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What is Ballyhoo Fishing?     by Dave Reed

A typical ballyhoo rig includes the bait and a lure for color and action.  

OK so you have heard about "ballyhoo fishing" but always wondered what exactly it was and wondered why it is so popular for offshore fishing. Why would anyone want to mess with purchasing and preparing a natural fish when he can just use a simple standard trolling lure and some teasers? 

Since a great majority of offshore fishing is done by trolling baits in or near the Gulf Stream, captains have been adapting and perfected ballyhoo fishing into a “science.” This method is deadly effective but you should also understand that it is definitely not as simple as it looks to the novice observer. Many small nuances and variations have been integrated into this process over the past few decades by captains and mates that virtually live on the water and need to make their living based on the results of their fishing efforts.


It would be silly for me to try to write an educational style article indicating exactly how it is done. I can’t even get close to the amount of details necessary that would be of much instructional use to the more experienced anglers. Instead I have decided to write this article in order to give the typical charter client and novice offshore enthusiast a closer insight into what is going on in the background during their charter fishing trip. Hopefully, a better understanding of the basics of what is happening will make your experience more enjoyable.


When we speak about ballyhoo fishing we are talking about the practice of trolling with an actual real baitfish called a ballyhoo. Normally the ballyhoo used are frozen and then thawed just before rigging. Fresh unfrozen ballyhoo are not readily available north of southern Florida so the frozen variety are imported from Florida and Central or South America. Great care is taken by the commercial suppliers of this bait in the catching and flash freezing so that they are as fresh as possible when thawed.

  Ballyhoo is normally purchased frozen and packed by size.

If you ever want proof of how effective ballyhoo fishing is, all you need to do is stop by any Atlantic Coast fishing tackle store and check the price. Believe me, charter captains would not be willing to absorb this much added expense if they didn’t feel that this was by far the most effective way to produce results for their customers.

Rigging ballyhoo is done in various ways. Probably the most common method is to rig the ballyhoo with a hook carefully embedded in the baitfish and then place a lure in front of the baitfish to give the presentation a specific color, appearance, and action. The exact lure can vary greatly depending on the situation, species targeted, weather and sea conditions, recent results, or even the captain’s own intuition for that day. Since ballyhoo is natural bait it needs to be perfectly rigged and then trolled at certain specific speeds that are not so fast that the bait is torn apart or so slow that you cannot cover enough area. Adding a lure in front can allow the bait to be trolled safely at slightly faster speeds.


Another common method used is to troll the ballyhoo without using any lure ahead of the bait. If you sometime hear a captain or mate mention fishing with a “naked” ballyhoo, they are referring to using a ballyhoo with no extra dressing. In some situations, using a ballyhoo rigged as naturally looking as possible can be the more effective choice for the species targeted or the sea conditions.

Speed and action are a major consideration in ballyhoo fishing. A ballyhoo that has been rigged with a lure in front is intended to create a specific action. For example, it may be intended to “swim” just below the water’s surface. After that the boat’s trolling speed is adjusted to accommodate this rig. Certain naked ballyhoo rigs are designed to skip across the surface in order to look similar to a fleeing flying fish. Many ballyhoo and lure combinations are actually intended to look like flying fish which are a favorite food species for offshore pelagic predators.

  A "naked" ballyhoo rig.

Most good charter boats will not use the same lures day in and day out. When your captain and mate are setting out their trolling lines during your charter trip, a host of various factors are being considered. Yes, sometimes previous experience is also involved to help dial in on the day’s conditions, but the difference between the different charters' catch results is often the crew’s ability to evaluate that day’s circumstances and then the fish accordingly.


Editor's Note: One of the very best ways to learn the proper techniques for success ballyhoo trolling is to charter a day with an experienced fishing boat. Capt. Dustin Lorah and the crew on the Over-Board Sport Fishing Charters out of Ocean City, Maryland have been ballyhoo fishing for many years. They have the experience to show you how to rig and troll a successful ballyhoo spread.




Check out Over-Board Sport Fishing the next time you are in Ocean City, MD!





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