Catch and release…

Catch and release…

Images like this don’t always mean the death of a billfish…

The simple theory behind fishing is that you need to figure out what the fish eat, and how they eat it, then replicate that with a hook hidden somewhere inside to catch the fish. It sounds simple – and yet it is one of the most hotly debated subjects on the planet. There are looooong arguments and discussions, and then much money is thrown at it. Following on from our observations last week, there are many ways in which fishermen can and do facilitate better ways of catching billfish for release (and ideally tagging too if possible). Below are many generalizations, as we do not have the luxury of unlimited words on the subject…

Cuttlefish – one of the species the billfish feed on.

Our billfish feed on dolphin fish (also known as dorado / mahi mahi), squid, cuttlefish, octopuses, sardine, flying fish, mackerel, trevallies (also known as kingfish), juvenile swordfish, and large decapod crustaceans (named for their five pairs of legs on the thorax, like crabs, shrimps, lobsters). A firm favourite of both the blue and black marlin are the small tuna when they’re available. These fish use their long, sharp bills to slash / “bill-whack” their prey, after which they swim back to eat their stunned and injured prey.

A flying fish – another tasty snack for billfish.

When fishing for billfish, sport fishermen have two choices – using live bait or lures. Both have their pros and cons. Marlin are aggressive, highly predatory fish that respond incredibly well to the splash and trail of a well-presented artificial lure. Live bait should only be used when the fishing area is quite small, as trolling with live bait requires the boat to travel slower in order to keep the bait alive. But the most important debate with regard to conservation is the circle type hook vs the J-hook. 

This is a “Jason Mathias Big Game Fine Art Lure”. Each lure is a limited edition of 100 with a certificate of authenticity!

All of the pertinent studies I could find (i.e. those done on either billfish or similarly-shaped fish) found positive, significant improvements when using circle hooks. Conservation groups in general believe that replacing “J” hooks with circle hooks will significantly reduce release mortality and therefore positively impact exploited fish stocks. Circle hooks are designed to be more efficient at hooking a fish than a traditional J hook. This is a function of the shape of the hook, which is designed to catch the fish in the corner of the mouth, rather than the traditional J hook which can catch the fish in the throat or gut. Hooking a fish in the corner of the mouth is also better for conservation efforts!

The traditional J-hooks.

Studies which investigated the effects of the two different types of hooks in the commercial longline and recreational fisheries for tunas found higher rates of “hook and hold,” higher frequency of hooking locations in the jaw, less physical damage and consequential lower release mortality, and an overall significant increase in CPUE (catch-per-unit-effort). 

The newer circle hooks.

Similar studies conducted in the billfish fisheries reported that circle hooks achieved twice as many hook ups with 85% of the hook ups occurred in the jaw, fish caught on “J” hooks were 21 times more likely to bleed, and that circle hooks minimized deep hooking, foul hooking and injury. I’m pleased to report that all of the anglers I spoke to were using circle hooks!

How do you then revive the billfish before releasing it? The best ‘description’ I found was in a video – please see the link in the info block.

This spectacular creature was obviously NOT part of the catch-and-release initiative. Terribly sad.

Images such as the one above are, thankfully, becoming less and less as our sporting anglers recognise the value of conserving these magnificent creatures. Those who are adhering to the conservation guidelines should be lauded for doing so…

Jacqui Ikin & The Cross Country Team


How to Release Marlin: Explained in 1 Minute

How Sailfish Use Their Bill:

How sailfish use their bills to capture schooling prey (II):

Sailfish attacking Bait Ball:

Speared by a Marlin: 

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