How to Rig Weedless Ballyhoo for Trolling
Rig trolling baits for maximum effectiveness and fishing time.
by George Poveromo

Illustration by Mike Sudal
Stop fighting the weeds offshore. Those often annoying patches that put the brakes on trolling also offer prime game fish habitat, so rig your ballyhoo to fish through them.

Just a few short years ago, offshore anglers complained about the lack of sargassum weed, particularly off the Florida Keys and portions of the Gulf Coast, and how it impacted dolphin catches. After this past season, these same anglers are still concerned; only this time, it’s over the masses of weed blanketing the offshore waters. Opposed to textbook-perfect weed lines and patches with clean ¬fishing lanes, these thick, floating ecosystems make trolling a nightmare. Following a frustrating past season, where we spent way too much time picking salad off our trolling baits, I went back to a trick I used many years ago, when weeds were a menace: the weedless ballyhoo.

When properly rigged, these baits spend more time where they belong: skipping enticingly behind your boat. We’ve enjoyed solid dolphin action on the troll since making the switch.

The trick involves inverting the hook point so it goes back into the ballyhoo, and streamlining the rest of the rig so it pushes weeds aside. Some might question hookup percentages, given the embedded point. However, the crushing jaw power of dolphin and other pelagics easily exposes the hook for a solid set. Even so, we’ll lightly scale the bait around the hook-insertion area to soften it some.

NOTE: Sliding a skirt over the snap swivel connecting the leader and fishing line also prevents it from collecting weeds. What’s more, the skirt over the swivel lends the illusion of the ballyhoo chasing a smaller bait.

Instead of running away or continuously clearing weeds from your baits, sit back, relax, and let the weedless ballyhoo go to work.

Components (for dolphin): Leader: 100-pound fluoro or mono; O’Shaughnessy-style hook (size based on bait); copper rigging wire; squid-style skirts (smallest that will still fit over the ballyhoo head).

Illustration by Mike Sudal

Assemble the leader, with the hook on one end and a knotted loop on the other, before rigging a ballyhoo.
[A] Attach soft copper wire to loop knot.
[B] Slide rubber skirt over the leader before tying loop knot at the end.
[C] Leave long mono stub to anchor the ballyhoo.

Illustration by Mike Sudal

Insert the hook through the throat latch, to exit the belly just ahead of the pectoral fin.
[A]Position the mono stub to poke through the bottom jaw and upper lip.
[B] Insert the hook so the mono stub lies beneath the upper lip.

Illustration by Mike Sudal

             Pull the hook back farther than it will sit in the finished rig. Once the hook is inserted, the mono stub should slide back into proper position beneath the jaws.
[A] Insert the hook a bend's distance farther back than the final position.

Illustration by Mike Sudal

Hook should fit snugly, but not tight. All the pull on the trolled bait should come from the head.
[A] Pierce the lower and upper jaws with the mono stub. Break the bill off short.
[B] Make sure the hook does not bind where it enters the bait.
Mike Sudal

Illustration by Mike Sudal

Wind copper wire through the bait’s eye sockets and tightly around the head. Finish in front, binding the leader to the stump of the bill.
[A] Fold the mono stub back and overwrap with copper wire.
[B] Hook shank lies along the throat.
Mike Sudal

Illustration by Mike Sudal

To finish prep, remove scales from the bait’s body where the point of the hook lies so the hook won’t foul on scales during the strike.
[A] Slide the rubber skirt firmly down over the head of the bait.
[B] Scrape scales from the body on both sides.