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October 25, 2001

Slidin', Diggin' and Divin'

Teach your old baitfish three new tricks with some ingenious rigging.

Some days, offshore game fish are most attracted to a baitfish sliding on its back across the surface as though trying to escape. On other days, predators can't resist the crippled baitfish action of a "digger" - breaking the surface on one side, tucking its head down for a few strokes and then swimming back up on its other side. And sometimes fish prefer a diver bait swimming steadily at a depth of 12 to 18 feet, well back from the boat.
This rigged-bait trio works well with a variety of small tunas and other popular baitfish. We've used these rigs to catch tuna, mahimahi, wahoo, sailfish, marlin, spearfish and more. All three baits can be fished simultaneously while power drifting. Better yet, you can rig them in almost exactly the same way. The differences depend on whether you add a weight to the bridle before rigging and how much weight you use.
To rig the "slider," use a leadered hook with a gap about as wide as the baitfish's head. Attach a 2-foot length of light cord to the hook bend to form a bridle loop. (Waxed rigging thread doesn't hold knots as well as kite string, which has a rough, dry surface.) Double the string, loop it around the hook bend and pass the ends through. Add a half-hitch around each side of the hook bend to keep the loop from sliding.
Push your bait needle through the top of the bait's head right behind the eyes and out through the gill plate just above its bottom edge. Draw one of the bridle strings through, and then repeat with the other bridle string on the other side of the head. Knot the two strings firmly under the bait's chin to draw the hook snugly against the bait's head and secure the gills shut at the same time. A square knot works fine.
You could stop right there if you want, but I strongly suggest several more lashings. Stitching back into the body helps keep the bait together on an aggressive strike. Using your needle, run the ends of the bridle string through the bait an inch or two behind the pectoral fin roots at a point above the backbone. Run one string through right to left and the other left to right at the same point. Tie these ends together around the belly. Make the same kind of stitch through the body above the backbone, just above the vent, and finish off with a knot around the belly. Stitch the mouth to keep it shut.
With no added weight and a pulling point on top of its head, the bait will ride on its back and swim on the surface at speeds from 1 to 3 knots. That's "power-drift" speed, with the boat in gear and the throttles set just fast enough to give you steerage against a current or breeze.
Adding some weight to this basic rig turns a slider into a digger. Secure the bridle to the hook and thread the ends through a 1/2-ounce egg sinker before making your first stitch through the head. Finish the rig with the same lashing steps described above. The 1/2-ounce weight is not enough to push the head down constantly; it pulls the bait back under whenever it swims to the surface on its side. The digger works better the longer it's towed because the tissues loosen up. You may want to remove the eyes of a goggle-eye or similar bait before rigging.
The diver uses a heavier egg sinker. Three ounces is enough to push the bait's head under and keep it under at speeds of up to 3 knots.
We fish the digger and slider from clips in outriggers, with a substantial drop-back loop between clip and rod tip. We set the digger at about the third wave and the slider at the fourth or fifth. We set the diver 60 to 100 yards back (the farther back, the greater the swimming depth) and tow it from a transom clip with a drop-back loop. The diver is especially useful when we mark fish on the depth finder. We often encounter yellowfin tuna well offshore showing at 240 to 300 feet or jacks closer to shore at 180 feet. If we simply stop the boat and maintain position, the bait's weighted head pushes it right down into the school.
Sometimes fish will simply engulf the bait and hook themselves on the strike. More often they will snatch the bait free from the clip and pause to turn the bait head-first for easy swallowing. The point folds back along the bait so the hook is easily swallowed bend-first. The weights do not seem to interfere with swallowing or setting the hook. We have about the same hookup success with all three types of rigs.
Jim Rizzuto
Kamuela, Hawaii