Broadbill & how to target them – Pt 1

Grumpy McMurdo Fishing Tips

Broadbill are tremendously powerful fish that grow to great size and are usually caught at night. This is enough to make them a challenge already, but to complicate matters further, they also have such soft flesh that hooks tend to easily rip out under pressure. This combination of factors impact on the gear used, with 24kg tackle often proving insufficient for the task and 60kg, although wonderfully strong, is prone to causing pulled hooks. As a result, 37kg is usually selected as the line weight of choice, with the outfit ideally consisting of a quality two-speed lever drag reel attached to a fully-rollered chair rod.

The trace should be as long as possible (8 or 9 metres), and made from very thick monofilament — at least 230kg (500lb). Even 270-350kg (700-800lb) is not going overboard as the thickness of the line is less obvious in darkness, although finding suitable crimps can be a problem. Thick mono is less likely to be rejected than wire because it is without the slight electrical charge produced by wire and is not as obviously foreign when chewed on. It is also much safer and easier for the traceman to handle when active fish are being traced boatside.

Some people still prefer to use wire however, even though this much thinner material can cut deeply into the fish and increases the chance of pulled hooks. The rationale behind this being that at night time there are plenty of sharks around and its often good for crew morale to bend the rod on a big fish occasionally. Hooking and playing these sharks does waste possible broadbill opportunities over that time, but it also serves to keep crews awake throughout the night and thats pretty important, too. (Out of the hundred odd people Ive fished for broadbill with, only six have been keen enough to stay up all night. Three of them were skippers).

With this in mind, I often use one and a half metres of 270kg (600lb) wire crimped to a heavy duty ball bearing swivel, which in turn is crimped to seven and a half metres of 230-270kg (500-600lb) mono. This set-up stops sharks from biting the hook off and makes it easier and less hazardous for the traceman to handle. To combat the adverse affects of the wires electrical field, metal feel and tendency to cut broadbill flesh, I usually cover it in electrical tape or Heat Shrink tubing.

The size of hook(s) are determined by the size and type of the bait being used, but all should be as big as practically possible. The wider the gape, the greater the amount of flesh can be held at one time, making it harder for the hook to tear out. It therefore follows that open-gape hooks (points and barbs pointing straight upwards and parallel to the shank), as opposed to closed-gape (such as Mustad 7691 patterns for example), are likely to work better in this situation but they must be fixed to the trace rather than allowed to swing freely. Swinging open-gape hooks (particularly the shorter shanked patterns) generally follow an inferior trajectory to that of a closed-gape when pressure is applied along the line, either causing the point to skid off the harder, flatter surfaces or to dig in and tip the hook over, producing an inefficient angle (to see what I mean, dangle an open-gape hook by the eye between your thumb and forefinger, and with your other hands index finger, push directly downwards on the point. You will notice that the hook is pushed away from the pressure on the point, making it harder for the point to penetrate). However, by firmly fixing open-gape hooks to the trace with tape or Heat Shrink tubing, or by tying it on with a snood, the hook is prevented from tipping forward when the point catches, leading to a much easier, more secure hook-up. Whatever your choice, the hook should always be modified before-hand. This is done by filing away all cutting edges down from the point and barb region until only a nail point is left. This will help prevent the hook from cutting out, especially if electrical tape is also wrapped around the shank and bend of the hook, giving a thicker surface area.

I suspect, however, that tuna circle hooks are the way of the future and the way to go. Already well-proven on a variety of large, powerful gamefish, circle hooks are designed to catch in the tough gristle of the jaw hinge. This position helps stop hooks from ripping out and should the fish end up escaping or being released with the hook still present, they can usually continue to feed without any problem (as opposed to fish that have swallowed a bait rigged on more standard patterns of game hooks, and which are hooked deep down in the stomach or gills as a result. Fish hooked in these areas are much less likely to survive the encounter afterwards). As sharks are also likely to be hooked in the mouth, the short, protective wire trace can be omitted, making the trace more broadbill friendly. Although circle hooks are relatively cheap in comparison to forged game hooks, that doesnt mean that they are not good quality or that they wont take a lot of pressure. At this point I have used both Mustad (model 39960D) and Eagle Claw (EC190C) circle hooks and have yet to straighten either in the largest sizes (16/0 and 17/0 respectively). In fact, I once saw a 500lb nylon trace break rather than the 16/0 circle hook being used fail, facilitated by a particularly powerful deckhand trying to control a very green striped marlin at close quarters.

Somewhere on the trace will be some weight. This keeps the bait at the correct depth, and the deeper the gear is set and the stronger the current, the greater the amount of lead needed. Most times the weights are placed reasonably close to the hook — usually only 1.5 to 2 metres away. On my usual rigs, that means immediately above the wire trace, sitting on top of the connecting ball bearing swivel. Although any sinker with a hole down its middle will do, I prefer long, slender weights such as those found on the bottom of drag and set nets. Being streamlined, they dont have such a bulky silhouette and are less affected by the current. Electrical tape is wrapped around them to keep them in place, otherwise when the bait is being lowered, it can hold up in the current and pull mainline through the sinkers. If the bait is also slowly spiralling, it might easily end up tangling with the mainline. Other fishers place their sinkers on the doubled mainline above the trace. This supposedly gives the bait a more natural presentation and lessens the risk of the weights falling down onto the fish and frightening them off. The only disadvantage of this is that the sinkers can migrate up the mainline when a fish is being fought, so hold them in place on the doubled line with a toothpick. Although I know of some people who make up rigs that have break-away sinkers on them (usually held in place by very light rubber bands), I dont have the money or the lead to waste every time a fish (read shark) runs off with the bait.

If neither of these options appeal, a downrigger can be a very effective tool for presenting the deep-set bait as accurately and effectively as possible, but well deal with this more fully later on.

No rig would not be complete without a lightstick. Although broadbill are taken on unlit baits (especially when the moon phase is big and full) a Cyalume stick will greatly enhance your chances of success. Being a very curious predator at the top of the food chain, broadbill have little to fear (except for mako sharks) and will usually come over to inspect anything unusual, especially if it is also likely to provide them with food. The larger Cyalume sticks give out the most light and are therefore capable of attracting fish from further away, so its advisable to use only the 4 or 6 models.

The most effective light stick colours for broadbill appear to be red then green — according to American commercial longliners (who unfortunately have nearly wiped out their own fishery!). Experiment on the night by chopping and changing colours to see which gets the most action and then make them all that colour. I usually attach the stick, top and bottom, to the wire trace just before the joining swivel. This keeps the rig streamlined and if a shark chews the stick, as they sometimes do, it is on the wire part of the trace not the nylon.

Where to Fish for Broadbill
Broadbill are deep water denizens and consequently are normally encountered well offshore. As is the case with all fish, they are attracted to current affecting structure, so the vast majority are located around canyons, shelf drop-offs, gutters, reefs and pinnacles — especially those located in water over 200 metres deep. These structures serve to alter currents so that planktonic life forms are pushed up from the depths and are fed upon by small bait fish and squid. These in turn feed larger fish — and so on and so on. By looking at a detailed Bathymetric chart, suitable locations will be quickly apparent, the contour lines bunching up wherever depths suddenly change. The greater the number of canyon fingers, pinnacles and drop-offs in the area, the more likely they are to produce fish. By staying within these zones throughout the night, the chance of encountering broadbill, instead of just sharks, remains. This may mean that at some stage you must wind in and cruise back up and start a new drift. By using a GPS it is possible to monitor your progress and position the boat so that good areas are well covered or new locations explored. Remember to include the changing tide directions into the equation as this may enable you to drift back over the productive territory from a different direction later on.

If you have some time before darkness falls, you will increase your chances greatly by looking for obvious tide lines and then for large schools of baitfish in those lines. The tide lines are caused by the meeting of varying water temperatures, the bigger the difference the better, as they act as a natural barrier for all sizes of fish to swim along. As a result, its an excellent place for broadbill to find food and for us to find broadbill.

Although broadbill spend most of their time deep down, they periodically come up nearer the surface to feed, particularly at night. There are widely varying opinions as to whether a full moon or no moon is better for broadbill fishing, but the important part is that both phases tend to be accompanied by big tides, the extra current pushing the baitfish and food around more and encouraging predators to prowl. However, it does seem probable that the days around full moon provide extra light for broadbill to hunt, encouraging them to come up closer to the surface, making them more available to us. On the other hand, darker nights enable artificial light to be more obvious, concentrating bait and squid around the boat in greater numbers and potentially attracting broadbill from further away. I have had the most broadbill action on full moon phases.

Rigging the Baits
Broadbill are not very fussy feeders and will eat most fish or squid baits, particularly if theyre fresh. The method of hooking these baits need not be too fancy as Ive seen good hook-ups achieved on whole fish baits simply hooked through the lips, but prefer to have baits secured a little more firmly than that, especially when the sea is choppy. The most popular baits are squid and small tuna, followed by kahawai and large mackerel. Whole fish baits are normally rigged dead, with their gill covers and mouths sewed shut, and the hooks dacron loop sewed through the front of the lips a couple of times before looping back over the point and barb again. Circle hooks are a sensible option for this rigging as they are unlikely to allow the dacron loop to come back off again in a rise and fall sea. This sort of sea motion, while not the best for those on board, serves to move the bait around in an erratic, enticing manner. As for squid, the hook shank and eye is either sewn and held inside the mantle with rotten cotton, the hook bend and point protruding out of the middle of the tentacles and small stitches holding the mantle and tentacles together, or, if a circle hook is used, the mantle and tentacles are held together by stitches and the circle hook simply placed up near the top of the squids mantle. Some people go a little further, making a 180° two circle-hooks rig, so that one comes out the tentacles cluster and the other from the top of the mantle.