When deciding how to present an informative piece for the novice or even experienced angler wanting to target billfish, the idea of interviewing Peter Pakula seemed like the perfect start. The man has caught more billfish than most people alive: after persistently questioning him as to how many he thinks he might have caught, he kept modestly replying that he didn’t know. However, I managed to “lure” out of him that it was maybe around 400, and I suspect that it is a lot more than that. For those of you that don’t know, Peter Pakula is the founder and owner of Pakula Lures, a company that designs everything from game gloves through to tools and rods. His techniques and products have been adopted and used on a worldwide scale and in the fishing world Pakula is a household name.
How did you get into fishing in the first place?
My brother used to tell a story that the first day I took my steps as a little baby in a nappy was actually towards a fisherman and the next fish the man caught he let me sort of pull in, so it seems I’ve been fishing since the first day I could walk; apart from that, I don’t know.
You’re obviously a well-known manufacturer of various fishing products, most notably your lures. What age were you when you started making your own lures?
I guess probably eight years old, in those days I was trying to chase tailor and trevally from Rose Bay Wharf and if I couldn’t steal lures from the shop in Bondi Junction, I used to go make my own by ripping up spoons and stuff like that. The tackle shop owner, Hank Newman in those days, knew full well what I was doing, he used to drive me to go fishing in the afternoon and load me up with lures, so he knew full well what was going on! (laughs)
When did you decide you were going to start producing lures?
It was actually never a thought, it just ended up that way. Basically my career was in the clothing trade and I to run the machines on night shift and at times you had nothing to do, so I used to be in the workshop kicking around with lures. It started off with somebody wanting one, then they told somebody else and they wanted one, there was never really a decision as such to become a lure-maker or even opening a business.
Was there a point where you felt you got it right?
Nah, I think that’s part of my disease, I never think I’ve got it right so I keep developing stuff. Developing stuff is what I’m about, actual production stuff I don’t really care about as much as the designing. You always think you can do something better even if you’ve got the best out there, you just do the best you can at the time but you know you’re also aware that things change, technology changes, our awareness of what fish are and what fishermen do and the way the ocean works – all that changes so you’ve got to change things with it.
Do you think there’s still room for evolution in game fishing and lure design or are we just repeating the same things over and over with different colours and shapes?
I think there’s absolutely gonna be changes over the years but you know fishing…in the case of the mass market it’s incredibly easy to keep regurgitating what’s been done before and sell that as the brand new thing without anything new being there. Doing new things does cost a lot of money and it does take a lot of time so most people don’t do that. Because it’s my passion, that’s all I long to do, a lot of the profits from the tackle go back into development and that’s a pretty rare thing in this trade or any other.
What are some of the main things people do wrong when targeting billfish?
Especially when they’re starting out, they tend to buy inferior gear. They’re using gear that experts would have a challenge trying to catch marlin with. For example, roller rods are better than non-roller rods – the line’s not gonna wear out. Using non-roller rods, you’re limiting yourself. If you don’t buy the reel with the best drag, and you’re not used to it and you don’t even know what drag is doing, you’re sort of limiting yourself. Buying black plastic reels certainly makes life far more difficult than it has to be. If you buy yourself a decent gold reel that’s got a great drag, you set it once and it’s going to stay at that setting for longer time. Inferior gear makes it difficult for novices to catch fish.
A fisherman not setting drag to scale is an issue?
Yeah, of course it is. You buy a fishing line of a certain breaking strength because that’s what you want to use. There’s a lot of platitudes and stuff to talk about when you set your line at a third of the breaking strength of a line – that’s your drag setting – but that was the case 50 years ago before the technology we’ve got now. Now you can use higher drags up to 50, 60 or 70 percent of the line class and get away because we know the line’s load. A lot of things have changed, and you need a good reel to do that.
Next piece of advice?
The most important thing in fishing, it’s not the boat, it’s not the reels, it’s not the lures, it’s not the rods, it’s not the line. The number one most important thing we’ve got in the system is the hook. Everything’s about the hook! Unless the hook is right, the rest doesn’t matter. When you buy a hook it’s a generic hook, the hook manufacturer doesn’t know what line class you’re going to use. For example if you’re going to use 12lb line the hook point is going to be very different to the hook point used on 130lb. You do have to change the points according to the line class you’re using. It’s unlikely you’ll buy a hook with the right point.
Which hook to buy?
Well you can’t buy the hook, you basically buy the hook then file the point – and you can do that home. For example if you’re using 15 kilogram line, you’re gonna be setting the drag at 5 kilos. File the hook, put a drag scale on it at five kilos and put it through a bit of wood, see if it penetrates well. If the point folds, the point’s too fine. If the point doesn’t go in then the point’s too thick. It’s an adjustment, everybody’s got lots of hooks at home, it’s easy to do at home and within an hour you’ll know what point you’ll need on that line class for that drag setting. Easy. The other thing that is the most restrictive thing is that consumers – when they look at a hook – they want a big barb on it. The dumbest thing you can do is have a big barb. So file the barb down as much as you can to get better penetration because that hook’s not in until the hook has passed the barb. The larger the barb, the harder it is to get that hook in. In fact, when trolling lures you don’t even need a barb. The only reason there is a barb on a hook is to stop the bait from coming off. No other reason for a barb. It doesn’t stop fish coming off, got nothing to do with fish.
Wouldn’t it be easier for a fish to throw a barbless hook?
Not at all. You try it, stick a hook through a pair of gloves, put the hook through that and try shake it out. You can’t.
Would you say you fish predominantly with barbless hooks?
No, because the crew looks at you and thinks you’re an idiot so I use the smallest barbs I think I can get away with and still have a pretty happy crew (laughs).
Lure choice. Standing in a store…no experience…what should you be looking for?
That’s one of the hardest questions there is. First of all there are so many lure heads out in the market, so many colours that it’s totally confusing. The guy in the store is obviously selling the brands he sells because that’s what the department has ordered, and he probably doesn’t do a lot of game fishing because he’s working in the tackle shop, and you know the weather’s always best during the week when he’s working. It’s very difficult, basically I’ve got a website with 500 pages, most of which are dedicated to trying to explain these things to an angler. You’re far better off looking at a lure manufacturer’s website, buy the lures sets called patterns they say to buy for the area you’re fishing. You can easily contact all the bosses of the lure companies and they will give you the best advice they can; follow that advice. Don’t try and mix lure brands. For example there are lure positions for the shotgun, long corner, short corner e.t.c I make lures to go in those positions, as long as the other lures in the other positions are Pakula lures. For example a Pakula long rigger lure may not fit into a pattern of other brands … because my setup’s different, and they’re all different, there’s no industry standard for that. So, yes it is confusing.
A manufacturer is designing lures based on a certain spread?
Yep, on his spread. They don’t interconnect because there’s no industry standard on them.
How much do people go wrong setting a spread using different lures?
It’s a hard thing to know when you get out there.You’ve really gotta follow the manufacturer’s instructions. As a novice you’re unlikely going to know things better than the manufacturer’s advice. Follow the one brand, pick a brand, use that spread and get to know it. The thing is to use a spread from one manufacturer. Say you buy a range of Pakula lures, the guy’s contacted me, I’ve told him what to do, so if you’re trolling in the morning when it’s nice and calm you can get all the lures working and when it blows up during the day, just by simply increasing or decreasing your speed all the lures will react the same and you get it working again. If you mix the brands, as soon as conditions change you’re gonna find it unbelievably difficult to get all those lures to work together again because they aren’t designed to work as a team.
Don’t mix brands?
Not when you’re starting out. Give one brand a go, there’s lots out there, it’s one of the most competitive markets in the world, everybody will give you the best advice they can, but get it direct from the manufacturer. Follow that lead for a while. For example if you’re going to buy twenty lures, most start with 20 odd lures or 30, that gives you the opportunity for four, five or six brands with their patterns, find which ones give you the best result.
What’s the difference between lure heads and how they react in the water?
Basically the longer the head, the more stable the lure. The sphere is the most stable shape in the water, in fact it’s quite hard to get it to break the surface. A cube is the most unstable shape underwater, it will bounce around and come up to the surface. Basically somewhere between those three is where you get lures with the action and stability you want. One must think “what is a lure’s job?” That is probably the most important question you can ask yourself and most people come up with the wrong answer.
To represent a fish? To attract a bigger fish?
That’s what most people think. Just about anything you put in the water will get attacked. You can put a banana skin out there, a thong, a beer can, all of them will get attacked at some stage. All the apex predators are unbelievably aggressive creatures. It’s like walking past a lion’s cage. Anything you put in the water will be attacked, at some stage. Certainly a better lure will get attacked more, but just about everything will anyway at some stage. The real job of the lure is to present the hook so it’s possible for the hook to set with the highest percentage success rates possible. That’s its job. That’s it main job. The more stable the lure, the better the hook will sit. You can look at the stability of a lure, simply clip its leader to the end of a broomstick and hang it over the side and watch it alongside the boat – there’s lots of videos I’ve got on YouTube – you can see how stable the lure is with the rig in. If that lure is spinning lots, it’s no good. If it’s darting all over the place it’s gonna be hard for the fish to grab the hooks cleanly so that’s not much good either. A nice stable lure that presents the hook so the hook can set better is really what you’re after. Of course with a bit of action, you want a smoke trail to keep the crew happy, and the seagulls, really doesn’t make any difference to the fish all this stuff about smoke trails, lures without smoke trails catch just as many fish as lures with them.
Keeping the crew happy, you have mentioned this a few times?
You’ve gotta keep the adrenaline up, you’ve gotta keep the excitement up there and that’s probably the most important thing. People get disheartened watching lures very quickly if nothing is happening, you’ve gotta give them something to watch. Even the old Witchdoctor teaser that used to throw lots of flashes of light all over the place kept people fishing longer as well as attracting fish.
How far should a lure be sitting underneath the surface?
The way trolling lures generally work is they actually have a cycle where they come to the surface, breathe (which causes the splash and a bloop) which causes a sonic boom which the fish can feel from a long way away, and that’s a great attraction. Then they grab air, smoke, dive under the water, shake a bit, have their action and then come back to the surface and repeat it again and do that about every five seconds. Depending on the lure, some lures go just under the water, maybe a couple of inches, other lures, such as round-headed lures – remember the stability – dive quite deep. Some of them go five or six feet, which is a long way in that cycle.
What kind of face on a head will provide the most stability?
Basically a sphere. But that’s almost too stable to attract fish so you have a variance of that.
Should you adjust the lure for conditions?
No if you’ve got the recommended pattern you’ll probably find they work just the same. For example we’ve just fished the Gold Coast Light Tackle Tournament over the weekend, one of the roughest conditions ever fished off the Gold Coast, and the guys who won – I think – all the divisions were using Pakulas that they also use in the calmest of conditions. It’s basically that if a lure’s good and stable, and you know how to run lures, you run them all regardless of the weather.
What about heavier leaders?
The leaders do affect the action of the lures somewhat, the longer and heavier the leader, the more the lure action is affected detrimentally. The greatest advances in the past few years, especially with leaders is the new hard leaders out. The hard leaders have twice the abrasion resistance of the previous soft leaders.
What about using fluorocarbon?
Not fluorocarbon, fluorocarbon actually fractures quite easily – fluorocarbon’s not ideal at all if you’re using skirted lures. The thing about a leader is not so much the breaking strain, a lot of people talk about a 400 pound leader as being the right leader but there’s no hooks on the market that are that strong. The strongest hooks on the market are able to handle about 350 pounds. There’s really no need to go to 400 pounds if you’ve got a high abrasion resistance, so once again you can drop down to 300 pounds. If the leader’s too thick for the lure, the leaders put out their own bubble trail and they vibrate. If there’s more of that happening on the leader than the lure, then the marlin comes up and it actually strikes the leader instead of the lure. If you pull in your lure and you’ve got scuff marks three or four feet up from your lure head, the marlin’s been eating the leader and not the lure – that means it’s too heavy or thick for that lure.
How should you rig hooks on a skirted lure?
There are two main rigs that I’ve developed over the years. The first one is the twin hook rig, which I call the Pakula Full Twin Hook 60 Degree Shackle Rig which has the hooks sitting at 60 degrees, in a V formation … all the hooks should be free to balance the way they want to, it’s very important the hooks are allowed to balance. If you stiff rig them or tape them up, that will make the hooks spin. When the lure travels through the water on a loose rig, it will travel with the hook point up, with the point level with the eye, if you try and stop it doing that the hooks will spin. The other rig we’ve developed is the Keel Rig, it’s a single hook rig where we put a keel weight on the bottom of it, and this rig has been unbelievably successful! When we released the new range of keel rigs in New Zealand two shipments sold out before they’ve come through, and the hook up rate now for some in New Zealand has gone from around ten strikes to three hook ups to no fish, to straight hook ups on all strikes. It’s a spectacular rig, it hasn’t caught on in Australia yet but I’m pretty sure it will once fishermen start using them. So if you’re scared of twin hooks rig and want to use single hook rigs, the Keel Rig is certainly a great alternative.
How do you know the hooks are not spinning?
I’ve got it on the video! (laughs) These days with tow cam’s I can see it, all these people say, ‘that’s a good theory’, It’s not a theory! I’ve been watching it on video for the last ten years. I’ve been using a lot of cameras for a very long time.
Last issue we learnt about the different lures and how they swim, we know how to set up our rigs; how do we find the fish?
Basically with the way the Internet is now and things like your magazine, you should have some idea when the fish are in your area, and you pretty much go to where you’re told. These days GPS Marks are pretty common, but even GPS marks are a bit overrated. The best way is to use your eyes; they’re the most important thing second to electronics. You should look for current lines, you look for any changes, you look for hovering birds which are better than diving birds because they’re actually waiting for bait fish to rise to the surface and they haven’t started feeding on them yet, so it’s a lot easier to catch the predators before they’re actively feeding within a school, than when the fish hit the surface and the birds are diving and there’s a whole lot of mayhem. When that happens it can actually be quite tough to catch the fish.
Are there certain birds you should ignore and certain birds to look for?
Yes there are more species of birds on the ocean then there are on land and you’ve got to get to know them. My favourite birds are certainly the Noddy Turn, the one with the little black cap … Mutton birds are good but they tend to be migrating, so you don’t go chasing them all over the ocean; it’s only when they’re hovering and circling very small areas and best of all when they’re sitting on the water with their heads under the water looking for the bait fish coming up. Gannets are fantastic if they’re hovering, but once again you’ve got to look at their body language. Most of the birds you see on the ocean actually don’t eat fish. An awful lot of them eat crustaceans and eggs and stuff, so it’s a really good idea to get a hold of a book and have a look at the sea birds – it’s a quick thing to study – things like albatross are a good sign squid are around but you really do have to get to know the species and the body language of the birds in your area and that does take time. Other things to look for – go to where the other boats are, and that’s probably the most common way these days. I don’t think too many fisherman need to explore areas; most of the areas are known. When you get there have a look at the water, have a look at the currents. You will get hit more going down or across the current then you will going into the current. Speed is important but you don’t have to troll lures as fast as we used to think. Everybody keeps talking about 8 knots, it will be a lot more economical at 6 and a half knots, bring your lures a little closer you’re gonna use a lot less fuel and catch the same amount of fish.
What’s the best way to set the lure spread?
The end of the spread is the end of the turbulence of the prop wash and that’s where your shotgun goes. And then the rest of the lures are simply spread out between the end and getting quite close to the boat. If you’re using teasers, just put your teasers out and place your closest lure just behind the teasers. There’s no point using teasers unless you’ve got a lure close to it because teasers work by getting the fish to come up to them, if there’s not a hooked lure around them the fish will just swim off. Spread out your lures, if you’re using out riggers it’s easier, and just simply spread them out between the back of the boat and the end of the turbulence of the prop wash.
What do you personally believe when it comes to colour, does colour play a part or is it just action and vibration?
Colour certainly plays a part…and certainly for the fishermen who buy the lures (laughs); as far as the fish go, they certainly see the blue spectrum much more than we do which goes into the ultraviolet and probably even further than the ultraviolet. We’ve spent many years developing ultraviolet additives and that’s one of the reasons Pakula lures are so successful, due to our ultraviolet additives and it certainly seems to make a difference. Even things like luminous additives, lures like the Pakula Lumo Sprocket, there are not too many lure brands that haven’t copied that Lumo colour. Fish do see colour; they probably see blues and greens better than anything else because that’s the environment they’re in. Even humans see things differently. For example a farmer who grows crops sees many more greens and browns than the city guys. City guys see greys and blacks really well. These studies have already been done. So fish see what’s in their environment very well. They’re designed to be apex predators – they’re pretty good at it. Fish have these massive lateral lines so vibration and action of the lure and the subtlety of the lure is also pretty important. The splashes the lure makes do attract fish and are relatively important. Don’t get too carried away, just be aware that apex predators are angry, aggressive and they want to kill. In terms of what colours to run in the spread it’s not hard as there are so many stats out there but you can pretty confidently just follow this: the closest lure to the boat is black and the largest lure of the spread, the next one out is blue and silver the next one out is purple and blue, then lumo green, the last lure doesn’t have a statistic on it. Any lure you want or try for the day is fine, put it out furthest. Again, the furthest lure from the boat is the smallest; the closest lure to the boat is the biggest.
Why should the furthest away be the smallest lure?
A smaller lure naturally has a smaller hook. With increased distance between the angler and the lure there is a whole lot more stretch in the line so it’s easier to set a small hook!
Is there one position in a spread that you would consider the most successful?
Commonly it’s the long rigger and the shotgun – it’s the most common statistically, but once you get to know your spreads and work it out, you should be getting the same amount of hits in all positions. It takes a while to get right, but that’s really what you should be aiming for.
If you don’t have outriggers, should you just troll with three rods?
You should troll as many as rods as you comfortably can without tangling. Fishing is supposed to be a fun exercise, if you spend all day untangling stuff then that’s not fun. The other way you can do it without outriggers is to vary the sorts of lures you use, you can troll 5 but have two deep divers in close, there are many on the market but something like Rapala X Raps in close and three skirted lures out back will troll well with no outriggers and will make tangles less of an issue.
What about putting dead baits into the mix?
If you’re a novice they’re probably going to spin like hell, but you can mix it up a little if you want, just keep it easy and keep it fun.
What about line class, is 24kg the best line class to use when starting out?
It depends on what level you’re at. I came at it from a very different angle. I started ultra light on 6kg and moved up through the ranks. So I didn’t start at 24kg and move down, but sure, start with 24kg. You can’t tell a fish which rod to bite so there’s no point having a 37 out with a 10 out the back and thinking the big fish is going to hit the 37, that’s not gonna happen. Just use one line class at a time, once you get confident with 24kg move down to 15kg, and you may never move down to 10kg but certainly you want to enjoy it – the fish has to provide a challenge. You’ve got to be physically fit enough to use that line class effectively! So at 24kg the drag setting minimum should be 8kg, under that the line stretches and you’re not in contact with the fish, then you prolong the fight. If you’re gonna use 5kg drag, you’re far better off using that on 15kg line. On 15kg, 5kg of drag is pulling out the stretch and you’re fighting the fish, you’re in contact and you’ll catch the fish a whole lot quicker than you will with 24kg line setting the drag at 5kg. You’ve gotta learn your own capabilities with it too, some people are big and strong, they can handle the 12kg drag pressure with 37kg gear with no problem, some people aren’t and they cant handle that much drag.
So it’s not necessarily more challenging for the angler to catch a fish on a lighter line class?
Not necessarily. Basically at my size, I’ve never been fit, I’ve spent my life sitting in offices, in chairs and I can’t use 37kg – it kills me! I enjoy using 15kg and I use heavier drag settings – 10kg of drag on 15kg line – and that’s my limit! After that I’m not having a good time at all. Catching fish ten times in weight to the line’s class for me is not unusual and not a hard thing to do, especially because I’ve come from an ultra light tackle background – 15kg is still pretty heavy. So yes, if you’re just starting out in game fishing…then 24kg is probably a good place to start.
How important is the skipper in the process of fighting the fish, any advice you can offer?
Keep it smooth, keep it fun and keep it comfortable. A lot of guys reverse back after the fish far too quickly and the angler can’t keep tight line on the fish. Keep the angler tight!
The fish has hit the lure, what does the angler do?
Well he gets the rod out of the rod holder and he tries to keep the line tight. Trying to do that on a boat for the first time is nearly impossible. It puts the angler under far too much pressure. It’s a whole lot easier to do a couple of exercises before you go out (check the Pakula website for these exercises) do the exercises before you go out there, learn to keep the line tight, learn to control the rod, and learn to keep even pressure on the lures. You spend up to $1200 on a reel and the reason you spend that much is so the drag is consistent, and you can use that consistent drag. If you want efficiency at 5 kilos, you gotta keep the rod bent the whole way through. If the rod straightens at the top, you’ve gone from 5kg of pressure to zero pressure and every time you pull the rod up and it straightens up, you’ve gone to zero. You’ve gotta learn to keep the rod bent the whole way through and keep pressure on the fish.
How long should you wait before you take the rod out of the holder?
It’s a Kung Fu movement; you want to take that rod out as fast as you can.
Should the skipper gun the boat when a fish strikes to try and set the hook?
That’s not gonna set the hooks at all. Basically the hooks are set from that first strike. From then on the rest is stretch, the further that fish gets away the more stretch there is. The first 30 seconds of a figh; doesn’t matter what happens, you’re not in control of that fish. You’ve just gotta keep the line tight, but certainly if that fish runs forward the skipper should gun the boat and try and get away from it.
Are there things to stay away from when purchasing a game boat?
No I don’t think there are things you should stay away from. Certainly things like very large 60ft game boats with big twin diesels raise a lot of fish but that’s not to say that if you’re in a 5.5m boat with a single outboard on the back that you’re at a disadvantage. The difference is that the larger boats put out a lot more vibration; the fish are aware of them because of the noise and the presence they’ve got. The smaller the boat, the more you need to use things like teasers. If you do that (use teasers) you really can compete with the bigger boats. I had a little boat that I captained on the Gold Coast and did incredibly well at events…When you’re fishing amongst lots of other boats in the same area, a good idea is to keep using more and more teasers even if you’ve gotta pull in some of your lines – you really want to draw the fish to you. The more vibration you put out, the more fish you’re gonna get.
How many teasers are too many?
You can’t have too many, as long as you can control them. A lot of people say, ‘If the fishing’s good, you don’t need teasers at all’. At times if fishing a tournament and somebody else is catching and you’re not, then it’s time to start using anything that makes a splash or wobbles, trying to get that fish looking upwards…If you do hook up take all the time in the world to bring those teasers in. You’re not gonna get spooled in the meantime.