Dredges are one of the greatest developments over the last few decades. Traditional teasers, spreader bars and daisy chains are still a mainstay in any saltwater angler's box of trolling strategies, however dredges provide one of the most crucial dimensions to any spread by bringing the fish up within striking distance. Deploying a single or multiple dredge systems provide anglers with an excellent opportunity to raise just about any pelagic gamefish through resembling a live baitball swimming behind the boat.
A dredge is pretty much a six-armed umbrella rig on steroids with several connection points off each arm, also known as drops. Unlike the ever popular umbrella rig, a dredge is rigged with hookless baits or lures position in a bait ball configuration designed to entice any pelagic. The drops are trailed by a combination of hookless lures, rigged natural baits, or soft plastic squids generating the illusion of a natural bait-ball below the surface.
By presenting a larger profile, offshore game fish such as Dorado, Yellowfin Tuna, Sailfish, and Marlin quickly shift focus on the vibrations and magnitude of flash produced from a dredge. Running surface teasers often lacks replicating the dredge's level of intentional disturbance. Many options exist on the market from different dredge designs to configurations including 4-arm, 6-arm or 8-arm dredges. These can be custom rigged with single, double, or triple tiers. Regardless the size of your teaser, the objective is to resemble the appearance and vibrations of a tightly swimming baitball.
A manual or electric downrigger with a minimum 4-foot boom will work as a cost effective deployment system, which keeps the dredge spaced out, away from the boat like an outrigger. If possible, look for a 6-8ft boom as this will only give your spread more dimension while also keeping the dredges out of the prop wash. This is crucial piece of equipment when fishing out of a triple or quad powered outboard center consoles as the dredge tow line may be damaged by constant friction against the outside engine cowlings when making adjustments. It's also important that it's rigged to handle the weight and resistance of a dredge, requiring a simple pulley system.
Expertly rigged with artificial or natural baits, dredges are so deadly effective that often times are the decisive factor between getting bit or getting skunked. While artificial offerings are favored for ease of rigging, natural baits still are holding their own in tournaments worldwide, while making game fish bring their appetite. The biggest tradeoff for presenting the real thing are countless hours rigging never ending hookless baits. During a steady bite, crews can easily go through dozens of rigged baits within a few hrs, especially if bonito and meat fish are chewing. Mullet and Ballyhoo are the top of the litter when it comes to rigging a fish raising dredge. Tinker mackerel and small Bonita are also favored when targeting larger billfish such as Blue or Black marlin.
Top boats around the globe are acutely aware how valuable deploying multiple dredges in their spreads is to their hookup ratio. Most won't care to share that by dropping back a double or triple stack of each corner of the boat and positioning them anywhere from 20-80ft back will be the one getting bit! A properly presented dredge is lethal and will quickly drive up fish from the depths into your bite zone, so a very attentive crew is not only preferred but mandatory to capitalize on a lightning fast strike. Detailed rigging is what will replicate a natural swimming bait-ball and is the name of the game here. It's simple, the bigger the bait-ball, the more ruckus in the water, the higher your hook up ratio soars by raising more actively engaged predators.
Bring Back Ups
Bring spare dredge sets are not only suggested by required as the might ocean's predators will quickly pick apart your offerings without you knowing. Backups are needed because bad things can and do happen:
- Accidentally cutting your dredges off by a hot fish shearing through your line
- Dredge arms become weak and bend or break over time with heavy use
- And unexpectedly explosive bites from wahoo, mako sharks, sailfish and marlin can completely wipe out your dredges. We're talking about attacks where the fish charges up through the dredge, destroys it, and jumps away wearing your dredge as a . Bites like this are awesome to witness, but truly suck when losing all that gear at one time.
Capt. Jimmy Brown of Jaruco Sportfishing, runs the custom built - 90ft Jarret Bay named Jaruco and calls Los Suenos , Costa Rica his homeport. We recently caught up with him and asked Jimmy which style dredge baits are his favorite to pull? Jimmy said, "I place a big emphasis on low drag dredge baits that allow me to add more baits to build a denser looking dredge to more closely mimic a bait school."
Photo credit 📷 : James Brown @jaruco_sportfishing
Dredge bait selection may vary and is typically dictated by the species you're looking to target. Offerings can range from faster trolled artificial teasers to slower trolled natural baits. It’s also common for seasoned crews to deploy one natural baits on one side while sending down artificial baits on the other. Tough tournament conditions will also require teams to make quick adjustments and rig their dredges using all natural baits like a mullet or ballyhoo.
Regardless of what dredge bait is chosen it's vital they track true, with every bait precisely rigged to avoid any spinning. When fishing natural baits, like fresh mullet ,a poorly rigged and spinning bait, places extra drag on the dredge and the unnatural motion of a spinning fish can easily spook incoming fish. Keeping your dredge consistent with similar profiles and baitfish colors will also shape the baitball to look more natural. Avoid mixing up bait sizes or profiles as this will unbalance the dredge will cause the dredge to track incorrectly.
The combination of baits should look like a school of fish swimming tightly in a ball. Most baitfish tend to gather in larger numbers, swimming tightly together to avoid predation from larger gamefish such as marlin, dorado, yellowfin tuna, sailfish and many other pelagics. The larger the bait-ball, the more vibration traveling through the water column easily alerting any gamefish patrolling nearby.
Most would wonder how far behind the boat other captains are pulling their dredges? If you ask any seasoned dredge skipper his response would simple be, that's a loaded question! Several variables such as rigger size & angle, speed of current, boat speed, amount of whitewater and size dredge weight are just a few factors that dictate how deep and how quickly a captain pulls his dredge.
We wanted the latest information available, so turned to some of the heavy weights in today's competitive dredge fishing arenas. The goal was simply to get feedback on proven techniques that converted into consistent results time and time again.
Capt. Jimmy Brown, running the Jaruco, a 90ft Jarret Bay, doesn't really have a catch all dredge style, instead prefers to try to match the bait believed to be in the area. "When it comes down to dredge position, the best tactic for us is positioning the dredge as far back as possible without it interfering with a tease and switch scenario. We always want to have our dredge beat the teaser back to the boat. Having an efficient pull down set up is also essential to allow you to continue fishing the dredge in the turn", said Jimmy.
We asked Capt. Chris Donato, based out of Hawaii, what are the most imporatnt factors to consider when building a dredge? Chris said," I always believe that movement and vibration are key to raising fish and keeping them in close to your spread. I really like firetailz baits because they are light and have a very realistic movement to them although many other baits will work. My theory on a good dredge is that the ball of mass with all the vibration and movement can send out added profile to a fish that may be out of sight of your spread."
When it comes to checking the baits, keep a close on our dredges and check them often, especially if you're cruising along weedlines.
A dredge's wide profile acts like a rake and pretty much scoops up any piece of sargassum that crosses it's path.
The ideal scenario would be retrieving the dredge while connected to a fish but if not, keeping an eye on the baits hourly prevents missing any raised fish to feed.
Fresh mullet typically holds better and the last thing you want if for them to washed out taking away the mass and scent left on the bait. If they begin to break up, change them as needed throughout the day.
The dredge teaser is by far one of the most productive teasers of modern sportfishing but the key is to find a setup that works best for you. Years ago, dredge fishing was primarily used just for the hardcore sail fishing guys, but as tournaments expand release categories and payouts, dredges are finding their way onto more decks in the Gulf, the Bahamas and the Caribbean. In Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic where Striped and Blue Marlin frequent the edge, dredges are a staple on any boat targeting billfish. The top skippers run a variety of dredges including natural, artificial, and combination of both to match the local forage, while keeping high hook up ratios.
If you are reluctant or new to dredge fishing, we recommend keeping it simple, taking some time to experiment and most importantly, making sure you have the correct gear and boat set-up. The payoff can be tremendous and more importantly will keep you consistently connected to making angling memories for a lifetime!