The Versatile Ballyhoo
By Capt. Gus Cane
When targeting reef and offshore gamefish, the versatile ballyhoo is an excellent bait choice. Fished whole or cut into chunks, ballyhoo will entice everything from snapper to dolphin to blue marlin. It’s readily available, either live or frozen, and can be rigged in a variety of ways.
Although common in subtropical waters around the globe, the Florida Keys is where ballyhoo first made an impact in charter circles. The most common method of collecting a well full is by anchoring near the shallow patch reefs and soaking a frozen chum block off the boat’s stern. It won’t take long for the halfbeaks to show up by the dozens. As they dart through the drifting bits of thawing chum, a well-placed throw of a large cast net can quickly gather enough for the day. Ballyhoo are somewhat delicate, though, so be sure to avoid exceeding the live well capacity or keep the excess catch in the cooler to use later.
Rig a live ballyhoo with an appropriately sized circle hook and fluorocarbon or monofilament leader for live bait trolling. Fifty- to 60-pound test line will result in more strikes. Insert the hook through the lower jaw or side to side through the cheeks and troll barely above idle speed to avoid killing the bait. This same set-up can also be used as a pitch bait for sails or dolphin cruising on the surface.
Brined fresh dead or thawed ballyhoo are probably the most popular big-game bait of all time. Who knows how many marlin—both blue and white—and tuna have succumbed to the unassuming ballyhoo. Historically rigged with a J-hook, new conservation mandates and better hook-up ratios have ushered in the switch to circle hooks. The key again is matching hook size to the bait for solid hook sets. Heavy monofilament or fluorocarbon leaders are normally used to impart realistic swimming action. Some crews switch to single-strand wire leaders to avoid cutoffs from wahoo and barracuda, however. Plain or “naked” ballyhoo are effective and are often rigged with a chin weight egg sinker to get down below the surface chop.
Running a lure in front of the ballyhoo increases the profile, adds color and most importantly helps slow the “washing” effect to prolong the usefulness. Soft plastic or nylon skirts are the most commonly used, with an Islander jet head and blue/white nylon skirt the all-time favorite. Trolled ballyhoo can be used on flat lines, off outriggers or behind teasers and dredges. The number of presentation possibilities is another reason why it’s such a popular bait.
Reef anglers use chunks of ballyhoo for snapper and grouper when bottom-fishing. A single ‘hoo can be cut into multiple pieces. Another method is butterflying the fish or filleting along the sides and removing the tail and spine. The exposed flesh adds scent, flutters enticingly and attracts smaller bait like pinfish and grunts.
Whether you catch them yourself or buy frozen packs from the local tackle shop or marina, adding the versatile ballyhoo to the arsenal will definitely increase your offshore success.
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Original Source: Sportsmans Lifestyle.com