Fabulous Flyers

When venturing over the horizon in search of epic blue water battles, the sight of flying fish skimming across the water’s surface always brings a smile to my face. Immediately reassured that I am in the right area, I now have great confidence in the day’s fishing. Dolphin, tuna, sailfish, swordfish, marlin, nearly every pelagic prowler will readily suck down a frisky flyer. However, the truth of the matter is that not too many anglers utilize this prolific baitfish’s enticing abilities when it comes to rigged baits or hookless teasers. While flying fish definitely aren’t as easy to come by as a pack of brined ballyhoo or a stringer of scaled sardines, they deserve ultimate consideration for anyone looking to increase their offshore score.


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Photo: Shannon Rankin/NMFS

Flying fish are members of the family Exocoetidae and are closely related to needlefish and halfbeaks. Easily distinguishable by their long and flat pectoral fins, these gliding gurus are highly desirable commercial targets in Japan, Vietnam and Barbados. While flying fish roe is considered a delicacy to sushi connoisseurs, die-hard anglers are more interested in their fish-catching abilities rather then their palate pleasing attributes.

Since toothy predators like wahoo and king mackerel are equally as likely to attack your flying fake, it’s best to rig with a wire leader.

Flying fish likely evolved their remarkable flying abilities to escape predatorial pursuits. They accelerate to takeoff speed by pulsating their tail, and their streamlined shape allows them to generate enough speed to blast through the water’s surface. Their wing-like pectorals simply act as stabilizers. While there are over four-dozen species of flying fish worldwide, all have unevenly forked caudal fins with the lower lobe longer than the upper lobe. This crucial design enables flyers to taxi and takeoff without fully returning to the water. Capable of continuing their aerial journey in such a manner, flying fish have been known to reach consecutive flight plans spanning distances up to a quarter of a mile.

Other than being smashed in the face by kamikaze flyers during long runs home from the sword grounds, capturing live flying fish is nearly impossible. While frozen individuals can be purchased from bait retailers such as Baitmasters ( and Bionic Bait (, they’re pretty hard to come by on a regular basis and not as readily available as ballyhoo. However if you use them once, you’ll surely go looking for them again-and-again since they catch fish that often turn their noses at traditional offerings.

With slammer season once again upon us, there’s no denying the fact that there are times when gaffer dolphin become super fickle and finicky. When the situation occurs and you can’t buy a bite, a flat-lined frequent flyer may very well turn the tides in your favor.

Rig It Right
Like all aspects of offshore angling, unless you provide the proper presentation your efforts will be futile. Flying fish sold from bait retailers are available both rigged and unrigged. Rigged flying fish for trolling purposes cost approximately $8.00, while unrigged flyers sell for about half that price. If you want to rig a flying fish as a pitch-bait, the technique is rather simple. Since flying fish have a broad head, you want to select a razor-sharp 7/0 – 9/0 J-hook to make sure the hook point is exposed. Simply insert the hook under the chin and push it out the top of the head between the eyes. A second option is going through the nostrils. Either way, the baitfish’s bony head bones will provide a solid anchoring point for repeated casts—hopefully you’ll only need one! The instant your pitched flyer hits the water give it a quick twitch. This will open its pectoral fins and effectively imitate a live offering.

Another alternative is to rig your flying fish as an enticing kite bait. It’s a bit more tedious but well worth the effort. By dangling a false flyer from your kite you’re essentially imitating the high-flyer’s natural aeronautics. Since toothy predators like wahoo and king mackerel are equally as likely to attack your flying fake, it’s best to rig with a wire leader. Don’t worry about line-shy species such as blackfin tuna, because your flyer will be bouncing on the surface and the wire will be out of sight. Start with 5-inches of #6 single-strand wire and haywire on a 5/0 J-hook. On the other end attach a barrel swivel. Haywire another piece of #6 wire about 6-inches long onto the same eye of the barrel swivel and attach a 4x treble. Now you’ll need to position the pectoral fins so they are ready for taxi and takeoff. Start with an 8 to 10-inch piece of copper rigging wire. Run the wire through the eye sockets, leaving equal lengths on each side. Pull a wing forward and take three wraps with the wire around the bony wing. Repeat the process on the other side and you’re good to go. All that is left is to bridle your bait with a rigging needle/floss or rigging bands.

If natural flying fish are hard to come by, don’t hesitate trying the same rigging techniques with artificial offerings that have molded wings ready for flight.