When it comes to baitfish, ballyhoo are the workhorses of offshore sport fishing. In Florida waters, the Caribbean and all the way up the coast to Massachusetts, ballyhoo are a staple for trolling and cutbait.
Here are a few ballyhoo facts you can break out when the bite slows on your next trip:
• Ballyhoo in the dictionary means “extravagant publicity or fuss,” which may be where this funny-looking fish got its name. When threatened, they have a habit of making a commotion by leaping out of the water and skittering across the surface.
• Almost all the ballyhoo used as baitfish worldwide are caught offshore from south Florida. Commercial fishermen use lampara nets that are very effective for scooping up fish that live near the surface.
• Most commercial fishing is done in fall and winter, when large schools of ballyhoo are found over deep water off the Keys and south Florida. However, private anglers can catch their own bait year-round by cast-netting smaller schools that congregate over shallower patch reefs.
• Ballyhoo are in the halfbeak family, and there are several different types of ballyhoo. The one we are most familiar with has an orange tail and an orange tip on the bill. There is another species called a balao, which is caught in deeper water. It has a red tail and a red tip on the bill. These are not the best for durability, usually they are soft and wash out quickly.
• As far as choosing quality ballyhoo for bait, appearance should be a good indicator as well as sealed bags, clean baits with little blood, bright colors and intact fins and scales.
• Thaw baits in their bag in a bucket of water. Once thawed, take the baits out of the bag and rinse with saltwater and rig. Lay baits on a bait tray or aluminum foil on top of ice. The worst thing is for the baits to sit in freshwater.
• Most baits, if packed properly, can last a couple years if kept below 0 degrees in a good chest freezer. Kitchen freezers aren’t ideal because of the frost-free feature, which heats up every day to melt any ice on the doors or walls. This heating and cooling will degrade baits quickly.
Visit www.baitmasters.com or call 1-800-NEW-BAIT.