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October 26, 2001

Cover All Bases With Ballyhoo

Learn these expert tips for rigging offshore trolling's most popular and versatile bait.

Split Decision
Anglers targeting sailfish commonly deploy pin-rigged, unweighted ballyhoo from outriggers as skipping surface baits, and pin-rigged ballyhoo with chin weights occupy flat-line spots on many boats. But McGrath's favorite bait is the split-bill ballyhoo.

"The split-bill isn't much harder to rig than a pin rig but swims much better and without a large chin weight," says McGrath. Held in position by the leader and rigging wire, the ballyhoo's bill digs into the water like the lip on a diving plug. Careful rigging is required because, like a diving plug, if the bill isn't fine-tuned, the bait doesn't swim correctly. McGrath also recommends using fresh ballyhoo because "it may take 15 minutes to get a frozen bait to swim correctly because it's not as limber as a fresh one; if you only have frozen ballyhoo, it's worth the time to get them running properly."

Since the split-bill ballyhoo is primarily a billfish bait, McGrath uses only mono leaders. "You can rig it on wire, but that requires a heavier chin weight. The wire and lead make the bait sink too fast on the drop-back, and billfish lose interest," he explains. "Besides," he warns, "this isn't a good rig for kingfish or wahoo because they tend to cut the bait right behind the hook, which is placed close to the head. If you're after toothy critters, use a double-hook rig on a wire leader."

McGrath deploys split-bill ballyhoo from the flat-line position and stresses the importance of using clips to keep lines at an angle low to the water because this bait doesn't swim well when trolled directly from the rod tip. "It also works on outriggers," says McGrath, "but you need a heavier chin weight. You also have to keep the rigger clips low."

Just Skip It
Blue-water trolling in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, often produces double-digit sailfish days. Although anglers in Rio use dead ballyhoo exclusively, I spent nine seasons there without seeing a single chin weight. Skip baits perform so well that nobody bothers to rig swimming ballyhoo.

Capt. Eduardo Baumeier, who has garnered several first- and second-place finishes in local Rio tournaments as well as registered billfish catches of 5- and 10-to-one on his Kabira, rigs skipping ballyhoo in a quick, no-nonsense manner: After pushing the point of a 7/0 long-shanked hook under the gills and out the belly, run copper rigging wire up through the hook eye and out the ballyhoo's top jaw. A little practice makes it easy to hit the "soft spot" in the jaw's hinge. Pull half the wire up through the ballyhoo's jaws, then fold it back down and through the hook eye again. Fold both ends of the wire up, one on each side of the bait's head, while maintaining pressure to hold the hook in place, then twist the ends together to secure. Finish by wrapping the wire around the beak and leader, then snap off the beak.

Baumeier trolls a spread of these rigs at 4 to 6 knots for sailfish and says the trick is to slow down in rough conditions to keep the baits from bouncing rather than skimming the surface.

Unlike Baumeier, Pumo prefers rigging skip baits by threading copper wire through the ballyhoo's eye sockets, thus holding the gill plates shut, before wrapping down the beak. He also recommends a short-shanked hook like the Mustad 9174. "Billfish usually swallow a bait head-first, and this hook results in a better hookup rate," says Pumo, adding, "This rig is a favorite of my customers in the mid-Atlantic and Venezuela, where they target white marlin."