Black Marlin



Effective Black Marlin fishing in Panama; means slow trolling and drifting large live bait, near subsea rocks where baitfish aggregate in roughly 300 foot of water . 

Ideal bait here would be what we call Bonito, actually Black Skipjack, the predominate forage fish.  Frigate Mackerel look like small Bonito, but smaller more delicate and also get many, many bites.   Not as common but very effective are regular Skipjack Tuna.  Rainbow Runners are good bait and get eaten, as well as Jack Crevalle and snappers. Yellowfin Tuna work, smaller the better I think.  Drifting chunks of Bonito get Black Marlin bites even. 

 Black Marlin are sit and wait predators basically.  Sit and wait predators generally all have white meat. Blacks have beautiful white meat. I think they move in, choose their spots  and wait for good opportunities to  present themselves.  Same as other white meat fish like,  snappers, wahoo, groupers or dorado, when they are on feeding grounds. I think it’s very important to keep this in mind when trying to trick a Black Marlin into eating your bait. 

I like to think of my Black Marlin spots as fishing holes. Like a trout hole, bass hole…wahoo spot for example. I don’t want to disturb a fishing hole with unnecessary disruptions. Any fish get wise to your actions after a while on the same spot.  A few good passes down cross current to a honey hole and I like to troll away from that spot, fish over  to another other nearby bait holding  rocks, then back to the honey hole again. Keeping a good eye on the bait or even holding the line to perceive when it’s getting nervous.  If a bait is obviously very nervous and nothing has taken it. It could be it’s being looked at by a marlin. In this case, maybe put the boat in neutral a few minutes and let the bait swim freely down. 

Often I’ll take the boat out of gear when a bite is taking place. We give it a long drop back, careful not to apply drag to the line as it pays out. When the time feels right, you will push the drag lever to strike and let the line come tight on it’s own.  As the line tightens up and begins to pay out at strike, push the drag further toward full and make sure the hook is going to pull into the jaw bone solidly.  Often, incredibly the fish doesn’t seem to know it’s hooked yet. Often a Black Marlin will just sit there.  With the rod bent over I might put the engines in gear, slowly forward. And that’s when the action starts.


 Black Marlin come close into shallower water.  Blue Marlin won’t. This one took a ballyhoo set for wahoo in only 90 feet of water , a mile off a white beach; on the lee side of Isla Coiba, far from open ocean.  You could never expect a Blue Marlin in here.                                          

black marlin

This beautiful Black Marlin took a Panama Bait, made from Bonito belly while  in 150 feet near Isla Coiba.

black marlinWe catch Blacks in deep water on lures while targeting Blues, but rarely catch Blues in 300 feet on live bait when targeting Blacks.

Black Marlin pectoral fins won’t fold in, they are rigid. Blue’s pec fins fold in easy.

Black Marlin like this one light up, even displaying vertical bars, but not as much as Blues Marlin do.


I believe Black Marlin are sit and wait predators, like most any other white meat fish: and they do have beautiful white meat. Blue Marlin, I don’t think sit and wait. 

Black Marlin typically won’t stay interested a lure like a Blue Marlin will. It’s hit or miss. Blues will follow lures long enough to drive everyone on board out of their minds.

Black Marlin fishing continues to be the greatest in Panama. 

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