The scoop on ballyhoo

A Part Of The What's Biting Series

Ballyhoo fish Gulf Shores

If you are reading this blog, you most likely love to fish. I certainly do, but I also love getting ready to go fishing. I love every thought-consuming minute that goes into getting ready for an offshore trip. I also like to rig lures and baits. For me, it’s all just a part of the offshore experience. I like to do all the prep work and then watch others catch the fish on our boat. The satisfaction that I get comes from putting all the pieces in place to catch fish.

A big part of my pre-trip preparation is rigging ballyhoo. If you are trolling in pretty water, having a ballyhoo or two in your spread is almost a must. A ballyhoo is a favorite of tuna, mahi-mahi, wahoo and marlin whether it’s in combination with a lure or swimming naked. Walk the docks the day before any big tournament, and you will see mates in the cockpit rigging ballyhoo in numerous ways.

A naked ballyhoo, one that is pulled without a lure, is perfect when targeting tuna and white marlin. They aren’t overly complicated to rig, but it does take some practice. I’m the guy who buys a package of ballyhoo in the dead of winter with a twenty knot North wind blowing just to practice new ballyhoo rigs. I learn more rigging methods in the winter than I do the summer. I told you I love the preparation of a trip!

The key to a naked ballyhoo is to make sure it is swimming correctly. No fish is going to hit a ballyhoo that is just spinning in the water; it needs to look and swim life-like. I have been lucky enough to see some great bait rigging in places like Orange Beach, Cabo San Lucas and Guatemala. I can’t rig them nearly as fast as those mates, but I do try to replicate their techniques.

I like to rig up my ballyhoo the night before my trip offshore for two reasons. First, when I get to the fishing spot, I want to be ready to deploy my baits, and did I mention that I like the prep work of each trip? Secondly, rigging your ballyhoo in advance gives the baits plenty of time to brine. I use Bionic Brine, and it’s available at any local tackle shop. Bringing your ballyhoo will make them last longer in the water as they will not ‘wash out’ when being pulled from five to eight knots. Also, if your ballyhoo have been dry-brined, you can refreeze any leftover baits and use them on your next trip. This video is my go to on rigging swimming ballyhoo. I use eighty-pound fluorocarbon on these snelled circle hook rigs.

The most popular of all ballyhoo rigs in the Gulf of Mexico is the Ilander/ballyhoo rig. There are a few different ways you can rig this J-Hook set-up, and it just comes down to personal preference. You can either use the copper wire method, or the pin rig and bait spring option. A Google search will give you lots of opinions and tutorials.

I have caught more fish while trolling on a ballyhoo than anything else in the Gulf of Mexico. I always keep them in my spread because they catch more fish!


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Jim Cox
Jim Cox (1323 Posts)
Jim Cox is an avid inshore, offshore, and big game fisherman. He has twice qualified for the prestigious IGFA Offshore Championships in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. He is the past president of the Mobile…