As fishermen, it seems that we spend a lot of time trying to outthink something that doesn't think. Given what scientists tell us about the capacity of a marlin's brain, there isn't much room in there for a lot of thought about anything except eating and making little marlin, and there's fairly little contemplation about the latter.
The reproductive process is totally instinctive. The female sprays eggs out into the open ocean, and the male sprays sperm. Somewhere out there the two get together, and the results are baby marlin. I have oversimplified the process a little, but, at best, it's a pretty loose operation and not something a marlin spends a lot of time thinking about.
Rather than trying to appeal to a marlin's sex drive, fishermen have found titillating its appetite or tweaking its temper more conducive to generating the much sought-after bite.
It's been my observation that there is a huge amount of difference between the levels of a marlin's aggressiveness, from, "Everything in sight needs to be eaten, or at least beaten up a little," to, "I could care less about anything." Unfortunately, the "I could care less" attitude seems to prevail.
Much of the time, however, marlin are somewhere in the middle. If they run across food that looks good enough (to them, not us), or if something has an action that brings out their pugnaciousness, an attack is likely.
An attack, however, doesn't always mean that a marlin is trying to eat the target, although that's often the case. Frequently, a billfish will just slap a lure or bait around, sometimes for quite a while, and never try to actually put its mouth on it.
In these cases, if there is a thought involved, it's probably something like: "This isn't food; it's competition for food. And, in any case, it needs to be killed."
There is nothing so frustrating as those cycles when marlin are in that billing mode. They scuff up a mile of leader, ugly up one beautiful lure after another and seldom get hooked - the notorious "Goodyear hook syndrome."
So, not to be outfoxed, we switch to live bait. Sometimes this works, but then sometimes we get no strikes at all. Once again, we have managed to leap successfully from the frying pan into the fire.
Fortunately, sooner or later, the cycle changes. The marlin start trying to eat everything instead of just billing everything. Our hook-to-strike ratio soars, we forget those 17 straight strikes with no hookups, and once again we are legends in our own minds and heroes of the world of marlin fishing.
It makes no difference if we use live bait or lures. For a while, anyway, we can do no wrong. Most of us have learned to enjoy it while it lasts, which is never, ever long enough.
During the majority of the time, which is between the extremes, we spend hours and hours and days and days boring holes in the ocean to try to figure out which lure works most consistently at which speed. Various hook rigs and skirting combinations are considered, as well as colors and lure positions in the patterns - and these are just some variables.
Although someone not involved in the sport might not believe it, out of this hodgepodge of possibilities, those who pay attention actually come up with some combinations that produce more consistently than others under normal conditions.
Until we find a talking marlin, we can only judge by results. What looks great to us doesn't necessarily look so hot to the fish.