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Sailfish and white marlin love ‘em, so do all the species of tuna. Blue marlin find a horse ballyhoo hard to pass up! Rigged with wire they are excellent bait for wahoo and kingfish, too. Through the years I’ve learned dozens of techniques and tricks for rigging ballyhoo from charter and tournament captains and mates, some simple and some overly complex. There are probably as many ways to rig ballyhoo as there are places where they are used and it might overwhelm a newcomer to offshore fishing. The goal here is to make rigging ballyhoo simple and toward that end I will pass along two of my favorite and most versatile ballyhoo rigs that are capable of covering a wide range of fishing situations. I can assure you that once you start adding these critters to your trolling repertoire you won’t leave the dock without rigged ballyhoo in your cooler because they can save a tuna trip, make your marlin or sailfish forays more successful, drive wahoo apoplectic, and even put a hurt on kingfish when the live bait is scarce or you are trolling a mixed pattern.

On a trip to the canyons offshore last year there were reports of longfin and bigeye in the area, but we couldn’t get bit on the typical mix of plastics. When I switched the spread over to small, naked, swimming ballyhoo the whole complexion of the day changed as we started hooking up. On another offshore trip we had white marlin window shopping our lure spread with no interest until I started dropping back dink ballyhoo on a pitch bait rod. We released several over the next few hours before heading home. Sometimes yellowfin get finicky and don’t show much interest in lures, but slowing down the trolling speed and putting out the rigged ballyhoo can start the bite in earnest. And trolled ballyhoo are absolutely deadly for sailfish whether you’re fishing for them in the winter off Florida or the summer farther north.

Last year when bluefin tuna started showing from South Jersey down to Ocean City, Maryland butterfly jigs weren’t getting any action because they were feeding high in the water column. Trolling three large ballyhoo under blue and white Ilanders set way back behind the boat fixed that problem in short order. On a trip to the Galapagos Islands several years ago to fish aboard a charter boat for Pacific striped marlin I was surprised to see the mate break out bags of frozen ballyhoo shipped over from the mainland. When I asked the captain if ballyhoo were found locally around the islands he said, “No, never seen them here, but the marlin eat ‘em like candy!”

The Deadly Dink

The majority of pelagic predators spend at least some of their time feeding on small baitfish. In the case of schooling predators small baitfish are their staple. If you’ve seen the scene in the Blue Planet series on Discovery with a massive school of anchovies being attacked by tuna, sailfish, and porpoises from below and shearwaters from above you know exactly what I mean. White, striped, and smaller blue marlin, yellowfin, bigeye and longfin tuna, dolphin and kingfish all earn their living feeding on small baitfish. Frequently they hunt in packs, which means matching the small baitfish with your spread will account for increased multiple hook-ups and that’s a good thing! And nothing in your arsenal of natural baits, with the possible exception of a live well filled with live baitfish, fits the bill better than dink ballyhoo—the littlest ones you can buy.

I learned how to craft this circle hook rig from Capt. John Prather, an Ocean City, Maryland native who runs the cockpit aboard Capt. Jon Duffie’s Billfisher. When not chartering out of Sunset Marina they are one of the hottest tournament teams on the water. Last year they set the modern record for most white marlin releases in a day at 57, all on the dink rig you are about to learn. They use this naked, swimming bait to deadly effect on whites in the Mid and sailfish in Florida, while catching yellowfin and dolphin galore on it, too.

The Deadly Dink swims best on light trolling outfits (20, 30, or 50 pound class) with light fluorocarbon leaders (60 to 125 pound test max) and 7/0 tournament circle hooks. You can rig up a cooler full of fish-ready baits no time once you get the hang of it and set up a little production line and they can be changed out on the hook in ten seconds!

Components and Tools: Heavy rigging thread, ¼ ounce egg sinkers, mono cutters, and dink (small) ballyhoo.

The Perfect Pin Rig

Trolling bigger ballyhoo on a pin rig will catch larger pelagic predators. In the past few years I have used this one on winter bluefin tuna and spring dolphin off the Outer Banks, spring bluefins off the Mid-Atlantic States, on canyon yellowfin, bigeyes and blue marlin. This easy rig can be fished naked or with skirts. When fished under a Bluewater Candy, Ilander or Hawaiian Eye skirt they troll for hours without washing out. Fish tend to grab them and hold on rather than the usual hit and run attack you get with straight plastics.

The Perfect Pin Rig can be crafted for use with medium, large, and horse ballyhoo, but hook and sinker size must be matched to the bait. It works with leader material from 60- to 300-lb test, again depending on the bait and rig size, and can be fished over and over by just replacing the bait, which can be done in about 30 seconds. Just be sure to check the leader for nicks or chafes and retire it if you see any signs of weakness. Make up a bunch on your workbench and coil them so they are ready when you hit the fishing grounds.

You’ll find that with a little practice both rigs can be assembled quickly and in quantity and quality. On the water taking off a crushed bait and replacing it with a fresh one is only a matter of seconds, which helps keep you in the game when the fishing gets hot. And they will produce pretty much anywhere there are pelagic predators, even if you happen to find yourself in the Galapagos Islands.

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