Circle Hook Rigged Ballyhoo

You have lots of options for baits when trolling, but one of the most productive is a rigged ballyhoo.  There are lots of ways you can rig your ballyhoo.  The first choice is what kind of hook you will use.  You can rig a j-hook or a circle hook. The advantages of a circle hook rig include:

  • It’s the law when tournament fishing
  • It’s a requirement for all tournaments when fishing natural baits
  • Circle hooks save fish so you or others can catch them again

Circle hooks are designed to catch in the corner of a fish’s mouth so that the fish does not get gut hooked.  See, like this:


This makes releases easy.  It also gives you a fighting chance on toothy critters even though you may be fishing a mono or flouro leader.

The video below shows you one way to rig a ballyhoo with a circle hook. There are lots of ways to do this.  I made this one up (probably the same as some others have done) and like the way it works.  I think it’s what we caught our first blue marlin with on FN Pair-A-Dice.

I note in the video we are rigging this up as a pitch bait. (This is a good video on how to pitch bait.)  We put it on a heavy spin rod and pitch it at fish we see in the spread.  I also like to “prospect” with this rod and bait. I think I learned this approach from an article in Saltwater Sportsman or Marlin Magazine.  You drop the bait back into the spread with the bail open and it looks like an injured bait falling out of the school.  I can’t tell you how often we have gotten hits while rearranging baits in the spread. There is no question it draws the attention of hungry predators.

You can use this same rig as a trolled bait.  The one in the video is “naked.”  That just means it does not have a skirt on it. One thing I like about this particular circle hook rig is it simple to add a skirt.  Just drop it on over the wire before you attach the hook.  It looks and runs great.

One disadvantage of a circle hook rig is that you may miss some hookups if the fish does not eat the entire bait (Known as a short strike).  For that reason I tend to like to rig smaller baits like pee wee or dink size ballyhoo. That said, for billfish, you will never miss a hook up based on this rigging vs a j-hook rig.  You can rig up a horse ballyhoo with this system and if you get a hit from a billfish I think your odds of hooking up are as good or better than any other hook or rig.  The billfish is going to take this bait, turn it around, and take it in its mouth head (hook) first.  As the line comes tight, that circle hook will find the corner of the mouth and you will get a nice solid hookup.

So, rig up your circle hooks and try it out.  Now go catch ’em up.



Well, we had never caught a sword so we decided it was time.  Me, Allen and special guest Ferdi loaded up the FN Pair-A-Dice Monday and headed south to try our hand.  Ferdi is over visiting from Germany and he was a good man to have along and the only one of the three of us to ever catch a sword before so we welcomed his experienced hand.

The weather was wonderful and we had a great afternoon run to the swordfish grounds.  We got there early enough to troll before sunset in hopes of a wahoo or billfish.  We had one knockdown on the Moldcraft Wide Range, but never saw the fish.  Other than that it was quiet, but the sunset was spectacular and reminded us there are many reasons we like to be on the water, other than just the great northern Gulf of Mexico fishing.

Sunset Trolling

Sunset and Boat

We had our satellite report from so the crew studied the report and agreed on the right place to put out our swordfish spread.  Fish Track is a cool service (They are not a sponsor.  I am not getting paid by them etc…., but they are letting me try out the service) similar to Bluewater Supermap, Hiltons, RipCharts, or Roffers (All of which I use and like).  These services are extremely helpful in identifying the best places to target fish and help save you fuel by giving you advance intelligence on where to go.  I will do a blog on these at a later date.

So we set up our drift in a slow current under 1 mile per hour with baits in the water by 9:00 PM.  We had the underwater light on, but other than three or four of the biggest flying fish I have ever seen, there was not a lot of bait showing up.  A little after 10:00 PM, the clicker started going off slowly on the 50 wide deployed off the bow. I got on it, started to reel up the slack in the line and FISH ON!  While I was hooked up, it did not feel like much of a fish and I did not know if it was a sword.  A few minutes later, however, whatever it was realized it was hooked and start peeling 50 lb test off the reel with impunity.  Now I knew it was either a good size shark or sword and I was in for a long fight.

I have to say my wife came through again.  She bought me a full harness for my fishing belt a few months back and there was no way I could have managed the rod on this fish without it.  It was kicking my butt!  About an hour and fifteen minutes after hooking up we could finally see the disco light (also supplied by wife Lisa) attached to the leader flashing down in the water under the boat and had the leader in hand shortly thereafter.  I was relieved as I was running out of steam, but my heart sank when the fish surged away from the boat and the disco light faded into oblivion as the line once again began melting off the reel.  I honestly was not sure I had it in me to gain that line back, but the fish was tired too and I was able to get it to the boat a few minutes later.

We again had the leader. Ferdi was leader man and Allen was on the gaff, but with only three of us we did not have an extra hand to drive the boat and were dead in the water.  The fish took advantage of that, pulling the leader into the IPS units under the boat.  We could not get her out so we let go of the leader and backed off the drag and dropped the rod tip under the boat.  Just like on TV, she swam right out and the fight was back on. Once again she peeled off a good bit of line, but the disco light was still visible and it was clear she was wearing out.  I had her on the surface off the bow when she turned and made a mad dash for the IPS units.  Are you kidding me!?!  This fish is tired, but she knows how to make us work.  As Ferdi grabs the leader and tries to clear the fish I see her bill stick up behind the transom.  She has gone between the IPS units and come up behind the boat.  I’m yelling: “She’s off the transom, gaff that &!@#% now!” Boom! Ferdi has the gaff in her and Allen has the bill and she is over the rail and on the deck.  WooHoo!  First Sword and she is a nice one. Those guys did a great job getting that fish and we were all stoked.   Now its time for pictures and a celebratory adult beverage.

Sword 4

We got her on ice, set up a new drift and put the baits back out.  Speaking of bait, we were fishing Baitmasters circle hook rigged squid.  (Again, they are not a sponsor, are not paying me, etc…, it’s just where we ordered bait).  Gotta shout out to Baitmasters because their bait is always in great shape and holds up incredibly well.  Look at that circle hook right in the corner of the jaw and it was stuck because I was puttin’ the heat to that fish for more than an hour and a half.


For a while, after we landed the sword, things were slow for us, but two other boats had hooked up within a minute or two of each other and were both in fights that would not end for two and a half and three and a half hours.  About 4:00 AM, the clicker starts going on Allen’s rod.  He feeds the fish and then starts reeling up the slack, but is not hooked up.  Or is he?  As the disco light comes into view, we see another big sword coming up with it, but she turns off and swims around the transom of the boat. She  had not eaten the bait, but she was thinking about it.  Within another minute or two there is a big hit on Ferdi’s rod, but no hook up.  He and Allen are working baits in the water trying to get that hookup, but the fish is gone and so is most of Ferdi’s squid.  I know one thing, if another sword was hooking up that night, I was not going to be the one to fight her!

Ferdi did have another hit, but it turned out to be a nice Blackfin Tuna.

BFT for Ferdi

This BFT was really strange.  It did not fight at all.  It didn’t swim to the boat either.  In fact it was like it never kicked its tail at all until it was in the boat.  It was like it just went limp.  Very odd.

At sunrise we put the trolling spread again and went in search of other quarry.  Things were slow for us but we had an unexpected, but very trusting little visitor.

Bird on Shoulder

Arr matey…, made me feel a bit like a pirate.  Allen did manage to get us a decent gaffer dolphin though to finish off the morning.

Allens Dolphin 2

Allens Dolphin

With a lot of work to clean the boat and fish, we decided to head back early.  So we flew the flags proudly as we entered the pass.

Flying the flags

Tonight we enjoyed the fruits of our labor.


It was a fun trip.  It’s always neat to try something new and have it all come together.  As soon as the weather stops cooperating and I can’t go fishing for a week, I’ll get another “how to” blog up. Now that I am an expert experienced sword fisherman ;), I can blog the “how to” on that so you too can catch em up!   P.S. If you are enjoying reading the blog, please register to follow with the “Register” link in the right margin.

Mahi Maddness

Allen, Nate and Frenchy and I loaded up the FN Pair-A-Dice on Sunday and headed south. We awoke to some stiff winds, but since they were out of the North we had a manageable following sea for the run.  We could see from the satellite imagery there was blue water over DeSoto Canyon and what looked like some promising temperature changes.

We put lines in south of the 131 hole in decent looking water, but found no love.  There was little bait and no activity so we picked up and headed further Southwest where we found a poorly formed, but promising looking weed line.  It was not long before our baits were getting attacked by hungry mahi.  They were not huge, but we were picking off some nice gaffer size fish and having a good time.

3 Dolphin3 Sad Dolphin26# Dolphin

We were fishing a mix of ballyhoo and artificials and got hits on on both, but soon ran out of ballyhoo and had to go strictly to lure fishing.   Things slowed down mid day and the rip was getting hard to follow, but we stuck with it.  We were running a dredge rigged with ballyhoo and a big marlin lure over it on the left flat line.  We were hoping the dredge would lure a marlin in and then it would commit on the big plug that was following above and just behind.  When we got a big knock down on the flat line it looked like the plan had worked, but unfortunately the fish spit the hook without ever showing itself.  A couple of the ballyhoo on the dredge were gone though and one appeared to be bitten or broken in half so I think we had a bill in there wacking at them.  Would have been nice to hook her up, but it was not meant to be.

Late afternoon we ran across a large piece of plastic container in the water and it had four or five triple tail on it along with jacks and trigger fish.   We worked it hard and were able to get two of the triple tail, one of which was a keeper and will make a nice meal tomorrow.


We tried a little deep drop before heading home, but the crew was tired and we did not stick with it.  We did pick up a small golden tile, but that was it.  So we packed it up and headed for the hill.


The wind shifted south and laid down and the ride home was smooth sailing with Nate and Frenchy at the helm.


Hope you enjoyed the report.  If you did, please register to follow the blog by clicking the register link over in the right margin.  And until next time, Catch em up!


How to Make The Perfect Gaff Shot

OK, now you have done everything right.  You got all you stuff together, remembered to bring the bait, got your buddies up early, made it to the fishing grounds despite the bad starter motor (you overcame adversity) and the fish actually ate the bait and got stuck by the hook.  You even reeled that baby all the way to the boat without pulling the hook, breaking the line, or otherwise succumbing to the myriad little disasters that are big game fishing: WooHoo!  NOT SO FAST.  As they say, it ain’t over ’til the fat lady sings and she ain’t gonna do that ’til you sink the gaff in that ‘ol girl and swing her into the boat.

Here is a great example of a really good gaff shot by Dustin aboard the FN Pair-A-Dice on a recent trip to the Gulf of Mexico oil platforms.  Take a look and a few of things to note are:

  1. how he brings the gaff in behind the leader,
  2. how he gets the fish near the head, and
  3. how he immediately brings the fish in the boat with one clean sweep.

By bringing the gaff in behind the leader he is protecting against the leader getting tangled on the gaff and getting cut or broken.  By immediately swinging the fish in the boat with one clean stroke he is avoiding the fish flipping off the gaff back into the water.  I have seen nice fish lost both ways, but not with Dustin on the gaff.

Also, if you can get the gaff in near the head you achieve two things.  First, if you can avoid the gaff hole in the flesh of the fish you won’t damage a good steak or filet. Second, you get better control of the fish. Gaff in the tail and you may have a tough time.  I recall a tuna pulling the gaff out of my hands (along with some skin) and my buddies laughed a lot about him swimming away with the gaff. In my defense, we did end up getting both the fish and the gaff.

This video from another FN Pair-A-Dice rig trip adventure is a bit longer and not as good a view of the gaff shot, but a good example of getting a big fish in the boat quickly.  That fish is about 80# and Nate got the incredible hulk look in his eye and just yanked it in.  Good job Nate!  If you’re squeamish, you might want to stop the video as soon as the fish is in the boat.  Man, we had to scrub that boat the next day!

Hope you enjoyed the videos and next time if you do it like Dustin and Nate you too can Catch em up!