Handling your trailer boat when you’re hooked up to a gamefish is like getting jiggy with it – get too flustered and excited and it’ll be over in a flash! Be calm and composed, and you’ll get the job done.

You’ve finally hooked a marlin in your trailer boat and the reel is screaming – what next? In reality, there’s not too much you can do to control things at this stage. If the fish runs or jumps towards the boat, try to get away from it or move the boat away to the side and let it go past. Apart from getting out of the fish’s way, there’s no need to change speed or course. It’s important to note: if the fish isn’t hooked when it first grabs the lure, it likely won’t be hooked until it opens its mouth and lets the lure and hooks slide into the jaw. Marlin jaws are rough and designed to hold onto prey – strike drag isn’t enough to pull a lure or leader through a closed marlin mouth. Just keep the boat moving forward after the strike, keeping pressure on the rod. The only important point to keep in mind is that there should be no slack line. During this period, getting the rest of gear out of the water shouldn’t be of any great concern. In fact, I propose you leave it all out there as long as possible. There’s only one thing better than catching one fish and that’s catching two, or three or four or…


The skipper’s freedom of movement from this point on might be dictated by the way the boat has been set up. If it has poor mechanical steering, it’ll want to wander all over the place if he leaves the wheel. With hydraulic steering, the boat will usually continue to go where it’s pointed. Or even better, use an autopilot system, which will keep the boat locked on to your current bearing. At this stage, the boat should be kept in gear, still at trolling speed. If the fish moves towards the boat, drive away from it until the line is slowly peeling off the reel again. Most importantly, make sure the fish is clear of other lines. In fig.4, the fish has taken the lure on the flat rod and run under the line from the rocket launcher. The skipper has passed the rod over the angler and can now either leave that lure out there or bring it in. The trick is to keep the boat moving until the other lines are cleared. When you eventually clear the lines, do so on the side the fish is on first, then clear the other side.



The skipper’s main objective should be to manoeuvre the boat down-current of the fish (fig.5). No matter whether the fish is deep or on the surface, if you’re drifting towards and not away from it, you’re no longer in control of the relationship between the boat and the fish. You also stand a good chance of going over it, which is not where you want to be. Remember, outboard boats with canopies make very good sailing craft!



The ideal situation is to be moving parallel to the fish with it located up-current, slightly forward of the helm position. If you have to lose line to get the boat located down-current of the fish, don’t worry. It’s not hard to wind back once you have him and the boat in this kind of relationship.

Fig.6 shows the reaction to a fish turning up-current. The boat reacts by turning harder inside him, then powering away until line is tight again. Fish will almost always react by moving away from the pull and you can then turn back on line to be down-current again. Don’t, under any circumstances, reverse the boat to sort out a situation like this. When you reverse, you give away the advantage of full speed and the ability to turn fast. Take a few seconds to bring the wheel over to full lock, then nudge the power on – this is the fastest way to bring the boat around.



Remember, an outboard steers by pushing the back of the boat around, and from a dead start it’ll come around very quickly indeed. Don’t be concerned about how far the fish gets away from the boat at any stage. You have time on your side and the critical factor is to always retain control of a tight line between you and the fish. After chasing the fish on its initial run, if that was necessary, most of the boat manoeuvring is quite slow, only as fast as an angler can wind. You should be waltzing with the fish, not trying to bully it!



All big fish will go one of two ways once you go past the initial crazy stage of the fight. They’ll either dive or plug off in a straight line. We’ll take the straight line first. As in fig.7, retain that boat-to-fish relationship, moving with it as the angler slowly works it across to the boat. Sometimes, when dealing with a large fighting fish and strong drift, you may have to offset the effect of the wind by bringing the helm slightly over towards the line the fish is taking. As in fig.8, this is primarily designed to simply counter line loss due to the effect of wind and/or current, but can also be used, with care, to close the gap between angler and fish. Keep in mind that if you’re not experienced, it’s not all that desirable to bring yourself into a close encounter with a strong-swimming fish. It may work when you have extra hands on board and want to do a Rambo for a quick tag or gaff shot, but fishing shorthanded, you really want that fish to be under control when you grab the leader and go into hand-to-hand combat. If the fish dives and you end up fighting it straight up and down as in fig.9, you’ll hurt the angler a lot more than the fish. It can also easily get under and across to the other side of the boat, or up under the engine legs. No matter whether the fish is high or low, keep him off to the side. You stand a much better chance of planing a big fish up, or swimming him up, than you do of dragging him up. The best tactic is to get the boat away from him as in fig.10.








1. During hook-up, your goal is to get away from the fish.

2. Don’t change course or speed at the initial stages.

3. Clear the lines starting with the side the fish is on.

4. When the manic period has passed, get down-current.

5. Plane the fish up – avoid dragging straight up, especially when they’re green.