I saw my first fender teaser while working as an observer on the PoliSea, a big enclosed flybridge Hatteras, during the 1995 USVI Boy Scout Tournament. Fender Teasers were brand-new at that time - Mold Craft hadn't even come out with the pretty painted version yet. I choked on a snort when I saw the mate pull it out of the storage hold under the chair. Someone on board fancied himself quite the artist and had assaulted the poor white fender with some blue and green permanent markers - it was hideous.
But out it went on the short left corner. Jody Whitworth, the mate, tossed the abomination out over the transom and tied it off to a cleat under the gunwale.
The big fender bobbed and weaved in the sparkling-clear water of the North Drop, and I started to take notice. It actually looked pretty good, tumbling and twisting away some 10 feet below the water's surface.
But the morning hours passed slowly; it wasn't until 1 p.m. that the first fish came up into the spread. And nobody saw her but me.
The 500-pound blue stuck her face right on the butt of the fender, wagging her head back and forth in time with the big teaser. I could even see the white inside her mouth as she opened up to try to snatch it. Right about that time, I whispered to the captain, "Uh ... you've got a fish on that fender teaser ..."
The young captain's head almost split in two as he yelled down into the pit, "Big fish on the fender! Big fish on the fender! Get it out! Get it out!"
Whitworth leapt on the line and started hauling in the fender. The fish turned off, disappeared for about two seconds, and then slammed the left long bait - a big Pakula - and the fish was on! We released the big girl about 10 minutes later.
Dredges started showing up in Florida around that same time, and I was lucky enough to get my first lesson on how to fish with these gangly monsters from two of the best skippers on the circuit, Capt. John Bayliss and Capt. David Fields. We were fishing in the Pirate's Cove Sailfish tournament on the Hatterascal. Fields was the first mate at the time (he has since taken over as the Hatterascal captain), and I stayed up one night watching him rig the 50 or so split-tailed mullet for the dredge. I couldn't believe the work he put into those baits or the time he spent doing it. And let me tell you, he was the fastest I've ever seen before or since!
It all became clear when I saw it deployed for the first time. Back then, having a school of mullet following you around all day was a novel experience!
Since that time I've seen just about everything but the kitchen sink used as a teaser, including the top of a pineapple in the Dominican Republic (actually worked like a champ for two hours) and a string of 20 used CDs. I talked to a couple of big-time tackle purveyors and one of the up-and-coming captains in Norm Isaac's BXRL Xtreme Fishing league to get some insight into the use of big teasers and dredges.
Chuck Richardson, owner of Tournament Cable, supplies teams from all over the world with some of the best dredges and spreader bars on the market. "We've been seeing an increase not only in size of the individual teasers, but also in the amount they are pulling," he says.
He feels that it might just be the larger boat size that is driving some of the use of more and bigger teasers. "One of the first questions I ask a fellow is what size boat he has, because he should only pull as many as the boat and crew can handle. A 65 Viking can pull just about as many teasers as they want if they have an experienced crew that knows how to handle them."
Richardson says that bowling pins still account for at least half of all his teaser sales, with the daisy chain of six 13-inch pins being by far the most popular choice among billfishermen.
Brian Bennett of J&M Tackle, Richardson's Gulf Coast counterpart, says that although the prevailing wisdom in the Gulf of Mexico is to put hooks in everything, more and more traveling anglers are getting good at the bait-and-switch and trying it back at home. "The hookup percentage on big lures isn't nearly as good as pitch baiting a mackerel or small ballyhoo - that is, if the fish comes back. Teasers really work best in places where you get a lot of shots at fish."
Bennett says the biggest boom in teasers last year came from the Mylar strip and holographic dredges, like the ones made by Stripteaser, Tournament Cable and Chaos. "I must have sold over 20,000 dollars' worth of strip teasers last year, mostly to south Florida boats or to guys from our area who were heading down to Mexico. Stripteaser's six-arm dredge with 69 fish was our most popular," he says.
"Without a doubt," says Richardson, "the lightweight strip-style teaser dredges give you the biggest bang for your buck. When using a standard six-arm 36-inch dredge, you might be able to pull 28 to 36 rubber ballyhoos on it. With the Mylar strips you can put over 100 fish on the same dredge, and they are much lighter and easier to handle. Now, do they perform the same way as a dredge loaded with natural baits? I think you'd get a lot of arguments on that. But when I consider the cost of bait and the number of man hours involved in rigging natural dredges, I have to ask if it's really worth it to keep, care for and rig all those baits."
A Captain's Point of View
Capt. Jeremiah Nachtigal earned his stripes fishing in Kona with Norm Isaacs and spending his winters on the Great Barrier Reef. His new gig, captain for Team Cay Clubs in Isaac's Billfish Extreme Release League, takes him all over the world to target billfish of all sizes.
Nachtigal is not a fan of using big teasers, especially big lures. "I don't like supersized teasers because they are too hard to get away from the fish, even with the fastest teaser reels and the fastest mates. If you can't get the teaser in fast enough, the fish gets too many shots at it. If the fish can pound on the teaser all the way to the boat, there's a good chance it's going to go away," he says. "I just don't think you need anything bigger than a Braziliano or a Super Plunger.
"There's some places that I would never pull a big teaser, places where you are fishing for the biggest fish like Madeira, Ascension or Hawaii. It would be a real tragedy to have that fish of a lifetime blow up on a lure with no hook in it and then go away," he says.
Nachtigal doesn't feel the same way about the dredge. "I pull tons of dredges when targeting sails or white marlin, and I'm experimenting with three different types right now. Dredges work great for us in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela. I like the new holographic fish like the ones from Chaos, and I also think the Stripteaser works great at dead-bait speeds," he says. "We usually pull double dredges, and we'll mix naturals with plastic baits quite a bit."
There's no doubt that bigger boats and exposure to different fishing methods have shaped the size and number of teasers that crews pull today. I've even heard some rumors out there about folks who are trying to come up with a life-size replica of a sailfish or marlin to pull behind the boat. And since I've always heard that the very best billfish teaser is having one in the spread, you'll probably see that puppy in New Products next year.