The Cambridge Dictionary defines a magic bullet as “a quick and simple solution to a difficult problem”. I could not think of a better way to describe the role of bullet shaped lures in fishing for big marlin. These quiet achievers are one of the most simple but effective shapes that you could ever hope to run. With this is mind, it never ceases to amaze me how under utilised they are in just about every major big game fishing port I have visited except Hawai’i.
Growing up fishing in Sydney Australia, bullets were exclusively categorised as a tool for tuna fishing. This approach resulted in two relatively common scenarios:
- Bullets would only get utilised in the winter when boats would be targeting blue fin and yellow fin tuna. When the warm waters of summer moved down the coast the bullets would then get stashed away in the lure draw.
- Bullets would occasionally be run in the summer with the hope of catching a stray tuna while out targeting blue marlin. The problem was they would generally be deployed on light line with light leader and small hooks. As I’ll explain in this piece, big marlin love bullets so you can guess how this scenario generally ended – an empty reel, a straightened hook or a broken main line or leader.
I was first made aware of the effectiveness of bullets in targeting big blue marlin on my first trip to Kona Hawai’i with Captain Chip Van Mols. I was expecting to see big aggressive lures in every position so you can imagine I was surprised to see two bullets in his spread on the long rigger and shotgun. With my inherent need to understand the “why” behind everything lure fishing, I quizzed Chip on this and he explained how these shapes account for a huge portion of the blue marlin that he and the rest of the Kona fleet catch every season. I was convinced of this that same afternoon when I saw a huge explosion from a large blue marlin on the shotgun. When it came time to write this piece, I went straight to Chip to get his input on this topic. Chip offered a great summary of the beauty of these simple bud deadly shapes, “Year in year out, trolling a five lure spread, with the long rigger and shotgun both being bullets or jets, we catch at least 50 per cent of our blues on the two bullets/ jets. Big ones, small ones and everything in between. Two of the four granders I’ve weighed here in Kona came straight for a bullet. 1165 on a 7 inch and the other on a 9 inch. Sometimes we’ll get a run of big fish here and everyone is getting drilled on their long bullet. The fish are picking it. That’s why I run big leader and strong hooks in mine, you never know what will eat it next. Oh yeah, every now and then we’ll catch a nice fat yellow fin on it too, bummer! And they work everywhere I’ve tried them too. And it’s an easy target with a nice slim profile, good hook-ups!”
If I had to identify one reason why bullets are so under utilised when targeting big marlin, it would be the common mentality that big marlin only want big, splashy and aggressive lures and that most captains and crews struggle to come to terms with the seemingly underwhelming action of bullets. Now don’t get me wrong – I love big aggressive lures more than anyone but in my opinion their place is close to the boat on the short corner, long corner and short rigger. A lot of big fish will come in and pile on these big lures and there is no better site in game fishing. However, I assure you there are also days when all they want is a much more subtle offering like a bullet. The bullets will also pick up a lot of the fish that miss your short lures and slurp down the easy-to-eat bullet on their way out of the spread. It’s for this reason that a bullet is a permanent fixture on my shotgun when targeting blue marlin and most of the time I’ll have one on the long rigger also. We make bullets in three different sizes – Large, Medium and Small – which have all proven to be world class. On the average day blue marlin fishing on medium to heavy tackle I will have a Large Bullet on the long rigger and a Medium Bullet on the shotgun. If striped or smaller black marlin were the target species then I’d downsize to a Medium and a Small Bullet.
For those who haven’t had much experience in running bullets, you couldn’t be blamed for thinking their action is a little underwhelming. For those who do have experience with bullets, there’s a distinctive action we look for that comprises a three phase cycle:
- Stay down – for want of a better term, this is the part of the cycle where the lure sits below the surface with no smoke or bubble trail. The lure presents extremely clearly to the fish in this phase, which is why it is so important to have it skirted and rigged to perfection.
- Black water ripple – this is the phase of the cycle where the bullet sits just below the water disturbing the surface without breaking it. This creates a unique ripple effect that you don’t really see with any other shapes.
- Skitter/“dishrag” – following the black water ripple the bullet will generally break the surface creating a small amount of white water as it skitters along. This is a different type of white water than what you’d expect with a cut face or flat face lure head and funnily enough it is more comparable to what you might see if you were to pull a dish rag along the surface, hence why this phase of the cycle has come to be known as “dishragging” amongst many of the world’s top captains and crews.
If you haven’t already implemented a bullet or two in to your lure spread then I hope this article may have convinced you to do so. Not only will you catch more big marlin, you’ll catch a lot more tuna, mahimahi, spearfish and all the other tasty by-catch.