Complete Guide to Catching Billfish on Fly Interview by Matt Harris 2017
Tackle, Rigging, Technique, Locations
Billfish on fly tackle rigging, technique, & locations, interview of Jake Jordan by Matt Harris:
Questions and answers updated on June 25, 2017
Matt: What advances have been made in fly-fishing tackle and techniques that now allow anglers like you to regularly land huge pelagics like striped and even blue marlin on fly?
( feel free to give Mako a plug here ):
I first realized that the fly fishing tackle that we were using for Tarpon was not the proper tools to catch billfish during 1992 while working in Costa Rica. During a six month period I hooked 213 billfish on fly and landed 12 during that period. I broke hooks, knots, leaders, fly lines, fly rods, and fly reels, the largest reel then was a 4 inch fly reel and the 12 weight Tarpon rods with snake guides were cutting through the fly lines.
I worked with fly rod companies to develop heavier fly rods for lifting, while doing away with snake guides on heavy fly rods. IGFA clarified their rules which now allows a fighting butt which is 6 inches long from the center of the foot on the fly reel to the end of the butt, which moves the fly reel further away from the angler’s body. These new big game fly rods also have increased the fore grip from 7 inches to 16 inches so the angler can fight the big fish with a straight relaxed arm. In my opinion the perfect example of this Big Game Fly Rod is the TFO Blue water Heavy Duty fly rod.
We needed a fly reel with a smooth breaking system which has the ability to apply at least 10 pounds of smooth pressure for long periods of time without failing. It is also necessary to know exactly what the drag pressure is at all times before, during, and after the battle with the big fish. The biggest difference in the Mako fly reel and all other fly reels on the market, is that the complete range of breaking pressure between ¼ pound of pressure up to over 12 pounds of perfectly smooth drag takes place within 350 degrees of one turn of the large drag knob, At this time the only fly reel available on the market today which meets these standard is the Mako Fly Reel by the late Jack Charlton. I place marks on the reel frame and spool which show the drag settings of: One Pound (Blue Marlin), Three Pounds (Striped Marlin), and six pounds (Sailfish setting).
Another thing which helped increase the ability of anglers to catch bigger fish on fly is the ability to have Gel-Spun backing; it is much smaller in diameter and much stronger than the former Dacron backing which we used in the past. I currently use 65 pound test GSP Backing.
The newer hooks which are chemically hardened and sharpened work much better than the older hooks which were softer and required sharpening with a file, Gamakatsu Octopus 6/0 and 5/0 hooks seem to work best on most sailfish, along with small white, & striped marlin. I now recommend the same hooks in 7/0 or 8/0 with larger tube flies while fly fishing for bigger and stronger black and especially blue marlin.
Cam Sigler ties tube flies (Flies tied on a hardened plastic tube) have made been my fly of choice for many years. These flies are made with feathers, not hair, and during recent years my friend Nick Smith came up with the idea to use a larger diameter tube on big marlin these flies with the hooks connected to a 100 pound bite tippet which slides up through the fly and through Cam's unique soft foam popper head which slides onto the top of the tube, before connecting the bite tippet to the class tippet with a huffnagel knot.
I worked with Jim Vincent and the scientist (Marlin Roush) at RIO Products to develop a small diameter fly line with a hard vinyl coating which had a breaking strength of at least 50 pounds. The result is a RIO Leviathan thirty foot long, 550 grain fly line; these lines last a long time and never fail.
One other part of the gear is important, suffix supreme mono filament 50 pound test line, cut into an 80 foot length, makes the perfect running line. This is a very important piece to the puzzle.
Matt: Give me a basic rundown of how you rig for sailfish & marlin; please include rigging, shock absorber running line, flies, etc - as much detail as you like)?
First from the beginning, tie 65 pound test GSP backing to the arbor of a Mako Fly Reel wrapping 3 times around the arbor and then tying an improved arbor knot. Wind on 500 to 700 yards of backing and then tie a 50 turn Bimini twist knot 4 foot in length, and then double that knot so there is a double GSP loop in the end of your backing.
Next take an 80 foot long piece of Suffix Superior fifty pound test mono filament line, install 80 pound Dacron loops on each end using the Chinese finger torture method, and secure with one inch serve using waxed rigging floss. Connect one end of this running line to the backing using loop to loop connection, and wind onto Mako fly reel.
Now take the 30 foot 550 grain RIO Leviathan fly line and install the same 12 to 18 inch 80 pound test Dacron loops on each end of the fly line (as on running line),connect to the running line using the loop to loop method, and wind onto Mako fly reel.
Next build a butt section leader of 9 foot using 80 pound test clear Mono filament line, install an 80 pound test 12 to 18 inch long Dacron loop as described above on the fly line end, and make a 4 inch long loop in the other end using a small aluminum crimp on the other end. Connect the butt section to the fly line by using the two 80 pound Dacron loops with loop to loop connections.
You are now ready to install your fly reel onto the reel seat of your TFO Blue water HD Fly Rod. String up the fly rod and connect the Butt Section of the leader using loop to loop connection with the doubled 20 pound mason Hard on the end of the class tippet. You are now ready to cast to a Billfish, nothing but the class tippet (20 pound or lighter) will ever fail.
Building a leader below the Butt section. Mason Hard 20 pound test or lighter for smaller tippet class is the best class tippet material available. It has the best aberration resistance, and is the most consistent regarding breaking strength. Tie a twenty turn Bimini twist knot in each end of a piece of 20 pound Mason Hard, make the knots exactly 16 inches apart, then twist one end until the loop looks braided, then double that end with the improved Bimini twist loop knot, and let unwind so that the doubled loop looks like a 4 strand braid.
Snell the Gamakatsu 6/0 or 8/0 (in the case of blue marlin) hooks onto a piece of 100 pound clear Mono bite tippet, Next slide the pink and white tube popper head fly into the bite tippet, now measure 11 inches from the hook eye closest to the fly and bend a hard angle into the bite tippet. Now tie a huffnagel knot to connect the Bimini twist loop from the class tippet to the 11 inch bite tippet. Next connect the class tippet to the butt section of the leaser using a loop to loop knot, and you are ready to fish.
Matt: Where do most anglers go wrong when playing these fish on fly gear?
Most anglers use the rod by bending it to apply pressure, this has been proven to be the opposite of correct, and I try to never bend the rod until it is time to land the fish. When the big fish has its tail closer to the angler than the fishes head then the angler should point the rod at the fish and let the drag on the reel do its job. When the fish has its head closer to the angler then the fish’s tail, then the angler should put the tip of the rod under water and wind as fast as possible. When the fish takes off then let it pull the rod tip up out of the water and point directly at the fish. Always keep the arm holding the rod extended straight, do not ever bend your elbow, fight the fish with the butt of the rod up near your solar plex when the fish runs reach out and point the rod directly at the fish.
Matt: Talk me through how you would best present your fly to a sailfish?
We always try to tease the billfish using bait which has been rigged without a hook so the fish can get a taste before bringing the fish close to the boat. I believe that all billfish can be raised (Trolled to the surface to chase bait), and then teased into the fly casting range. We use no more than 25 foot of fly line and leader when presenting the fly to the fish. Assuming that the angler is right handed, we run 3 or 4 teasers on the aft starboard corner of the vessel, the angler posses the aft port corner of the vessel. When the fish comes up to a teaser, the teaser man drops the bait into the mouth of the fish, the other mate pulls other teases from the water and the angler drops the fly off into the water on the port side and lets it out 25 foot from the rod tip.
Next the teaser man pulls the bait (Teaser) from the fish’s mouth and brings it quickly toward the boat. When the fish is 50 foot from the boat swimming fast, the Captain pulls the boat out of gear (No Longer underway) and tells the angler to "CAST". The angler water loads the fly rod and makes a back cast, (Never touching the fly line) and then makes a forward cast just to the starboard side of the center of the boat wake. The fly lands behind the tail of the billfish, which the teaser man brings up to within 10 foot from the transom of the boat before swinging the teaser toward the port side and the fish follows. Now the sailfish is 10 foot from the transom, behind the angler, the fly is 15 foot further out, the angler now pops that fly and the fish attacks it on the surface while swimming away from the boat.
The angler has the rod stretched out pointing at the fly, in the case of a sailfish,white marlin or striped marlin the drag is set at 3 or 6 pounds of pressure (6 for sailfish), for Blue and Black Marlin the drag setting is set at one pound. When the fish eats the fly, the angler pulls straight back until feeling the weight of the fish, and then a straight line pull of 12 inches sets the hook perfectly, do not bend the rod!
Matt: What differences are there between hooking & playing a sailfish and a marlin?
From the bite of a Sailfish I use the full 6 pounds of drag until the battle is over, With a big Marlin it is necessary to use one pound or less drag from the bite until the fish has run and jumped, for a period of time determined by the fish and the angler. On most big Marlin this at least 10 minutes before increasing to three pounds, by the time that the fish starts to tire, I am still less than 4 pounds of pressure. After we get onto the fly line for the second or third time I bump it up to 6 pounds and the fish usually is finished soon after that.
Matt: Tell me about the number of blue marlin you hooked on fly gear before you actually boated one?
I hooked my first Blue Marlin on fly while trolling teasers on "Woods Wall" off of Marathon in the Florida Keys in 1974, it was a 200 pound blue which lasted about 5 seconds, I hooked more than 100 before catching my first Blue Marlin on fly in Venezuela in 1987, a 90 pound Marlin. Since that time I have released 50 more with my largest Blue Marlin on fly being caught aboard Intensity in Guatemala during January 2011, this fish was estimated to weigh over 500 pounds.
My first of 89 striped Marlin was a 120 pound fish in 1988 in Mag Bay Mexico; I have released several striped marlin on fly in the Galapagos Islands which were over 250 pounds. All six of my Black Marlin on fly were caught in Australia except the 180 pounder I caught in Panama in 1993.
Matt: What is your current ratio on these fish is? Why the huge increase in success?
During the last five years I have caught the last 30 out of 34 blue marlin bites which I had on fly. The fish fighting technique, the quality of the captains and mates that I fish with in Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Dominican Republic, and the advancements in rigging and tackle, especially the Mako Fly Reels, the TFO Blue Water fly rods, and the Rio Leviathan fly lines, have made the difference. When we raise a blue marlin less than 400 pounds, everyone on the boat expects us to catch that fish if it eats the fly! Confidence is an amazing tool!
Why do you host your “Sailfish Schools” at the Casa Vieja lodge in Guatemala?
The best boats and crews in the world with better equipment and more experience than any place else. The five star setting and world class food and service makes the Casa Vieja Lodge the best place to operate my fly fishing “Sailfish Schools”.
Matt: How does fly-fishing for large pelagic compare with other fly-fishing disciplines?
Completely different, however many of the techniques, rigging improvements, and fish fighting styles can be carried over to other types of salt and fresh water fly fishing.
Matt: Are sailfish stocks in good shape - maybe talk about Guatemala preserving the fish stocks by no-kill policy etc?
It is against the law to kill sailfish in Guatemala, which means this awesome fishery should last for many years unlike many other counties where the Billfish are slaughtered for food by commercial harvesters.
Matt: Anything else you want to add?
I love my job, 75 years of age, over 2100 Billfish on fly, and still catching and teaching, most of the improvements have been during the last ten years.
Contact: Captain Jake Jordan Jake Jordan's Fishing Adventures P O Box 309 Havelock, NC 28532 252-444-3308 or 305-872-6060