Game fishing in New Zealand is steadily becoming more popular as boat, engine, and tackle technology has completely reinvented the sport, and made it accessible to anyone keen enough to give it a go.
Long gone are the times when you needed a monster white boat with a game chair, that sleeps 12 including the pro crew, to chase marlin and tuna.
Today there are marlin commonly being caught on six metre alloy boats. Popular locations out of the Bay of Plenty, Raglan, Manukau, Hokianga, Bay of Islands and Coromandel all provide a realistic opportunity for successful game fishing action. Hell, you can even catch marlin out of Auckland if you head out to the back of Great Barrier.
Game season generally starts around Christmas time in NZ, peaking right about March but running often right through to May.
If you are wanting to try game fishing for the first time, particularly from a smaller boat, then a couple of reasonable of reasonable game outfits is all you need. Two lures in the water can often be just as effective as Five if the fish are there.
Whether you are a starter with two outfits off the corner of a six metre alloy boat, or a seasoned pro on a monster boat with 50K worth of gear on board, one thing remains the same, the marlin doesn’t care and only sees what is in front of it.
No matter what it’s strapped to, a lure can be everything.
It’s what the fish wants to eat and all that matters to that fish for a brief moment.
A very, very good fisherman once offered me some interesting advice. “When lure fishing, spend your money closest to the fish”.
Game lures are available in a million colours, actions, head shapes, sizes and materials.
Sometimes these make ALL the difference, other times absolutely none at all.
The one thing that does matter EVERY time, is how well you hook up.
You can troll the ocean for days and days, trip after trip, and never get a strike, other times can be lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time and action happens quickly with multiple hook ups, on occasion, simultaneously.
To borrow another quote, “marlin fishing is hours and hours of boredom, with moments and moments of madness”.
In order to make the one thing that matters count the most, enter the option of using light gauge hooks.
What is a light gauge hook then?
In game fishing terminology, a light gauge hook simply replaces heavy duty, traditional game hooks with much finer profile and narrower diameter pattern, commonly in 8/0 or 9/0 sizes to suit popular game lures.
The difference in hook weight is significant, and these hooks from reputable manufacturers such as Bonze, Pakula, Raptor etc, are usually expensive, of extremely high quality, often use exotic metals such as titanium, are surgically sharp, and can also be treated with a slick ‘teflon-like’ coating to enable more efficient penetration.
8/0 light gauge double hook or single option on a popular Pakula
The advantages of light gauge
First and foremost: Hook penetration.
Fine hooks with razor points will categorically pierce the tough mouth and bill area of a marlin easier. That is their number one purpose. When you spend days at sea and maybe get one strike, one chance, one opportunity, having the hook stick and managing the next bit carefully is a choice you can make by running 'lights'.
The less interference to the lure from hooks and heavy trace, arguably the better a lure will run and perform behind the boat.
Because the hooks are lighter, they are usually also rigged on lighter leader which has less drag in the water.
Less tackle visibility:
Lighter leader, with lighter and smaller hooks means that in crystal clear game water your lure may be just that next level more attractive to a fish. The same principle applies to any fishing, sometimes lighter leader makes all the difference, sometimes none, but you never know unless you try, and there’s a trade-off.
Light gauge hooks allow smaller lures like this to run more freely and maximise their action
First and foremost:
You have a greater chance of losing fish once they are hooked, by breaking or straightening the hook.
You cannot choose to absolutely muscle the fish to the boat, unless, for its health and welfare you choose to take your chances and don’t mind if the hook gives in the process.
Tracing the fish can be more difficult as you get to a point where there is no give from the rod and reel drag, so fine hooks naturally are going to be treated carefully at this point.
You have less time to let the fish run. If you let the fish tear off 400 metres of line while you gather the other gear in (no problem on normal gear) you may find that the line drag in the water is enough to ping the lighter gauge hook, so be aware of this and manage with good skippering.
If you do hook an absolute monster unexpectedly, you may find you have bought a knife to a gun fight. Your chances on a huge fish are reduced on lighter gear. That’s not to say you are done by any means, but you do have reduced latitude to put pressure on the fish.
These hooks are lethal. Do not leave them on the deck as you get gear in. Rigged as a twin setup, a fish beside the boat only hooked by one leaves another flailing around as a potential problem. These hooks will go through gloves, hands etc with ease so extra vigilance needed.
At the boat, single and heavy hooks can be an advantage when handling billfish
Rigging light gauge hooks
Usually lighter leader is run with the lighter hooks, around 200lb commonly opted for.
It’s a personal preference as to whether double or single hook rigs should be used. Dealing with just one hook at the boat is always safer, and some anglers believe two hooks can actually be a disadvantage as one hook can sometimes offer a fish leverage to dislodge the other during a fight.
The other school of thought is that if the hook is finer, and therefore not as strong, having two in play doubles the chances of hanging on to a fish.
There’s no black and white answer here, it’s a debate that will run as long as beer and rum is consumed by game fishermen the world over.
Check out the difference - standard weight vs light gauge
Trolling light gauge setups only requires a few subtle considerations.
Drag settings need to be adjusted right down, around 4 – 5 kgs is a technical terminology, but it’s more by feel. You should be able to easily pull line from the reel with one hand, but don’t have it so light the reel can over run and backlash. It’s better to err on the side of slightly light than have - STRIKE…….ping!
As it is all important to get after the fish quickly you may be fishing less gear in the pattern, maybe no riggers or shotgun. This is where it suits smaller trailer boats.
Fishing these hooks requires greater angler skill, boat handling skill, and technique once the fish is boat side.
Landed and released. Would the strike have stuck on a heavy hook? Always the mystery
Are light gauge hooks for you?
Here is the compromise.
More chance of attracting fish to strike, more chance of hooking up, more chance of hook sticking during the fight.
Downside, once the fish is in play, it’s harder to land.
Maybe this will help. You should consider light gauge hooks as a serious option if...
You are fishing where there are not a lot of fish around, it’s mostly likely you’ll hook 80kg – 120kg stripeys, or possibly tuna. Here the smaller lures, lighter trace, and more diminutive hook presence might make all the difference both getting, and keeping, strikes.
You back your crew’s boat skills and your own dexterity on the rod in stand up gear.
You also intend releasing your fish, and a straightened hook at the boat will not be the end of your world.
If light gauge is not for you...
You are in marlin mecca, and strikes are thick and fast, you are all about getting hooked up and grunting the fish to the boat. Maybe you’re in a comp.
You like to know you might have missed a few hits, but when you are hooked up you are able to let the fish run right out then put pressure on.
You are in tiger country, and a big blue could come from anywhere.
You want all the control at the boat you can get, and may be keeping the fish.
There it is, everything is up for debate, but whether it’s you or not it cannot be denied, light gauge hooks are a thing, and have accounted for some sensational fishing days, maybe boating fish that would not have even hooked up otherwise.