By Lenny Rudow. Does it seem like the big sportfishers always come back to the dock with more fish than the small, trailerable boats have in the box? Sure it does—those guys on the 50-footers have some serious advantages over you and I in our center console and cuddy cabin boats. But that doesn’t mean you can’t hang with the big dogs when you’re hunting tuna, billfish and other pelagics. Modern teasers give the little guy the ability to draw in fish just like the diesel boats, if you know which to run, when to run them, and how to use them to your best advantage.
Under The Gun
Fact number one: well-tuned inboard diesels raise more fish than outboard boats do. Some will disagree with this assertion, but traditional thinking and my own experience has convinced me—outboard boats simply do not draw fish up to the baits as often or as effectively as diesel boats.
Fact number two: With their large, stable cockpits, the big boat guys can pull pretty much whatever they want to. An even dozen baits, multiple spreader bars and birds, lures of every color, you name it and those guys have them onboard. But anglers on smaller boats don’t have the room to stow all this stuff, much less deploy it.
Fact number three: With their flybridges and big outriggers, large sportfishers have better visibility, will experience fewer tangles, and can make tighter turns.
Fact number four: If you own a million dollar sportfish, you don’t blink at the cost of all this gear. But for the rest of us, one of every kind of teaser and wheelbarrows full of lures and skirts might equal our total fuel cost for an entire season. Consider all these factors, and it’s clear that we’re going to have to use brains, not brawn, to level the playing field.
First, let’s tackle fact number one. Not much we can do about the difference between diesels and outboards, is there? No, but we can still turn out eggbeater boat into a fish-attracting magnet. The use of teasers and spreader bars is key. Any boat, no matter how small, outriggers or none, can pull a single sub-surface teaser off of a stern cleat while dragging a single spreader bar on the other side. For the sub-surface teaser, an excellent choice is a holographic Stripteaser. These roll up to the size of a four-arm spreader bar for easy stowage—that takes care of fact number two, as well--and run from 33-fish teasers (about $100) to six-arm, 198-fish models ($500). Rig a two pound sash weight in front of the teaser to keep the rig in the water, pull the line from a stern cleat, and it will look like a real school of fish is trailing 20’ behind your boat at all times. This type of teaser is designed to attract billfish and it’s very effective for this task. Yellowfin tuna, however, also come to a Striptease in droves. Run a naked ballyhoo about five feet behind the teaser, and a second naked ‘hoo on your short rigger clip on the same side of the boat. Often, yellowfin will pile onto these baits. Another sub-surface teaser you may want to check out is Tournament Cable’s bucket teasers. These dredges are rigged with plastic ballyhoo or menhaden, or mini bowling pins. The nicest thing about these rigs is that they drop into a 5-gallon bucket for easy instant stowage. You can keep several different ones onboard, solving fact number two again, without taking up a ton of space or creating an awful tangled mess.
Surface teasers should consist of spreader bars made of multiple squid. Pink, green, blue/white and psychedelic colors are all effective on different days, but it’s rare that they are all equally effective on any given day. These can be run from a short rigger in calm seas but when it’s rough, most small boat outriggers won’t be able to take the pressure and the clips will pop free frequently. In this case, run it directly off the rod tip in the aftermost holder on the opposite side of the sub-surface teaser. Never run the surface teaser and the sub-surface teaser on the same side of a small boat; one good wave can cause the boat to surf, bringing the sub-surface rig to the surface, and the resulting tangle will be catastrophic. Also make sure the spreader bar itself stays in the air, so only the baits remain in the water. Usually, this means running the rig 20’ to 30’ behind the boat. Both tuna and billfish will come up on the spreader bars, but billfish may not eat and become hooked on these rigs. Sometimes they merely whack the rig with their bill, over and over again. Keep a rigged ballyhoo at the ready, so you can feed any marlin that suddenly shows up.
Now, for fact number three: you can resolve visibility issues by running colored lines with long flouro leaders, or top-shots of mono. With these lines out you’ll be able to see the lines and how where they lay as you turn. And you can reduce tangles and make turning easier by keeping your spread in tight. You can get away with two fairly long lines: one on a long rigger, and a way way back shotgun down the middle, but don’t go for a third or it’ll often be tangle city. Make sure these two lines are of a different color or type than the others in your spread, so you can constantly monitor their position in relation to the shorter lines.
Taking care of fact number four is a little more problematic. Bottom line: some of us have budgets that barely allow us to fish offshore in the first place. If this is your situation, however, you can still get by after laying out about $350. Spend $200 on a medium-size Striptease, and $150 on a good spreader bar. This year psychedelic squid (pink, blue and green color combo) spreader bar has been hot and that would be the one to get, but the hot color could change next week, next month or next season.
X Marks the Spot
Now that your boat’s ready to draw in the big ones, let’s take the surface/subsurface teaser combination to a new level; it’s a method we’ve been using this season that has resulted in excellent success, particularly on yellowfin tuna—we call it the X Theory.
Let’s say your sub-surface teaser is running on the starboard side of the boat, and your surface spreader is on the port side. You have ballyhoo baits running along the surface just behind and above the sub-surface teaser. Now, set a sub-surface bait in the port side flat line position. You can use a diving plug such as a Marauder (go with orange/black, if wahoo are in town) or you can run a downrigger bait or a planer bait. Set this one back about the same distance as the teasers, so it runs 10’ to 20’ below the surface. Now, you’ve created the X shape, as it would be viewed from the cockpit. One arm of the X is formed by the sub-surface and surface teasers; the other by the sub-surface and surface baits. No matter what depth or direction a fish approaches the spread from, it will be presented with choices of baits and teasers that range wildly in depth, action and color. Now add in a couple of long rigger baits with different color skirts, which will give the fish some different color and contrast options. For a shotgun run your most reliable all-around surface-disturbance bait far behind the rest of the spread—such as a bird rig.
No matter how small your boat is, if it has outriggers and is offshore-capable, you will be able to get this seven-line/teaser spread off the transom without too many problems. You’ll find it effective for tunas and billfish, it will let you run your little boat with the big dogs--and sometimes even out-fish them.