Tailor your setup for maximum success
by George Poveromo

During the infancy of my offshore trolling, I rigged my ballyhoo modified-headboat-style: that is, a dual O’Shaughnessy hook with the point of the second hook inverted back into the bait. Even if a fish breathed on the bait, I just had to catch it.

Enter time on the water and evolution. Those dual-hook trolling ballyhoos on single-strand wire leaders scored plenty of kingfish and Spanish and cero mackerels, along with some dolphin and the occasional wahoo, but the action was on par with a pencil: stick-straight and boring. Nonetheless, the rig remains popular for foiling short-strikers, or fish that sever a bait and then circle back for its remains.

There are numerous ways to rig ballyhoo for hooking specific game fish. Here’s a selection of fine-tuned hook and rigging configurations for trolling ballyhoo, each tailored to specific situations and particular species.
Traditional O’Shaughnessy

This rig, either on mono, fluorocarbon or single-strand wire, represents the standard “go-to” ballyhoo trolling rig. It elicits exceptional action from the ballyhoo, especially when it is limbered up by breaking the backbone, and is well-suited for fish that engulf the entire bait, such as tuna, billfish and dolphin. The long-shank hook also offers some chance of success with wahoo; but if this species is your primary target, opt for single-strand wire instead of mono or fluorocarbon leader.
How It's Done

1.) Wire or mono leader
2.) Monel or copper rigging wire

Leading Circle Hook
When targeting billfish, in-line circle hooks get the nod. They’re less prone to hooking fish deeply and won’t pull free often. Placing the hook ahead of the bait provides a freedom that vastly improves the ballyhoo’s action. Its critical to use monel wire, not copper, when assembling this rig, for the stiffness and durability required to resist water pressure and keep the rig intact. Avoid offset circle hooks, which don’t track as straight and can hook fish deeply.
How It's Done

1.) Monel rigging wire.Begin by wrapping wire back.
2.) Break off bill and pierce base with wire to seat swivel eye.
3.) Begin by wrapping wire back.
4.) Run wire through sinker and wrap through eye socket to secure.

Circle Hook and Skirt
Form a trailer loop of 100- to 300-pound mono just large enough to fit over the ballyhoo’s head, then pull the loop forward under the gill plates. Next, slide an egg sinker over both legs of the loop and crimp them together to lock all in place. Slip a lure head or skirt onto the trailer, then crimp the trailer to the bend of an in-line circle hook. Fish this lure-ballyhoo-circle-hook combo as you would a more traditional circle-hook trolling rig, complete with drop-backs.
How It's Done

1.) Form a trailer loop of 100- to 300-pound mono just large enough to fit over the ballyhoo’s head.
2.) Pull the loop forward under the gill plates.
3.) Secure egg sinker with dental floss or wire and wrap through eye socket.
4.) Thread mono through skirt and crimp to hook bend.
Short-Shank Rig

Primarily a skipping bait for dolphin and tuna, this rig makes the hook less visible and places it at the throat of the ballyhoo for increased action. The short-shank hook may also provide less leverage for fish to throw it. It’s also a good pitch-bait setup for dolphin. Leaders and hooks are generally scaled down when rigging this way. Adding a skirt or small-diameter lure head also goes a long way in enhancing the rig’s sleekness because it further hides the hook.

How It's Done

1.) Scale down leader diameter
2.) Monel or copper wire
3.) Hook emerges near ballyhoo head
4.) Leader tag passes through both jaws
5.) Break off bill and bind jaws to leader with wire
6.) Wrap wire through eye socket
7.) Clip leader tag when finished
Diving Ballyhoo

This variant makes the bait swim beneath the surface. Add an egg sinker under the chin, split the bill with a knife, then pull the leader up through the split. Wrap the rigging wire around the base of the bill, then twice in front of the leader, and wrap back and finish behind the leader. This creates a diving lip, which with the chin weight, keeps the bait subsurface.

How It's Done

1.) Leader passes through split bill
2.) Secure egg sinker with wire wrapped through eye socket
3.) Clip leader tag when finished
Ballyhoo Pitch-Bait Rig
  1. Push a 5/0 in-line circle hook through the lower jaw.
  2. Wrap copper wire tightly around the beak and the hook shank.
  3. Use an Albright or a blood knot to attach 15 feet of 30-pound fluorocarbon leader to the main line.

Towers are a huge advantage in this fishery, but Ross says boats without a tower can compete with the big boys: “It happens all the time. Just have a person with a pitch-bait rod in the bow and one in the back. If there’s no forward livewell, keep the ballyhoo alive, rigged and ready to pitch, in a bucket of seawater. As you approach a shower, have the bow-based angler cast ahead of and to one side of the bait shower, and the cockpit-based angler do the same, but to the opposite side. If you cast to the middle of the shower, you’re past the sailfish.”

The same practice holds true for larger boats when baiting showers. In both cases, have multiple rods ready to go, as you’ll likely have as many ­opportunities to pitch at sailfish. When the fishing is hot, expect double-digit catches.

If you’ve yet to experience sight-casting to sailfish in clear, shallow Florida Keys waters, plan a trip to Islamorada. A couple of encounters of this kind might just redefine your concept of sight-casting ­excitement