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Few can argue the effectiveness of natural-bait dredges. These multi-armed wonders have helped teams raise more billfish than ever before, thanks to the dredge’s realistic mimicking of a school of bait near the boat. Few oceanic predators can resist a baitball, and the dredge is a great teaser for not only sailfish and marlin, but also mahimahi, tuna and other pelagic species.
While the debate rages over the use of artificial versus natural bait, many top tournament teams will turn to ballyhoo for their dredges — especially when big money is on the line. When thawing bait for the dredge, treat it as you would your hook baits. Thaw frozen ballyhoo in seawater, never fresh water, and remove the bait’s eyes with a wooden dowel or other tool to make rigging a bit faster.
This innovative dredge-bait rig uses pre-made pin rigs that incorporate a lead weight in a wire attachment that’s centered in the body of the bait and then pushed up through the head. Rather than using waxed rigging floss to tie the ballyhoo to the pin rig, a bait spring is spun down over the pin and into the weight beneath the bait. It’s a much faster method, and the spring helps keep the bait from washing out as quickly once it’s on the dredge. A short piece of rigging floss passed through the eyes and knotted below the rig closes the bait’s gills, and it’s now ready to be attached to the dredge. At this point, many teams will add a skirt, SeaWitch or a small lure like an Ilander ahead of the ballyhoo for flash and color, but they are effective when fished naked too.