How to Use a Sabiki Rig to Catch Baitfish


Used for catching several baitfish at a time, sabiki rigs are monofilament leaders fitted with six to eight jig-tipped drop lines. Many anglers keep their bait wells stocked by working sabikis over structure or jigging through schools of sonar-located baitfish. While learning how to place and work the rig is crucial for success, maximizing the efficacy of a sabiki requires sound landing strategies.

Picking Your Spot

  • Locate baitfish on your fish finder by looking for large, dark “clouds.” Check near bridge pilings or over reefs or shipwrecks, as baitfish often congregate around some form of structure – especially on the down-current side, where they can rest. In some cases, depth markers and buoys are the only type of structure in a large area, but it is a good bet that these areas will hold baitfish.

Specifics to Suit the Species

  • You must adapt your technique and tackle to the baitfish species you are pursuing. For example, size 6 sabiki rigs work well when targeting threadfin or Spanish sardines, but size 4 sabiki rigs work better for hard-tails. In an interview with Sport Fishing magazine, charter captain Bob Clement of Mobile, Ala., explained that he catches hard-tails by casting sabikis across schools of these baitfish, so that the individual jigs fan out horizontally, and then fall through the school. By contrast, Clement vertically jigs over structures to catch Spanish sardines and cigar minnows. Most anglers use a light spinning rod and reel combo to fish sabikis, but some opt to use reelless long poles.

Setting Up the Rig

  • Successfully using a sabiki rig without snagging the hooks on your boat, clothes and fingers requires care. Wait until you are ready to cast before opening the sabiki packaging. Carefully open the bag as indicated on the package and locate the barrel swivel. Tie your main line to the swivel with an improved clinch knot or your terminal knot of choice. Locate the snap swivel, and clip it to an egg sinker. While many anglers attach sinkers that weigh 1 ½ ounces or less, Florida Sportsman magazine publisher Blair Wickstrom recommends using 4- to 6-ounce sinkers to prevent hooked fish from swimming up and tangling the lines. Remove the rig from the package by pulling it out in one smooth motion.

Landing Your Catch

  • Cast the rig near the school of baitfish, give the rig a few quick jigs and then stop. Usually, the bite comes after you stop jigging. Do not set the hook when you feel the first bite – wait a few seconds and then reel in a few inches of line. Wait for a few more seconds, and then begin slowly reeling the rig all the way up. Grab the sinker with your hand and lower the rod tip so that the main line stretches horizontally between your hand and the rod tip, and the fish hang down from the main line. Have a helper clear the hooks using a hook removal tool, and place the fish in the bait well.

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