For many fly fishers the Billfish is the ultimate challenge on a fly rod, an endeavor that is a true team effort of Captain, Guide and Angler. Despite the apparent complexities of fishing Billfish on fly, it is not necessarily an elitist sport and with an experienced, competent crew and Guide can be enjoyed by expert and novice alike. For sheer spectacle and adrenaline rush, few fish compare to the different species of Billfish in the dance of the tease, the take and the fight that follows.
- Rods: The fly gear used is highly specialized. The rods are designed with fish fighting in mind. This is the realm of the 14 weight through 18 weight rods. Our choice for years has been the Temple Fork Blue water series and our most relied upon rod is the medium duty rod, a 14/15 weight that has tremendous lifting power while retaining reasonable cast ability. When Blue Marlin are about we turn to the Blue Water Heavy Duty rod with 17/18 weight lift capability. The Blue Water Light Duty rod, a 12/13 weight, has its roll when Sailfish predominate, the striped marlin are running under eighty pounds, or when we are casting longer distances to feeding boils or laid up fish. The Blue Water Light Duty is a good compromise rod when either Dorado or Marlin may appear behind a trolled teaser.
- Reels: Salt water reels with smooth drags, large arbors, built on strong frames with the capability of holding 400 plus yards of backing are a must. Of the many excellent brands available we have chosen the Galvan Tournament Torque reels to match the TFO Rods for our clients to use.
- Lines: Tropical sink tip lines in 600 to 800 grains, built on strong center cores are the norm for Billfish. We use the new Sonar Titan line by Scientific Angler as well as the Rio Leviathan. We cut our lines down to longer than 80 feet to add backing capacity and to cut down on drag in the water as the fish explodes away from the boat.
Leaders: Keep it short: We use a two-foot butt section of 60 or 80 pound mono, looped connected into a class leader with Biminis’s at both ends, attached to 80 or 100 pound shock leader. The fly is attached a Lefty’s loop knot to give it some swing on the stiff shock leader.
- Flies: Tube flies in a few color combinations will cover most situations. We tie a lot of 7” to 9” pink on white with popper heads as our go to fly. Some blue on white and Petrolero colors will cover the rest. When the fish are on bait balls we scale down to a pattern that simulate the size and color of the bait, often sardines or mackerel. Our standard Gym Sock pattern works well under these circumstances. In all cases we use a single hook in our flies in 6/0. Our favorite hook is the Trokar TK10.
- Tactics: In our waters, teasing is not the only game in town to catch Billfish. The high concentrations of fish found on the Pacific Ridge Banks outside of Magdalena Bay offer opportunities to cast to free feeding Marlin on bait balls. Once a fish boil is located the boat is eased into the frenzy and flies are cast to individual fish. Just as in our Dorado fish, judicious use of a top water teasing plug can be employed to fire up and pull marlin into range.
In both the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific there are times when we run at mid throttle and look for tails of fish. Once spotted we position the boat in front of the fish and present the fly with standard overhead cast. Teasers can come into play here of either a plug or a live bait cast with a spin rod if the fish doesn’t respond at first to the fly.
The standard way of catching Billfish on fly is still trolling with assorted teasers, with the fly cast at the point of the switch. We vary our approached based on the reaction of the fish as determined by where they are in their daily feeding cycles. Early feeding stage fish are best worked with a larger spread of teaser. Fish that are at the peak of their feeding cycle can be effectively raised with a single teaser. We are of the belief that fewer moving parts in the water means fewer things to go wrong in the process of pulling teasers prior to the fly going in. Our go to set up, for when the fish are hot, is to run a single Bruja (rigged ballyhoo on a small hoochie head) on fourth wake and a single teaser short lined to the cleat. Two anglers can fish the raised billfish from the corners, making the day more interesting for both fishermen. In all rigging situations, from complex to one teaser, our objective is to pull quickly and smoothly all teasers without the fish ever touching a lure, especially anything with a hard head. When that occurs, their aggressive behavior diminishes. The Billfish, now uncertain of its food choices, tend to tap the fly with their bill, testing to determine whether they have encountered food or not.
When it all comes together with a hook up, you are in for the thrill of a life time.