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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.

Whenever I head offshore, I always carry frozen ballyhoo. It's good insurance," says New York charter-boat captain John Raguso. "It provides multiple options to make sure my clients catch fish." Operating out of Bay Shore, Long Island, Raguso frequently pulls lures, but he knows, like many other blue-water anglers, that trolling dead ballyhoo often results in a livelier day of fishing.

Half a world away, Hawaiian skippers catch most of their marlin on live baits and lures. Even so, Capt. Neal Isaacs always keeps a horse ballyhoo rigged and ready for pitching to billfish that may suddenly appear behind the Anxious but refuse to strike an artificial. And back in Jupiter, Florida, Capt. Jim McGrath of Grand Slam Sportfishing Supply loves trolling ballyhoo down Sailfish Alley for wintertime spindlebeaks.

Which rigs work best? How should they be fished? In order to answer these questions, you'll have to ask yourself several others: Which species are you targeting? In which sea conditions? And how much time can you devote to rigging?

All-Time Favorite
The pin rig -- simple, versatile and effective -- has become one of the most widely used techniques employed among blue-water anglers today. Single-handedly running his 27-foot Phoenix MarCeeJay, Raguso can't get bogged down by complicated rigging techniques in the middle of a hot bite. "Using the pin rig lets me put a new bait in the water within seconds of unhooking a fish," he says. When trolling ballyhoo for tuna, dolphin and marlin that have gone deep during midday hours, Raguso uses downriggers and chin weights to keep his offerings well below the surface. Weights range from 1/4- to 3/4-ounce, depending on bait size; fishing in rough seas may require heavier weights.

Keen-eyed tuna force Raguso to use 130-pound monofilament leaders and take his chances with the occasional wahoo. To make a pin rig, he crimps a 1-inch piece of stiff wire to the mono leader, runs the wire up through the ballyhoo's jaws and bends it down against the head to secure. Because they save time and work well, Raguso twists ready-made springs over the ballyhoo's beak to hold it firmly on the hook; however, at times it's necessary to wrap copper rigging wire around the bait's head to hold the chin weight in place. Snapping off the beak completes the rig.

Isaacs employs a variation of the pin rig to prepare horse ballyhoo as pitch baits for blue and striped marlin in Hawaii. He fastens a 10/0 or 11/0 southern-style tuna hook to an 18-foot, #15 galvanized wire leader, leaving a 3/4-inch tag on the haywire twist. This tag serves as the pin to hold the bait's head on the hook, which is then secured with several wraps of copper rigging wire.

Mark Pumo's Miami-based Baitmasters of South Florida distributes trolling baits to customers worldwide. Pumo says pin rigs are an international favorite, but some anglers fear losing billfish that may drop baits after feeling the pin. "Make sure you bend the pin down along the ballyhoo's head when rigging," advises Pumo. "This helps secure the bait and keeps the pin from jabbing fish that eat it. Some guys clip the pin flush with the ballyhoo, but that makes it hard to rig a fresh bait on the same hook. Just bend the pin down, then straighten it with pliers when re-rigging," Pumo says.