“Dredge fishing for pelagic fish started in 80’s when a few captains in South Florida got the idea of emulating a bait ball by stringing up a bunch off mullet on a homemade dredge bar. The technique was so effective that is was said that Capt Chip Schaffer would rather cut off his dredge than give away his secret to oncoming competing boats. As with most fishing secrets the word got out and soon after boats all up and down the sailfish circuit had made the switch to trolling mullet dredges for sailfish. Today dredge fishing is almost a staple for all fisherman targeting billfish on the sailfish circuit”.
This is the answer I got from Bill Pino when I asked where it all started during a tournament in North Carolina. I was introduced to dredges the first time fishing for white marlin and sailfish off North Carolina and Dominican Republic. At first I thought what are these guys doing they going to scare my fish away but soon realized the fish tended to come up behind the dredges every time. I immediately started investigating this new phenomenon that was called a dredge and will it work in South African waters. I was put into contact with Bill Pino the modern day father of artificial squid dredges and the owner of Squidnation. The growing popularity of artificial dredges has made it a popular option for most lure fisherman targeting bill fish.
The idea is simple. Troll a bait ball behind your boat and marlin and sailfish will appear to eat the bait ball. Pull it away from them and they need to eat something. The fish will switch from the ball that mysteriously disappeared to you trolled baits or lure.
Most dredges are single, double or triple tier stainless steel dredge bars and slow trolled between 4 and 6.5 kts (7.5km/h and 12km/h) about 15 to 21m behind the boat. Various weight options from 1kg to 2.7kg rigged on a cable (Picture 1) in front of the dredge to get them far enough below the surface that they don’t pop out of the water but still shallow enough that they can be seen by the anglers (Pic 2 and 3) . If you can’t see the dredge you can’t see the fish behind it and the fish can sit behind the dredge for a long time until it losses interest.
There are many reasons for this progression to artificial dredges. Bait availability, speed of trolling, cost, preparation time and ultimately effectiveness. We just don’t have the bait in South Africa so the artificial dredges is the only option for us. Good halfbeaks can be scarce and anglers would prefer to use them for hooked baits. The use of artificial dredges also allows you to troll faster. Squid dredges can be pulled as fast as 9kts (16km/h) when hunting for bait balls and billfish. Squid Dredge, mudflap dredges and shad dredges give the angler lots of choices on shape color and sizing.
With the advancements of dredge cams most of the assumptions can now be proved now you can see what is actually happening. So many videos show a billfish rising up to an artificial dredge and slapping at it once and go straight to a bait.
So dredges raise billfish. But does it work in South Africa. Yes it does as can be seen in the results from the past few tournaments where the top boats where all pulling dredges. In the last OET both the top two boats Hotline pulling a Pulsator dredge and Jean Mari pulling a Squidnation dredges raised most off the billfish behind the dredges.
When asking skipper Japie Kleinhans and crew member Nick Nel from Jean Mari does it work both replied for sure. We raised bill fish every day except the f*?#! day my crew left the dredge on the side.
Now this all said and done how do you pull a dredge from a skiboat was the next challenge. We don’t have that type of boats are usually the first answer you get. Wrong you can easily rig a complete electric dredge reel from a skiboat (Pic 4 and Illustration 1). If you don’t want to invest in an electric reel use an old 80lb setup that would work just as good as seen in Illustration 2.
In both the electric reel and 80lb reel setup the dredge is run from the outrigger with a snatch pulley system. The reason behind this is the speed that you can retrieve the dredge with and lessening the strain that is put on the reel when you retrieve the dredge.
If you feel your riggers are not strong enough you can use a dredge boom as shown in Pic 5 and Illustration 3. This is an independent boom that can be placed in your standard 30 deg rod holder in the gunnel of the boat. This will take the dredge out to the desired position without straining your riggers. The setup uses the same snatch pulley system.
Setting up from the pulley to the dredge is the same for all the above systems. Spool the reel with 300 to 500 lb mono as the dredges has a large drag thru the water. Place a screw swivel or snap on swivel of at least 500lb between the Mono and the dredge weight. Then make up a cable of around 500mm from 800lb stainless cable with at least 500lb swivel on either end to link between the dredge and the dredge weight (Pic 1).
Always inspect the swivel and the cable before you put the dredge in the water as 90% of dredges are lost between the weight and the dredge due to swivel failure.
You should now be set to go to have a successful dredge fishing setup.