Fly anglers who target any species from the billfish family will tell you it can be an extremely costly pursuit – guided rates often run in thousands per day! However, the most affordable billfish fly fishing trips can be easily accessed out of Baja, Mexico. In this particular region, striped marlin fly fishing has extremely high success rates too!
Across the board, marlin are accepted as one of the fastest fish species in the world. As an apex predator, fly fishing for striped marlin can be incredibly visual even though it occurs in blue water. Often times, anglers find themselves sight casting while marlin cut through bait balls with their bills out of the water. Once hooked, they usually tail walk and jump across the horizon!
What to Expect while Striped Marlin Fly Fishing
The fly fishing for marlin scene often requires various tactics for success. Whether success requires trolling teasers in the boat’s wake or dropping a trail of bait fish, raising marlin or billfish from the depths into fly-friendly water can be a real challenge. However, once the fish are up striped marlin fly fishing is extremely visual!
Protip: You can’t strip your fly too fast for marlin! The double hand retrieve is super helpful!
- Expect large fish: There’s not much blind casting in marlin fishing. Often, anglers stepping into position to cast to their first striped marlin find themselves frozen in pure awe at the size of the fish. Get mentally prepared for this – you don’t want to miss your shot!
- Expect the hookset: It’s rare that you will be casting far while fishing for marlin. The big thing is getting your fly quickly into the zone and stripping fast! As marlin are extremely well-sighted and incredibly fast, they can close in on your fly quickly from long distances. Very often this means they end up eating the fly just as you hit your last few strips. Get ready for a strong strip-set and for your line to go peeling out. Remember, with the heavy tackle you’ll be using, you won’t break them off – so bury the hook!
- Expect a brawl: After burying the hook, get ready to clear the line and get them on the reel. Usually, they stay on the surface and tail walk at the beginning of the fight. I you can keep them jumping, it tires them out faster. When they dive deep, be mentally prepared to lock you drag and win back your line inch by inch! If they are not pulling, they are resting!
- Expect teamwork: Once your marlin has taken off and you have them on your reel, your captain should be slowly chasing them with the boat to help you get them in efficiently. Super long, drawn out fights are not beneficial to releasing these giants. Additionally, teamwork is a must fo ‘billing’,or landing, these fish. Step back when it is time to leader the fish to give your guide space – but be prepared in case the guide misses the leader!
- Expect to handle the fish with respect: As mentioned above, getting one of these specimens to the boat wears them out! Be respectful. Lifting fish this size into a boat for a photo is not conducive to catch and release. Revive them by holding their bill as the captain slowly idles the boat forward until they are storing enough to kick-off.
All About Striped Marlin
Typically, marlin are solitary fish. As apex predators, they often use their bill to impale or maim prey species of fish. Some areas, such as Baja, see seasonal concentrations of baitfish that often congregate feeding marlin – increasing the odds for anglers. Otherwise, they can be a bit tricky to locate without a dialed in guide!
Lifecycle: They live an average of around 10 years of age. As a highly migratory species, they move with seasonal water temperature changes. They prefer temperature ranges that are in the tropical or sub-tropical areas.
Identification: Striped Marlin are easily identified by 10-20 vertical neon blue bars, or stripes, along their flanks. Also known as Striped Swordfish, they are the smallest of the marlin family. They max out around 12 feet long and around 250 pounds – although the record weighed almost 500lbs!
Fun Fact: Striped Marlin have been clocked swimming at speeds up to 68 mph! Talk about fly line burn!
Best Fly Fishing Location for Striped Marlin
Striped Marlin inhabit tropical and subtropical waters in the pacific and indian oceans. According to NOAA, they strongest stocks of striped marlin can be found in the eastern pacific. For American anglers, most concentrate their time in Baja Sur or Hawaii.
Anglers who want their best chance at landing a striped marlin should definitely put the affordable destination of Magdalena Bay, Baja on the top of their list. Mag bay is undoubtedly the Mecca of striped marlin fly fishing. Anglers interested in casting at marlin feeding on bait balls should check out our friends at Los Locos Mag Bay!
When to Fly Fish for Striped Marlin
Baja: Around Mag Bay, prime season is October through December when sardines form large bait balls outside the bay. October has more pacific sailfish around and other species like mahi-mahi!
Hawaii: Peak season on Oahu is January and February. Maui is January through April. The Big Island peaks from December through March and is the most reputable of the Hawaiian islands for pelagic fishing.
Fly Rod Set-Up for Striped Marlin
Striped Marlin will push fly fishing gear to max. Showing up with well built gear and strong knots is a must! A strong rod with plenty of backbone is a must as is a reel with an impeccable drag.
Striped Marlin get huge and fight above their weight class. Show up with a 12 – 14 weight fly rod that is built with plenty of backbone. As with all blue water fishing, pelagic species are not afraid to dive DEEP. Landing billfish is a game of inches; lift up, reel down. It takes a while but is worth the reward.
Most anglers show up with a standard 9 foot 12-14 weight rod – and there is nothing wrong with that! However, fly rods in the 8 foot range are built for pelagic fishing and can benefit the angler when it comes to lifting the fish from the depths and when it comes to landing the fish in the tight quarters of a boat.
FlyTramp recommendation: Scott Sector 8413/3 (That’s right, it’s a 8′ 4″ 13 wt, 3 piece rod. Perfect for pelagics)
The marlin family is some of the fastest fish in the sea. That means blistering runs deep into your backing. Watch your knuckles so they don’t get busted!
Cheap reels that warp or melt will not do the job. Large arbor reels are a must to land these fish efficiently, and reels with STRONG drag are a must. When a marlin is diving deep, do not be surprised if your guide has you max out the drag (depending on the tippets wight class of course!)
FlyTramp recommendation: Mako, Shilton, or Hatch reels. We find the Hatch Outdoors 12 Plus Gen 2 Finatic Reel to be a bang for your buck.
Marlin eat big flies, and having a line that can turn these flies over quickly and efficiently is a must. Additionally, fighting giant pelagic fish means that the fly line’s core needs to be 50-100lbs to avoid breaking lines – but they will break, so bring spares.
Floating lines work, but best success rates are with intermediate or full 550-800 grain sinking lines. Full sinking lines are hard to manage and require better dexterity for the fast stripping that marlin like. Know your skill level. We recommend rigging with an intermediate line and keeping a sinker in the boat as a spare.
FlyTramp recommendation: Scientific Anglers SONAR TITAN BIG WATER TAPER INTERMEDIATE
Leader & Tippet
There is quite a range in tippet weight class used for striped marlin. IFGA anglers looking to set records are required to have at least 12 inches of 20 lb shock tippet tied into their leaders. For the rest of us, a straight 60 – 80 lb fluorocarbon leader will top the trick!
FlyTramp recommendation: Straight 8 foot leaders of 80 lb Rio FLUOROFLEX SALTWATER TIPPET
What Flies to use for Striped Marlin
Marlin and billfish eat baitfish sizing from sardines to small tuna. For cast-a-bility we find flies in the 6-10 inch range work well for most anglers. Size 8/0 or 10/0 hooks are a must! For the most part, guides will provide these flies for you as they all have preferred patterns.
FlyTramp 3 recommended striped marlin flies:
- SF Brush Flies tied 6- 10 inches long with weighted eyes (blue/white, brown/white, pink/white, black)
- Deceivers tied 6- 10 inches long with weighted eyes (blue/white, brown/white, pink/white, black)
- Billfish Tube Flies (blue/white, pink/white)