A useful alternative worth considering when squid are a nuisance and biting the bait to bits is to get a Moldcraft or Boone rubber squid in the 9 to 12 range and rig it on a thick nylon trace. A sliding ball sinker is placed on top of the hook and should be large enough to mainly block the rubber squids body cavity. Next, jam the hollow body with as much real squid as possible and then draw the sinker up into place to keep it there. Now the rubber squid tastes, smells and feels like the real thing but protects the squid bait inside from being eaten away.
Deploying the Baits
In order to cover more area and options (dependent on the size of the boat, the bait supplies and prevailing conditions), two or three rods are positioned out at different depths and distances. The two most important areas are well out past the pool of light cast by the deck and bait lights (set shallow), and the other down beneath the boat, set much deeper.
Whether you set the deep line first or last depends on whether youre in a position to use a downrigger. If you are, you need to follow a couple of basic rules: the first being that it must be set before the float lines (or risk tangling) and the second is to let at least fifty metres of line out in the current before attaching it to the rigger ball and lowering both down to a depth of around 100 metres — or wherever deep schools of bait are showing on the fish finder.
If a downrigger is not a possibility, deploy the float line(s) first instead. Whether you use one or two will mainly depend on the position the boat assumes on the drift, as they must be kept well apart. If only one can be used, it should be set at around 20 to 30 metres down and will usually need about ten ounces of weight to keep it there — you dont want the bait too close to the surface. When lowering the bait, do it at a pace that allows the current to keep the bait away from the rest of the trace and mainline. Too slowly is much better than too quickly — you must not have a tangle and a broadbill on the line at the same time! Measure the amount of line off in arm spans so that you know how deep the bait is being set every time and leave the reel with the lightest of drags and the ratchet on — it wont be the first or last time a bait gets taken on the way down!
Having reached the desired depth, a float is now tied onto the mainline. I find that the best floats are empty two litre plastic milk bottles with an activated light stick inside them. This means that not only is the bait held in position but its location can also be monitored via the light stick. If two float lines are being used, put a different colour light stick in each for positive identification.
As an added bonus, the milk containers pouring handle provide a good place to attach two feet of rotten cotton. This length of cotton is necessary because blue sharks sometimes eat lightstick floats and we dont want the mainline too close to their teeth. The rotten cotton is secured to the mainline with a series of firm half-hitches until it cannot slip. Any slippage under pressure is likely to result in mainline abrasion. Next, let the float drift out about eighty metres. This shallow line gets hit a lot, especially by sharks. Sometimes two float lines can be deployed, with the second being set deeper at around fifty metres. This changes things somewhat, with the deeper line now being set furthest out instead at about one hundred metres, and the shallow one brought in closer to fifty metres. The two float rods must be kept as wide apart as possible to help avoid tangles. Usually one is put up at the bow and the other at the stern. If theres no rod holder forard, leave the rod in the cockpit but place a Roller Troller up near the bow and put the line through it. This is probably the best system as it means that all the rods can stay in front of you for quick and easy access and better control.
The amount of drag needed is a contentious issue. Mostly we tend to place just enough drag to prevent an over-run from a fast strike, then engage the ratchet. If the bait is rather small (squid and mackerel), you may wish to leave the reel in gear with a moderately hard drag and the ratchet on instead, particularly when circle hooks are used. If you dont have a downrigger, the deepest bait is set last. It needs twice as much weight as the shallow rig and is very slowly lowered to around 100 metres, again using arm spans to give a consistent measurement of depth. If the current catches it to give some angle, so much the better, as this will allow the reel to be left in gear if the bait is small. If not, some angle can be gained by attaching the mainline to an outrigger with a lightly set Roller Troller or firmly fixed rubber band. The rubber band must be wound around the mainline at least ten times to avoid damaging slippage.
If neither scenario is viable, for whatever reason, leave the reel in the holder with a light drag and the ratchet on. Once we made the mistake of leaving a hard-drag rod in a vertical holder with the baited line also hanging vertically. We all watched, wide-eyed, as the tip gave a couple of hard bangs and then wrenched down in an impossibly tight upside-down U. Instead of running to grab the outfit, we all ran away with our hands protecting our heads — it was so point loaded, it looked set to explode into a million pieces! Fortunately for the owner, the hook pulled free shortly after and his rod survived. We all learned from that experience.
Watching and Waiting
When fishing for broadbill, there should be someone awake at all times. This rarely happens. No matter how keen the crew is at the start of the expedition, warm beds soon beckon and they quietly disappear from the deck. This can be made worse by adverse sea conditions or improved by steady fishing action.
To encourage people to stay up, it is advisable to only attempt broadbill fishing in the best of sea conditions (no more than 10 knots) and keep a deck light on, preferably a powerful spotlight. This makes the cockpit a more welcoming place and helps attract squid and other baitfish to the vicinity.
The reasons for staying on watch are as follows: i) the gear must be retrieved for inspection at least once every two hours — sooner if the squid are thick and proving to be a problem (they can nibble baits away surprisingly quickly);
ii) In order to watch where the lines are angling so that the rods are always kept clear of one another;
iii) To keep an eye out for broadbill — they sometimes swim into the light, especially when squid are present (sometimes they will be trailing your line!);
iv) so that the boat can be repositioned if it drifts out of the productive zone; v) so that fresh bait can be caught (mostly squid) to replace those that are mangled or of inferior quality (i.e. those that are nibbled, frozen or smelly) and finally;
vi) in order to be at the controls should the boat need to be put into gear to help set the hook. Ideally there should be one person at the boat controls as well as an angler to take the rod. Its also nice to have some company in the middle of the night.
Although a broadbill can strike at any time, the first few hours of dusk and darkness are very productive, as are those prior to dawn — usually from 4am to sunrise. The last period is often neglected due to exhaustion. I urge you to make that extra effort, particularly if the change of tide coincides with the change of light, as the hour and a half either side of the changing tide is also a strong trigger of big fish action!
Remember to treat every biting fish as a broadbill until proven otherwise, as they can be very deceptive. When a Wide Willie takes a bait, the bites can often register just like the bites of a snapper. I particularly remember one beautifully calm evening when we had the close bait attached to the outrigger and the whole rigger was jerking like a monstrous fishing rod as a fish mauled the big squid bait. Eventually the line was pulled from the clip and then left. After a short wait, the bait was retrieved by hand for inspection. On the way up, the angler felt more bite, but thinking it was a shark, kept on going. As the mangled remains of the squid came into our puddle of light, the unmistakable form of a nice broadbill followed close behind, then slowly turned and swam back down. I repeat: treat every strike or bite as a broadbill until proven otherwise. Although hard-set drags mean fish are hooked up immediately (or not, as the case may be), it is still wise to get the boat under way to keep the line tight and the angler in the chair facing the right direction. When fishing light drags, always wait until the boat is moving before placing the reel into gear and attempting to set the hook.
A popular technique used overseas, by those using standard game hooks, is to allow the broadbill to run off eighty to one hundred metres of line before striking. This ensures that the hooks are down deep and that a lot of internal damage is inflicted. Usually this serves to drastically shorten the fight but I cannot bring myself to do this to such a neat fish.
Having gone to all the effort of hooking a broadbill, it doesnt get any easier. They are very different to other gamefish in the way they fight, being stubborn and immovable like a tuna one moment and then scorching off and jumping like a marlin the next. These fish are extremely tough and even small specimens give a good account of themselves. Everything possible must be utilised when battling a broadie: make sure that the skipper uses the boats speed and manoeuvrability to the greatest effect; that the fighting chair and harness are as strong and well set up as possible; and that the angler is familiar with quickly changing the reel into high or low speed, as is deemed necessary at the time. N.B. Understand that if you do not have a two-speed facility on your reel, that you are placed at a major disadvantage: sometimes using low gear will be the only way you can move the fish and get any line back on the reel.
Even with all these advantages, it sometimes seems that broadbill will never give up — and then for some inexplicable reason, they suddenly do. When it comes to being gaffed, they should first be hooked in the head or gills as this is the toughest part and provides optimum control, then a second gaff further down the body for added insurance. Even so, Wide Willies will usually retain enough power left to give the boat a jolly good thrashing. Once secured, you have every reason to celebrate, as well as a heap of the most wonderful fish to eat; they taste fantastic, either fresh or smoked.
There is no doubt in my mind that broadbill are the toughest fish in the sea to catch, but the fact that these fish appear to be territorial, are found in specific areas, and are being incidentally caught in large numbers by commercial boats using lightstick baits is cause for concern and can only make it harder for the recreational broadie fisher to succeed by the day. We can only hope that common sense prevails and that this world-class fishery is regulated well enough to ensure its long-term future.