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They're all ears

By mimicking mackerel sounds, new electronic acoustic lures are proving irresistible to marlin.

October 04, 2005|Scott Doggett

MARLIN lures haven't changed much since the mid-1960s. They're about 6 to 10 inches long, wide as a broom handle, with a plastic head and a stringy rubber skirt that hides the hook. To a marlin, the colorful lures look like good eating.

But late last year, Iowa-based 7Strand upped the ante by adding a chirping device to create an electronic acoustic lure -- EAL for short -- that mimics the distress call of a frightened mackerel, an irresistible snack for a marlin.

"I'm the biggest pessimist in the world, so I have a hard time biting on something that seems like a gimmick," says Steve Lassley, captain of Bad Company, a 60-foot yacht with $100,000 worth of tackle, out of Newport Beach. "But they're pretty much outfishing everything [else]."

"We had a marlin jump over a live mackerel like a porpoise and go face first into a jig and take off with an EAL," says Alex Edwards, captain of the Mission Bay boat Bad Dog II, which set a one-day record at the Zane Grey Invitational Marlin Tournament off Catalina Island last month with five marlins, all caught on EALs.

The lures, which sell for about $200 apiece and run eight hours on a 3-volt lithium battery, are the brainchild of Bill Buchanan, president of the saltwater fishing division of Pure Fishing, 7Strand's parent company.

He wanted to make a billfish lure that was more "than just dragging a piece of plastic behind a boat."

"We'd played with all kinds of weird little noise gadgets and things that had absolutely no science behind them whatsoever," he says.

Then he came upon some intriguing research. Until recently, Russian commercial fishermen caught fish by seeing them on sonar, encircling them with a huge net and hauling them up. They didn't know which species they'd caught until they saw them with their own eyes.

Seeking a better way to target specific fish species, researchers studied the sounds five species make when they are distressed, including mackerel. They discovered that each of the species made unique sounds that could be charted on a sonogram.

They then devised a method for fishermen to identify the species by matching the sounds beneath their boats with the sonograms.

With the research in hand, Buchanan hired an aerospace engineer who, using the mackerel sound signature as a guide, developed a battery-powered circuit that mimicked the sound of frightened mackerel. And it was small enough to fit inside an existing lure.

Buchanan was thrilled. He sent the first lure to Kona, Hawaii, an epicenter of marlin action.

"Eleven minutes into the water it got hit by a 400-pound blue marlin," he said.

That was last December. After some refinements, a small number of the lures hit the marketplace. With their appearance, the world of marlin fishing hasn't been the same.

-- Scott Doggett

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