How to Set Up Trailer Boats for Gamefishing

How to Set Up Trailer Boats for Gamefishing

Catching gamefish from a trailer boat is one of the most exciting fishing experiences to be had in NZ, and to do it all yourself on your boat is nothing short of the Kiwi dream. This month, Nick Patrick talks us through the basics of getting a trailer boat gamefish season ready…

Setting up a trailer boat for a day’s game fishing is not much different to setting up for any other day’s fishing – there are just a few more things to add to the checklist. As you’re probably heading miles offshore, you also need to be extra mindful of ticking every box before leaving the ramp.


First and foremost, like with all forms of boating, safety should be at the top of the list. You are heading out into the deep blue targeting some of the biggest fish in the ocean, so even the worst-case-scenarios need to be considered.

It is more than likely you will either have limited cell phone coverage or none at all so a handheld VHF or, at the very least, a working VHF that is reliable, is a must. If anything goes wrong, this will be your only form of communication.

Your first aid kit needs to be checked and, if necessary, updated. If something was to go wrong, the help you may require could be hours away. I’m sure most of you have seen photos on the internet of game hooks or flying gaffs embedded in legs, arms or feet, which is far from ideal when you’re beyond sight of land.

Make sure to take plenty of extra fuel, not only in case of an emergency but also for prolonging your day if you decide to stay out longer than expected. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has turned around due to low fuel, only to see a marlin or two on the way in – more than frustrating after a day of absolutely nothing.

Don’t leave the ramp without water and food. The New Zealand gamefish season is in summer so you can expect long hot days where you’ll need to stay hydrated and well-fed. You can never take enough water, and if you end up breaking down and you’re stuck out in the open ocean, water immediately becomes the most important thing on your boat.

Fishing equipment

Once you’ve made sure your boat is setup with all the right safety gear, it’s time to think about the equipment needed to catch that fish of a lifetime. I have heard of a lot of fish lost due to gear malfunction. Make sure all your gear is up to the job, and your rods and reels are serviced before each season.

Craft such as Lars Christensen's kitted out Extreme Gametime are capable of taking on the biggest gamefish.

Craft such as Lars Christensen's kitted out Extreme Gametime are capable of taking on the biggest gamefish.

Rods and reels: Depending on where you’re fishing, most small boats will predominately be targeting striped marlin or tuna, so a minimum of a 30-50lb set is needed.

With technology advancements over the years, rods and reels have become more compact, including those suited for the likes of hollow braids. It is personal preference on the size and type of rods and reels you choose but bear in mind you’re more than likely going to be fishing stand up gear, so the more compact your setups, the easier it will be on the angler.

If the weather is good and you find you can head out a lot wider than planned, you’ll want to have the 80lb reels on standby just in case you come across that monster blue marlin.

Safety or trolling straps for your rods are always a good idea on trailer boats as your boat is more likely to be thrown around, especially when crossing bars. Straps are a great way to keep your expensive game rods and reels secured to the boat.

Lures and outriggers: There are a few benefits of running outriggers from trailer boats, but if you don’t have outriggers it’s not the end of the world, and you can still troll lures for marlin. The benefit of having outriggers is it keeps the lures spread further apart and out of the prop wash. The height will also keep the majority of your leaders out of the water, allowing your lures to perform better.

If you don’t have outriggers, it’s best to stick to three lures in total – two each side in the gunnels and one down the middle run from a sturdy bait board or shotgun from the rocket launcher.

This also keeps things simple, offering less chance for your lures to tangle.

If you do have outriggers, it’s a matter of finding out where certain lures perform best.

There are five positions you can run your lures: short corner, long corner, short rigger, long rigger and shotgun. Every lure will perform better in certain spots so you can either do your research on what lures work best in what position beforehand or switch them up and see what’s working on the day.

There are certain lures on the market which will run well in most positions because of their head shape or design. If you don’t own any game lures then pop into a local tackle store that has staff who have experience in game fishing or research online what the most popular lures are on the market and start with those.

Outriggers keep lures spread further apart and out of the prop wash.

Outriggers keep lures spread further apart and out of the prop wash.

Catch or release

Your rods, reels, line and lures are what will catch you the fish, but once you hook-up, there are also a few other things you’ll need which will assist with the fight and make things easier for you when releasing or keeping the fish.

If you hook up to a big game fish, the angler most definitely needs a gimbal belt and harness.

Without this, especially when fishing overhead reels, it won’t be long before the angler starts complaining of a sore back or muscles. You can expect the average fight for a marlin to be anywhere from 30mins to an hour, so make the angler as comfortable as possible so they can enjoy it.

If the fight is successful and you end up getting the marlin close enough to grab the leader, whoever is leadering the fish will need a decent pair of gloves. Not only will you have a better grip of the line, but you will also save your hands from being crushed by the heavy leader.

Smaller essentials such as gloves, a release tool and tags can be easily overlooked. A decent insulated bin with plenty of ice is good for keeping the tasty by-catch of trolling - albacore- in good condition.

Smaller essentials such as gloves, a release tool and tags can be easily overlooked. A decent insulated bin with plenty of ice is good for keeping the tasty by-catch of trolling - albacore- in good condition. 

Once you have a marlin boat side, you’ll need to make the quick decision to either tag and release the fish or keep it.

It is debatable whether tagging a fish is essential or not, but if you decide you’d like to tag the fish, then you will need a tag pole and tags which can be purchased from most tackle stores.

If you choose to keep the marlin, then a decent flying gaff is required and possibly a length of rope, as well as a fish bat.

Remember, don’t keep a marlin just for the sake of it or for glory purposes – a photo is good enough for that. It’s not just a matter of filleting the fish as with most inshore species, and you need to keep the fish as cold as possible throughout the day otherwise you’ll end up wasting massive amounts of meat.

If taking a marlin to a weigh station, most game clubs will have a resident smoker who will take the fish away for you and have it professionally smoked and vacuum packed, but this isn’t cheap, sometimes costing as much as $5/kilo of green weight.

Vance Fulton and crew pulling a decent marlin over the gunwale of his AMF.

Vance Fulton and crew pulling a decent marlin over the gunwale of his AMF.

Livebaiting vs lures

It is far more common for people to troll lures all day than use livebaits, but both are effective in their own right.

With lures, it’s almost as simple as getting the boat at the right speed (7-8 knots) and throwing lures in the water and driving around all day. Of course, your chances are going to be a lot higher if you’re in the right area or you drive over a fish, but anyone can have a crack by covering ground and having their lures working well in a spread.

Livebaits take a little more planning, but they are often more productive, and as with any other species, they will catch the bigger fish.

Although you don’t cover the ground like you would trolling lures as your motor is often only just in gear (depending on the wind), your livebaits will be sending out distress signals that any marlin in the area will hone in on.

Most well-kitted-out game fishing boats will have tuna tubes to accommodate large livebaits and keep them in the best condition possible. If you don’t have tuna tubes on your vessel, however, definitely don’t rule out livebaiting.

A good idea is to have at least one rod and reel set up for this style of fishing and to always have a small tuna lure out on a bungy system for catching bait.

This way, as soon as you come across a patch of kahawai or skipjack tuna you can catch your livebait and deploy it in the same area as there’s a good chance there’s marlin in the vicinity.

If you own a trailer boat and think you have the gear needed but don’t have much experience, I’d recommend taking someone out who does for the first couple of trips – you’ll learn lots even from one day out with an accomplished angler. Every bit of knowledge gained will put you one step closer to catching that fish of a lifetime!

   This article is reproduced with permission of   
New Zealand Fishing News

April 2020 - Nick Patrick
Re-publishing elsewhere is prohibited

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