Dressed Up Dead Baits

Naked is sometimes not the best choice

October 9, 2018
marlin leaping from the water
Dressed Up Dead Baits Evan Kruger

Ballyhoo are the worldwide mainstay of a good dead-bait spread. We rig them using many different methods and then pull them either naked or with various accouterments to increase the footprint or effect of the bait in the water.

Dead Ringer

I ran across an interesting product recently and decided to give it a shot: the Ringer Swivel by Turner Tackle. This is a take on the standard circle-hook rigs using either swivels or rubber O-rings, with a twist — a 360-degree one. A rubber grommet is incorporated into the eye of a very high-quality barrel swivel, giving the circle hook 360-degree access to find the corner of the fish’s jaw — right where it’s supposed to be — and a perfect hook-set. This product combines the swivel and rubber grommet rig into one, giving you the best of both worlds.

ringer swivels used in bait fishing
Ringer Swivels allow the circle hook to rotate 360 degrees, while still making it easy to swap out baits as needed during the day. Capt. Jen Copeland

We rigged a swimming ballyhoo with the Ringer Swivel in the conventional way, using a 14-inch length of copper wire and with the swivel exiting the top of the bait’s upper lip. I discovered the swivel can be extended to the front of the cut-off bill for a completely free-rotating hook, making it practically foul-free. I put a lot of pressure on the grommet itself, and it can take quite a pull before breaking — maybe not more than a tricky white marlin, but it was substantial.


Life of the Party

Fish Downsea is co-owned by Capt. Ricky Wheeler, of the charter boat Exile 65, who had fashioned the products for his personal use for several years before they came to the commercial market with the assistance of a charter guest who also happened to be a tackle-maker. One of its unique products is the Party Skirt, a beautifully designed, versatile lure that is similar to a SeaWitch in design; it is easily added to dredge baits, strip baits or ballyhoo. Created specifically for pelagic circle-hook fishing, the Party Skirt can be rigged on larger ballyhoo with a chin weight, giving you that perfect “skip-skip-swim-swim” action that is very similar to a J-hook-rigged SeaWitch or duster bait. To create more swimming action, increase the size of the lead from ¼ ounce to as much as 1 ounce.

The technique is simple: Simply rig the Party Skirt the same way you would using the O-ring on the front of the lure. Party products can also be added to a conventional O-ring or swivel rig by placing the circle hook through the lure and then through the O-ring. Essentially, you will have two rings sitting on the hook.

fishdownsea party skirt
The Party Skirt from Fish Downsea comes in a variety of billfish-attracting color combinations. Capt. Jen Copeland

“The Party Skirt is basically a SeaWitch for circle hooks,” states Wheeler. The products have been extremely effective for him in the tournaments he competes in, and come in a variety of colors, in packs of three for same colors and packs of five, featuring both a light and a dark color sampler.


“I believe the added color gets your bait seen faster than a naturally camouflaged naked ballyhoo,” says Wheeler.

And while this product does offer other ways to present a bait with lots of color and flash, I thought the cleverest take on the Party Skirt — which happens to be the most popular technique — is to rig it in the eye cavity of a ballyhoo. The eyes on these products are so realistic that you will catch yourself glancing in the bait box and wondering, Did I take the eyes out of those baits? Once wired snugly inside the eye socket, the Party Skirt sits there perfectly. We rigged them both with and without chin weights, which is handy if you like to keep a few skipping baits at the ready.

attaching party skirt to ballyhoo
Adding a Party Skirt during the bait-rigging process is very simple: Just insert the skirt into the eye cavity and wire firmly into place. Capt. Jen Copeland

Rigging Tips

After you have prepped the ballyhoo, wet one end of the Party Skirt’s hair so they stick together, then pass the bitter end of the O-ringed wire through the lure’s grommet. Carefully feed the wet end through the ballyhoo’s eye socket, pushing the Skirt’s head with the grommet toward the front of the bait into the cavity until the eye of the lure sits naturally inside.


Then determine where you’d like to place the swivel — we like it just on top of the hard part of the bill, close to the mouth. Continue rigging as normal, tucking the wire under the gill plate, over the top of the head and back behind the opposite gill plate so the Party Skirt is anchored firmly in position.

ballyhoo rigged with party skirt
The finished product — note the highly realistic eyes. Capt. Jen Copeland

Be sure to pass the wire through the eye cavity and under the lure at least twice before poking the wire through the bottom of the mouth and pulling up on the wire so it’s snug; begin a series of wraps toward the front of the bait, right up to the swivel and back again. Finish the wraps on the bait’s bill as usual.

You can also fish this rig with a chin-weighted ballyhoo by inserting the Party Skirt into the eye socket before making your final wraps on the front of the lead by feeding the wire through the grommet as you pass the wire through the eye socket.


The synthetic hairs and thin Mylar streamers of the Party Skirt wings flare out away from the sides of the bait, mimicking a flying fish — a preferred snack of any pelagic that can catch one.


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