Lingering in the back of my mind for the entirety of the preparation, travel and duration of my trip to the Monte Bello Islands back in July with Monte Bello Island Safaris was the off chance of a billfish sighting. Well, I must admit… I was hoping for more than just a sighting. I’m not a superstitious person but for some reason I felt like the more I thought about it, the less likely it was too happen, so every time the thought snuck back into my head, I quickly shut it down.
I went into this trip with absolutely no experience with bill fishing, bar the 7 seconds I was hooked up to a blue marlin off Coral Bay that pulled my pants down pretty quickly, so the idea of targeting bill fish was very foreign to me.
I opted to have a pretty loose set up ready to go just in case we were to come across a mooching saily or the likes. Of course I wasn’t sure what to expect, so I opted for a Shimano Grappler 703 which is a PE3 rod, matched with a Shimano Twin Power 10k. This powerful combo was light enough and ideal to cast stick baits for mackies as well so it was well used before the billfish even came onto the scene.
Our third day of the trip was dedicated to chasing billfish and, although I had fluked a saily on the troll home the day before, I was super keen to get one off my own bat, so to speak. Getting one on my own rod and reel with a rig that I tied myself was going to be much more satisfying than winding in the heavy trolling gear. The action was instant with three or four sailfish terrorising our spread within the first hour. One fish was already hooked on the skirt as I dropped my first ever switch bait into the water. 10 seconds later line was peeling of the free spool faster than ever so I slammed the bail arm down and the drag sung. I passed the rod attached to the jumping saily over to my dad who was yet to land a billfish but unfortunately the hooks pulled not long after.
One landed fish and a reset of the spread set us up for another two hours of action-less trolling. That was until all hell broke loose. Fish came from everywhere with sails flying and bills swiping. Sailfish smashed skirts as we wound them in, the teaser was being shredded and the back deck was chaos.
Amongst the mayhem, I grabbed my switch bait outfit with a fresh gardie rigged up, and dropped it no more than a meter from the back of the boat. The biggest saily I have ever seen took a liking to this gardie, grabbing him literally at the rod tip only to run far enough for me to see the bottom of my twin power. The power of this fish had me in awe. Ecstatic relief washed over all of us once this incredible fish was at the boat after a gruelling fight on PE3. I was so stoked to have a fish on the board that was a result of my own gear and knowledge. The switch bait rig that I used consisted of 80lb fluorocarbon shock leader tied to a swivel with then an 80lb double snelled rig of 9/0 Owner circle hooks. This very simple yet effective rig was easy to tie, easy to handle and both hooks pinned the daily ensuring survival through every jump, twist and tumble.
The method behind effective switch baiting can be easy to grasp but sometimes difficult to execute. The idea is the fish are attracted to the back of the boat by the teaser and skirts etc to which the angler drops in a bait, the fish takes the bait, the angler sets the hooks and the fight begins. Dropping the bait in the water in line with the fish is the easy part. The hard part is letting the fish run with the bait in its mouth. Often described as the longest ten seconds of your life, it is hard to not prematurely attempt to set the hooks. Sometimes this needs to be played by ear as different things will affect the best time to strike, but seven to ten seconds is a good rule of thumb.
The boys at Montebello Island Safaris were my saving grace when it came to bill fishing as they had the knowledge and expertise to get me onto the fish and help me out as I felt my way through fighting them. If any one wants a piece of the action go to their WEBSITE and jump on a trip up to the montes!