MARLIN: BLACK, BLUE and STRIPED
Sci: Makaira indica, M. mazara and Tetrapturus audax
Common Names: All three marlin species are sometimes known
by colloquial terms such as "beakie", "beak" or "stick-face", and may be collectively
referred to as billfish. In some older literature, they are still incorrectly
called "swordfish". Each species is commonly referred to by a shortening of its
correct title; "black", "blue" and "striped" or "stripey".
Description: The black marlin is a heavy-shouldered, solidly-built
fish with a relatively short, stout bill and a low dorsal fin. It is characterised
by its rigid, non-folding, airfoil-shaped pectoral fins, although these fins are
not necessarily fixed in fish under about 45 kg in weight. The blue marlin is
slightly less heavily built than the black, and is usually longer for a given
weight. The blue marlin's bill or spear is also longer than that of the black
marlin, and its dorsal fin is higher, but not as high as that of the striped marlin.
The striped marlin is the most lightly built and streamlined of all the marlin
found in our waters. It is characterised by its long, fine bill, flat, flexible
pectoral fins and very high dorsal fin. This dorsal fin is higher than the fish's
maximum body depth through the shoulders. Colouration varies considerably between
species and individuals, although live striped marlin usually display a dozen
to 14 clearly defined vertical bars on their flanks.
Size: Australian black marlin run from tiny juveniles weighing
less than 10 kg up to world record-class fish well in excess of 500 kg. Blue marlin
in our waters are usually between 80 and 400 kg, while striped marlin rarely exceed
Distribution: Black, blue and striped marlin are
wide-ranging pelagic fish of the Pacific and Indian Oceans,
turning up in tropical, sub-tropical, temperate and even
cool waters around our coastline. They prefer the open ocean,
but often travel quite close to the coast of Australia,
which has a relatively narrow continental shelf. In fact,
many small to medium black marlin have been landed over
the years by rock fishermen in southern New South Wales!
Fishing Techniques: Because of their large size and strength,
catching marlin demands the use of quality tackle kept in good repair. Trolling
with lures and trolling with baits - either live or dead - and fishing at anchor
or from a drifting boat with baits, live or dead, accounts for over 90 per cent
of the marlin taken in our waters. The best lures are Konahead-style skirted heads
that run freely on the leader or trace. A lure of this pattern with a flat or
slightly angled head, called a "pusher", trolled a between 7 and 12 knots behind
a moving boat, is a proven method of attracting marlin. Suitable live and dead
baits range from 15 centimetre yellowtail scad or mullet, through 3 kg striped
tuna and 5 kg mackerel tuna to whole 15 kg Spanish mackerel! The choice of baits
depends on the location, the strength of tackle, and the ambitions of the angler.
Rigging baits for trolling - especially dead baits, which are pulled fairly quickly
- is an acquired skill. Many fine marlin have also been taken on live baits of
tuna, bonito, salmon or kingfish hooked through the top jaw or bridle rigged and
trolled at walking pace near a current line or patch of bait. In lure fishing,
the strike is instantaneous, as the drag is usually set at about a quarter to
a third of the line's breaking strain. The hook either punches home or misses
in the instant of the strike. However, if taken on a bait, marlin should be allowed
to turn and run with the bait against minimal resistance for anything between
one and 30 seconds before being struck.
Eating Qualities: Marlin of all sizes are fair to good table
fish, although the relatively high mercury content of their flesh precludes them
from some commercial markets. The striped marlin, with its pinkish orange flesh,
is generally considered to be much tastier than either of the other species mentioned.