Before bait rigging your sardine, let's first spare it a moments thought...
Because it must be a tough old life being a sardine. They're far too popular for their own good. Bass, tuna, billfish, dolphins and whales - they all love them. And I'm a bit partial to grilled ones myself ..
All types of sardine and any other baitfish must first be properly prepared - 'limbered up' - for trolling before the bait rigging process begins.
If your baitfish is stiff and even slightly curved, although it may smell right, it won't look right.
A fish that may otherwise have grabbed it without hesitation is now more likely to ignore it altogether.
Here's how to make sure it will behave as it should ...
To resemble their living brethren, dead baitfish must swim convincingly when towed astern they should wriggle, but not spin. And for a lifelike wriggle, the baitfish must be flexible. And here's how to make it so ...
Now your baitfish is limp and flexible, and ready for bait rigging.
Having loosened up the baitfish, the rigging process can begin.
I've shown a sardine here, but most baitfish - herring, joey mackerel, sprats, pilchard and with a small adjustment, flying fish - can be rigged in the same way.
First youll need to decide on the leader material. Mono will allow the bait to work most convincingly, and will get the most hits as a result. But if you think a wahoo or some other toothy fellow may put in an appearance, wire would be a better choice.
Use plastic covered seven-strand wire, as single strand wire doesnt lend itself to this technique. To get the hook in the right place, youll need a baiting (or rigging) needle. This is a length of stainless wire, around 250mm long with a point on one end and an open eye at the other. So let's get started ...
Hold the leader and let the bait hang down.
Is the hook pulling on the belly? If so, carefully cut a longitudinal slot at the point of entry with a sharp knife so that the hook can move freely.
Artwork by Andrew Simpson
If you've done the bait rigging properly, the sardine will be towed by the head loop and wont spin. Try it, and if it does, tweak the rig until it doesnt - or start again.
As a final embellishment you could slide a lure - such as sea witch, trolling feather, straight runner, clone, jethead or simply an octopus skirt - down the leader so that it locates against the nose of the baitfish.
You could use a Williamson Bait-O-Matic, which is a tandem hooked skirted lure specifically designed for use with a small baitfish.
Prepare the baitfish as previously described, then pass the front hook through the mouth of the bait so that the bait can move freely from side to side.
The front hook should always face upward, and the shank locked into a recess in the lure head.
This will ensure that the bait cant rotate in relation to the lure, and the counterweight on the underside of the lurehead will ensure that the whole ensemble doesnt spin. The second hook is pushed through the skin near the tail of the fish.
As a quick and effective bait rigging method for saltwater trolling, it takes some beating.
In the USA
In the UK
Downrigger ~ The cranelike device incorporating a line-counter reel often seen on the sterns of sport-fishing boats, which lowers a trolling weight on a wire line to a pre-determined depth. The trolling line is attached just above the weight, which gets the lure down to depths that would otherwise be unachievable.