Big fish from small boats

Al McGlashan | VOLUME 25, ISSUE 6

As Al McGlashan points out, more and more anglers are realising you don’t need a big boat to tackle big fish.

The run to the grounds, some 40km offshore, was easy thanks to the prevailing light northeasterly breeze. As we homed in on the waypoint, the guys quickly set about preparing the gear.

There were already several boats working the area, however what was noticeably different was the mix of trailerboats and larger cruisers. Five years ago, trailerboats would have been the minority, with larger game boats dominating. But now the roles had reversed and there were considerably more trailerboats, some of which were already hooked up.

My crew consisted of Mick ‘Milo’ Woods and Jim ‘Otis’ Anderson, who build the Hookem range of gaffs, now marketed as the newly-released Strikezone Jetheads. Now these guys may work in the fishing trade, but in reality they spend all their time in the factory, so we decided it was time to go fishing and what better form of fishing than battling big fish from a trailerboat.

Pulling up right on top of a pyramid of bait, we soon had three livies trotting along out the back. Monitoring the GPS and sounder, I worked neat circles over the tightly-packed bait. Without warning, the line was abruptly ripped free of the rigger.

Milo was on it in a flash and quickly loaded up on the Saltiga, only to be rewarded seconds later by a solid black marlin ripping through the surface. The fish bolted for the horizon, with Strikezone in hot pursuit. It took us just 20 minutes to release a solid black around the 100kg mark.

The next fish was a similar size, but it was the third fish that Otis caught that turned out to be the most impressive. It was a huge black, substantially bigger than the previous fish and as we headed back in that evening Otis opined, “I can’t believe we caught marlin that big from a trailerboat.”


In the past, anglers have always associated big fish with big boats, but things are changing and today it seems smaller boats are catching a lion’s share of the big fish. In fact, the biggest blue marlin in NSW was taken on a trailerboat, not a 40-footer.

Trailerboats have gone ahead in leaps and bounds recently and now, with reliable outboards and commercial-grade electronics, trailerboat anglers can tackle fish of just about any size.

The introduction of four-stroke outboards like my beloved Honda has revolutionised trailerboat fishing. Incredible fuel efficiency, coupled with more seaworthy vessels, means we can now travel further to sea and stay out longer. Overnight trips are now well within the reach of trailerboat anglers, which has opened up a whole new world of big fish opportunities.

I am now running Strikezone 70km offshore in NSW in pursuit of big tuna and marlin. Even Cairns, which has always been the realm of the big boats, is being infiltrated by the trailerboat brigade. Tackling a 1000lb marlin out of a trailerboat is certainly not for the faint-hearted, but it is certainly feasible for the modern generation of trailerboats.


The bigger the fish, the greater the danger. In fact, you can find yourself in a situation in which the fish you’re hooked up to may be close to the size of the boat you’re on. This is something that needs to be understood and appreciated and anyone who wants to battle a big fish needs to understand there is an element of risk involved.

Marlin, in particular, have a nasty habit of jumping at the boat, which can cause havoc. This season, the new Strikezone was christened by an angry marlin that knocked the side door out and then proceeded to stick his head into the cockpit to have a look around. Luckily, my crewmen were switched on enough to give the rampant marlin right of way and let him do his thing before eventually returning him to the water.

It can be even worse if you are trying to land a big shark that doesn’t take kindly to being gaffed. Luckily, killing big sharks is now a thing of the past and catch-and-release is the norm. Still, extreme care should be taken when releasing sharks. On one occasion, we battled a big thresher shark and when we finally managed to get it to the boat, it smacked the living daylights out of us with its 2.5m tail.

It isn’t just the fish that can cause problems, either. Big fish usually need to be wired, which means taking a wrap on the leader and handlining them in. It’s hard enough in a big cruiser, but in a trailerboat the danger level is greatly increased. If the fish dives away and you can’t hang on, you may well end up in the drink or, worse still, you could get your hands tangled in the leader, with dire consequences.

However, as bad as all this sounds, don’t let it scare you off because, with a bit of preparation, you can still handle a big fish with ease.


The single-biggest advantage of trailerboating is flexibility. Being trailerable means you can move a boat up and down the coast with ease. This is a far cry from larger cruisers, which are restricted to ports and safe anchorages. As a result, you can follow the bite up and down the coast in a flash, which means you can always be on the big fish.

A classic example is a massive bluefin tuna I caught in Tassie for my Strikezone series of DVDs. After hearing of a run of big southern bluefin tuna, I had a quick discussion with cameraman extraordinaire, Ron Croft and we decided to go to Tassie the following day. This would be near-impossible to achieve quickly with a moored boat and its associated fuel and weather restrictions. The effort was certainly worth it, as anyone who has seen the footage will agree.

It is a similar case in NSW, where every February a small armada of boats chase the marlin. Last year, it was Jervis Bay that fired, while this year Port Stephens kicked into gear and it was the same trailerboats on the scene each time. As the fish move around, so can the trailerboaters.

You don’t just have to follow the marlin either. After catching a heap of marlin at Port Stephens, I took Milo and Otis down to Sydney and we got stuck into some heavyweight, metre-long kingies the very next day. Now, if we had been fishing from a big cruiser, this simply wouldn’t have been feasible.

That really is the big advantage of trailerboats; you have the flexibility to follow the fish. Just remember, there is no point fishing where the fish aren’t – use your trailerboat and be flexible.

Tips ’N’ Tactics


This whole article has focused on catching big fish from trailerboats, and I would think most anglers would assume that big fish demand big gear. However, I’ve found that I do better with heavy-duty spin tackle, in most cases, whether tackling marlin, kingies or tuna. Like modern trailerboats, the technology has come so far now that a Saltiga spin outfit has some serious pulling power. Believe me, I’ve caught some seriously big fish on spin outfits.


Fishing from a trailerboat does have inherent dangers so it is imperative that skippers set their boat up right and have all the necessary safety gear.

• Everything needs to be tucked away and at the same time needs to be easily accessible. Trailerboats will naturally rock and roll a lot at sea so anything not secured can get in the way just when the action starts

• Make sure everyone knows their role when the big fish hit. You don’t want people running in all directions and confusion reigning at the point of impact

• Always carry a digital EPIRB and make sure it’s readily accessible

• Don’t just rely on electronic aids alone – always carry a compass and nautical charts

• Know your own capabilities as well as your vessel’s seaworthiness

• Always watch the weather – no fish is worth risking your crew’s safety so, if in doubt, don’t go out


Some anglers feel that small boats are disadvantaged when it comes to actually fighting big fish. Certainly, big gameboats have twin screws and can spin around with ease, but the fact remains you are still pushing several tonnes of boat about, which is cumbersome and slow any way you look at it. By comparison, a trailerboat is small and has a better power-to-weight ratio, so it can be much more nimble to operate. As a result, in the right hands a trailerboat is a lot more manoeuvrable, making it a lot quicker to get onto a fish.

This is particularly important for marlin, which tend to fight on the surface, before periodically diving into the depths. A smart skipper can predict when and where the marlin is going to come up and with a trailerboat, he can be on top of them quickly.

The area where small boats suffer is centred around the fact that anglers have to fight the fish standingup, while in bigger game boats angler scan utilise a chair and really put the hurt on. The key to beating big fish in trailerboats is to formulate a plan prior to hooking up, so everyone knows the strategy.

On Strikezone, we have a basic plan for marlin. After hooking up, the angler moves to the back corner on the driver’s side (which, in our boat’s case, is specifically padded). The angler can support himself against the coaming, while the skipper is in the perfect position to see the line while chasing the fish.

While on the subject of driving onto fish, the best approach is to keep one hand on the wheel and one on the throttle. This way you can quickly respond to the fish’s movements. If you want to bring the fish to the back of the boat quickly, try not to react to their movements. Successful skippers develop a sense for what a fish will do, anticipating where the fish will head next so that the fight is as brief as possible.

When you do get the fish to the boat, always keep the vessel in gear and idling down sea. This is particularly important for marlin and big sharks. Tuna and big kingies are a little bit different and can be fought from a dead boat, but, generally speaking, if you are moving you have better control over the situation.

There is no denying that things don’t look so rosy when you’re smashing out to sea in a trailerboat and getting hammered by big seas, only to have a large ‘gin palace’ cruise past you with all the crew comfortably tucked up in the cabin. But think of it this way – at the end of the day, their fuel costs are more per person than your entire bill and you can still fish the same waters. Besides, as soon as a big cruiser goes past, I slip in behind and enjoy a soft ride, so they ain’t all bad …