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October 26, 2001

Rigging the Split-Bill Ballyhoo

It's hard to find a better swimming bait for billfish than the split-bill ballyhoo.

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 Jim 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."

How to Rig It
1. Begin by wrapping copper wire around the shank and through the eye of a size 6/0 or 7/0 Mustad 9174 hook. Thread a 50- to 80-pound mono leader through the hook eye and a 1/4-ounce chin weight. Crimp or tie a loop knot (McGrath uses a uni-knot), allowing enough play for the chin weight to slip under the ballyhoo's gills. With a small dowel, pop out a medium ballyhoo's eyes ("otherwise, they'll bulge and make the bait spin or swim sideways," he says), position the hook as shown, and run the rigging wire up through the head and out one of the eye sockets.

2. Work the lead into place halfway between the eye sockets and the ballyhoo's mouth, then wrap the wire twice around the hook and through the eyes. This holds the gills shut and also secures the lead and hook. Rather than snapping the bill, snip it with wire cutters. A clean cut makes it easier to split the bill. A fingernail often does the job, but you may need to begin the split with a knife. Be sure the split is centered.

3. Push the rigging wire up through the ballyhoo's chin and out the soft spot in the upper jaw's hinge. Make one or two wraps to hold the mouth shut while keeping the lead snug.

4. Lift the mono leader into the split bill and hold it in place by wrapping wire forward. Don't wrap the last few turns around the bill too tightly, since this can force one side to overlap the other like crossed fingers.