The Proving Grounds
Back in the late 1990’s, my buddy introduced me to Mud Marlin fishing (aka Bat Rays). He would tell me stories of fish that he couldn’t stop on 40lb test with the drag
buttoned down and tales of 100 pound bat rays flying out of the water during the fight. I love catching all sorts of fish, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to waste valuable fishing time looking for bat rays over game fishing. I have to admit that I was extremely curious and agreed to go down and give it a shot.
His list of what to bring was simple… A big casting rod-n-reel, rod holder, 2 ounce egg sinkers, 6/0 hooks, folding chair, bait and plenty of beer.
I am a Doubting Thomas by nature and was not very sure I would get schooled by anything I that I could cast to in the bay with gear of that size. I brought down an old Penn 500 on an 8 foot jig stick and the rest of the “required gear” the old salts told me to bring. It took a few tries to get a legitimate cast in which I was happy with. Casting squid in the wind is a lot more difficult than casting a mackerel chunk, but the technique quickly started to develop.
Once set up, it wasn’t long before my clicker went screaming like a banshee! Soon as I engaged the reel, it was all hands on deck. I couldn’t believe the power of this fish and then it jumped 2 feet out of the water…. I was officially hooked! About 30 minutes later, a 70 pound bat slid onto the beach.
I learned some valuable lessons from this first trip and realized how much this was going to improve my confidence factor in all aspects of fishing. My buddy and I now regularly go out mud marlin fishing about 50 times a year to test our theories, knots and/or new gear.
Here are some confidence points that I benefit from this type of fishing.
• Casting Ability. I became real efficient at casting big baits with big gear in all sorts of weather conditions. This gave my jig casting skills a turbo boost when I got on a boat to cast the iron to Yellowtail and tuna. It also helped casting live baits with big gear knowing how hard you could cast without throwing the bait off the hook.
• Knot Strength. My buddy and I would test different knots, both connecting and terminal. I’m not talking about testing on a mechanical line puller, but something that really stretches your line in long runs while rubbing along a lot of the bottom. It’s nice to test them in real world conditions. There are definitely some knots I have absolutely no faith in and some knots that are tried and true. I figure I would rather lose a bat ray when testing a new knot than a big home guard yellowtail at the kelp edge. Over the last decade plus of doing this, I’ve gained quite a bit of confidence in what I tie and why I do it. Confidence in your gear is a major factor when it comes to fishing.
• Line. I’ve tried numerous monofilaments and braided lines to test on Mud Marlin and found some that are good and bad. I’ve found break offs, slipped knots, and/or too much stretch in the line for some brands. I keep a tight drag when I fish so I get a good idea on how the line holds up to a lot of pressure, especially with abrasion resistance if they get to a buoy and run my line across its mooring chain. Field Testing is just fun until the big one gets away, but doesn’t hurt as bad knowing it was only a mud marlin and not a mossback yellowtail.
• Hooks and Terminal Tackle. I have bought all brands and types of terminal gear, from the cheap China hooks on Ebay to commercial Mustad and Owner’s. You definitely get what you pay for, but I learned some valuable information from trying different brands. The cheap hooks do not hold a point as well and have a tendency to dull after a few trips compared to say an Owner, Gamakatsu or Mustad Commercial hook. Then there is brittle or bend factor. Most modern hooks however hold up very well no matter the price for at least one outing. I usually only go one or two trips with the same rig and toss the hook as its trash after that. The good hooks can get sharpened and retied for another few outings, but for me I find the value in replacing my hook sooner than later. The hook is the connecting point to the quarry and I always use quality gear when going for more prized game fish, but I have found some inexpensive hooks that treat me well for mud marlin fishing. Soon as I have a problem with any terminal tackle though, my confidence goes down and it’s time to field test something else.
• Fighting Ability. No two fish fight the same, but bad news scenarios can correlate between species, whether its kelp stringers or mooring buoys. Not having to worry about your gear is paramount when trying to win the fight with the fish. We have learned a lot about fighting bigger fish, angles we could/should take, the pressure needed at certain stages of the fight. In short, the fight becomes so much more fun when you know your tackle is up to the battle and you don’t have to have anything in the back of your mind like “I just tied a new knot, I hope it holds up” or “I hope this new line I am trying holds out”. Once again, it’s practice and practice makes (closer to) perfect.
This is not to say that the unknown tackle disaster is not going to happen or you won’t lose your share of fish, but the confidence of this simple form of fishing brought me has been worth its weight in gold. This can correlate to any type of fishing when looking for big game. It’s comes down to it’s just nice to test your skills and gear with a much larger quarry from the shore and feel comfortable with your abilities and confidence in your gear.
In any case, it is fun going out to do a little research before the season really picks up. The old salts who taught me this style of fishing might think nothing of what I just presented to you. They just go down to pull on something, get a beer buzz and relax in-between fish. That is what Mud Marlin fishing is to them, but maybe the next time you are out doing something similar, you might want to try something new or tweak your usual presentations to see what useful information you could pull from the experience besides just the fish.
To learn more on how to Mud Marlin fish, see the article Bat Ray Fishing Southern California Bays by Sasquatch.