Ballyhoo Basics

Ruben Villarreal
Ballyhoo Basics
With the 2010 red snapper season in federal water reduced to fifty-three days and a two fish daily bag limit, lots of offshore anglers will be looking for other species to pursue this summer. Trolling offers anglers opportunities to catch pelagic species such as dorado, kingfish, wahoo and sailfish that otherwise wouldn't be caught when dropping lures or natural baits to snapper. While wahoo are commonly found quite a distance offshore, all the others mentioned are usually well within reach of the mosquito fleet during warmer months.

An assortment of trolling baits such as Rapala CD 14s and 18s and Russelures is a good place to start. Artificial baits can and do produce lots of fish but we should never overlook natural baits rigged in combination with artificials. My favorite artificial/natural combination is the Ilander lure rigged with a ballyhoo. Don't let the fact that the Ilander and the ballyhoo do not come pre-rigged scare you as it really is quite easy to put them together.

I highly recommend the Ilander from Islander Lures since the skirt material can withstand sharp teeth from barracuda, kingfish, and wahoo. The head of the Ilander is hollow offering a perfect pocket for the beak of the ballyhoo and this helps keep it aligned with the lure. Also, the Ilander's bullet-shaped head works well on downriggers, which comes in very handy when fish suspend lower in the water column during the heat of the day.

The Ilander is available in a range of sizes and one of the most popular measures 8.25 inches and weighs about 2.5 ounces with the bullet head. Another popular Ilander model but with concave head is 5.5 inches and weighs about 1/2 ounce. As for colors; blue and white is a go-to for many anglers and pink/white, dorado, red/black and purple/black are also popular.

As for leaders on trolling setups, I prefer 49 Strand wire either 90# or 175# for the best in flexibility and durability. If monofilament is your choice, I would stay in the 200-250 pound strength range. I believe 49 Strand is best inside 30nm given the probably of tangling with kingfish. Beyond 30nm, and certainly any time you feel you might raise a billfish, the heavy mono would be the best choice as billfish are known to be wire shy.

Next is hook size and strength and once again I go back to that 30nm distance. Heavy gage hooks are usually not necessary inside 30nm, however, I lean strongly toward the heavier wire gages beyond that distance. Having said that, always remember that thin gage hooks have better penetrating ability but are far more likely to open should an unexpected marlin or large pelagic take your bait. In the end, you see, hook selection is always a judgment call, and one that should be made by the angler since he has to live with the final outcome.

Now for the ballyhoo. These baits must be prepared properly; simply thawing frozen ballyhoo and rigging them to your lure does not work well as they will become soggy and washed out after only minutes of trolling. We begin by purging the stomach and intestinal contents. Start at the gills and pinching firmly toward the anal vent. Next we need to break the ballyhoo's back in multiple places to obtain lifelike swimming action. Now we're ready to brine the ballyhoo.

Place a third cup of baking soda and one pound coarse kosher salt in a zip-lock bag and add enough water to form a runny paste. This solution will draw moisture out of the ballyhoo's flesh with several hours of soaking and toughen it to a jerky-like texture. After brining, poke the eyes out of the ballyhoo and slide the hook in. Insert the hook directly under the gill plate and bring it out through the belly of the ballyhoo as you would a rubber worm. With the hook in place it's time to wrap the ballyhoo with soft copper wire. Begin by running the wire through the eye sockets and around the hook shank three times. The tag end of wire remaining at the eyes is then pushed through both jaws and wrapped around the ballyhoo's lower jaw and beak to keep the mouth closed. Trim the beak so that it will fit into the hollow pocket of the Ilander lure and you're ready to begin trolling.

With a medium to large ballyhoo I would use a 9/0 or 10/0 Gamakatsu O'Shaughnessy hook and for smaller ballyhoo I'd go with a 7/0. I like to have several baits brined and pre-rigged on lures to avoid wasting valuable fishing time. Your trolling reels should hold at least 300 yards of line. You never know when the fish of a lifetime will strike and you certainly don't to be spooled when it does.