Māori name: Takaketonga
Scientific name: Tetrapturus audax
All-tackle NZ record: 224.1kg
Eating quality: Good
Striped marlin are large, pelagic billfish that seasonally migrate to our coastal waters. New Zealand has a reputation for holding the largest striped marlin in the world, with Kiwis dominating world records for the species.
Zane Grey, a wealthy American author and fisherman, pioneered the sport fishery for marlin in New Zealand in the 1920s. To this day, keen recreational anglers spend huge amounts of time and money chasing these majestic fish.
Striped marlin are large, streamlined fish with long bills and tall dorsal fins. Their bodies are dark blue-black on the top and fade to a silvery white on the bottom. Predictably, striped marlin display around a dozen electric-blue stripes on their flanks. Unlike most marlin, which are primarily solitary creatures for most of their lives, striped marlin will school up and feed cooperatively.
Striped marlin are caught off both coasts of the North Island – primarily in the area between New Plymouth on the west coast, up around the top of the country, and down to Napier on the east coast. They are usually caught in bluewater depths over 80m but regularly stray into shallower, more turbid coastal waters according to the availability of prey. Acoustic studies indicate that they spend 86% of their time in the surface layer above the thermocline.
The process of finding marlin starts before you head out on the water. Check out recent reports, which fishing club sponsor grids have been fruitful, and who’s been out recently. Also, keep an eye on the sea-surface temperature, current, and chlorophyll charts online to identify where fish might be holding.
Current lines or mixing zones are a great area to hunt down striped marlin. These areas can be distinguished by different surface conditions (rippling or smooth water), visible colour changes, temperature changes, and birds and baitfish holding in the area. Current lines tend to hold baitfish or squid and can be thought of as highways for gamefish. Similarly, drop-offs, trenches and seamounts on the chart often create upwellings that kick off the food chain and are worth checking out to see if fish are holding.
Once you’re out there, it’s all about reading the signs. All signs of life are positive – be it birds on the water, gannets circling or diving, baitfish schools, dolphins, whales, sharks, or your target species cruising or feeding. If you see lots of baitfish on your sounder or spot marlin or tuna in a particular area, then it is advisable to stay in that area and ‘mow the lawns’.
Most striped marlin anglers target their efforts between late December to late May, although fish have been caught throughout the year, so it appears at least a few fish stick around our waters year-round. Stripies feed throughout the day and often their activity peaks over the change of tide. Many anglers believe the best catch rates are just before the full moon.
Striped marlin are opportunistic feeders of squid and many fish species such as mackerel and saury. In New Zealand, anglers often need to cover a large amount of ground to find stripies, so trolling lures is a popular method. However, when the stick-faces show up in large numbers, using livebaits can prove deadly.
Although there is a range of techniques on how best to raise and hook striped marlin while trolling, many New Zealand anglers run a staggered spread of four small-medium lures featuring a selection of different colours and head-shapes, in conjunction with teasers such as dredges and daisy chains. With the finicky feeding nature of striped marlin, it is crucial to rig lures with very sharp hooks.
For slow-trolled livebaiting, most boats run one or two livies at a time. They can be set at different distances from the boat, often from the outriggers, or on a downrigger to provide some spacing.
Common livebaits include skipjack tuna, kahawai, koheru, jack mackerel, and slimy mackerel. The gear should be set with a light drag or with a decent slack line drop-back in the outriggers to allow the fish to swallow the bait before the hook is set.Some top gamefishing crews use a livebaiting technique called ‘tease and switch’, whereby striped marlin that are attracted to the boat by hookless teasers are visually pitched livebaits.