Belly StripsSwitch baiting and the use of ‘hook less’ teasers is nothing new to the marlin fishing fraternity. Many professional overseas crews use switch baiting successfully, and although not widely used within New Zealand it has become more and more popular in an attempt to increase hook up percentages and tussle with marlin on lighter tackle. Although this technique can take a little bit of fine-tuning, switch baiting is a lot of fun and is very effective when fishing for both striped and blue marlin. An important aspect of teasing marlin is firstly holding the fish’s attention and secondly exciting the fish enough to obtain the ‘switch’ to either a pitched live or dead bait. The use of tuna belly strips sown inside lure skirts gives your plastic teasers a fleshy taste and is a good way of exciting sometimes lethargic or dopey striped marlin. Commonly asked questions are “how is the belly strip secured to the lure?” and “Doesn’t the marlin bugger off if it rips some flesh off the lure?” Well hopefully the following will answer some questions and help those anglers and fisherpersons who want to add something extra to their fishing arsenal. The belly or underside of the tuna has the toughest skin and when trimmed is the best and easiest piece of flesh for sowing. When taking the belly from the tuna, I usually slice the full length of the fish starting from just under the pectoral fins right back to the underside at the base of the tail. I repeat this on both sides of the fish and then also through the throat to detach it from the fish. From here you can trim the belly of the gut cavity, rib cage, excess flesh, bones and fins until you have a nice flat belly strip. Of coarse not all teasers and lures are the same size so obviously you can trim the belly once again to suit. I usually trim the flesh at the edges of the belly right back to the skin which makes it a bit easier later on with the stitching, although every belly and lure differ in size.
A tough yellowfin belly is considered the best due to its leather like skin although salted skipjack belly’s will do when their larger cousins are not in abundance. Salting the belly’s will give them extra toughness and a rubbery texture, enabling them to be used without ‘washing out to quickly’ and also making it a lot harder for the fish to rip it from the lure.
Waxed rigging thread is the best for tying any bait, but decent thread can be reasonably hard to find and expensive amongst a lot of New Zealand’s fishing tackle stores. Dacron is a less expensive and more than adequate substitute, especially if an unused spool is lying at the bottom of your tackle box.
I usually start with a piece of thread of approximately 2 – 2.5 meters long and half hitch it a couple of times to the crimped loop behind the lure head with equal lengths on each side, from here with your trimmed belly you can start sowing.
A good place to start is on the flesh side of the belly where the smaller ventral fins are. This provides a good boney structure to start from that is unlikely to be ripped away. Pass the two lengths of thread through the flesh on either side of the fins and tie them off firmly with a couple of half hitches.
Once your happy with this you can start “cross-stitching” the length off the belly to pull the two loose flaps together, this hides all the softer flesh and leaves all the harder skin on the exterior.
Do this with both lengths of thread and back to the lure end of the belly and once again tie them off firmly with a couple off half hitches. Now your belly should resemble something like a sausage that should fit nicely inside the skirt of your lure.
With the remaining lengths of thread, just wrap them tightly in opposite directions to each other around the crimp and flesh and tie off firmly once again with a couple of half hitches and cut the tag ends, remembering that this is your last knot so your don’t want it to undo.
By trimming the excess flesh in front of the crimp this should create a flat edge or canister of sorts that will fit snuggly against the back of the lure head so as to not inhibit the lures swimming action.
If you like you can slice the tail to give it a little extra swimming action. I usually trim any loose strands of flesh and sinew as the belly washes out or after a marlin has grabbed hold of it. This will not only stop the marlin ripping any flesh off but also enable the lure to swim straight. Once the flesh gets to soft just cut it off and replace it, as you don’t wont to give the marlin an easy feed before you get to pitch your bait.You can usually get a day out of each belly, although this may vary by more or less depending on the species of the belly, if you salted the flesh, your stitching, or if a marlin has just given it a descent tug. Sounds like a lot of work? If your well organized and prepared its not really, you’ll obviously be able to get quite quick with practice. This is just one of many ways to rig a belly strip, you may be able to come up with something a little different. Give it a go and see what you think, you might be surprised how excited the marlin get and how long they will follow the boat once they get a taste of flesh....Good Luck!