Much of the ballyhoo rigging we’ve covered in recent years has spun out of necessary adjust- ments to billfish tactics centered on implementing circle hooks where required.
Simply put, circle hooks work best with maximum exposure of the gap and bend. The majority of tournament sailfish crews rig these baits so that the hook does not penetrate the bait itself, but instead slips through a loop of waxed thread or a swivel affixed to the head of the bait.
This rigging style, as it turns out, opens up a lot of other options, and not just for billfish trolling.
For days when live bait is scarce, kingfish pro Arik Bergeman, of Pinellas County, always has a cooler full of ballyhoo ready to go. His baits are pre-rigged and require nothing more than to be placed on a hook the same hook, in fact, that he would otherwise use for a live baitfish.
The pre-rigging is basically the same as for East Coast-style sailfish baits: Bergeman starts by skewering a metal rod through the eye sockets of a half dozen ballyhoo to clear out the eyeballs and hold the baits for a group beak snipping that prevents his rigs from diving too deep. Next, he pinches and wiggles each bait a few times to loosen the meat for
active swimming motion. Flipping the group of baits on their backs, cutting a ventral slit and squeezing out the innards further improves the bait’s edibility.
After boring a hole through the skull with an ice pick, Bergeman inserts a 12- inch segment of copper wire with a No. 6 swivel at the top end. The swivel, which has been clipped open to add a rubber ring, rests against the bait’s forehead. The ring is a No.60 O-ring, available at hardware stores in the plumbing department.
Next, Bergeman slips a small egg sinker onto the wire and snugs it tightly under the chin. He then pokes the wire up through the bait’s throat area and into the now-vacant eye sockets. He’ll make one full wrap around the back end of the eye sockets (behind the weight), add another wrap around the front of the eye sockets (ahead of the weight and around the leader’s standing end) and then finish with about six wraps around the base of the jaws (behind the swivel) to secure the rig.
Now, if one of Bergeman’s crew needs to enlist a dead ballyhoo to bait a stinger rig, they simply run the lead hook through the rubber ring. To maintain the loose swimming composition he worked to achieve, Bergeman is particular about his stinger placement. He likes to pin his treble in the bait’s back, but he cheats up about an inch. Otherwise, pinning the stinger at its maximum length holds the bait rigidly and inhibits swimming motion.
For, kings, wahoo and tuna, Bergeman uses 40-pound coated 7-strand wire on his stinger segments. For billfish pursuits, he’ll drop the stinger and replace the J-hook with a circle. FS