There is a growing group of fishermen who come to Cabo to target Striped marlin on a fly rod.
I am not one of them.
Don’t get me wrong, I love fly fishing and I travel all over the world to catch salmon and bonefish and other worthy quarry: the kind of fish that you have to stalk and exercise a fair degree of skill to present a fly to. The kind of fish where casting precision and presentation are paramount.
To me, marlin, indeed any billfish, don’t tick that box.
I have used a fly rod out of Cabo, for Yellowfin and for Dorado, but the experience could never in a million years be described as fly fishing. The Yellowfin episode was more like trolling a feathered lure using a fly rod (they do this on the River Tay in Scotland for salmon actually – there it is called harling) and hanging on when the tuna took it.
For the Dorado I did manage a cast or two when they were teased into the spread. But it still wasn’t fly fishing: you can’t really call a roll with a large popper that lands with a plop in the prop-wash a “cast”. Not in my books anyway.
This is how marlin are caught on a fly rod. I am not saying there isn’t any skill in it of course and I accept that it has its devotees and even addicts. The fish are teased up with hookless lures and teasers and then the angler makes his…well…pitch I guess. The lure is stripped and the fish has a go, or doesn’t as the case may be.
The thing with these salt water fish is that the very properties of a fly rod, i.e. a spring to cast a lightweight fly, make them spectacularly unsuited to casting a heavy lure and then put some hurting on a powerfully running fish i.e. act as a lever. Oh for sure you can make the rods with much more backbone, but then the spring effect goes and it's like casting with a lodge pole.
The reel is therefore the critical component and you will find that most big game fly fishermen will admit this, eventually: without a mega drag on that reel they are not stopping anything.
So I am going to be really controversial and say that catching a marlin on a fly is not only not fly fishing for them, but it is really a waste of time and bad for the fish. Don’t worry – I expect to get hate mail!
I say this because if you have teased a hot fish into the spread so that you can flick your big lure in an ungainly manner almost onto its bill (it will normally only be a few feet away anyway), strip it back to see if you get a strike, and set the hook; then what on earth is the difference between that and pitching it a fresh live bait on a circle hook?
It is just as exciting in my book: the marlin is still lit up and will chase the bait and you still free-line it and set the hook yourself…plus, the gear you are using is now much more suited to the business in hand.
If we’re going to release the fish then an ability to get them in quickly is surely the main thing and the more “traditional” rods do this admirably well.
So bring it on all you rabid marlin fly fishermen…sell it to me! I am sure I’ll get fired up when I see that fish lit up and snapping, but I will never call it fly fishing for them.