DOLPHIN FORAGE WITHIN SARGASSUM SEAWEED
In that quest for textbook conditions, we’ll weed through (pun intended) widely distributed sargassum clumps, needle-thin eel grass, clean water and — a dolphin-troller’s nightmare — weed clumps so thick, trolling is virtually impossible. Under the latter condition, anglers are tempted to seek less-congested stretches of ocean, which can prove a costly mistake.
Dolphin and other game fish forage within sargassum seaweed. These mini ecosystems harbor algae, larvae, brine shrimp, crabs and juvenile finfish, right up to the large predators we seek. When baitfish are present, dolphin or other pelagic species, like tuna, wahoo and even larger game (marlin) are also likely to be nearby.
But when floating weeds seem to be scattered everywhere, how do you manage to troll successfully without having to constantly reel in to shake off clumps of vegetation and clear the baits?
Time to Switch
Enter the weedless ballyhoo, an effective rig that defies weed-choked waters and provides a quick solution to keep your entire trolling spread in play.
As you get ready for that next trolling mission, rig a dozen or so and take them along with your go-to baits and lures. If scattered weeds wreak havoc on the first stringers, send in the subs. Switching to the weedless baits often proves an unbeatable alternative.
How to Rig a Weedless Ballyhoo
Fashion a ballyhoo pin rig by joining the leader to the hook eye with a crimp or loop knot. The tag must point down, toward the hook point, not upward like the traditional pin rig. Wrap the soft wire on the leader above the knot or crimp.
Cut a hole in a small octopus-style skirt just large enough for the skirt to slide onto the leader. Then either crimp or tie a loop at the end of the leader.
Insert the hook into the ballyhoo’s throat latch and then immediately out its underside. Push the hook through the bait, then reverse the hook and insert it into the ballyhoo’s belly.
When the hook is properly positioned and there’s no binding, push the tag end up through the center of both jaws. Snap off the beak. Next, run the soft wire through the eyes, wrap it firmly three times behind the tag and several times in front, ending with a few wraps around the leader. Trim the tag close to the bait and slide the skirt over the bait’s nose.
Scale the sides, belly and back of the rigged ballyhoo over the area where the hook point rests internally. This softens that section, requiring less effort for the hook to tear free on the strike and latch into a fish. Add a second skirt on the main line, just above the snap swivel. This makes the snap swivel also weedless while creating the illusion of a larger bait chasing a smaller one.
Rigging Requirements for Weedless Ballyhoo
The components you need to rig weedless ballyhoo are simple: long-shank hooks (7/0 or in sizes to match the bait); 100-pound monofilament or fluorocarbon leader; soft wire wrap (copper) to secure the baits to the rig; small octopus skirts; and if you opt to crimp instead of tying knots (for a smoother, snag-free finish), some sleeves in the right diameters for the leader material.
Secret in the Eyes
Aside from the rigging steps provided, it’s important to point out that a strand of soft rigging wire should first be passed through the eyes of a fresh ballyhoo as it is being rigged for trolling to alleviate any water buildup. Failure to do so results in the eyes bulging, which could inhibit a bait’s action.
Some anglers prefer to core the eyes to stop water buildup. However, I’m from the school that believes the eyes are crucial targets for predators. This is why the majority of trolling lures, as well as inshore hard and soft baits, sport a pair of eyes. Why should your offshore natural baits be any different?
Strike Points with a Weedless Ballyhoo
When a dolphin or other pelagic charges one of your baits, drop into free-spool and let the fish consume the bait. Because the hook point in a bait rigged weedless is positioned internally to keep it from fouling, there’s a slight disadvantage when setting the hook. But by scaling and softening the bait’s midsection and letting the fish gain complete possession of the bait, successful hook-sets are still easy to accomplish.
Variations on a Theme
The weedless ballyhoo is not only a potent trolling selection, it also makes an excellent pitch bait. Consider stopping to investigate bird activity in the midst of thickly scattered weeds. If you toss out a live bait, a whole fresh ballyhoo, squid, chunk bait, jig or topwater chugger, it will likely snag weeds. However, if you pitch a weedless ballyhoo instead, you can enticingly retrieve the bait across the tops of floating weeds and alongside them while remaining snag-free.
Another productive tactic: try letting the bait sink through the weeds, then swim it back to the surface. This technique present the illusion of a frantic prey seeking shelter in the floating debris to avoid imminent danger. Combined with the advantage of a weedless bait, it often produces trophy fish in the midst of a “salad bowl.”
Brine the Baits
Lightly dusting ballyhoo with coarse salt draws out moisture and toughens them up, preventing premature washouts. The more salt, the tougher and less limber a bait becomes, and there’s a fine line between maintaining action and toughening up a bait. Dusting ballyhoo with baking soda thwarts bacteria and preserves the color and scent. That’s why natural bait-trolling pros use both salt and baking soda for brining and layering baits.
Some trolling-bait companies offer their own brining formulations. For instance, Baitmasters of South Florida (baitmasters.com) offers MagicBrine bait powder. If your baits haven’t been pre-brined, be sure to soak them overnight in an icy solution of either coarse salt and baking soda or Baitmasters MagicBrine. Then, after organizing them on a bait tray inside a cooler, lightly dust the baits with brining powder.