel or similar
  • 1 x 60mm length Fish Tank Air Tubing or similar

1.Bait Preparation

 1. To prep the bait start by running your thumb down its’ belly to get rid of anything in the gut and flexing the bait side to side to break the rigor doing both these things will make it more supple and therefore it will swim better in the water.  Remove the eyes by poking them through with a suitably sized piece of dowel or the blunt end of a thick pen.  The reason we remove the eyes is water pressure whilst trolling distorts them causing the bait to spin. 

2. Stitch Down the Bait

 2. Thread the needle with the rigging thread and stitch down the bait at 25mm intervals. Ensure the first stitch goes through the small bones just ahead of the pectoral fins and that the following stitches pass just beneath the backbone.  This is the best placement to ensure your bait stays together as long as possible.  Finish the stitches level with or just past the waste vent. 

3. Stitch back up the bait

 3. Stitch back up the bait utilising the same holes you used going down passing the needle through the bait in the same direction.  I stitch from the left of the bait through to the right because I am left handed but if you’re right handed you may wish to go from right to left.  Either way it’s important to stitch in one direction only.  Finish the stitching with tag end coming out of the opposite side to the starting tag. 

4.Create the anchor point

 4. Individually loop the tag ends twice through the eye sockets one clockwise, one anticlockwise.  Maintaining the opposing nature of the tags pull them gently but firmly down. Doing this will serve to anchor the tow point to one of the strongest parts of the bait. 

5. Closing the Mouth

  5. Thread one of the tag ends onto the bait needle and pass it through the centre of the top lip of the bait once again pulling gently but firmly down. 

6.Closing the mouth 2

 6. Thread the other tag onto the needle and using the same hole come from under the beak and up out the centre of the top lip.  The tag ends should at this stage once again be opposite to each other. 

7. Thread on the tube.

 7.  Take both tags and thread them through the length of tube bringing the tube down snug onto the beak.  I regularly pre rig baits to this stage and Vacuum seal them in lots of six for freezing.  This saves me heaps of time on the water and is a life saver if I am fishing solo. 

8. Ready to swim!

  8. Taking care to keep everything tight use a series of half hitches to tie the hook to the bait.  The tube should be naturally inline with the eye of the hook.  The reason we use the tube is two-fold it creates a solid symetrical tow point and creates a semi stiff rig that prevents the hook from being caught in the bait either while being towed or more importantly during the bite.  Trim the tags and you’re done.  Just add water! 

The Quick  Rig 

   If you are pressed for time or there is a hot bite on then this rig is the one to go for.  It is still well anchored to a strong part of the bait but requires a minimum of stitching.  The one drawback is that you run the risk of the fish pulling the body off the bait leaving you with just the head.   Because of this problem try to use well prepared high quality baits as they will tend to fare better. 

1. "Wrap" the Eye Sockets

  1. Once again take a Garfish and prep it by running your thumb down its’ belly to get rid of anything in the gut and flexing the bait side to side to break the rigor.  Remove the eyes by poking them through with a suitably sized piece of dowel or the blunt end of a thick pen.   This time take a 60cm piece of rigging floss and thread it through the eye sockets.  Pass the tag end over the top of the baits head and back through the eye sockets.  For lack of a better word we will call this a “wrap”.  Make a total of three firm wraps with the tag ends ending up at roughly equal lengths.  

2. Closing the Mouth.

 2.  Thread one of the tag ends onto the bait needle and pass it through the centre of the top lip of the bait once again pulling gently but firmly down. 

3.Closing the Mouth 2.

  3. Take the remaining tag with the needle and pass it through the same hole this time from under the beak and up out the centre of the top lip. 

4. Thread on the tube.

 4.  Take both tags and thread them through the length of tube bringing the tube down snug onto the beak. 

5. Ready to Swim!

 5. Taking care to keep everything tight use a series of half hitches to tie the hook to the bait.  The tube should be naturally inline with the eye of the hook.  Trim the tags and you’re done.  As you can see this is a much quicker version of the rig all we are doing is leaving out the body stitching. 

Rigging Variations 



Rigging Variations.

    Your baits will work just fine naked and should stay that way if being used as pitch baits.  However, if being used for trolling there are plenty of things you can do to change the action and performance of your bait.  Here are my two favourites.  If you don’t have the equipment to make the corks I believe that Black Pete Tackle make a similar item. 

The Wine Cork 

   This rig was first shown to me by Balls from the DGFC.  It is my preferred option if conditions are rough as the cork tends to stabilise the bait and adds a nice smoke trail.  Balls has posted a tutorial on making the corks in the home grown tackle section of the forum: 


    I buy plastic wine corks from the brew shop because I can achieve a uniform design with each cork and they are easy to paint just requiring a thin coat of white undercoat and then a top coat.  My preferred colour is flouro pink.  Be warned though the plastic can really only be shaped by spinning in a drill and using a high speed cutting tool.   I have a dremel but a die grinder would work too.


1. Trim the Beak.


 1.  Rig a garfish up to and including step 6 of the Bulletproof Rig or up to and including step 3 of the Quick Rig.  Using a sharp knife or shears cut the bill of the bait off square 5mm ahead of the top lip.

2. Tying the Knot

 2. Tie a reef knot firmly into the mid point of the cut bill.  A quick way to remember how to tie a reef knot is to always go “underhand” ie. the way that feels un-natural first and then go “overhand” ie. the way you would tie a granny knot. 

3.Thread the Cork

  3. Thread the cork onto the bait and push into place.  This is most easily done using the bait needle.  If you wished you could thread on a squid skirt prior to putting on the cork. 

4.Good to Go!

 4. Tie the hook in 30-4omm ahead of the bait using a series of half hitches.  The idea is to give the hook enough room to do its’ job without running the risk of it catching up around the back of the cork.  You will love the way this swims!

The Squid Skirt 

   This rig works well, not only does it attract fish but it  greatly improves the longevity of towed baits as it takes the brunt of the water pressure.  My main reson for using the rig though is that it makes the bait easy to spot in the spread which is great if you have novices on board. 

1. Trim the Beak.

1.  Rig a garfish up to and including step 6 of the Bulletproof Rig or up to and including step 3 of the Quick Rig.  Using a sharp knife or shears cut the bill of the bait off square 5mm ahead of the top lip.  

2. Tying the Knot

   2. Tie a reef knot firmly into the mid point of the cut bill. 

3. Thread on the Skirt

  3. Use the bait needle to thread the skirt onto the rigging floss and push into place on the bait.

4. Hook Attachment.

 4. Tie the hook in 30-4omm ahead of the bait using a series of half hitches. 

  The X On The Head Rig

   This is the first rig I learnt to tie.  It originates in Costa Rica and can be rigged as a skip or swim bait.  I used to tie it as skip bait but have since moved on to the tube rigs.  I still use it as a means of rigging Garfish as swim baits and it works well for this having the added advantage of not having to put a hook in it until you are ready to use it. 


  • 80cm Waxed Rigging Floss
  • 1 x 1/4 Ounce size or larger Egg Sinker
  • 1 x Circle Hook and Leader
  • 1 x piece 8mm Dowel or similar

    1.Prep the bait.

     1. To prep the bait start by running your thumb down its’ belly to get rid of anything in the gut and flexing the bait side to side to break the rigor doing both these things will make it more supple and therefore it will swim better in the water. Trim the bill off Square approximately 5mm from the top lip using a sharp knife and remove the eyes by poking them through a suitably sized piece of dowel or the blunt end of a thick pen. You are now ready to rig the bait, take a 80cm length of waxed rigging floss. Double it over and slide on a 1/4 ounce or larger bean sinker that matches the size of your bait. Alternatively if you want to run the rig as a skip bait you can run a small piece of lumo tubing or similar in place of the sinker.

    2. Head Loop

     2. Pass the resulting loop over the bait’s head and flare out the bait’s gills. Pass the floss loop behind both gill plates.

    3.Position the lead.

    3. Slide the weight/tube up the floss until it starts to tighten the lasso around the bait’s head. Pull it down tight, and then tuck the sinker/tube up into the bait’s throat, making sure to keep the lead/tube in the centre.

    4.Tie the mouth shut

    4. Bring the two tag ends up and over the mouth of the garfish and tie off using a reef knot, leaving the tag ends attached.

    5.Cross the tags

     5. Pass each tag end through the eye sockets, one from each side, crossing in the middle.

    6. Wrap the gills shut

    6. Take each tag end and wrap twice around the garfish’s head just behind the gill plates.  One tag should go clockwise, the other anti-clockwise.

    7.Tie off the tags

    7. Turn the bait upside down and tie the two tag ends together using a reef knot cinching them down tight to secure the rig.

    8.Rig the hook

    8. When you’re ready to fish the bait, pull it out of the esky and slide your hook under the small X you have made on the bridge of the bait’s nose making sure you come in from the side and not from front to back.

    9.Good to go!

    9. The finished bait with the hook out front swims rather well and appears to give a good hook up ratio.

 The Swimming Mullet Rig

     The swimming mullet rig is considered one of the go to rigs for small to medium blacks there are are many variations on how to rig it here is the way I do it. 


  For the swimming mullet you will need :

  • 1 x Bait Needle (closed eye preferred)
  • 140cm Light Rigging Floss
  • 1 x Ball Sinker to suit the size of the bait in this case 1/3 Once.
  • 60cm 100lb Leader
  • 2 x 100lb Aluminium Crimps
  • 1 x 10/0 Gamakatsu Big Game SL12S Saltwater Fly hook (Hook size is dependent on bait size).

    1.Prep the Bait and Stitch the mouth closed

1. To prep the bait first remove the eyes by poking them through with a suitably sized piece of dowel or the blunt end of a pen.   Next, with the tip of a sharp knife make an incision from the waste vent to just before the two small pelvic fins on the belly.  Remove as much from the gut cavity through this cut as you can taking care not to tear the belly flesh.  Take your bait needle and a short piece of thread and close the mouth with a single stitch finished with a reef knot. On large mullet you may wish to remove the gills also.

2.Position the hook

 2. Pass the eye of the hook through the incision in the belly and up towards the eye ending with the eye of the hook plainly visible in the eye socket (please click on the photo for detail).

3.Create the towpoint

3. Create the tow point by driving your bait needle down through the exact centre of the baits eyes.  It is very import that this hole is made dead centre as it will determine how well the bait swims.  For larger baits a thicker spike will need to be fabricated to make the hole as a bait needle will bend and not be of sufficient diameter to allow a larger leader to pass through.

4.Don't Miss!

4. Finish one end of your leader with a Flemish Eye and crimped Sleeve.  Thread the second sleeve onto the leader and thread the leader through the hole in the head making sure the leader goes through the hook.  Double check this as it has been known for the hook to be missed resulting in turning the mullet into a teaser! 

5.Attach the sinker

5. Thread the sinker on under the chin of the bait and pass the tag end of the leader back through the crimp.  At this point it is important that the loop that is formed is not too tight as it can constrict the swimming ability of the bait.  The loop shown is about right.  At this point the bait is ready to swim.  The further steps taken only serve to strengthen the bait.

6.Attach the Floss

6. Attach a 1oocm length of rigging floss to the leader loop dirrectly above the baits head via a couple of half hitches leaving two 50cm tag ends.

7.Stitch down the bait.

7.  Thread the needle with one of the tag ends and stitch down the bait at regular intervals.  Ensure the first stitch goes through the small bones just ahead of the pectoral fins and that the following stitches pass just beneath the backbone.  This is the best placement to ensure your bait stays together as long as possible.  Finish the stitches level with or just past the waste vent.

8.Stitch the remaining tag end

 8.  Thread the needle with the remaining tag end and stitch down the bait from the opposite side using the same holes from the previous  row of stitches.  The two sets of stitching should now from a criss-crossing pattern down the back of the bait.

9.The finished bait.

 9.  Tie off the tag ends using a reef knot and trim them to length.  The finished bait is built like a tank and swims like a charm.  Larger baits may require a couple of belly stitches and the leader may be substituted for single strand wire.  You may want to do this as big Macks like mullet too!

 The Skipping Mullet Rig

   The skipping mullet is rigged exactly the same as a skipping garfish with the beak cut off.  Both the long and short versions of the rig can be used with the stitched rig being the strongest once again.  I use this rig quite regularly with a cork.  The materials are the same as for the Garfish rigs with the inclusion of a cork head but it can be rigged as a pitch or skip bait with a short length of tube in place of the cork.

The Skipping Mullet With Cork.

   I hope this helps all the Billfish tragics out there stay tuned for the next installment Light Tackle Billfish Part 3 – Setting the Spread and Trolling Tactics.

Posted in Light Tackle Billfish Part 2 -Bait and Bits | 2 Comments

Light Tackle Billfish Part 1 – Gearing Up


  Well, when I tell people I catch Billfish the first thing anyone says is “That sounds like fun, but isn’t it difficult?”   Yes, it’s fun!  But no, it really isn’t that difficult and with a little information and the right preparation is more than achievable.   Many people use lures to catch billfish but given the average size of the fish in the Territory the most effective method is to troll dead baits and in particular a variation on this called Bait And Switch.    

The Boat    

   Firstly I am going to assume that you have access to a boat that is capable of comfortably handling the conditions found offshore in the Territory.  This is the first misconception of billfishing, the assumption that you need a gameboat to do it when the reality is that more billfish are caught from well maintained and equipped trailerboats than out of million dollar Sportfishers.  The only real difference is that the bigger gameboats have the capability to stay out for extended periods of time and can handle rough conditions more easily.  The huge advantage a well outfitted trailer boat crew has is that with the right boat they can fish for as little as $100 a day and chase the fish to different ports as the season progresses.     

   In terms of boat setup all that is really required to catch billfish is a couple of strong rod holders, but due to the distances covered and lack of landmarks offshore to be properly effective a good quality sounder and gps with maps is essential.    

The Tackle     

   Ok, so I’m not going to lie to you, the tackle side of things can get really expensive really fast if you let it!   We are talking light tackle though so for this style of fishing we will be looking at three 8-10kg outfits capable of holding a minimum of 300m of line.  Two of these may be in either spin or overhead but the third outfit must be in spin.  Brands are a personal preference but the drags must be smooth.  In overheads Shimano TLD 15s’ or 20s’ are hard to beat for price and longevity.  In spin the Saragosa 14000F looks good and the 6500 Bait runner is a long-time favourite.  If you are going to run all spin rods having two as baitrunners is an advantage for reasons we will go into later.  In terms of rods I have a preference for a longer than average rod with a nice moderate action.  As a guideline, in overhead I use a Wilson Livefibre 6’6” 6-10kg and in spin I’m currently using the Shimano T-Curve King Mack Spin 7’0” 8-12kg.    

Line and Leaders    

    If you don’t go billfishing all the time just use what you normally have on your spool.  In most cases these days that will mean braid.  However, being extremely low stretch braid can actually be a drawback when it comes to big fast fish.  Firstly, it’s extremely hard on the angler and tackle!  Secondly, given the fast directional changes of billfish stretch combined with water pressure can actually prevent hooks from falling out during periods of slack line. Additionally, stretch is a valuable ally during the hook-up when using Circle Hooks.  This means that a good quality mono in 8-10kg is the line of choice for light tackle trolling.   Any reputable brand will do but a high visibility line is useful for keeping track of where the line is in the water.  A short double should be tied in the line using either an Aussie Plait or Bimini Twist.  My personal preference is the Plait as a Bimini can tend to distort in light line classes.  For small boats wind-on leaders reign supreme as they enable you to control the fish from the rod tip eliminating the need for a wireman. 

100lb leader with snap and bead

A  4-6m wind-on of 80-100lb will suffice for most situations you will encounter and should be connected to the doubled mainline via a cat’s-paw connection. Thread a medium sized soft type lumo bead onto the wind-on then crimp on a good quality ball bearing snap swivel including a Flemish eye or tube for chafe protection.  Finally the lumo bead should be forced over the crimp. This setup prevents the swivel being wound up into the rod tip.    


   There are lots of different hooks that can be used for billfish, but for 8-10kg tackle and allowing for the predominant size of the fish in the Territory the following hooks will be most useful, non-offset light wire circle hooks such as the Mustad Demon Circle, Owner SSW Inline Circle and the Eagle Claw E2004El in sizes from 5/0 to 8/0.  The only time I use “J” hooks these days is to rig swimming mullet or queenfish and in my opinion the only hook for the job is the Gamakatsu Big Game SL12S Saltwater Fly hook in sizes from 6/0 to 10/0. 

Eagle Claw 7/0E2004El and 100lb leader

Hooks should be rigged on leader ranging from 80 to 200lb depending on application and the size of fish encountered but for most of the time 100lb is sufficient.  Because of the use of a wind-on leader length can be kept to a minimum and 60cm is generally sufficient, the end of the leader for attachment to the snap should be finished with a Flemish eye and crimp once again for chafe resistance.  Attach the hook with a Flemish eye if possible but if the connection impedes hook movement just use a normal loop.    


   Billfish are primarily attracted to your boat so it’s your best teaser and if you get right into Billfishing you will hear endless discussions about the merits of Inboard v’s Outboard and Petrol v’s Diesel.  Some anglers even swear by Jimmy Buffet cranking out their stereos for raising fish!  Thankfully my boat seems to raise fish and I hope yours does too.  There is something you can do to enhance the fish raising potential of your boat that doesn’t include Jimmy however, and that is to use Teasers.   For Bait and Switch teasers are a must and any other style of trolling will benefit from their use also.  There are many different teaser designs that can be used some of the most common including but not limited to Witchdoctors, Birds, Pins, Daisy Chains, Dredges and combinations of any and all.  I am going to highlight a very simple teaser design that is very easy to construct and maintain and is relatively cheap.  It is essentially a pin teaser with a trailing daisy chain that utilises soft drink cans as the pins.   The teaser will consist of two pins and four trailing skirts, more skirts may be added but this obviously drives the build price up. 

The materials list for the construction of one teaser is as follows:-  

  • 3.0m of 285lb Super Test 49 Strand SS wire or similar   
  • 80cm of 150lb 7 Strand coated wire or similar (If you find 49 Strand in this diameter use it!)   
  • 7 x Size 8 Brass Leader Sleeves   
  • 20 x Size 5 Brass Leader Sleeves 
  • 6 x Large Soft Lumo Beads  
  • 6 x Modified  250lb Ball Bearing Snap Swivels 
  • 4 x  Soft Squid or Cheap Lures
  • 2 x Coke Cans or similar   

   The way to construct the teaser is as follows: 

1.  First, cut the rings off the snap swivels.  They must be able to be threaded onto the 285lb 49 Strand after modification, try and find a cheap brand so the price doesn’t blow out. The Tsunami Tackle work well and are the cheapest. 


1.Snap Swivel modification


2.  Slide two of the #8 sleeves onto the 285lb Cable and tie a Flemish eye in the end.  Leaving a 50mm tag space the two sleeves 30mm apart on the strands forming the eye.  Try to snug the first sleeve as tight to the knot as possible.  Crimp both sleeves in place. 

2.The Flemish Eye

 3.  Take the uncrimped end of the cable and thread on a #5 sleeve, crimp this sleeve 35cm from the Flemish eye and thread on a modified snap swivel followed by another size 5 sleeve.  Crimp the second sleeve 10mm from the first leaving space for the swivel to swing.  Repeat this process for another 4 swivels at intervals of 35cm.


3.Snap Swivel Assembly


4.  To complete the mainline thread on a size 8 sleeve 35cm away from the last swivel assembly followed by the remaining modified snap swivel and form a finishing loop marking where you need to trim the wire.  Make the cut in the wire and then form the loop as shown and crimp together.  Note that the wire is cut before crimping as it is much easier to do this way.

4.Snap Swivel with loop

5.  The heavy duty dropper loops for the cans are made from a 25cm length of the 285lb 49 Strand Wire.  Double over  approx. 4cm on one end and kink it , then thread a #8 sleeve on and crimp to form a “pointy” loop.  Next, thread on a Lumo bead and another #8 sleeve and crimp to form a small finishing loop to terminate the dropper.  The light weight dropper loops for the lures are made from a 20cm length of the 150lb 7 strand wire.  Simply thread on a #5 sleeve and crimp in forming a 1cm long loop and thread on a lumo bead and another #5 sleeve and form and crimp another 1cm long loop.  The reason we are making the lighter loops is because #5 sleeves are still small enough to fit through the lures you will be using on the teaser.

5.Dropper Loops

 6.  To prepare the cans you can simply punch a hole in the centre of the bottom large enough to fit the crimp on the  end of the heavy dropper through.  However the cans will have a better action and last alot longer if you cut the mouth out with an old style can opener.  The type of can you use can come down to the beer you drink but I personally like Coke & Diet Coke cans because they seem to last longer and produce a good flash.

6.Modified Can

 7.  To finish the teaser all that is required is to thread the two cans and the four lures of your choice (Sailfish love pink!) on their respective droppers and attach to the snap swivels on the mainline.

Lure Examples

8. To finish off you will need to attach the main line to 10m of good quality cord via the biggest Ball Bearing Snap Swivel you can find (not pictured).

The Finished Product

    The teaser outlined above is by no means the cheapest you could construct, after all a half a dozen cans threaded onto a rope with knots as stoppers will work but it won’t last very long.  The above teaser costs a bit to make up front but makes up for this by being quick and easy to maintain while you are fishing.  Simply have a couple of spare lures ready to go and it is an easy matter of undoing a snap putting a new lure on and being ready to fish again straight away.  This feature also keeps you from having to reconstruct the rest of the teaser which saves you money in the long run.  If you wish you can run birds instead of cans or a combination of both, cans just keep the costs down if you choose to use them.

The Reward

   That’s the tackle side of things sorted, watch this space for the next installment featuring the mysterious world of Bait Rigging.



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The Year So Far…

Well, what a year!   For me it has been a truly amazing one and will most likely be remembered as the year of the Billfish.   It started off sedately enough but strangely the turn around point arrived with a drive-line failure in the old Troopie back in February.  After much wailing and gnashing of teeth the subsequent replacement arrived in the form of a new dual cab Ford Ranger.  Yeah, so what?  You might ask.  Well, with this new vehicle resulting in fast comfortable towing the scene was set for the Dundee day trip onslaught that was to follow….

   This story starts as most do, as vague idea sometime during a particularly dull work day in April when the long range weather reports were looking promising for the weekend, along with the tail end of a set of neap tides that would have the water nice and clear for a crack at a Billfish.  As the day approached a whole galaxy of line, leaders,teaser making and gar rigging ensued in preparation for the initial assult on the grounds wide of Dundee Beach.

After an eternity the day arrived and we made good time to Dundee with the road being in reasonable shape.  A quick chat with one of the local guides revealed that the Long Lost grounds might produce so by 7 o’clock we were on our way. As we approached Long Lost the area came alive with schools of small tuna being worked by terns and booby birds, it was looking promising but after a solid couple of hours working the area hard with the teasers there was nothing doing so the call was made to head South to an area known as Sail City.

Well, that was a waste of time! Three quarters of the way there and the water was dead, no birds, no bait, no nothing…. By this time I’m kicking myself for breaking the golden rule, you don’t leave fish to find fish,  and so the decision was made to back track to the tuna schools and have a cast to them to break the monotony and then get back into some trolling.

   We spotted the tuna schools pretty much where we left them and decide the closest one is as good as any and do the usual thing and get upwind of them on the leading edge of the school when my mate Matt starts screaming at me that there’s a sail cruising off the port bow, sure enough, I look over and there’s one of the most beautiful sights you will ever see, a slender sickle tail cutting a trail through the glare off the water.

   Thankfully the pitch bait rod is ready and waiting and I lob a circle rigged gar ahead of the fish and wind it quickly back, no dice… Another cast and at the last moment jackpot! Two sails materialise behind the bait, I pause for a second and twitch the bait in front of the lead fish and without the fish seeming to move my bait just disappears! Oh baby, Come on! Come on! I drop the rod tip and flip the bail arm open and wait for something to happen. with my heart pounding out of my chest, the Sail then goes nose down in the water and does this weird little shimmy then starts slowly moving away from the boat (all this took place maybe five meters from us) so I give it a slow five count, snap the bail arm closed and mentally cross all my fingers, the rod slowly loaded up and then the fish must have felt the hook turn into its jaw because at that moment all hell broke loose!

    Before I could blink the Sail had done four hot laps of the boat and then peeled a cool hundred meters of line off the spool in seconds finishing the run with the first of its jumps.  It made three more runs after this getting shorter and slower each time and maybe the same in jumps before we had it boatside with a hand around its’ bill, a couple of happy snaps on the bow of the boat, pop the circle out and a quick swim later,  my first sail swimming away to fight another day.  

   Hell Yeah! That was fun! Let’s do it again!   We caught three more for the day using bait and switch techniques. I caught another and Matt busted his cherry with two as well so all in all a fantastic day. For the record the score for the day was 10 raised 4 hooked 4 boated and subsequently released.

    Well, that was the first trip and a sign of things to come.   The next set of neaps rolled around with me gagging at the bit for another crack at it over a two day trip.  As is often the way with Billfishing the first day was a lost cause for us, we didn’t raise a scale and consoled ourselves by chasing Tuna on ridiculously light gear for the afternoon, turns out the fish weren’t at Long Lost and we got the low down that Bowra Wide was the place to be.

   Well, we were on the water by 730 after dragging ourselves out of bed on Tuesday and lines were in on the Bowra grounds by just after 800,  well we raised the first Sail by half eight and from then on the day turned into probably the best days’ fishing I have ever had.

   We boated 10 for the day but that doesn’t tell the real story, I think we hooked around 30 for the day and the action was mind blowing with the fish consistantly rising to the teasers all day but being very fussy about how they ate the bait as they were feeding on sardines around 2 inches long.

   To put the day in perspective at one stage I was hooked up to a fish of around 18-20kg that had just taken a blistering run of around 150m and was proceding to go completely ballistic but I wasn’t even looking at it because I was too busy watching a pod of a dozen fish cruise past with their sails up and half way out of the water!  Quite possibly one of the coolest things I have ever seen… And to top it off the deckie proceded to pitch a Gar at the lead fish and have it peel off and take his bait…  Yee Haa!… Double hookup!

   Well, that paragraph pretty much sums up the day we had, it was just phenomenal! I really don’t know how many fish we raised but it was definately well over a hundred and with an extra body on the boat I’m sure we could have boated a lot more than we did, with just two on board it was absolute chaos and we blew alot of fish, not that I’m complaining mind you.  So there it is, second trip out and the stats went something along the lines of 100+ raised, 30+ hooked, 10 released.  Not bad for the second productive trip ever, funny though, when ever the numbers are big the conversion rate goes to the dogs… might have to work on that.

   Two weeks later and another set of neaps and it’s on again, the plan is to hit Bowra Wide and see what happens.  Well, we hit the grounds and there are boats 17 within an area of about 1 square kilometre so I’m thinking it must be going nuts in the area, nope…. seems to be if you disclose your billfish marks it attracts a crowd, which is fine.  I did it to promote interest in the sport in the Darwin area, but seriously guys billfish are pelagic and you do need to actually go and find them….  Anyway needless to say we decided to get away from the crowd and find a few fish.  

   Well, we found a few late in the day but the bloke I took out had a real bad case of the dropsies and produced a “Sancocho” from all four of the fish we got to take a bait (A Sancocho is where you end up with just the head of the bait).  So after the first day of the blitz we came away with donuts with a score of   6-4-0 but a very important lesson, DO NOT STRIKE ON CIRCLES, I didn’t once see Spot do it but it turns out he grew up in Queeensland fishing for Macks and was taught to always strike not only on the take but during the first run to firmly bed the hooks as Macks are notorious for just holding onto a bait and spitting it after their first run. 

   Day two saw a new deckie Pete on board and dead keen to get his first Billfish, alas it was not to be and we came away scratching our heads.  We consoled ourselves with Longtails on the light stuff and headed back early.

   Day three saw a distinct change in conditions with the sea approaching glass off.   The first fish for the day came early and hit the skip bait hard and fast giving the deckie his first.  Talk about stoked!  A long stretch of nothing followed until we came across an area with lots of floating weed forming rafts on the surface.  At this stage we spotted a comotion on the surface probably 250m away and head over to check it out, turns out it’s a sail of around 20 kilos chasing flying fish that are trying to take cover in the weeds.  By the time we get within casting range this fish is that lit up that believe it or not it is batting a small piece of drift wood with its’ bill!  Well let me tell you the switch to a bait and subsequent hookup was a piece of cake, I’ll take a pre teased sail if it’s on offer… 

   The third and final fish for the trip came in similar circumstances (minus the driftwood!) and we spotted several more hanging around weed rafts that we couldn’t get to raise to the teasers.  So the final score for the day went 3-3-3 with several more sighted but not raised.

   So two weeks later, another set of neaps, and you guessed it, another trip to Dundee…  Another day another deckie, and conditions were perfect, it started a bit slow with one sail of maybe 12kg coming to the deckie in the morning, that’s OK though because there is now one less Billie Virgin in the world and one more case of beaked fever. :bonk:

   The sail was raised around the Bowra area, we then spent a few hours down at Sail City, no joy there either, huge open water bait schools of jelly bean tuna and herring with no predators carving them up?!? :-? Things were looking grim with no sails to been seen on the best bait balls you’ve ever seen …

   Anyway, the call was made to head back to the area we picked up the Sail and have one last troll… Well low and behold 200m into the run and we spot a black sunning itself on the surface 30-40m off the starboard side, as we pull level I figure I’ve got nothing to lose so I pitch a bait on the spin gear, the bait hits the water about 5m in front of the fish and he spots it almost instantly and charges the bait, before pulling up short as I slow the skip, he turns broadside to us and I get a good look at him and it’s at this point that I’m questioning the wisdom of pitching a gar on 8kg spin gear at a fish that’s MUCH bigger than I originally thought and pushing close to the 80kg mark… :bricks:

   During the pitch he buzzes the bait another 2 or 3 times until I run out of room, he fades off the pitch bait and scoffs the two skip baits on 10kg as he passes out of the spread. OK, just remember to breathe, now pick up the rod, count to five, no, slower…. OK now ease the lever up to strike, HELL YEAH HOOKUP!

    A quick decision is made and we cut the line to the second rod and he starts to peel line at a reasonable pace as the lines and teasers are cleared. (Which I might add now seems to take ten times longer than it ever has before.) We just clear the lines and the fish turns and hits top gear doing two enormous tail walks of perhaps 30-40m each as he charges the boat with me winding frantically to keep up and failing dismally, (thank god for circles) I think this may be because I‘m trying not to trip over my jaw that’s now on the deck of the boat. I have to tell you at this point that that tail walk is hands down the absolute coolest thing I have ever seen.

I think this burst wore him down and helped me a lot, he took 6 or 7 more runs each ending in jumps that were slowly reduced to lunges, we ran him down and got the wind-on on the reel for the first time at around the 20 minute mark, with the fish being within tagging range if we had any.

The fish then proceeded to take a dive at the boat that I couldn’t stop and slugged it out with us for the next 30 minutes or so with us having to periodically drive off it to plane it back up towards the surface and change our angle of attack. At the end of this stage we got the fish on the leader again before it sounded under the boat for the second time. By this stage I was VERY happy that I had finally brought a good rod bucket a couple of days before and had remembered to put it in the boat…. This was actually starting to hurt…

Another 20 minutes later and I was finally getting somewhere and starting to turn the fish and feeling confident when we got a wrap on the leader for the third time, when, you guessed it, it sounded again and the 10kg line finally gave up the ghost on what I will freely admit was a fair amount of pressure. I can tell you right now the stunned silence when the line parted was crushing……. :banghead:

The end result? Well in reality we could have easily sunk a tag into the shoulder of the fish on three occasions so I’m well satisfied, but it would have been nice to get a glove to the bill for a good boat side release photo as the glare played havoc with the camera and we didn’t get any decent pictures, still in the end I don’t really give a damn because where would I go from here?

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Hello world!

Hi All,

   Welcome to my Blog Confessions of a Fishing Tragic.  Stay tuned for the first installment, “The Year So Far”



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