Flying Fish: A Top Bait for Big Game Pelagics

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The flying fish has been a preferred bait of big game saltwater anglers for generations.

When selecting the best forage species to use as either live or rigged bait for targeting big game pelagic species like large tuna, marlin and broadbill swordfish, most offshore anglers these days will turn to common favorites like mackerel, sardines and ballyhoo. But back in the early to mid-20th century, when legendary author, Zane Grey and other members of the Catalina Tuna Club were rewriting the record books with impressive catches, it was the exotic looking sailfin flying fish that was the go to bait for those who were in the know.

 And they still are today; as a matter of fact, they are often in the arsenal of top tournament anglers.

While flying fish are quite durable and effective when trolled, they are probably the most irresistible to hungry gamefish when properly rigged as a pitch bait, which is an offering that is sight casted to visible fish that are swimming closer to the boat. Whether using conventional or heavy duty spinning gear, when employing this technique it is best to spool up with line that is at least in the 25 to 40 pound test, and then top it off with a 50 to 80 pound test fluorocarbon leader.

Pre-frozen flying fish can generally be purchased from well stocked bluewater tackle stores and commercial bait purveyors, yet they can still be a bit hard to get on the spur of the moment. That is why it can be a good idea to ensure your supply when you need them by buying them pre-rigged online if you happen to be in an area where they are not conveniently available.

If you prefer to rig your own bait, I suggest starting out with a premium 7/0 to 9/0 hook lazer sharp hook that you insert under the chin and carefully bring up through the head until the barb is exposed right between the eyes, and then flyline the bait to gamefish cruising near the surface in order to provoke a strike.

One species that is particularly susceptible to this technique are schools of dorado, or dolphinfish, which can often be cajoled to stay near the boat by leaving a hooked fish in the water, and then allows for other members of the school to be taken as well. Cast directly in front of the fish, and as soon as the bait hits the water begin jigging in short strokes in order to make the bait’s wing-like pectoral fins to flutter in the current simulating a live baitfish. If the fish are in a feeding frame of mind, that’s about all that will be necessary to draw their attention.

In addition to trolling flying fish and using them as a pitch bait, they are particularly deadly when kite fishing; a technique that not only lets you to get the bait further from the boat, it also allows you to skip it over the surface at the same time. This makes for an ideal situation when targeting large billfish and tuna that may be a bit boat shy. Nonetheless, the flying fish presents anglers with yet another bait option; one which may entice a fish to strike at times when others fail.