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Unveiling the Mysteries of Marlin Migration: Where to Find these Majestic Fish

Updated: Nov 25, 2023

Marlin, the majestic and elusive fish, have fascinated and captivated the imagination of fishermen and marine enthusiasts for centuries. These migratory predators embark on incredible journeys across the world’s oceans, their movements veiled in mystery until only recently, when advancements in marine science have shed some light on their migration patterns. Here, we delve into the secrets of these iconic fish and explore where they can be found.

Marlin, specifically Blue Marlin, Black and Striped Marlin, are known for their long-distance migrations. Marine biologists have discovered that these remarkable fish undertake annual oceanic journeys, which often cover thousands of miles. These migrations are strongly influenced by environmental factors such as temperature, food availability, and spawning grounds.

Experts believe that marlin undertake transoceanic migrations, making their way across entire oceans. These ambitious journeys have been reported in various places, including the Atlantic Ocean, where marlins are frequently caught in the Azores and Canary Islands. By following oceanic currents and seeking out favorable temperature ranges, marlins embark on these transoceanic voyages that continue to astound researchers and ocean enthusiasts alike.

One of the prime locations to witness the marvel of marlin migration is in the Pacific Ocean, particularly along the corridor between California and Mexico’s Baja Peninsula. These waters act as a crucial feeding ground for marlins, attracting them with abundant prey like small fish and squid. Magdalena Bay, off the Pacific cost of Baja, Mexico is a bucket list destination for many sportsmen, where small striped marlin can be caught by the dozens in a single day. Other well know hotspots in the Pacific include Blue Marlin in Tahiti, Striped Marlin in New Zealand's Far North and Black Marlin in Cairns, Australia. Fishing fanatics flock to these hot spots, in hopes of encountering these acrobatic creatures.

Changes in climates and currents can influence these migrations. For example, Peru once reigned as THE hotspot for Blacks. In fact, the all-tackle record for Black Marlin is a 1,560 pounder, caught off Cabo Blanco, Peru in 1953. After a few great years of phenomenal specimens, it all went quiet. While overfishing is often partially blamed, it is more likely the departure was due to oceanic current changes. In recent years, it appears that the marlin are now returning to the region after a 40 years hiatus.

Another prominent site for marlin migration is the warm waters off the coast of Costa Rica. Known as one of the premier destinations for sport fishing, these tropical waters serve as a haven for blue marlin. The months between November and April mark the peak season, making it a must-do for anglers in search of big numbers. Garry and I had the luxury of experienced this first hand, aboard a charter boat fishing the FAD, a days journey out of Quepos. We released a bumper crop of 24 blue marlin in a 24 hour period and spent the rest of our holiday dosing on paracetamol and slathering ourselves in aloe vera.

Woman with jumping marlin
One of 72 marlin caught on the Wanganella Banks in 3 days

However, marlin migrations are not limited to these well-known destinations. They navigate the vastness of the ocean in search of favorable conditions, following ocean currents and thermoclines for optimal feeding and spawning opportunities. Monitoring temperature gradients and underwater topography will increase the chances of spotting these magnificent fish. Global blathymetry maps can provide clues to areas of the ocean floor which show the potential for marlin territory, with their currents and structures, but in some cases, their extreme isolation leaves them vastly unexplored.

Most known hotspots are well within range of the average sport fishing boat, usually no more than a few hours of traveling at cruising speed. Very few boats have the range to travel to places like the Wanganella Banks, an under-water sea mount in the Tasman Sea, an area 50 miles long and 300 nautical miles off North Cape of New Zealand. We've been lucky enough to make the 38 hour voyage eight times over the past few years in our 56' long-range motor cat, where we've hit astonishing numbers of stripeys. Our most recent trip in March 2023 netted us 99 striped marlin, caught and released over an exhilarating 3 days. Even more impressive, another long-range sports fishing boat in the same area, out-fished us with their total of 199 fish in 4 days. Given these impressive numbers at this remote fishery alone, one can only wonder what other undiscovered treasures await those who dare to get off the beaten path.

Man holding Jumping Marlin
Black Marlin off the Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Marlin migration remains a complex and enigmatic phenomenon, with many questions still unanswered. Yet, with advances in technology and ongoing research efforts, scientists are getting closer to unraveling the mysteries surrounding these majestic fish. Tracking devices and satellite tags now provide invaluable data, shedding light on their migration routes and behavior. Much of this new technology is now available in app format, available in the palm of your hand for the average man. And while computer algorithms can predict migratory behaviour, there's no more exciting way of knowing the marlin have arrived than hearing the screaming of a reel as you slowly troll over their grounds. First hand observation in the wild is critical to our understanding of their routes. Seeing it, is to believe it.

3 men fishing for marlin
Triple hook up on striped marlin, Wanganella Banks

As scientists continue to unveil the secrets of marlin migration, it is crucial to remember that these migrations can change from year to year. The Azores had a phenomenal year in 2023, while Kona saw unprecedented action in January but the same ground was disappointing in June, a mixed bag of unexpected migrations. Geologic action, such as earthquakes and volcanic explosions likely have impact on migratory routes. The Hunga-Hai'pai eruption in Tonga resulted in catastrophic damage to local reefs and no doubt, will have a butterfly effect. Climate change will almost certainly bring changes to the equation of marlin migration; we've all been surprised to read reports of marlin caught at latitudes never seen before, and at the same time, disappointed when the fish don't show up on schedule. Scientific research from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution suggests that a 1.6 degree C change in ocean temperatures will lead to wide spread destruction, up to 70% of suitable habitat for 12 pelagic species, including marlin by the end of the century. If so, we could see major economic changes in the sports fishing industry.

In conclusion, marlin embark on awe-inspiring migrations, traveling vast distances across oceans in search of optimal conditions for feeding and reproduction. From the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic, marlin captivate both anglers and researchers alike. As we delve deeper into their mysterious behavior, we can better appreciate their beauty and the need to protect these magnificent fish from the threats they face in our rapidly changing world.

marlin leaping out of water

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