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October 25, 2001

Cover All Bases With Ballyhoo

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



Double or Nothing
Pumo admits the mainstay of his business is the tandem-hook rig for "weekend warriors." Jack Reid of Bluewater Trolling Baits in Jupiter, Florida, agrees: "Most people want the double-hook ballyhoo rigged on wire." But what makes this rig so popular? Are two hooks better than one?

Reid explains, "The average recreational angler wants one rig that can handle whatever may come along." Double-hooked baits top the list because they nail notorious short-strikers like wahoo and king mackerel, while the wire leader provides extra insurance against bite-offs. Although monofilament leaders more often fool tuna, dorado and billfish, these species also chomp wire rigs enough to keep weekend anglers satisfied.

Rigging a "two down" tandem-hooked ballyhoo takes only a few extra seconds, and the procedure could come in handy the next time wahoo start clipping your single-hooked baits in half. For medium ballyhoo, Reid uses 7/0 open-eye Mustads (they cost the same as regular hooks) but opens the eye a bit more so it slips easily over the lead hook's shank. Use a knife point to make a small slit where the hook bend will exit the ballyhoo's belly -- you can determine this by measuring the hook beside the bait. Slide the hook eye through the ballyhoo and around the lead hook's shank, then squeeze it closed with pliers.

In a different two-timing approach, Pumo prepares his tandem rigs prior to placing them in baits. The lead hook, attached to a wire leader with the tag end turned up for pin rigging, rides point-up while the trailer faces down. He first places the rear hook in the ballyhoo ("like threading a plastic worm on a hook"), then inserts the lead hook's point in the same entry hole. Pumo carefully turns the lead hook, positioning it within the ballyhoo and aligning the hook eye under the bait's chin before securing with a normal pin rig. This rig lets you quickly replace washed-out or chewed-up baits, and Pumo has found the buried hook has no adverse effect on hookup rates.

Chug It
Just as some beer drinkers would rather slurp suds with a foamy head, pelagic game fish sometimes prefer ballyhoo that go "chug-chug-chug." Placing skirts or chuggers on baits adds flash, color and action, and these differences can trigger strikes. Working as an observer in a tournament, I once watched a man outfish his three teammates, releasing four white marlin to their two. He also missed shots at three additional fish that ignored the other baits. Marlin were piling on the "lucky" angler's line because he had slipped a small, pink-skirted chugger over the ballyhoo's head while his buddies stuck to their tried-and-true skip baits.

"Chugger heads make the ballyhoo more visible in rough seas," says Pumo. "Use heads that are drilled out large enough for a ballyhoo's bill to fit inside, then you can hold the lure head in place by twisting it down over the rigging wire." Raguso frequently rigs ballyhoo with a Sea Witch, trolling feather or octopus skirt, especially when fish are few and far between. "Skirts add color and help baits last longer by breaking the flow of water. If I have to, I can troll for hours without washing out my baits," he explains.

Readily available -- fresh, brined or frozen -- in a variety of sizes that attract everything from dorado to blue marlin, the beaked wonder of the baitfish clan has become a universal favorite among blue-water anglers. But one point will always remain open to argument: the best way to rig ballyhoo. As Pumo explains with a grin, "If I say my favorite rig is a single-hooked ballyhoo on monofilament and then a wahoo comes up and bites through the leader, it's not my favorite anymore."