Each and every year sport fishing sees increasing participation across fisheries worldwide. With intense competition, tournament crews that find continued success only do so through hard work, preparation and innovation. Whether chasing blues, whites or sails in the Mid-Atlantic, Florida or Bahamas, adding hookless enticements in the form of imitation baitballs adds incredible depth to any spread. In today’s evolved world of sport fishing, if you aren’t fishing dredge teasers you aren’t maximizing your time on the water.
Though squid chains aren’t to be overlooked, no surface teaser can compete with dozens of perfectly aligned baitfish swimming in sync deep below the surface. An indispensable tool used by crews trolling for billfish in fertile waters worldwide, dredge teasers have more recently been put into practice in South Florida. Here, tournament teams do whatever it takes to raise fish as they power drift through 100- to 300-foot depths with kites aloft, presenting live baitfish on the surface with incredible precision.
...every boat competing in the Quest for the Crest has at least one dredge in the water on tournament day.
Fishing multiple kites with multiple baits in close proximity to multiple turning props is a stressful situation, but the best of the best take it a step further and prove that dredge teasers are great compliments to kite spreads.
To get the inside story we reached out to Hillsboro Inlet’s Captain Art Sapp. A ninth generation Florida fisherman, Sapp has solidified his place in tournament fishing history with first place finishes in nearly every arena. From sailfish to kingfish, tuna to wahoo, kite fishing is the name of the game for Sapp and his crew aboard Liquid as they present immaculate live baits through thick and thin, working with frustrating winds and creating the best presentation conditions allow.
What led you to fishing in your first tournament, and how has the scene changed in South Florida?
I grew up fishing dead bait tournaments with my father. We also did a bit of commercial fishing so my passion for the ocean developed at a young age. While we caught plenty before, our competitive fishing career really started in 2000. We finally got a vessel that gave us the range, speed and livewell capacity needed to be successful in South Florida. Looking back it’s incredible to think what’s progressed from tournament fishing on a twin-outboard center console, to our current boat, Liquid, a 39-foot stepped-hull SeaVee with a 15-foot gap tower and quad Verado 350s. It definitely gives us an advantage, but over the years the fishery has also advanced tremendously. Competitive anglers from Jupiter to Miami are always searching for new methods and innovations, techniques and tools to improve their presentation… nothing short of enhancing their kite spreads with dredge teasers.
Dredge teasers are pretty much a requirement for competitive crews on the trolling circuit and can make the difference between getting bites and getting skunked. When did you first notice dredges used to enhance kite spreads?
The first time I saw a mylar teaser used in a sailfish tournament was in 2005 during the Mayor’s Cup in Miami. Now, practically every boat competing in the Quest for the Crest has at least one dredge in the water on tournament day.
Power drifting into the wind and current while presenting teasers requires a much different approach than trolling. How do you do it on Liquid?
First of all, we strictly fish with artificial dredges because they don’t require any extravagant rigging and are much easier to stow, deploy and retrieve. Since we aren’t pulling them at 7 knots, I can easily run the teasers from a pair of 50-wide outfits in the tower. Additionally, we don’t need an intricate pulley system and can simply run the teaser lines out of a stainless steel ring mounted mid-way along the outriggers. On tournament day, my anglers in the cockpit have enough going on where I don’t want them worrying about managing a teaser. I want them to be ready for the bite before it happens. With two kites banked out of the stern and a dredge dancing below I can power out and fade in with the current to specific depths and contours where I believe active fish are likely holding. Kite fishing out of the stern in comparison to a beam-to-sea presentation also gives me the mobility to run after tailers and free jumpers.
What happens when you see a free jumper?
When I see a fish on the surface and pattern its direction, I reel in the teaser and simply let it hang out of the rigger. As long as it’s not in the wheels I couldn’t care less about it. If it tangles in the outrigger we can fix it later. I’m solely focused on heading off the free jumping fish, while my anglers in the cockpit are doing whatever it takes to keep their baits in the air while holding on for the ride. We can run at about 30 knots before the kites begin to crash and my guys start hollering.
How far will you run toward a fish you see in the distance?
We’ll go after fish upwards of 300- to 400-yards away. Hopefully, if I time it right the fish will be in the spread as soon as the baits re-enter the water. If the baits hang in the air any longer, then they will be worthless when we arrive.
It seems like there’s a lot that could go wrong. Have you noticed certain conditions more conducive to fishing a dredge on the drift?
Unlike boats on the troll that can fish a dredge whenever they want, when power drifting I have to be much more aware of the wind and current. Once the kites are set, we often quarter off the wind to create a more lateral spread. Anytime I have a scenario where the current is going with the wind dredge teasers perform at their best. These conditions really allow me to sink the teaser into the spread beneath the short and middle kite baits. South wind against north current is a great time to fish a dredge, while a south current and northeast wind can also create a lot of activity. Additionally, the benefit of having a dredge in the water seems more region-dependent than anything else. If we’re fishing north of the Lake Worth Inlet it has a lot more effect than it does almost anywhere else all the way down the line to Islamorada. Once you get to Key West I feel as though a lot of bites come off the dredge, but it’s tough to pattern.
Do conditions allow you to fish two dredges at once?
I very rarely fish two dredges at the same time. When choosing which side to deploy the dredge it’s all about the current. With a north current and east wind I’m going to fish a dredge on my port side, and with a westerly component it will present better on the starboard side. The current is always going to favor one side and if you fish a dredge on the down current side it will inevitably work itself under the wheels.
Is it possible to fish a dredge when there’s zero current?
While dredges excel in wind against current scenarios, we also fish them under less than ideal conditions when we’re trying everything to raise a fish. Unfortunately, tournament days don’t always present the greatest conditions, but we have to make the best of it like everyone else. At least it’s a level playing field. When the bite is slow and a three or four fish day is projected to win I think having a teaser in the water can provide a huge advantage. Don’t be afraid to move the dredge around. Sink it and crank it back up, let it work its magic. Even if the dredge brings dolphin, blackfin tuna, bonito and sharks to investigate the spread we know bites make bites and a sailfish could pop up at anytime.
Have you ever tried power drifting with a natural dredge?
Natural dredges are great on the troll and there’s nothing better than the real thing, but for our fishery mylar teasers create a much better presentation. The problem with fishing natural dredges while power drifting is that you can’t keep them from getting tangled up. I think more crews will try it in the future, but I don’t think they will have success with it. You’re not pulling hard enough for the branches to really open up and when the baits cross over each other they create a giant mess that looks anything but natural.
There are a lot of artificial teasers on the market. Which do you prefer and why?
I’ve had great success with Stripteaser. They are lightweight, easy to store, and simple to deploy. The mylar strips are paired with laminated, holographic baitfish and reflect a tremendous amount of light. Surprisingly, they have a great swimming motion and the second you clutch in the motors they come alive. We fish a six-arm dredge with a teardrop design of streamers featuring a total of 105 flashy fakes. Among avid tournament professionals fishing Sailfish Alley and beyond, whether trolling ballyhoo or presenting live baits on the surface, it seems that dredge teasers have become the only option when it comes to enticing sailfish into the spread.