Harrison's Lure Lore

Peter Pakula

From Fishing World Magazine February 1989

marlin on Pakula lure 17Jan1997"Peter Pakula is a successful lure maker because he is a successful student of billfish. Rod Harrison looks at the Pakula approach to billfish lures, hook arrangements and techniques, which has changed a lot of thinking on the subject".

"My lures aren't just made, they're developed." With that simple statement, Peter Pakula aptly sums up his monumental contribution to the science of trolling for billfish. For Pakula this pursuit, this life's work, began back in the time when lures were running a distant second to baits as getters of marlin. Back then, the established game boats were sticking with tradition towing dead baits. The Young Turks coming up through the sport fishing movement, then having its golden era at Montague Island, were turning lots of heads with the kind of results they were chalking up slow trolling small bridle rigged tuna.

What billfish lures were around were mainly the Konahead range; local product produced by the then Penn Fenwick organisation. In their time they were useful lures but according to Pakula, they lacked the capacity to handle a wide range of sea conditions. Pakula recalls from his deckhand days that lures having a weaving action sometimes tangled. Consequently, good fishing time was wasted, sorting out the snarl of lines, traces and hooks.

He goes on: "Many of the people then trolling for marlin never gave much thought to what they were doing, or what they were trying to achieve. They'd just throw any old lures out, blunt hooks and all and just drive around the ocean, hoping for the best. 1 can't think of too many who could supply a reasonable answer to basic questions about their fishing."

The boost that lure fishing for billfish needed had its beginning around the early 80s when viable stocks of blue marlin, certainly the most willing lure taker and arguably the fightingest member of the billfish tribe, were found along the continental shelf. At first, it was fish taken from Bermagui wide. However, the trend spread and Sydney based boats followed by those out of Port Stephens soon found rampaging blues getting mixed up with their spreads. Then came Lord Howe and more recently Cape Moreton wide, quite possibly the greatest blue and striped marlin trolling alley around the Australian coastline.

Pakula was right in on the ground floor of this action. As billfish tournaments began to spring up along the NSW coast, he was in the stages of fine tuning his head designs. 'these comprised two types, christened Beer Barrel and Sprocket, soon to become household identities around the game fishing circuits The track record they established under tournament conditions has lots in common with that of the magnificent Florence Griffith Joyner.

The Beer Barrel probably doesn't need a lot of explanation on shape. There are similarities between its outline and that of a beer keg. The Sprocket, on the other hand, has a more tapered head. What both types have in common is a flat, concave head similar to that of blooping type poppers. This feature produces a bubble contrail that seems more intense than the tracings of conventional pusher-type game fish lures. Bubble trails play a big part in inducing marlin strikes. There's no question about that.

A newer addition to the range, which Pakula calls the Beer Gut has a Sprocket configuration except for a bulging, true-to-name midriff. This sensational lure, with its 'spare tyre' generates an even more concentrated bubble stream. Not surprisingly, it is known as the Bubble Eye in some quarters. The difference in names is mostly the doing of Tim Simpson, who has an eye for a good lure. Simmo, I'm told, has caught some great fish on the Beer Gut, and probably has more than just a soft spot for it. He prefers to sell it to Compleat Angler customers under the more genteel name. Pakula on the other hand, wryly regards this as all a bit un-Australian. But whatever the name, this Pakula original seems destined for a place in game fishing history.

The success of Pakula lures hasn't just been confined to Australia. They've made a name for themselves in New Zealand, continental U.S.A. and the place where it all started, Hawaii. As a comparison, it would be a bit like trying to flog off a truckload of bibles at a Queensland National Party Convention. However, Pakula lures have quite a solid following amongst some noted Kona boats, and anglers who've seen them all. Pakula is a perfectionist. This great attention to detail reflects in a standard of hand craftsmanship that I doubt is matched anywhere else. There's probably more chance of a Rolls Royce rolling off the assembly line with a miss in the engine than Pakula putting an imperfect lure on the market.

In determining the kind of action a game fish lure will have, the head is the most important component. Where the head goes, the tail must follow. But tails happen to be the things which sell a lot of lures; which brings up the vast and unknown subject of colour. There is considerable scientific opinion to the effect that marlin are colour-blind. Yet there is an equal pile of evidence that colour does make a difference on certain days. Many successful trollers are more than happy to go along with the bright day/bright lure,' dull day/dull lure approach. And there are other theories on colour that can be argued with equal conviction.

The Pakula', colour range shows imagination and would seemingly cater for every whim. More important is the speed with which the successful blends are incorporated into his range; the colours Pakula knows through his constant on-water research, are catching fish. I terms of durability and overall quality, the skirting material Pakula uses is as good as money can buy. But even that has its limits. No skirt is Wahoo proof.


Covering water is the name of the game when lure trolling for billfish. The operating speeds of lure boats allow search patterns over far greater expanses of sea than what's possible when fishing baits, dead or alive.

The normal trolling spread for most boats is a four-lure pattern. Two are run from stinger lines. Those rods are generally mounted mid-deck in launcher or chair holders. This set-up allows the other two rods to fish flat lines from gunwale holders, thus having sufficient separation to avoid tangles 'For some boats, the temptation is too much and they'll elect to run a lighter rod down the guts'. It's a decision they often rue. For reasons billfishers are never able to explain, the fish of the trip - unbeatable on that gear - sometimes chooses to ignore everything else in the water and clobbers the little lure.

The basic rules in setting up a pattern are to position lures so that they won't foul when making turns, and so that the lures remain in sight of each other. The more successful anglers are constantly adjusting their patterns. For reasons that will forever remain obscure, changes in the position of a lure can be a catalyst in it getting hit.

The 'straggler' approach works. A lure positioned some distance behind the main bunch is often picked off on the days billfish are reluctant to come too close to the boat. Some boats have characteristics in the water that seem to attract fish. It could be motor noise, hull noise, or perhaps something to do with the wake they make. But some boats significantly, not those powered by outboards literally have billfish swimming up their exhaust pipes to get at their lures.

Working with the sea provides some advantages in lure action. Lures working the face of a wave like a surfer seem to have a better fish-getting action. Lures pulled against the wave motion are subjected to a buffeting that can result in them fouling and breaking away from stinger lines.

On the subject of breakaways from stinger lines and flat lines that may be rubber banded, it's worth noting that size 32 bands (7 kilo break) are ideally suited to 24 kilo tackle, while size 64 bands (10 kilo break) are the ones to use in conjunction with 37 kilo outfits.

Another important consideration is the billfish characteristic of moving in the same direction as the sea. It's probably an energy conservation thing as much as anything, this billfish tendency to be pushed along by wind and wave. Its significance for lure fishers is that lures positioned in the face of a wave have a better chance of entering the vision cone of a billfish.

Boat speed is a critical element in lure trolling. Far too many skippers work at so many revs, and that's it. This approach cannot always provide the best lure action in the prevailing sea conditions. These change. The more successful boats have the operating flexibility to run at speeds that present their spread at its best.

It's a big ocean out there. Unlike the basically-bait Cairns scene, where the outer edge of the Ribbon Reefs and other battlements of the Great Barrier Reef mark the place where the scads go in the water, there's no such walk-up for lure fishermen working off southern Queensland and NSW.

Blue, striped and large black marlin off those parts of the east coast tend not to stray inshore of the continental s16pe in great numbers. The anglers who are successful with lures tend to take a greater interest in things as they get around the 100 fathom line.

It's often necessary to travel much further. Billfish are oceanic nomads, likely to be found where sea conditions are to their liking and where there's food around. This means finding the right water temperature and keeping eyes peeled. A starting point can be water that's a minimum temperature of 19 degrees C. But warmer is better. Cobalt water in the midd-20s is just about perfect. However, that doesn't mean that green water should be totally overlooked. If bait is there, usually suggested by birds working, it could produce. Some days, it's impossible to find those ideal fingers and eddies of the East Australia Current.

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