The Billfish Grand Slam

Four elusive species and an on-camera promise to bag every one. Nick Duigan and Andrew Hart tempt fate.

Words: Andrew Hart

The first rule of making a TV fishing show is never make bold predictions about what you’re going to catch. You only set yourself up for a particularly embarrassing type of failure. Fishing just can’t be scripted. You’d think we’d remember that after more than 15 years in the game.

Instead, we found ourselves standing beside our Bar Crusher boat on a balmy Gold Coast afternoon making the grand statement that we were going to catch a blue, a black and a striped marlin, as well as a broadbill swordfish—and all for one episode. Call us crazy!

But so it began—a four-month rollercoaster ride, tempting fate chasing what we began to call the HL&S Billfish Grand Slam.

The Blue

The blue marlin is crazy. There is no other fish in the sea that attacks and bites a lure, then turns the ocean to white water as it fights by tail-walking for the horizon. The first blue marlin we hooked smashed the lure, jumped and then ran. We’d never seen line evaporate from a spool so quickly.

Then reality set in. We spent two more days trolling the Gold Coast waters for not another bite. Then the weather turned. To rub salt into the wound, the next time we went fishing for blue marlin, our cameraman was called away urgently. It was a disaster.

The only weather window we could see was a few hundred kays down the coast at South West Rocks—where they were in the grip of the worst blue marlin season in history.

“Fish, and fishing, just can’t be scripted. You’d think that after more than 15 years in the game we’d remember that.”

Nick and I headed to sea solo and with low expectations, but after an hour our short corner lure was inhaled by a big blue. Nick was on, and the fish was tearing the ocean apart. Then, a miracle: another rod started to scream, and before we knew what was happening we were both hooked up to rampaging blue marlin.

Somehow we managed to film the whole thing ourselves. After a few hours fighting, we’d caught our blues.

The Black

With new-found confidence we headed south in search of the next species. The black marlin is known as the brawler. The world’s fastest fish, it’s heavy, tough and doesn’t give up. We decided the way to hook a black was to tow live baits at a slow speed.

Off to Bermagui, in southern NSW. A testing 12-hour tow, but the D-MAX did it with ease. With our cameraman, Mike, back onboard we hooked and lost two black marlin over two long days. Nick and Mike left, but I stayed on—to host a buck’s weekend. Naturally, we headed out to wet a line. Twenty minutes later, we were hooked up to a black marlin. Somehow we managed to catch it, filming all the while, and then rang Nick, who was still waiting at the airport, with the good news!

Maybe it was our cameraman who was cursed?

The Striped

The prettiest of the marlin species, striped marlin fight well and they’re exciting to hook, especially when you tease them into the boat, then feed them a live bait—a technique known as switch baiting.

We had a full crew back on board as we headed out from Bermagui— including our filmer. Before long, a striped marlin appeared on the righthand teaser. If you’re wondering, a ‘teaser’ is a lure with no hook in it. When the striped marlin comes up and tries to eat it, the crew teases it into the back of the boat, making it angry at the same time. It hits your bait and you achieve a solid hook-up.

The hook-up was textbook and our cameraman finally proved his worth, filming a sequence of 15 jumps as the fish realised its dilemma. The striped marlin can hit 80km/h underwater— which means they can leap, too! Forty minutes later, we had her alongside for release. Marlin trifecta done!

Broadbill swordfish

Meet the toughest gamefish that swims. Broadbills are so strong that fights can last for half a day or more. The technique for catching them is to drop a bait to the bottom—often between 450m and 600m!—where the swordfish live during the day. As you can imagine there’s a bit to the rig, and the sinker we use is, in fact, a large and heavy rock!

Tasmania is fast becoming the swordfish capital of the world, but for three days we got nothing. Obviously, there was only one thing do—ditch the cameraman!

It did the trick. Heading out from St Helens one morning, with only Nick and me in the boat, we got a bite on the second drop of the morning. Two hours later, we had a swordfish at the side of the boat. Job sorted!

In fishing and especially in TV—as in life—making bold predictions is a good way to embarrass yourself. But it turns out it’s actually pretty easy to keep the egg off your face—just keep the cameraman off the boat!

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