How to Make a Strip Bait, Kenya-Style

Instructions for an irresistible billfish bait

Strip bait fishing how-to
Strip baits are irresistible billfish bait.Erwin Bursik

Strip baits are a must in Kenyan waters, and every charter boat captain in this region stresses their importance in targeting billfish.

“Give them a taste to come back to,” says local Captain Stewart Simpson. “When the small ‘bills’ are shoaling and there is activity in the spread, the taste and smell of fish flesh turns on the marlin and sailfish to attack a bait with greater ferocity."

The following process first appeared in the South African fishing journal SKI-BOAT. It is a very simple, detailed, step-by-step series on how to cut and rig the bellyshines from a baitfish.

While it’s true that bellyshine off any gamefish is good, there is no doubt that certain species produce a more preferable strip that, after decades of experience, has been shown to be more appealing to the sailfish and marlin in Kenyan waters than that of other fish. The top-three gamefish for this purpose are kawakawa (little eastern tuna), small yellowfin tuna and dorado.

At the outset, I need to acknowledge the assistance of the two deckies on the Black Widow — Nixon Nyieni and Adam Lenga — who assisted me by preparing the necessary strips for photographing this process. — Erwin Bursik, Publishing Executive, SKI -BOAT

Strip bait fishing how-to
Lay the gamefish on its side. Using a sharp filleting knife, cut it from the anal fin right up the middle, until you reach the aft side of its pectoral fins.Erwin Bursik

It’s best to get the bellyshine off a fish less than 8 kilograms (17 1/2 pounds). If we get a yellowfin tuna over that weight, although it will be kept for an emergency, it becomes more difficult to make a small, thin strip bait. Obviously, if one is pulling a bigger lure or kona in the 9- to 12-inch class and hooks up to 10/0 or 12/0, then the bigger, thicker strip will work. I have shown in detail how to remove the bellyshine from a 5-kilograms (11-pound) yellowfin tuna.

Strip bait fishing how-to
On each side of these fins, cut up to the gill plate. Remove the fish’s guts, leaving the clean cavity.Erwin Bursik
Strip bait fishing how-to
Following the inside of the bellyshine inner membrane, cut to meet the original cut at the gill plate.Erwin Bursik
Strip bait fishing how-to
After removing the first strip, repeat on the opposite side of the gamefish’s belly, thus providing two perfect bellyshines, which will later be recut into strip baits.Erwin Bursik
Strip bait fishing how-to
The de-bellyshined tuna is now ready to go into the fish hatch to be cut up for sashimi later.Erwin Bursik
Strip bait fishing how-to
When it comes to tuna, it’s the prerogative of the strip-cutter to take the liver and heart, chop them up and saute them in olive oil for a delicious snack.Erwin Bursik
Strip bait fishing how-to
Once the two basic shines are extracted and placed on the cutting board, a sharp knife is used to trim each shine into one or two strip baits so that, as seen in the photo, the harder end that comes from the area just between the gill plates is included in each strip bait. The reason for this is that one can secure it more firmly to the leader knot and top eye of the front hook.Erwin Bursik
Strip bait fishing how-to
The shine is cut to shape. If you look closely, you’ll see that the edges are bevelled slightly outward toward the skin side. Also, the harder end toward the right-hand side of the pic is clearly visible.Erwin Bursik

Note: Bellyshines from kawakawa make some of the best strip baits, as they are thinner than those of the yellowfin or other pelagic gamefish. They therefore last longer than a strip bait cut from the thicker walled fish’s bellyshines. A dorado shine is a great second choice.

Strip bait fishing how-to
The most important part is placing the top hook. Remember, it must be pushed through the strip from the membrane side and out through the skin side. Carefully measure where this hook is to be set so you are left with sufficient forward bellyshine to tie it onto the eye of the hook and leader knot. The trailing hook should then end up standing proud of the membrane strip.Erwin Bursik
Strip bait fishing how-to
Now take a 600 mm (about 24 inch) length of tying material and tie one end onto the shank of the trailing hook. This is vitally important, as it sets the action of the eventual bait and prevents the bait from spinning.Erwin Bursik

Take note that it is essential to use the correct thread or binding material to ensure the finished strip is 100 percent perfect. While waxed thread is sometimes used, none of the crews in Kenya recommend it. They use a white thread that is used for the industrial sewing of grain bags. While it’s easily and cheaply available in shops in Kenya, it is hard to find in South Africa. Crochet cotton is a fair substitute.

Strip bait fishing how-to
Here Adam shows how to hold the trailing hook firmly in position and commence a tight wind, up toward the lead hook. As you will see in the finished strip, this bind holds the strip in position, holds the trailing hook upright and cups the strip, giving it more rigidity. This ensures the strip will have a longer trolling life. It also provides the aft tail section with a degree of support to stop it from having too much action. A lot of action shortens the life of the strip, as it will wash out or break off.Erwin Bursik
Strip bait fishing how-to
The next three photos show how to bind the strip in place, using closer and closer binds as you get toward the end of the strip. This last stage of binding is very important: The entire strength and durability of the strip is reliant on how it’s tapered off and tightly bound to ensure it holds fast, and it doesn’t allow water to wash through it.Erwin Bursik
Strip bait fishing how-to
Adam with a perfectly tied stripbait. The style and length of the lure used in this example is bigger than those generally used for sailfishing, as we were actually targeting small blue, black and striped marlin. However, this size of lure accounted for a great many sailfish as well.Erwin Bursik

One has to emphasise that although this procedure of preparing the strip bait may look easy, this is definitely not the case. To get it right, one needs a lot of practice. Cut your own bellyshines, tie the strip onto a tandem hook rig, and then, even if it looks great, put it into the water alongside your craft, pull it in the clear water not affected by prop wash, and watch how it swims. It must swim straight, with no tendency to spin, and with only the aft “tail” providing a bit of action.

The length of the skirt of the lure used varies for sailfish and marlin, as does the speed at which you will pull your spread. Generally, shorter skirts are used for targeting sailfish, whereas the length of the skirt shown in picture nine is an example of those used when trolling faster for marlin.

SKI-BOAT magazine cover
SKI-BOAT magazineCourtesy SKI-BOAT magazine

Special thanks to our friends at SKI-BOAT magazine for lending us this great tutorial!

SKI-BOAT is published six times a year in South Africa.