As a specialty bait, flyingfish are unsurpassed as a choice for tuna and slammer dolphin. Expert anglers have long carried them as a secret tournament weapon, and you can fly them from kites to bag mega-size blackfins. But rigging fliers right is key to using them successfully. Here’s how.
Flyingfish are especially effective as “pitch baits”-that is, a pre-rigged bait that’s ready to pitch or cast to sighted fish at the surface, rather than a bait rigged for trolling. Tackle for this task is usually heavy spinning gear-20- to 30-pound test with a length of 50- to 80-pound-test leader. Some use conventional revolving spool gear, as well, but the spinning gear helps avoid backlashes for those of moderate experience.
Rigging a pitch bait is simple. Start with a 7/0 to 9/0 hook, file sharpened. Why such a big hook? You want the point well exposed, despite having the bend of the hook buried in the fairly large head of the flyingfish. So you use a hook larger than normal for the target species. You sharpen the hook because driving a big barb home on 20-pound test can take some doing otherwise.
There’s no trick to the rigging. Just bring the hook up under the chin, pretty much below the eyes, and push it out the top of the head between the eyes. You want it this far back so that it catches bone. This provides a sturdy anchoring point as you try to whip the bait out to distant fish.
You may find dolphin by trolling, or you may simply spot them on a weedline. In either case, send the baitfish out in a hard cast so that it splats down on the surface-you want to get the fish looking in the direction of the bait. As soon as they see a flyer, things usually happen fast. I’ve even seen some cases where hot dolphin race along under a cast flyer and grab it the instant it touches the water!
Of course, sometimes they’re less eager, and in those situations you can use the flyingfish almost like an artificial, making repeated casts to the flotsam or to sighted fish until you get a taker.
After you make a number of casts the hook hole in the flyer will start to enlarge. Before you throw it off completely, try changing the hookup to get a few more casts out of that bait. Rehook it through the sides, running the hook in just below the backbone, and directly above the anal vent.
Now, when you spot a fish, you cast directly in front of it. When the bait hits the water, make a short jigging action with the rod. This causes the “wings” or pectoral fins to open as though the bait is alive. Usually, that’s all it takes to turn a looker into an eater if you’re having a good day.
Rigging a flyer for the kite takes a bit more finesse, but it’s well worth doing when tuna are holding over a wreck, hump or seamount. The kite allows you to actually “fly” the bait by raising and lowering it in and out of the water, and this sort of surface commotion is very hard for tuna to ignore.
I generally use wire leader for this rig because kings and wahoo like it, too, and the wire stays above the surface when suspended from the kite, so the tuna don’t see it. However, you can build the following rig from heavy mono leader just as well.
Start with a 3-foot section of No. 6 single-strand wire. Haywire on a 3/0 or 4/0 shortshank, livebait hook. Then add a stinger: Another piece of No. 6 wire about five to seven inches long is haywired into the eye of the forward hook, and to the eye of the stinger, a 1/0 extra-strong treble. Attach this rig to your mono leader with a swivel or an Albright special knot.
Now comes the art of the rig; you wire the wings of the flyer out in the flying position. You do this with a single piece of copper rigging wire 8 to 10 inches long. Run the wire through the eye sockets, leaving equal lengths extending on each side. Pull a wing forward and take three wraps with the wire around the forward-most bone of the fin. You will have to puncture the skin directly behind the bone to make these wraps. Do the same for the other side. Presto, you’ve got a flyingfish that truly looks ready to fly.
If you’ll be flying the kite with the boat at anchor or drifting very slowly, the main hook goes in the back of the bait-try to place the hook so that the bait balances flat when the flyer is suspended from above. This will be slightly forward of the middle of the fish. Add a small rubber band to hold the dangling stinger near the tail of the bait.
If there’s lots of wind or current that won’t allow a natural drift of the bait with the hook in the back, move it to the nose. Again, attach the stinger near the tail with a rubber band.
Put the rig aloft, and work it with plenty of flutter and splash. Sometimes, it’s actually more effective than a live bait!
Flyingfish are found at commercial bait supply houses and some of the better bluewater tackle shops, but they’re not as readily available as ballyhoo. Most are vacuum-packed and frozen, and these baits are usually very good quality. They can sometimes be hard to find, but if you use them once, you’ll go looking for them again-they catch fish that often turn down other baits.