Bullbuster In Action:

Tagging Tips & Techniques

Author: Bullbuster Team

When the Bullbuster Team purchased the domain for "Big Game Fishing The World"  we thought, there is no way that this could be true.  This was once a legends website. Well, it turned out to be true and today we have restored some of the works of legendary Capt. Norm Isaac's.  We take no credit for what you are about to read but instead insist on honoring a legend who helped shaped our sport. 


It finally happened! After all the years (and there's been a bunch of them) of skippering my own charterboat, the SUNDOWNER, I had never personally been on board when a tagged fish had been recaptured. I can no longer make that statement.

In the process of filming another episode of ESPN's INSIDE BIG GAME FISHING aboard the KONA CONCEPT with Capt. John Jordan, I had the privilege of angling an approximately 150 lb. blue marlin that had to be one of the luckiest marlin in the Pacific. From previous encounters of the human variety, not only was it carrying a National Marine Fisheries Service tag in its back about halfway between its dorsal and its tail, it also had managed to cheat death at least one other time, evidenced by a longliner hook lodged in the corner of its mouth.

John and his crewman Steve Harnage removed both the previous tag and the rusty longliner hook and sent the fish on its way with a new National Marine Fisheries Service tag secured in its shoulder. The fish appeared to be in good health as it swam away a little tired and hopefully a lot smarter. The information from the retrieved tag hasn't come back yet, so it will be in a later article.

During the course of a conversation once with Capt. Dale Bourne, captain of the charterboat MARLIN MACHINE, he suggested I comment, when the opportunity presented itself, on the dos and don'ts of fish tagging. On the air, I've made comments from time to time concerning tagging, but it seems the opportunity has presented itself again as I'm pecking out this bit for ESPN's SportsZone.

Probably the most important thing to remember is don't get beat up too badly with the bill or get a hook stuck in you in the process of tagging. After your health, the health of the fish is the next most important item.

I've often seen (and probably been guilty of it myself), fishermen frazzling the fish more than necessary while trying to get the hook out when it wasn't stuck in an area that was likely to cause the fish a problem if it were left in. It's often better to cut the leader close to the hook and send the fish on its way than to traumatize the fish unnecessarily by removing the hook. There are other times when the hook is obviously likely to create a future problem for the fish and needs to be taken out, or when the fish is docile enough that the hook can be easily removed. With a two-hook rig, the hooks can get situated in such a way that they lock the fish's mouth shut. I know for some people this situation sounds like a dream come true, but for a fish, it leads to a slow, miserable death, so be on the lookout for it.

Don't be in too big of a hurry to get the tag in place. If you don't have a good shot at getting it where you want it, which is well aft of the bill slit between the top of the back and about a third of the way down to the lateral stripe, just hold your horses. Even if the fish comes off before the tag finds a home, that's better than stapling its gills together or damaging some vital organs that are accessible from the belly area.

If possible, put the tag in place from the back forward so the tag will lie down flatter against the fish as it moves through the water. Most of these offshore species of fish are so hydrodynamically clean that anything sticking out where it's not supposed to be can be more irritating that you might think.

The last point is reviving the fish when it gets to the boat exhausted. With smaller fish and heavy tackle, the fish is probably just fine for immediate release due to a fairly short fight. Frequently, however, with larger fish or lighter tackle or sometimes just a real stubborn critter that won't come to the boat, the fish is really pooped when it gets to the releasing stage. In such cases, the fish has a better chance of survival if the fisherman revives it for a while by holding it alongside the boat usually with one hand (gloved, lest your palm and fingers will resemble used leader) on the bill and the other hand on the dorsal, keeping the fish upright.

Having the boat in gear forces water over the fish's gills. Sometimes it takes a while, but after a few minutes of oxygenating the marlin in this fashion, it will usually start swimming on its own and can be turned loose with an excellent chance of survival. A word of caution -- sometimes they revive all at once, and if you have yourself in a position where you can't get out of the way, you may come back looking like the only one in a hatchet fight without a hatchet.

Tight Lines . . . . . Norm. 

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