Tips for Successful Pitch-Baiting

Rigged-and-ready baits are vital to hooking fish that pop up close to the boat.
Tuna caught on a pitch bait
If tuna are foaming at the surface, pitching a topwater popper into the melee often leads to an easy hookup. George Poveromo

Pitch-baiting significantly ups the odds on catching gamefish attracted to your spread. Keep a bait ready on a rod rigged with monofilament line to absorb the shock of close strikes. When a fish pops up, you pitch it out. React quickly enough and you’ll hook more fish, but you have to be dialed in.

Primarily a technique for billfish trolled on teasers, pitch-baiting also benefits anglers live-baiting for pelagics or simply prospecting swaths of ocean for schooling fish the likes of mahi and tuna. More on this in a bit. However, while monofilament lines are preferred for this style of fishing, don’t overlook braid; it will excel in specific situations.

Sandman‘s Pitch

Jeffrey Liederman is a noted big-game pro who fishes off South Florida, Ocean City, Maryland, and the Dominican Republic aboard the 63-foot Spencer Sandman. “Mono cushions the shock of a billfish greyhounding or charging away from the boat after it has been hooked,” Liederman says. “Under these conditions, the stretch in monofilament line is beneficial. Remember, we’re setting the hook in close quarters, not back where a typical bait spread would be, so there’s little stretch to deal with during the hookup. In addition, being that close enables a circle hook to find its spot much easier. Mono certainly excels when pitch-baiting for white and blue marlin.”

Liederman also points out that should fish cross while engaged in a multiple hookup—such as with white marlin off the mid-Atlantic and northern Bahamas, sailfish off South Florida and the Keys, and the smaller blues off the Dominican—mono lines are much more forgiving. Braid, in turn, is like a buzz saw and slices through lines.  

Cobia caught using a pitch bait
Cobia seem to pop up out of nowhere, especially near wrecks. Pitch ’em a live bait or jig. George Poveromo

The Compromise 

Monofilament lines aren’t without their disadvantages for pitch-baiting, however. For billfish, line capacity can become an issue, be it on spin tackle for sails or whites, or smaller conventional reels for blues. Mono lines simply have diameters larger than braided lines of the same breaking strength. Therefore, less mono can be packed onto a reel. This could pose a problem with keeping double or multiple hookups under control.

I recall a blue marlin trip to Brazil, where I pitch-baited a live bonito to a 300-pound-class fish that rose on a teaser. After successfully hooking up, we began backing down, only to see a white marlin show on the port teaser. My friend pitched out a ballyhoo on 20-pound spin tackle, and it was game on. There was just one issue: The two marlin took off in different directions.  

Naturally, the white took precedence, and the captain went after it. I merely held on to my blue marlin and watched monofilament line disappear from a Penn International. I was down to a quarter spool before the white was released. It took a lot of cranking, but we caught the blue as well.

Knowing this risk, as well as that of a big blue marlin or tuna crashing his party, Liederman fills his reels with braid and leaves enough room for 200- to 300-yard mono top shots. Such a top shot is of sufficient length to host most fights without getting into the braid. However, the backing is insurance. For white marlin, Liederman prefers 40-pound braid, followed by a 200- to 300-yard top shot of 30-pound mono. A Bristol knot joins the top shot to the double line in the braid. A ball-bearing snap swivel completes the setup, to which a 5-foot fluoro leader of 50- to 80-pound-test and bait is attached. 

For small Dominican blues, Liederman uses 50-pound braid backing, a 40-pound mono top shot, a larger ball-bearing snap swivel and 6 feet of fluorocarbon leader. “Mono top shots can be replaced rather quickly,” Liederman says. “There’s rarely a need to replace all the line on a reel. Simply let the braid serve as backing and insurance against a big fish dumping line.”

Sailfish targeted with a pitch bait
Sailfish often travel in packs. If one angler hooks up on the troll, make sure another angler is ready to go with a pitch bait. A live goggle-eye is a top choice. George Poveromo

Unorthodox Pitch-Baiting 

As mentioned earlier, pitch-baiting works with tactics other than trolling. For instance, New Englanders pitch topwater plugs to bluefins and yellowfins, and anglers off the Gulf Coast, South Florida and the Bahamas do likewise for mahi and tuna. Anglers even pitch live and dead baits for sailfish. 

In these situations, it’s nearly all spin tackle. And with spin tackle comes concerns over line capacity. For larger yellowfins and bluefins, 9500-class spinning reels and 65-pound braid are the ticket, with a 6- to 8-foot-long top shot of 60-pound mono, followed by a swivel and 4 feet of 100-pound fluorocarbon leader. The Bobbin and Bristol are two popular knots for marrying braid to a mono top shot. 

For smaller yellowfins, bluefins and blackfins, 30- to 50-pound braid on 5500- to 6500-size reels is sufficient, with a 40- to 50-pound mono top shot and 50-pound fluorocarbon leader.  

Cut Back and Cast Farther

Reduced casting distances might be an issue with mono top shots on braid-packed spinners; the heavier length of mono scrubs off energy as it leaves the spool and rod guides. I’ll tie a short Bimini twist in the braid and then a barrel swivel when pitch-baiting for mahi and tuna with topwater plugs. Then I’ll tie on 3 feet of 50-pound fluorocarbon, followed by the plug.

With this setup, there is no top shot to be concerned with. I simply hold the swivel below the rod tip and make a long cast. This is ideal for reaching busting fish or those under birds without getting too close. What’s more, the lack of stretch in braid promotes solid hook-sets at greater distances.

When pitching a live or dead bait behind a hooked sailfish, cobia or larger mahi for any followers, I’ll use a spinner with 12- or 20-pound mono and 10 feet of 30-pound fluorocarbon. At the business end, it’s a small barrel swivel, a few feet of 40-pound fluorocarbon leader and a hook, or simply a hook tied directly to the top shot. In these situations, ultra-long casts aren’t necessary. Should there be a companion fish, it’ll likely be close to the boat. 

From there, and as Jeffrey Liederman stated earlier, the stretch of monofilament line will help cushion the powerful runs and any acrobatics from these fish. Furthermore, the top shot should be long enough to protect the lighter main line from a fish falling back toward it or becoming tail-wrapped. 

Top Pitch Baits

  • Natural Baits
    • White Marlin or Sailfish: A small ballyhoo with a 5/0 inline circle hook, rigged to 80-pound fluorocarbon leader and fished on a 20-pound outfit.
    • Blue Marlin: A single-hooked, splashing Spanish mackerel, rigged on 250-pound fluorocarbon leader. The bait pairs well with a Penn International 50-pound outfit. 
  • Live Baits
    • Sailfish: A live goggle-eye with a 5/0 inline circle hook, rigged to 40-pound fluorocarbon leader and fished on 20-pound-class spin gear. Perfect to probe for followers by blind-casting behind a hooked sailfish.
  • Pitching Plugs
    • Mahi and Tuna: Topwater chuggers, such as Rapala’s X-Rap Magnum Xplode 130, matched to 60-pound fluorocarbon leader and 30-pound braided main line. Great for pitching into surface-feeding fish.
    • Wahoo and King Mackerel: Subsurface darters rigged to 60-pound fluorocarbon leader and fished on a 7500-size spinner with 30-pound braided line. Advantages include long casts, fish-attracting commotion and realistic actions.