With summer on the doorstep it’s that wonderful time when many fishers turn their attention to the impending influx of gamefish to New Zealand waters.

In fact, as I write this at the end of October there are already reports coming in of yellowfin tuna and striped marlin! When it comes to gamefishing, preparation and attention to detail are so important. I consider myself a relative novice when it comes to gamefishing but have certainly learnt a few things the hard way! So here are a few basic gear-related tips to help you firstly hook, and secondly tag or land, that dream gamefish.

Sharp hooks

Having sharp hooks is a crucial element for all types of fishing, especially when your primary target comes adorned with a solid and awkwardly placed bill. Light gauge hooks, such as the Bonze Platinum series, come out of the packet razor sharp and tend to have good hookup ratios with towed lures. Although some very successful gamefishers swear by them, I have witnessed them bent sideways or opened-up on marlin fought with light drag settings. The other downside is the hooks need to be replaced (which means re-rigging) after a handful of trips – even when using the sacrificial zinc anode strips which are basically mandatory.

If you’re rigging your lures or livebait rigs with heavier gauge hooks that aren’t chemically sharpened, then it pays to invest a decent amount of time filing the point and barb down for easier penetration. I recommend sharpening at home with the aid of a vice rather than at sea when things are often done in a rush. Use wood between the vice and the hook itself to minimise any damage to the hook. The aim is to fine down and streamline the point for the easiest penetration – a good test is being able to leave a scratch mark when you very lightly brush the point over the top of your thumbnail. When it comes to the barb, you only want to maintain a small catch for holding so look to smooth out any curve on the barb. Lastly think about the tackle and drag settings you’ll be using – sinking a big hook with a bulky point and decent barb will be difficult on 15 or 24kg tackle, but the strength might be well suited to 37kg gear.

Rigging

It pays to check out the wealth of online rigging tutorials and make sure you get it right! You’ll need the following items for rigging decent lure and livebait rigs: Standard rigging equipment
• Monofilament leader
• Wire
• Aluminium crimps (for leader)
• Copper crimps (for wire)
• Thimbles or plastic tubing
• Crimping pliers with wire cutters
• Shrink tubing
• Lighter
• Hooks
• Game swivels

Rods & Reels

It pays to have good quality rods and reels spooled with 600m+ of 24kg or 37kg line. I lost the first marlin I hooked after an hour on an old Shimano TLD25 with 15kg line – and that one hurt! As they say, don’t bring a knife to a gunfight. Livebaiting is a good option if you’re financially restricted – you can realistically fish with one or two quality sets (and burn a lot less fuel!). Ensure your equipment is regularly re-spooled so that your line does not go past it’s use-bydate.

Lures

A basic mix of lures with varying colours, sizes and head shapes

It’s so easy to keep buying the latest shiny lure you see but in reality you only need a basic mix of head styles, sizes and colours to cover most bases. Classics such as the Zukers 5.5 in black / purple or Bonze D-shackle in lumo are classics for a reason – they work! I like to err on the side of running smaller lures that have reasonably aggressive actions – you’ll have a better chance of hooking smaller species such as shortbill spearfish, mahimahi and tuna, yet still attract the big ones. Try to keep your lure skirts new and shiny – it’s easy and cheap to replace skirts. If you’re going livebaiting, it’s likely you’ll need small tuna lures on rods or bungees for skippies, lures for kahawai, or sabikis for jack and slimey mackerel.

Outriggers

Although many catch gamefish without outriggers, most well regarded lure fishing captains believe they are an important piece of kit. Most striped marlin bites I’ve seen have been ‘on the rigger’. Outriggers help spread the lures, reducing tangles and keeping lures visible in clear water away from engine wash. Although I cut my gamefishing teeth using surf rods lashed to the side of the boat as outriggers, getting a firm, crisp release from professionally made sets rather than a sloppy, stretchy release from poor DIY versions will increase your hook-up ratios.

Dredges

Dredges are a great visual stimulant for gamefish as they appear to be a small school of fish or squid. It pays to set a corner lure a few metres behind the dredge to act as vulnerable prey that has fallen behind the ‘school’. A spreader bar helps keep the dredge away from engine wash although running it off the stern cleat works for some vessels.

Other Items 

• Bait needle for bridle rigging livebaits
• Weighing scales to ensure the correct strike drag settings
• Rubber bands for anything and everything during a gamefishing trip!
• Flying gaff or tag pole
• Wind-on leaders for trailerboat fishing to clear lines quickly and help boat-side fish handling.

Article by: Nick Jones