June 3, 2009: Switch Baiting at Bowling Green… Photo Story

LOCATION:  Australia, QLD, Townsville, Cape Bowling Green & Wider Reefs. On board Reel Chase with Cpt. Jim Dalling. Angling team: Ken & Gary Douglas, John Polson and Coach Anne Dalling.


A photo story written in late 2004 for a Fishing Website featuring game (black marlin) fishing.  There were three specific tasks within the story brief; test a new rod and reel combination – attempt to explain the scoring system used by game anglers – and attempt to catch a black marlin on a light tackle spinning rig…  We had sophisticated digital SLR cameras on board but (ironically) the three best marlin pictures of this trip were taken on a little Pentax ‘point and shoot’.


It had long been my ambition – to catch a marlin on a spinning reel.  Light tackle – switch & pitch – all adds to the adrenalin rush of catching these wonderful fish… but I’m getting ahead of the story! Click any one of the thumbnails (below) to enlarge, then scroll. More photos under ‘Continue Reading’

In September of each year the Townsville Game Fishing Club holds its Billfish Challenge.  This is held in the reef areas east of Cape Bowling Green which, at this time of the year, has a world wide reputation for its numbers of juvenile black marlin and sailfish.

A few years ago Captain Jim Dalling (then skipper of Orca) created a world record catch of 32 black marlin tagged and released IN ONE DAY!  “Marlin come in waves” says Jim…  Huh? Really?  We left the Marina at 0700 on September 28 – headed east – where else?

Reel Chase is 18 metres or 55′ in length and cruises (!) at 32 knots – so – even with pausing to catch live bait we had set the teaser patterns and started trolling by 1100.

The plan was to run two “daisy chains” of teasers, skip baits off each rigger and hookless lures off each flat corner.  When the marlin enter the pattern – the teasers and hookless lures would be retrieved and whoever was on strike would grab a spin rod…

and pitch a pre-rigged live bait – according to JIm’s directions – over a loudspeaker from the tower.  Simple really… NOT!

This picture shows the two spin rods racked above the live bait wells on each beam gunnel – I’ll go into some detail here because one was the boat rig – and the other a rig I wanted to test.  The boat rig was a Penn SpinFisher 9500SS on a 7′ 10-15kg Ugly Stick – the test rig was an Okuma Epix EB80 on an OuterMark Topaz 7′ 8-12kg rod.  We had sold dozens of Epix in the previous 2 years – and fished with them often – but never really given the drag systems a serious work out.  The new Topaz rods had quickly earned a huge reputation – but were they really just like – or as good as – an Ugly Stick?

So – where was I?  11:00am and trolling – OK…
Somebody once said that game fishing is 95% boredom – and 5% sheer bedlam…

This day the bedlam started early – and to give you some feeling of the atmosphere on the back deck – I’m going to use some “team talk” – an international scoring system for game fishing based on 3 numbers – much like the Australian Football League – but easier to calculate!

1-1-1 means; 1 marlin raised into the pattern of lures, 1 marlin hooked, 1 marlin caught or (in our case) tagged & released – unharmed.

So – again… it’s 11:00am and trolling – OK…

I’m not going to subject you to the above level of detail for each of the following 4 days – a summary will have to do.

Day 2 started with a lot of promise – the first marlin into the pattern within half an hour of getting the teaser pattern set…  It checked out each of the hookless lures – and we got the pitch bait right on its nose – but nothing…

By 1100am we had raised 6 marlin and 1 sailfish – hooked up on 3 of them – and tagged NONE.  The score was now a much less impressive 21-12-7.

Someone had slipped a hooked Halco LaserPro into the pattern – and when a very impressive spanish mackeral nailed it – we decided to take the afternoon off – and ‘go fishin’.
Into the freezer went the ‘spaniard’ – 14 nannagai, 2 golden snapper – but not the large red emperor – which Anne served that night with her famous mango and chilli sauce.  Hard life really – 50 miles offshore – anchored up in a tranquil reef lagoon – and demolishing piles of 5 star food and very good wine!

But the score was still 21-12-7.

Day 3 was spent trolling for mackeral.  Lots of spaniards – straight into the food freezer – and lots of shark mackerel which make good skip baits for marlin – ready for next month’s heavy tackle season start at Lizard Island.

We had a very impressive production line working.  Deckie Wade cleaning and filleting – the rest of us bagging and packing into the freezer.

Day 4 – and we decided to tow lures as we returned to the marlin grounds.  The mackeral bite was so hot – they were belting the lures before we reset the pattern!  By the time we changed over to the teaser pattern we had 15 spanish mackeral and 8 shark mackeral in the freezer.

And very sore arms…

The pitch baiting began quite early – with 2 marlin coming up to look us over – we failed to hook either of them.  Things began to improve when we hooked each of the next 4 – and although Garry dropped his right at the boat – we managed to tag and release the other 3.

Not a bad score for the day at 6-4-3 – and as we returned to Cape Bowling Green for our final night – the total was 27-16-10.

Day 5 was to be our final day – and dawned very crappy.  Rain squalls and big seas – but we set the teaser pattern and got on with it.  At 1000am on the dot – the first marlin for the day raced into the pattern – jumped onto one of the skip baits – Ken set the hooks – and had the fish to the boat – tagged and released in less than 20 seconds!

The first marlin for the day?  Yes – well, it was also the last marlin for the day.  Ken would remind us (over and bloody over) that he had achieved the only perfect score for the day at 1-1-1.

We arrived back at Townsville with the score for the 3 (marlin) days at 28-18-11.

Nine of the marlin had been caught on spin – and 8 of them on my OuterMark Topaz rod and the Okuma Epix EB80 reel.  Both were very impressive – the rod performed every bit as well as the Ugly Stik next to it – and when the boys stripped down the Epix to check for drag damage – not a mark – they just changed the grease – and it’s back in action already.  There were two advantages to the Epix over the SpinFisher – the Epix was much faster in retrieve than the SpinFisher – but perhaps more importantly (given that we always use circle hooks) the Epix has very positive (infinite?) anti-reverse which resulted in much smoother hook-ups.  We never lost a marlin after hook-up on the Epix – whilst we pulled the hooks on several with the SpinFisher’s “clunky” back lash.

Ken now has the rod in his collection in Melbourne and has just sent me a cheque for his own Epix – so that would seem to be the ultimate test!

Personal scores?  3 each for Ken, Gavan and me – and Garry got 2 – no one was complaining – and we all needed new eskis to get the mackerel and reddies home – thanks Qantas!

Reel Chase and Captain Jim Dalling were – as always – 110% – and it was fantastic to have Anne out of retirement for the week.

Wade the deckie has settled in well – and now at just 18 is no longer the young tackle rat who used to hang around the shop – a very impressive young man.

The following week Reel Chase went on to win the Townsville Billfish Tournament – with 12 marlin tagged and released.  One lousy fish better than us!

Anne also won the Individual Award for Best Angler!

That’s our Coach!



It will come as no surprise that those three marlin pictures found their way onto my office wall – which also might explain the ridiculous ‘buff’ background colour!  There have been several of these produced – each with different background colours – and with a different set of cameo pictures at the bottom!  I know of four people claiming to have caught this particular marlin!  The frame size (on my version) is 100 cm tall x 58 cm wide – or 40″ x 23″ – but can be altered to fit any dimensions and any frame choice.  An enlargement of this Story Board can be viewed here. 

 Don't Click!

2 Responses to “June 3, 2009: Switch Baiting at Bowling Green… Photo Story”

  1. Octamom June 10, 2009 at 12:16 am #

    So glad to ‘meet’ you over at my site! Thanks for the photography encouragement! I’m enjoying looking around your place–great shots, beautiful stuff!


  2. penn reels August 8, 2009 at 3:59 pm #

    Hey there, I discovered your site a few hours ago and have ploughed through all the posts quietly. I decided to might write my firstcomment. Unsure of what to say but anyway. Cool website. Will call back in a while to see what else youd like to say.

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