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Outrigger Pins 101

This style pin is preferred for natural baits and light tackle.


Bluewater fishermen are faced with numerous choices in outrigger pins. Before we discuss these vital accessories, I want to make sure you understand the basic advantages outriggers give you. Most everyone understands that outriggers greatly increase your spread. If your boat has a 9-foot beam, and you fish “kingfish style” rod holders out of your T- top, your bait spread may be 18 feet wide. If you fish 16-foot outriggers from your 9-foot beam, your spread is now 41 feet. Do the math!

While there's no denying a 41-foot spread can attract more fish than an 18-foot spread, that is not the reason I'll never own an offshore boat without outriggers. In fact, on my boat even the at lines run through outrigger-style pins attached to the transom. The reason I favor pins is simple fish anatomy.

When I'm teaching bait rigging at the Florida Sportsman Expos, I always make the same challenge to my students. I promise them a dollar for every intact flying sh or full-sized baitfish (such as a ballyhoo) that went down a dolphin or tuna's throat backwards. Think about that the next time you're cleaning fish. When you cut a dolphin open, you'll see that every one of the large baitfish that you find in the stomach had to go down head first. If he tries to swallow a bait fish tail first, the bait's flared fins or gills will keep it from getting swallowed. That means that every time a dolphin runs down a ballyhoo following your boat he has to strike the bait to stop it, only to quickly turn it and start swallowing it. If that happens to an outrigger bait, the line falls out of the pin and the bait stops moving forward, giving the fish a chance to eat it. If a quick-footed mate can reach the rod before the line pops out, the hookup ratio soars even higher if he's able to freespool the line for just a couple seconds before setting the hook.

Outrigger pins are designed so you can run the bait through the pin with minimal friction on the line, and they release when a fish strikes. When it's time to decide which pins are right for your riggers, think about a few factors. First, what kind of bait are you pulling, and for what kind of fish?

Examples of different outrigger pins


Marlin fishing with lures calls for heavy roller pins. If your bait is big and your rod tip is stiff, that calls for tight pins. In fact, on our biggest lures I forego pins altogether. Instead, I'll hook a No. 32 rubber band to the snap swivel that holds my pin, wrap the band four times around the line, and finish through the snap swivel.

I want all the connections tight because I don't think a blue marlin is the least bit discreet about hitting a lure. He generally crashes it. I think he figures out pretty quick that lure he just bit into isn't really a baitfish. I want him to be just a bit too late figuring out biting it was a mistake.

Old school clothes-pin style release clip. Some readers may remember these.


The pluses of slide-through pins are ease of adjusting your spread, and it's much easier to check the bait or clear weeds without taking the line out of the pin. You can also drop back to a finicky sailfish through the pin and simply put the reel in gear and crank to pull the line out of the pin and bury the hook. The minus is, you have to adjust the pin perfectly. Setting it correctly while trolling ballyhoo depends partly on the stiffness of the rod you're using.

The target is to keep the line in the pin until a fish so much as touches it, without it constantly falling out every time a wave adds drag to your bait. If you're trolling with a soft tip rod and slide-through pins, the rodtip will take up some of the pull from a strike. That means if a pin is a little too tight a sailfish can sneak in and mouth a bait without you ever knowing he was there. If the rod is a little stiffer the pin will open on a little less tug.

Now if we are fishing only sailfish in clear water (no weeds) I will twist the line into a four wrap loop, and lock it into the single arm lever type pins. That means the line will not slip through, and a bump from a spooky billfish will stop the bait in its tracks.

My favorite? Keep the pins too light, and make them fall out every ten minutes. It keeps my baits fresh and drives my mates crazy. FS

First Published Florida Sportsman September 2016

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