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 160 kg.

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.

By Steve Starling