Dredge ’Em Up: Rigging Tips from the Pros

Know when to choose natural baits, artificials or a mix of both to raise more billfish

Dredge fishing tips
A dredge filled with skirted natural baits is one of the most effective teasers in the world.Richard Gibson

Whether you’re targeting sailfish in Mexico, white marlin off the Carolinas or Ocean City, Maryland, or big blues in the Bahamas or St. Thomas, these pro-approved techniques will help you tease more billfish into the spread.

There’s no question dredge-fishing is one of the most effective ­tactics for a wide variety of billfish species. But should you opt for one using natural baits like mullet or ballyhoo or one of the new generation all-artificial dredges? What about a hybrid, mixing in both natural and artificial baits? To answer these questions, we turned to Capt. Robert “Fly” Navarro.

The All-Natural

Rigging a full dredge with natural baits, almost always either ballyhoo or mullet, isn’t for the faint of heart (or wallet), but it’s devastatingly effective when targeting sailfish and white marlin. “In these situations, you’re going to be fishing with small dink ballyhoo at bait-fishing speeds, so the dredges resemble baitballs that draw fish into the pattern,” Navarro says. “If you’re fun fishing, you can use the same baits for a couple of days, but most tournament teams rerig their dredge baits every day, switching them out as needed while they’re fishing. Attention to detail can mean the difference between finishing in first place or not.” Mullet usually carry a 3-ounce chin weight, while ballyhoo are rigged with a 1.5- to 2-ounce weight. Skirts are optional but can help add both color and flash to the spread.

The Plastic Fantastic

Switching to an all-artificial dredge, often constructed using a mixture of squid and the popular mudflap-style silhouette teasers, means blue marlin are high on the target list.

Mudflap dredge
An artificial dredge like this one using mudflap-style silhouettes can be pulled at a slightly faster speed and is a great bet for blue marlin fishing.Richard Gibson

“With these dredges, you can speed up a little to cover more ground without worrying about them washing out,” Navarro says. “I used a double-­mudflap dredge in Hawaii that looked like a school of small tuna, and it worked great. You want to see the fish come up on the teasers first.” He says that artificial dredges also work well in places like St. Thomas, another blue marlin hot spot, where the object is to raise fish on the teasers and then pitch-bait them. “You really want to see the fish first, and that’s where dredges really help,” Navarro adds.

The Best of Both Worlds

Mixing in a few natural baits along with their artificial look-alikes is a compromise that works well in places like the Dominican Republic, where anglers might see both blue and white marlin. It’s also a more cost-effective option than going with 36 rigged mullet on a triple-tiered all-natural dredge. “If natural bait isn’t available locally, then you have to make do with what you have. The mixed dredge is a good way to stretch your bait supply longer into the season,” Navarro says. “I like to run a few mullet on the outside of the dredge and artificials on the inside, and I also prefer to run everything straight from the dredge arms. With no mono droppers, there’s a lot less to tangle.”