5. Blue Runner/Hardtail (Northern Gulf)
Talk about your go-to baits: Whether you fish king mackerel tournaments, target tasty red snapper or slow-troll liveys for pelagics in the Gulf of Mexico, you'll score with a well full of hardtails.
Find: Oil rigs and artificial reefs in 40 to 100 feet of water off the northern Gulf Coast readily hold hardtails from spring through fall. During winter, anglers must run 50 miles or more offshore to find the warmer 70-plus-degree water these baits prefer, says Marcus Kennedy of Mobile, Alabama, a top Southern Kingfish Association tournament pro.
Virtually every rig with proper surrounding water temperature holds 10- to 12-inch hardtails on the surface, says Capt. Tommy Pellegrin, who runs a charter boat out of Cocodrie, Louisiana (www.customchartersllc.com). "When you're tuna fishing and need what they call 'tuna crack' - those 3-, 4-, 5-inch-long ones - then I mostly look for small satellite rigs."
Those single-pipe "satellite" rigs generally occur in shallower water and hold fewer predators.
Catch: Kennedy recommends using size 14 sabiki rigs on 30- to 40-pound tackle, although he cuts his rigs so he's using no more than four hooks. In clear water, the bait may grow finicky. If so, he switches to 10- to 15-pound spin tackle and a Gotcha lure or Crippled Herring.
Off Louisiana, Pellegrin ties on a jig head and a Sting Ray Grub for surface-feeders. He drops a No. 8 Mustad sabiki rig when fishing for the smaller tuna baits around satellite rigs. The first hooked hardtail stays in the water to attract more.
Keep: If hardtails must spend any time in a livewell, Kennedy uses a dehooking tool. Because of bait availability all day long, he normally keeps no more than 50 or 60 hardtails in the 50- and 80-gallon wells aboard his 36-foot Yellowfin Kwazar. If carrying other bait species, he separates them; hardtails beat up other, smaller baits.
Pellegrin also uses a dehooker and recommends rejecting any hardtails that are gill-hooked or bleeding.
Rig/Deploy: To slow-troll hardtails for kings, Kennedy uses 30-pound-test tackle, mono and a fairly standard wire leader (see illustration below). He trolls four to five baits - some on the surface, some on downriggers - just fast enough to keep the bend out of the lines.
Pellegrin uses hardtails quite often for amberjacks and red snapper, employing 3-foot, 100-pound mono leaders, 7/0 to 8/0 hooks and 6 to 8 ounces of weight Carolina rigged. He places a rubber band in front of the lead to hold it next to the swivel and occasionally clips a bait's tail fins if it proves too lively.