We pitch either a mackerel or bonito rigged on a circle hook to the marlin we raise on the teasers behind the Decisive off Guatemala. This is without a doubt one of the most exciting and effective ways to ensure a solid, fish-friendly hookup.
For the past two seasons we rigged the circle hook out in front of the marlin pitch using a thin, hollow tube from a lollypop. The stiff, little tube keeps the hook out in front of the bait so it can't turn around and foul in the floss or the bait. The extra space between the bait and the hook also allows the circle hook to turn freely and find a secure hold in the corner of the marlin's mouth.
Since we started seeing a few marlin come up on the teasers and not switch over and eat the less-aggressive mackerel bait, we started rigging our pitch mackerels with a Mold Craft Little Super Chugger on the head using the same hollow-tube method.
With an exceptional marlin bite off Guatemala this year, we really got to test the rig and our results have been outstanding. We released 40 marlin in the first four months of 2007 with a 70 percent hookup ratio. The soft Chugger helped the mackerel make more commotion, and the fish seemed to turn on the bait faster with a more aggressive bite. The Chugger did not impede the hookup and we enjoyed the same hookup ratio as we had before.
We use a 10/0 Eagle Claw 2004EL circle hook on our 50-pound pitch outfit. The hook is quite light by most standards, but since we are only using 50-pound-test and releasing the fish, it does a fine job. However, Eagle Claw is coming out with a revised, nonoffset 2004 circle-hook series this fall, which offers a heavier gauge wire and will include sizes up to 13/0. They should make perfect pitch-bait hooks.
To rig the bait, tie a piece of heavy-waxed rigging floss to the shank of the hook, right at the point where it starts to make its turn. Thread the rigging floss through the stiff, plastic tube. Slide the Chugger up the tube and position it against the hook while rigging.
Placing the tube in the center of the bait's mouth and using a rigging needle, thread each end of the floss through the top of the bait's mouth and out opposite eye sockets, sewing back into the head. The floss is then crisscrossed back over the straw where it exits the mouth, thereby closing the mouth and securing it in the very center to ensure that the bait swims perfectly.
Use the remaining tag ends to tie the gills shut and secure the head to the body, reducing the chance of a sancocho and increasing the probability of a repeat bite should one miss on the first shot.
You can now push the Chugger down the tube and position it against the head of the bait. Make sure it fits snugly on the tube so it doesn't slide around during the hookup. The length of tube should be sufficiently long to prevent the hook from doubling back in any way, to prevent it from getting fouled in the head of the bait or the Chugger during the drop-back. The resulting rig allows the hook to turn a full 360 degrees without obstruction, ensuring a perfectly swimming bait and increased hookup ratio.
Not only does this rig make a great pitch-bait, it also swims well from the rigger or flat line for those who want to pull it.
Without a doubt, the use of circle hooks has revolutionized billfishing, and when used correctly, it actually increases your hookup ratio. This rig gives you all the advantages of both the bait/lure combo and the circle hook. Since a circle-hook-only policy may be on the horizon for those of you in the States, you might want to try this highly effective circle hook lure/bait combo rig with your favorite lure.
Capt. Brad Philipps