Using Dead Baits
The use of dead bait within the New Zealand marlin fishing community has become a dying if not non-existent method of targeting billfish with a majority of both professional and recreational crews throughout New Zealand opting for artificial lures and live baits as their preferred techniques. Although the merits of lure fishing and live baiting can’t be questioned, using dead baits can be very effective and has its own unique advantages when targeting billfish in New Zealand waters.
New Zealand’s marlin fishing history has been established around the use dead baits and, up until about 30-35 years ago, was the main technique used when targeting billfish. Most commonly recognized option is the classic “Mayor Island Rig” which consisted of a splashing Kahawai with a reverse rigged J-hook. With the introduction of artificial lures and bigger, faster boats with more range, New Zealand’s marlin fishing evolved into what it is today.
A common perception of dead bait fishing is that it “gut-hooks” a high percentage of fish, deeming then unsuitable for release, but with the use of improved hook designs and refined “hooking-up” techniques this is not the case. Another perception is that artificial lures and live baits raise more fish; well this is an entirely separate argument that I’ll leave up to you to discuss over a few beers at the local fishing club.
Dead baits are successful in many of the worlds fishing hotspots and they give professional skippers and crews another ‘string to their bow’ when other methods aren’t catching fish, or more commonly when live baits aren’t in abundance. While dead baits have a large variety of uses (ranging from trolled skip and swim baits, to dead bait teasers, to my favorite – your basic dead pitch bait), here is an option that you might like to try next summer.
This is a basic and versatile skip or splash bait rig that is suitable for both trolling and as a dead switch bait. The rig can be adapted to a wide range of New Zealand baitfish, from Mackerel, Mullet, Kahawai, and Trevally through to small Tuna and can be a good option when targeting Striped, Black and Blue Marlin.
Before you rig or sew baitfish you need to prepare it by removing the gut and gills while still leaving the throat-latch in tact, (although with some of the softer baits leaving the gut in can be an advantage). Usually removing the gut and gills will aid with the baits flexibility and reduce the rate of decomposing. Adding a small amount of salt to the empty gill, gut cavity and skin will harden up the bait and reduce any fishy odours.
Start your rigging by taking approximately 1–1.5 meters of waxed thread or dacron (the length will obviously vary slightly with the size of the baitfish). Fold the length in half so you have two equal lengths and with the bended end tie a couple of half or clove hitches around the shank of your hook. With a bait-rigging needle you can thread the two tag ends through an approx. 3–4 cm piece of tubing. I use flexible rubber protector tube that is soft enough as to not inhibit any action of the bait or hook but still rigid enough to protect the thread against an aggressive bite, this also keeps the hook clear of the bait during hook-up. Place the tubing hard up against the shank of the hook then tie a couple of overhand knots in the two tag ends to hold the tubing in place.
Now you can start rigging your bait by cutting a small groove in the very tip of the fish’s lips, be careful as to not cut right through the jaw but enough to allow the thread to sit nicely. Make sure it is dead center as this is the towing point of the bait. With your bait needle pass one tag end down through the fish’s skull, usually ¾ of the way back to the eye socket and as centered as possible.
With the remaining tag end pass it up through the fish’s throat and out the same hole as the first in the opposite direction. Now with two tag ends tie them off firmly on the side of the fish’s head (it is important that the towing point doesn’t become loose so make sure the knot and is firm).
From here you take one tag end and pass it directly through the front of the fish’s eye socket with your bait needle. With the second tag end and bait needle, pass it under the original stitching on the top jaw (this stops the stitching tearing out of the head) and back through the eye socket opposite to the first tag end. Once again tie the two tag ends off firmly with a couple of half hitches under the fish’s head.
For the last step in rigging your bait you need to pass each tag end through the strong pectoral fin joints, again in opposite directions to each other and then finally do a couple more half hitches to finish off on the underside of the fish. Trim the remaining tag ends, remembering this is your last knot so you don’t want it to undo.
Depending on whether your bait is to be used as a pitch-bait or trolled skip-bait will determine if the belly needs to be sown up. Obviously if it’s a trolled bait the belly will wash-out faster if it’s not sown up, but a pitch bait is (hopefully) only in the water a couple of minutes at the longest before you get a bite. Usually I don’t bother, but that’s totally in your capable hands.
A very important aspect of preparing dead baits is making sure they’re flexed before use. Stiff or rigid baits will spin, being unattractive to marlin yet flexed baits will skip, swim and splash, being more likely to get the much anticipated bite.
Using and preparing dead bait for marlin fishing is an art, and it requires at least 2-3 seasons of practice to fully understand how and when to utilize them. This rig is quick, easy and versatile and works really well in New Zealand’s conditions. Remembering that trolling dead bait is usually done at a slightly slower speed than artificial lures (between 5-8 knots). Give it a go when live bait is hard to find, when the artificial lures aren’t raising fish or try pitching one back to a teased up marlin, see what you think….Good luck!