Freshly brined and skirted dead ballyhoo have been an offshore staple for decades. The classic blue/white Islander/ballyhoo combo has raised millions of blue and white marlin into the spread. But as Florida Keys skippers and mates know so well, a frisky live ballyhoo is equally effective for sailfish and dolphin. Here’s how to catch and rig ‘em.
Found throughout the Keys around the shallow patch reefs, ballyhoo are plentiful for those willing to put in a little effort. Anchor (or tie off to structure or reef balls) and put a frozen chum block off the stern. Within 20 minutes wads of silvery halfbeaks will appear and begin to dart through the drifting bits of chum. A well-placed toss or two of a large cast net will quickly fill the well. An alternate method is to use a Sabiki or light spin rod with a long-shank gold bait hook and a tiny piece of squid. Use a dehooker and flip the caught ballyhoos directly into the live well to minimize scale loss.
With baits aboard, there are a couple quick ways to rig for action. A four-inch length of copper wire twisted either through the eye of 6/0 to 8/0 circle hook (depending on brand) or simply around the bend, leaving a couple inches of tag end. Slide the tag ends through the lower jaw of the ballyhoo and then wrap the remainder around the beak. Don’t break the beak off.
An alternative method involves 3/8-inch clear plastic tubing available from most hardware stores. Cut the tubing into one-inch sections and then slide one up the leader. Next snell the leader to the shank of the circle hook. Hook the ballyhoo through the lower jaw again, but this time the point should be facing down. To finish slide the tube down the leader and over the beak and hook eye.
Leader and main line should be matched to conditions, but generally 15- or 20-pound test line and up to 40-pound test leader is fine for Atlantic sails and dolphin. A non-slip loop knot tied in the end of the leader allows for a quick connection. Tie a Bimini twist to the main line and add a snap swivel for fast changes when the bite is hot.