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November 06, 2012

On A Troll

Four Pros' Favorite Rigs for Marlin, Sailfish, Dolphin & Tuna


In the world of offshore saltwater fishing, trolling ranks as one of the most preparation‑intensive methods anglers can tackle. From choosing components such as lures, leader and hooks to debating crimp versus knot connections, captains drill down to the essential details that determine the success of the day. To offer some suggestions for targeting four of the most popular offshore species — marlin, sailfish, dolphin and tuna — I contacted top charter and tournament captains and asked them three basic questions: When and why do you choose to troll for this species? Describe your favorite trolling outfit and rig for this species. Why is this your favorite trolling rig/outfit for this species?


Marlin Trolling
Pat Ford


Capt. Gerard “Frothy” de Silva
Hard Play Fishing Charters (Tobago), Pesca Grossa (Madeira)
868-639-7108 (Tobago), 351-962-278-500 (Madeira),

When and why do you choose to troll for this species?

The marlin season off Tobago, in the Caribbean, runs from February through May. In Madeira, Portugal, the biggest marlin are caught mid-May through mid-September.

We mostly troll a combination of lures and lures with bait. In Madeira and the Caribbean, that works best as we are mostly searching for fish in a large area. On a rare occasion, we use live bait when we find a good concentration of fish in a small area like a seamount or an edge.

Describe your favorite trolling outfit and rig for this species.

My rig of choice is an Iland Lures Sea Star in blue and white with the flash (Mylar) strips on it. This rig comes to life when it is combined with a bait such as ballyhoo or my bait of choice — the flying fish. The flying fish is much tougher and can be trolled all day long at 8 knots.

Marlin Trolling Rig
Illustrations by David Shepherd

I rig the Sea Star on a 28-foot length of 400 Momoi X-hard mono with a single-hook pin rig. I like the Jobu 10/0 hook when we use bait, as the wider gap allows for a better hookup.

It’s important that the hook exits the anal vent on the bait because it swims better that way, and the hookup rate is better if the hook comes out as far back in the bait as possible without making a cut. If rigged right, there should be no cut at all where the hook exits.

The pin rig is a short piece of the same 400-pound hard mono about ¾-inch long, bent upward at 90 degrees behind the second crimp. The bait spring is used to attach the pin to the flying fish. It’s very important to tie the bait with waxed twine after screwing down the spring. I usually pass a bit of waxed twine through the bottom of the eye socket and tie it tightly under the gill plate with a few overhand knots. That keeps the bait from being pulled off on the strike.

In the Caribbean, I use this mostly on 80-pound outfits: curved-butt trolling rods with Penn Internationals. I crimp the 28-foot leader to a snap swivel, which is attached to the main line from a 5-foot Bimini twist with a cat’s paw knot. I sometimes use the same setup on 50-pound tackle with a 300-pound leader. In Madeira, I use it on 130-pound tackle with 520-pound leader.

Why is this your favorite trolling rig/outfit for this species?

The great thing about the Sea Star/flying-fish combo is that it works for all sizes of marlin and many other offshore game fish. I’ve caught marlin from 50 to 750 pounds and have hooked bigger fish as well. Most anglers will think this might be a bit small for blue marlin. But when it’s combined with a flying fish, it looks much bigger and offers the smell and texture of natural baitfish. I use two of these on my long‑rigger lines all the time.