Ballyhoo - THE Bait for Offshore Fishing

January 28, 2021
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Ballyhoo, also known as garfish, are popular for targeting light tackle billfish in game fishing boats. They are part of the halfbeaks family and have a unique jaw structure. Ballyhoos are epipelagic fish, living in the uppermost layer of the water column, and use their larger tail fin as a rudder.

Ballyhoo or garfish, as they are known in some places around the world, are found on almost every game fishing boat targeting light tackle billfish around the world. The near universal appeal of ballyhoo derives from the myriad applications this slender baitfish affords. Just about every pelagic fish will eat a rigged ballyhoo. You can catch marlin, sailfish, swordfish, dolphin, tuna and wahoo using ballyhoo as trolled baits, on dredges, as skip baits, chunk baits, rigged live or dead. When it comes to sailfish or light tackle marlin tournament fishing, teams will go through hundreds of these baitfish over the course of a few days. Ballyhoo fill more bait boxes than any other bait, hands down.

Did you know the ballyhoo or garfish belongs the a family of fish called halfbeaks? It makes sense, but it is not a term that gets used a lot. To be honest with you, I have never heard anyone use the term halfbeak, when discussing baits or bait rigging. The term arises from the unique structure of the ballyhoo fishes jaw. The lower jaw is significantly longer than the upper jaw. In its strangeness, it is very much the opposite construct than that of a billfish. The beak or bill protrudes from the bottom jaw instead of the nose. The fishes body is elongated in a very streamlined cylindrical shape. Ballyhoo are what is called an epipelagic fish. This means they live in the uppermost layer of the water column and why anglers commonly see them skipping across the surface. If you look at their bodies, you will notice the bottom half of the tail fin or caudal fin is much larger than the top half. They use this as a rudder to help them skim along the ocean surface, as they flee whatever predator is in hot pursuit.

Within the halfbeak family, there are three main players, the greenback ballyhoo, the blue-backed balao, and Australia’s flying halfbeak. You will find these halfbeakers inhabiting the warm seas of the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific oceans. The greenback ballyhoo is by far the most desirable of the bunch. A diet of algae, plankton and sea grass, which is low-alkaline, translates into their distinctive green poop and a certain toughness to their bodies.

Small Bait Fishing

Quit honestly, if you are doing any kind of offshore small bait fishing, you are using ballyhoo in some fashion. They are easy to rig and hold up rather well being pulled through the water, when cared for and rigged properly. It really is the standard in offshore fishing. There are companies that are built around catching and distributing ballyhoo. The appeal is partly due to to their geographically widespread distribution and numerical abundance. There is one primary caveat to consider when thinking about fishing ballyhoo and that is availability. The bulk of the desirable greenback ballyhoo are caught between November and March. The reason for this is due to a migratory pattern that has the ballyhoo moving to cooler waters in the warmer months. So when the baits are available, stock up on them. Just make sure you keep them frozen to better preserve them.

Ballyhoo Bait Rigging

When it comes to rigging ballyhoo baits, there may be no bait more versatile. As a forage fish for many predatory fishes, such as billfishes, mackerels, and sharks, the appearance of halfbeaks in the water is very common. Depending on your intended application, there will be multiple ways to rig ballyhoo that will produce bites. Have you heard the saying, “you have to rig right to get tight”? Nothing can be more true in fishing.

The first key to good bait rigging is to start with good quality baits. You need to buy good baits and store them well, so they don't spoil. When it comes to buying ballyhoo, how do you know what is quality and what isn't? A good starting point to patronage a top purveyor of baits. There are a lot of good bait and tackle companies out there. Get to know them. Here is what to look for when buying frozen ballyhoo baits. Make sure the packaging is well sealed. It should be air tight. Look for the greenish coloring in the package. This is from the poop of the fish. The back of the ballyhoo should have a greenish blue hue. You don't want it to be too blue, as baits this color will wash out too quickly. Green means go. Are the eyes clear or are they foggy. Clear eyes are an indication of a fresher bait. The top section of the tail fin should have an orange color. It may be hard to check this in the bag, but you want a ballyhoo with a firm stomach. You don't want to see a compressed belly or one with indentations. The jaw latch and the beak should be intact. Broken beaks in the bag is not good. These are all good signs to look for when buying your ballyhoo baits. Take your time and examine the baits you buy. Be discerning and buy as much of the good stuff as you can, when it is available.

Proper Rigging

Proper bait rigging allows for better action in the water and sustained usage. Poorly rigged baits, in the long run, will produce poor results. You don't want baits that tear or mangle easily. Ballyhoo can quickly become weak if not cared for and rigged properly. Are you going to be trolling ballyhoo, using them on a dredge, pitching baits to billfish, dropping them to swordfish or fishing them some other way? There are a multitude of applications and rigging techniques. There is the ever prevalent o-ring ballyhoo rig, the swivel rig, the floss rig, the circle hook ballyhoo with mylar rig, the hooker style rig, the split bill ballyhoo rig, the wire rig ballyhoo, the pin rig, the double hook rig, the skirted ballyhoo and on and on. You can use circle hooks or J hooks. It is an endless game, all depending on what you are fishing for and how you want to present baits.

Learn More About Fishing with Ballyhoo

If you want to know more about how to rig ballyhoo, we have a couple of super comprehensive educational video that shows you step-by-step how to rig baits. You can find those bait rigging videos by following these links Rigging Ballyhoo for Offshore Fishing and Rigging Ballyhoo Aussie Style. You will learn about all the tools you need to rig, bait selection and how to rig a dozen different ways. All the guys we feature in the videos are fishermen that have years of experience competing in the highest level sport fishing tournaments around the world. They are well versed, articulate and hold nothing back in sharing their knowledge on bait rigging.

Seth Horne


In The Spread

Rigging Ballyhoo for Trolling Baits Seth Horne In The Spread,
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