Ballyhoo is a quick little streamlined fish that’s a favorite food of larger marine fishes. There are a few tricks to catching them, but once you have a bucket of these little baitfish on board, you can fish all day. In this article, we’ll go over a brief bio of the ballyhoo and how to recognize it. Then, we’ll give you the tips and tricks you need to turn that little ballyhoo into a large catch.
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What is a Ballyhoo Fish?
The ballyhoo fish’s scientific name is Hemiramphus brasiliensis, but it also goes by yellowtail ballyhoo, balahu, bayihyo, and red-tailed balao. It’s a smooth, straight fish with silvery-blue coloration on its dorsal side and a shiny white belly. The most distinctive feature of ballyhoo is its elongated lower jaw that extends out several inches, forming a needle-like beak. For that reason, it’s also often called a halfbeak. At the very tip of the beak is a bright orange fleshy spot. Their eyes are quite large and take up a significant portion of the space in the head. Both the anal and dorsal fins are found toward the tail end of the body. The tail fin is deeply forked, the upper half often bright yellow to orange.
Ballyhoos eat mostly floating vegetation but will take advantage of zooplankton and larvae when they find them. They actively breed during the first half of the year and also in October. Female ballyhoo can lay just over 1,000 eggs for every 50g it weighs and is usually bigger than the males of the species. Both sexes grow to be seven to eight inches long and weigh less than half a pound. Ballyhoo like to swim in schools, even when they’re not mating. This tactic helps them detect and escape predators. They have a rather short lifespan, only living four years or so, but they’re a plentiful fish.
How to Catch a Ballyhoo Fish
Paradoxically, the very behavior that helps them avoid predators also makes ballyhoo easy to find. One or two of these little guys might be hard to spot, but a large school of them is hard to miss. They are easiest to see when they’ve been driven to the surface by predators. That streamlined shape helps them attain high speeds. Ballyhoo often swim so fast that they can skip along the water like a stone. These fish are in relatively shallow water, up to a depth of six meters. They travel up and down the water column depending on the temperature. Look for them in areas with sandy bottoms just off the coast of Florida, the Gulf, Mexico, and the Caribbean.
Most people catch ballyhoo with a cast net. The fish can get a little beat up in the process, which isn’t bad if you plan to strip or chum them. You can line fish them and put them in a baitwell to use them live. To net them, first lay down a good chum slick. When they come to the surface, toss out a cast net or a hoop net and pull them in. It’s that simple. Do try not to touch them on their way to the baitwell. Dry hands will strip them of their protective mucus layer and reduce their live time on the boat.
To line fish for ballyhoo, you can use chopped shrimp on a #10 hair hook. String a cork bobber on your line about a foot and a half from the hook and drop it in the water where you see the fish schooling. Give it a moment or two to sink and then do a steady retrieve back up through the school. That’s it!
How to Rig Ballyhoo
Once you’ve caught your bait, it’s time to rig it up for the big fish to eat. There are a few different methods of rigging ballyhoo, depending on whether or not you want the bait to be live. If you’re fishing with live ballyhoo, make sure that you have them in a baitwell or a bait bucket that’s out of direct sunlight. Circular wells, although they typically take up more space, are better for small fish that swim in schools. In a circular well, the fish can keep a steady pace that allows the water to move over their gills. In a square enclosure, they can get stuck in the corners and lose that necessary flow, dying faster.
To rig live ballyhoo, first snap off the beak about an inch from the fish’s mouth, taking care not to damage the lower jaw. A quick snap should do it. You can do this without any special tools, just use your hands. Then, take a thin copper wire, loop it around the bend in your hook, and twist the tag end around the rest of the wire. Everything should be nice and tight with the tag end tucked into the twist. Next, take the other end of the wire and feed it up through the fish’s lower jaw, taking care that you’re not restricting the fish from opening its mouth. Pull the wire through and begin to twist it around the remaining part of the beak. Note that the hook never actually goes through the fish.
Even if your ballyhoo has died, it can still be used as bait. One of the simplest methods uses a circle hook. For this, you need size 10 a barrel swivel, an Eagle Claw circle hook, and a 130-pound test fluorocarbon leader. Attach a piece of rigging wire to one loop of the swivel and slide the other loop over the sharp end of your hook. Attach the leader through the eye of your hook. Then, feed the wire through the ballyhoo’s mouth and out through its throat. Thread a 0.25 oz. egg sinker onto the wire and slide it up to touch the fish. Next, feed the tag end of the wire through the eye socket and wrap it a few times so it’s behind the sinker and a couple of times in front. Finally, feed that wire up through its throat, out of its mouth, and back through the eye of the swivel. Bury the end and you’re ready to go!
What Can You Catch With Ballyhoo
The list of gamefish you can catch with ballyhoo bait is a long one. Tuna, mahi-mahi, wahoo, marlin, and sailfish are on the list, but just about any other fish sharing the same waters will munch on the sleek little ballyhoo. Just be sure to check local fishing regulations and have your license handy in case you need to show it.