Australian recreational anglers can enjoy some of the very best marlin fishing in world. Kelly Dalling Fallon gives us the rundown on when and where to chase The Big One.
A sudden splash behind the bait is the first indication of a fish up. And then the reel screams as a marlin tears off line and begins an aerial display as it greyhounds away from the boat. There is mayhem mixed with excitement on deck as the angler grabs the rod and prepares to wind and begin the battle. The excitement only intensifies the moment the tip of the bill exits the water and the marlin leaps above the waves, putting on an energetic show for everyone on board.
LOTS OF CHOICE
With catch-and-release the norm, not only does Australia have healthy fish populations that include three species of marlin – Blue Marlin, Black Marlin and Striped Marlin – but we also catch them here in all sizes, from the juvenile fish in the 10kg range all the way up to the XOS models over 1000lbs.
No matter what time of year you find yourself with some time off and an angling itch to scratch, there is undoubtably a hot bite happening somewhere around the country. As an added bonus, most of these angling destinations have a lot to offer the whole family. Whether they’re joining you on the water or staying back on land, it means holiday fun for all.
A large char ter-boat fleet boasting experienced professional crews will ensure a great day on the water no matter which port you choose to fish. As with technology improvements in any industry, the qualityof boats large and small these days also makes marlin fishing more accessible. The smaller boats mean budget options for everyone. Many offer not only day trips, but extended live-aboard charters of several days in duration, anchoring along stretches of rarely visited coastline, far-flung islands and breaking reefs, keeping close to not only the marlin fishing, but a whole host of other water activities.
Not sure where to start? Consider these top Australian marlin destinations…
Variety is the spice of life, and Port Stephens, commonly known in fishing circles as Port Of Gold, is where you can quite possibly catch what’s known in marlin fishing as a ‘Grand Slam’ – all three marlin species in a single day. Port’s easy access from Sydney makes it a standout option. It is only 2.5 hours drive north of the city bustle, and also offers visitors pristine beaches and coastal sand dunes, national-park walking tracks and a casual attitude. Port Stephens offers plenty of accommodation options, from hotels and self-contained units to caravan parks, and the nearby Hunter Valley vineyards are also a big drawcard.
Port Stephens itself is a natural harbour around where the Karuah River meets the ocean, and the small entrance at Tomaree Heads creates a well-protected aquatic playground that’s worth visiting at any time of year, but the marlin fishing is generally at its best from summer onwards.
Striped Marlin is probably the most commonly caught species and are hooked all the way along the NSW coast down to Bermagui. They are also one of the most beautiful fish in the water and are often ‘lit up’, showing iridescent blue stripes along purple backs and neon blue ‘wings’ (pectoral fins), making them appear almost like underwater aircraft on the bait or teasers. And more than most other species of billfish, Striped Marlin can appear in packs, making it a visually exciting type of fishing.
Black Marlin are also caught inshore in good numbers early in the year, which can often also see big quantities of bycatch such as dolphin fish around the FADs (Fish Aggregating Devices – usually anchored, floating buoys – to attract fish to a particular spot).
Further out, off the edge of the famous Port Stephens fishing grounds ‘The Carpark’, you will find the Blue Marlin to achieve the Slam.
When it’s best: January to April.
Australia’s largest sand island has only recently begun to receive the angling attention it deserves. Aside from a year-round Blue Marlin fishery to rival anywhere else in the country, the Queensland winters have a lot more going for them than the mostly mild temperatures that bring southerners flocking to the Sunshine State. Winter on Fraser Island generally heralds the start of the annual baby Black Marlin run along the sandy Breaksea Spit and northern end of the island.
The winter often also brings longer stretches of good weather – another gift for anglers.
You can’t really look past Fraser Island for these baby Blacks, and catches of 20 or more fish in a day are entirely possible. Fraser has two distinct runs of these light-tackle fish. The first is over the Australian winter, May to July, with large numbers of smaller fish in the 10kg to 15kg range or smaller.
Although the fish don’t completely leave the area and are still caught through August and September, the next hot bite period is generally October to December, when a second wave of fish pass through, this time inside of Fraser Island in the calm and protected waters off Rooney’s Point.
When it’s best: May to August, and October to December.
The giant Black Marlin are the iconic fish known as ‘Granders’, reaching upwards of 450kg (over 1000lbs). These are the fish that put Cairns on the international fishing map 50 years ago. Still today, more of these giant fish are caught off Cairns every single year than in the rest of the world combined.
The fishing is along a 200km stretch known as the Ribbons Reefs that run northward between Cairns and Lizard Island, approximately 60km off the coast. Most of the charters in this part of world are ‘liveaboards’ between three and seven days in duration, staying aboard gamefishing boats in small groups fishing on one side of the reef, and anchoring usually less than 10 minutes from the fishing on the other, leeward side.
The biggest fish are females and are accompanied by numbers of smaller males in the 100kg to 200kg range, monsters themselves in many respects. They are drawn to the area by both an abundant food supply and warmer water along the reef edge in the later part of the year, as well as the proximity of other breeding-age fish.
Not only can you enjoy some of the most spectacular fishing on the planet in these waters, but it’s a pristine reef environment seldom visited by ordinary travellers.
On Ribbons Reefs, anglers spend the mornings, typically a quieter time of day for the big marlin, chasing a plethora of sport fish for bait and the table, including several species of mackerel and tuna, or casting poppers at Giant Trevally on the reef edge. Or they may jump in behind the protected reef edges for a swim or spearfish on the beautiful shallow corals.
When it’s best: September to December.
The Gold Coast beaches and high-rise skyline make a magnificent backdrop for the particularly aerobatic display of the little Black Marlin (the next model up from the baby Blacks). The Gold Coast’s magnificent 60km of coastline and variety of theme and water parks provide entertainment for all the family over the hot Australian summer.
The same is true for the marlin fishing. The fish arrive on the Gold Coast at the start of summer as the warmer currents bring them southward along the east coast. At this time of year the fish are generally in the 25kg range and are caught on light tackle, including spinning gear, which means they can be a ball to catch for all members of the family, young and old, big or small.
The fish are caught all the way along the coastline, which means both the north or south offer options. And the fishing is so close to land the run to the grounds may be as short as 10 minutes from the Gold Coast Seaway or Tweed Bar.
When it’s best: December to March.
If you’ve been looking for an excuse to head west to explore Exmouth, the fishing is a fabulous drawcard. It is unrivalled in Australia for diversity of billfish, with six species found in the waters off Exmouth and Ningaloo Reef. These include three species of marlin (Blue, Black and Striped), broadbill swordfish, short-billed spearfish as well as sailfish. Billfish aside, the list of other fish species in the area seems almost endless. Spanish Mackerel, Cobia, Wahoo, GTs and Dolphin Fish rate among the gamefish. And the reef fishing is also top notch.
While the fishing is great almost yearround, typically the best months for billfish in the west are the warmer summer months. Similar to Cairns, the reef system is the major force behind the fishing diversity. Exmouth’s Ningaloo Reef is Australia’s largest fringing reef, while the Great Barrier Reef is Australia’s largest barrier reef. Fringing reefs are closer to the coastline, separated from the shore by narrow, shallow lagoons. That means a comparatively short run to the fishing grounds on the reef edge, as well as the canyons beyond.
Contrary to the east coast, the Blue Marlin are the main attraction over the Exmouth summer. These fish, generally in the 150kg to 200kg range, are renowned for blistering runs and crazy direction changes. Anglers achieve up to double-figure daily catches when it’s at its peak.
When it’s best: November to February.