How To:

Ballyhoo 101

Author: Bullbuster Team

Comprehensive Guide To Ballyhoo

Ballyhoo (or half beaks) are one of the most common bait fish used world wide.  They make excellent trolled baits because of their body shape. Ballyhoo also can be used as live bait or 

chunked bait depending on the situation.   Below is an in-depth profile on Ballyhoo.


Ballyhoo Range 

Ballyhoo are found in the West Atlantic as far North as Masschusets and as far South as Brazil.  They are also found Along the Portuguese Coast, islands on the West Coast of Africa and on most of the Western African Coast.  This is probably why they are one the most commonly trolled baitfish in the world. 

Range Of Ballyhoo

Catching Ballyhoo

Ballyhoo can be caught using cast nets, small baited long shank hooks, as well as sabiki rigs.  The preferable way to catch them is in this order as well. 


No matter what method you are using to catch Ballyhoo.  Chum is a key to success.  

Cast Netting Ballyhoo

Cast nets are highly effective for catching ballyhoo as they often swim in schools on the surface of the water.  With this method you are bound to catch a lot of ballyhoo at once if you have the patience to wait for the school to come close to the boat and make a good cast. 

Catching Ballyhoo On Hook & Line

The hook and bait method is good because you will have very healthy ballyhoo, however this is time consuming.  To catch ballyhoo on bait you want to use very small chunks of shrimp on a longshank gold hook attached to a bobber.  Ballyhoo have very small mouths so you will need a very small gap in your hook. The bobber helps to keep the bait on the surface where the ballyhoo tend to stay. This method also keeps your bait away from other swarming baitfish who are probably in your chum slick. 

Catching Ballyhoo On A Sabiki Rig

With sabiki rigs ballyhoo are easily hooked, but long flailing bodies will often tangle your entire sabiki rig. 

To find ballyhoo to catch try chumming on a reef drop off or ledge. They will most often appear on the surface in a school. Below is an example of where to anchor up to find ballyhoo on a reef. 

Where To Find Ballyhoo

More On Catching Ballyhoo: 

Cast Net

How To Catch Ballyhoo - This article talks about how to catch Ballyhoo, where to find them, and has video footage of the process.  Below is a video preview of the article below posted by Youtuber “Landshark Fishing” 

5 Ways To Catch Live Bait - This article breaks down different methods of catching live bait. 

Using Ballyhoo For Trolling

Ballyhoo makes for excellent bait for trolling.  The body shape of a ballyhoo makes it skip close to the surface in a pretty consistent way.   Ballyhoo can be fished “naked” or with a plastic skirt or feather over them to give them color and something different swimming action. 

Buy Pre-Rigged Ballyhoo

Most bait and tackle stores have frozen pre-rigged ballyhoo. These ballyhoo may come with a wire or a monofilament leader and are often packed by size.  

Ballyhoo come in four different sizes.  From largest to smallest they are: 1) Horse Ballyhoo 2) Select Ballyhoo 3) Medium Ballyhoo 4) Small Ballyhoo.  The larger packs (horse ballyhoo) may contain only one or two ballyhoo, while smaller packs may hold up to 4 or 5 pre-rigged baits. 

Below is a link to Baitmaster’s they are a premier source for buying natural baits for offshore fishing.  When you go to the site you will see a number of ways to rig your ballyhoo. Including with wire, monofilament, and fluorocarbon. You will also see different hook combinations. Double hooks facing the same way, double hooks facing different ways, single hooks, bridled hooks, and no hooks (for dredge fishing). 

Pre-Rigged Ballyhoo

Reasons To Use Ballyhoo With Wire 

If you are expecting to troll for toothy fish such as wahoo or barracuda. This is probably a good time to use wire for your trolled ballyhoo. 

Reasons To Troll Ballyhoo With Mono

If you are not expecting wahoo or other toothy fish, mono is going to be a lot less visible underwater than wire.  It also will not kink like wire does. When fishing for species like mahi, it may be a good idea to troll ballyhoo with mono. 

Reasons To Troll Ballyhoo With Fluorocarbon

If you are fishing a tournament where money is on the line for white marlin or sailfish, you are going to want the extra abrasion resistance as well as invisibility that comes with fishing a fluorocarbon leader. 

5 Ways To Catch Live Bait - This article breaks down different methods of catching live bait. 

Rigging Your Own Ballyhoo For Trolling

Below is the basics for a ballyhoo trolling rig.  The Lb mono and the hook depends largely on the type of fish that you are targeting, however the most basic rig stays basically the same. 

Buy Bulk Packs Of Frozen Ballyhoo 

You can often buy bulk boxes or bags of unrigged ballyhoo of the sizes mentioned above. 

Below is a link to Baitmaster Frozen Bulk Ballyhoo section. They have even more sizes than we mentioned above as they have a pretty wide selection of frozen baits that they ship. 

Bulk Ballyhoo You Can Order Online

Bulk Packaged Ballyhoo

Draining The Poop 

If you have ever caught a Ballyhoo you may have witnessed them draining their poop all over your boat.  Before rigging a ballyhoo for trolling you are going to want drain all the poop out of them. This can be done simply by holding the head with one hand, grabbing the belly starting by the head with two fingers and slowing moving those fingers back towards their anus with a firm sliding motion. The poop will come out like toothpaste.

Draining The Poop From Ballyhoo

Breaking The Beak

You don’t need the long beak of the ballyhoo for trolling. Simply break it off with your hands or a pair of pliers. The image below shows you were you should break the beak. 

Break Off The Beak Of A Ballyhoo

Sealing The Gills

Sealing the gills.  One of the most important things when rigging a ballyhoo for trolling is to seal the gills.  If you let water run through the gills it will look like you shred it with a fork after running a few gallons of water through the body.  A simple solution to this is to employ copper wire to seal the gills.  

Sealing The Gills With Only Copper Wire Of A Ballyhoo

When you seal a ballyhoo you can rig it for trolling afterwards, or use it in a dredge. (Learn more about dredge fishing).  There are some trolling rigs that you can make for trolling ballyhoo that have a built in sealing solution. Below is one of those rigs. 

--- A few more items on sealing. 

  1. Chin Weight - You may want to “Chin Weight” or put an egg sinker below the seal to have your ballyhoo swim further down in the water column. 

Adding A Chin Weight To Your Ballyhoo

  1. Sealing spring -A sealing spring also known as a “bait spring” can do what you did with the copper wire.  Or be an add on. Below is a photo of a “bait spring”. 

Bait Springs For Trolled Baits

Photo from:

“Bait springs" serve a similar purpose to copper wire and can make rigging a trolled bait much easier and faster. 

Making A Rig For Trolling Ballyhoo 

The simplest rig for trolling for ballyhoo monofilament , a hook, coper wire, a piece of fishing wire, and an aluminum crimp sleeve. 

Below is a diagram for how to make your simple ballyhoo trolling rig. 

(Learn How To Crimp Properly)

(Choosing Your Crimp Sleeves)

Making A Rig For Trolling Ballyhoo

Below is a step by step guide on how to use this rig to get your ballyhoo ready for trolling. 

Rigging Ballyhoo For Trolling

Other Ways To Rig Ballyhoo For Trolling

Ballyhoo are often rigged for trolling in other methods as well.  Trolled ballyhoo can be rigged with a circle hook bridled to the nose. This is often done with a rubber band, a swivel, or wax thread.  

Lures Go Well With A Trolled Ballyhoo

Ballyhoo are also often skirted to give color and additional action.  A skirt can cover almost the whole fish, or just the nose.  

Lures Often Used With Ballyhoo: 

  • Moldcraft Lures

  • Islanders

  • Plastic Skirts

More Resources For Using Ballyhoo For Trolling

Best Videos For Rigging Ballyhoo - This article compiles the best videos on Youtube that show you how to rig your ballyhoo. If a picture is worth 1,000 words.  A video has about 30 pictures per second…. Watch each of the videos pause them, restart them. Get your learning on. 

Best Videos For Learning How To Fish A Dredge - Ballyhoo can be used for dredge fishing. A dredge is like a huge teaser which imitates a school of baitfish.  Anglers fishing offshore for marlin, tuna, sailfish, and mahi, often use dredges. This is a good use for your cast net caught ballyhoo and if you end up making the dredge yourself, you will get a lot practice in sealing the fish for trolling. 

Using Ballyhoo As Live Bait

Ballyhoo can make a great live bait.  When fished live, these baits make fast erratic movements on the surface making them great targets for aggressive fish like mahi, sailfish , and tunas. (See Best Baits For Sailfish).

Live ballyhoo are best fished with a light wire circle hook in their face like shown below. This way of hooking your ballyhoo will not limit the swim action of this fish and will allow it to make as much noise as you want it to. 

Fishing Live Ballyhoo

Live ballyhoo are also great baits for bottom fishing. 

See Best Baits For Grouper

See Best Baits For Snapper

Using Ballyhoo As Dead Bait

Ballyhoo is one of the best baits for bottom fishing, and can be used in chunks. 

The Ballyhoo Plug

Cutting a ballyhoo into a “plug” is effective for fishing for large bottom fish such as mutton snapper or black grouper.  A “plug” is a long section of ballyhoo, usually missing the tail and the head. Below is a picture of what a ballyhoo plug looks like. Note a small section of the tail has been left on the “plug” and the meat near the head has been cut in a diagonal. 

A Ballyhoo Plug

Dead Ballyhoo Fished As Chunks 

Because of their long thin cylindrical shape, ballyhoo are great baits to fish as chunks. One ballyhoo can provide you with a number of chunks.  The picture below shows you what chunks of ballyhoo would look like. 

Chunked Ballyhoo

Ballyhoo fished in chunks are effective baits for bottom fishing.  Chunks can also be used to chum up yellowfin tuna schools with a method called “chunking for tuna”.

What Can You Catch With Ballyhoo?

Below we have put a list of fish that are often caught with ballyhoo. This includes fish that are caught with trolled, live, or chunked ballyhoo. 

  1. Marlin

  2. Sailfish

  3. Mahi 

  4. Wahoo

  5. Yellowfin Tuna

  6. Blackfin Tuna

  7. Bonita

  8. Tarpon

  9. Mutton Snapper

  10. Red Snapper

  11. Black Grouper

  12. Gag Grouper

  13. Barracuda

  14. Yellowedge Grouper

If you enjoyed this article you may also enjoy the following articles: 

Everything You Need To Know About Pinfish - This article is similar to this ballyhoo article and it goes in depth into pinfish as a baitfish. This includes techniques to catch them and fish that will eat them. 

Farming Your Own Baitfish - Not many salt water anglers do this yet, but it is feasible with the tecnnology that exists to have your own baitfish store in your backyard and not just in a pen.  This may be the way of the future. 

Top 5 Baits For Tarpon - Looking to fish live baits for tarpon?  This article covers your best baits. 

Top 5 Baits For Sailfish - Looking to fish live baits for sailfish? This article covers your best baits. 

Top 5 Baits For Fishing For Grouper- Looking to fish live baits for Grouper? This article covers your best baits. 

Top 5 Baits For Fishing For Snapper  - Looking to fish live baits for snapper? This article covers your best baits. 

Best Baits For Night Time Swordfishing - This article covers the best natural baits for night time swordfishing. 

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