Part I: Teaser trolling basics
  |  First Published: October 2013

A teaser is a fish attractor that you pull behind the boat when trolling. Teasers have been used for bluewater trolling since the early days of trolling and were popularised by anglers such as Zane Grey and especially in the origins of game fishing in Hawaii.

Teasers are typically designed to represent a school of bait (baitfish or squid) in the water. While some teasers use mirrors, most use rubber fish, rubber squids and ‘birds’ tied either in a line or side by side (birds are a rubber or hard lure with side wings that make them splash on the surface). The string is pulled from either an outrigger, a conventional rod or a line/cord run to a stern corner cleat.

Some teasers are made from rigged dead-baits; particularly garfish as they hold together longer than most other types of baits after being bashed by a sailfish bill or similar. Most teasers incorporate soft lures so that the fish have something to chew on. Ideally the teaser offering will be very durable so that the target fish has a reason to either hang around for a long time and/or come back again with their mates a second time.

In tournaments, one person will usually be dedicated to sit at the teaser with a rigged dead bait, such as a swimming garfish or swimming mullet rigged with a chin weight and a hook in it. The swimbait is freespooled down alongside the teaser, looking for a bite. Once their dead-bait has been freespooled back past the teaser, they'll reel in and repeat the drill. This process will continue throughout the fishing day. The reason for this tactic is that fish seem attracted to offerings (bait, lure, or fly) that are travelling at a different speed than the boat – in this case, slower. Try it when you have a fish in the pattern that won’t eat…this trick works great in these situations.

Live baits also work well if you have a fish come up on your teaser. It pays to have a livie prerigged and on station in your boat’s livewell.

In light line record attempts and flyfishing, teasers are pulled around behind the boat and the actual fishing lines are kept in the boat until the target fish shows itself in amongst the teasers.

I’ve had pelagic game fish continuously attacking a teaser for longer than most readers would believe. I’ve even had some fish more interested in the teaser than the presentation that we’ve put into the water to try to hook it on. Accordingly, one of the drills with teaser fishing is to coordinate its removal from the water with the instantaneous placement of a bait, fly or lure in the same spot. Often when the teaser is pulled out of the water, the fish will hunt around until it (hopefully) finds your replacement offering.

Target Species

The bigger the pelagic fish species, the more likely that they’ll be interested in your teaser. All billfish species love chewing on teasers as do mahi mahi and some tuna species. It is not uncommon to have a whole school of sailfish attack your ‘dredge’.

Daisy Chains, Spreader Bar, or Dredges?

Dredges are usually made from two or three or more spreader bar rigs fashioned together so that the wire frame looks like an umbrella that has lost its cloth.

Dredges can run up to 24, and even to 50, baits and/or lures. From these dredges hang either garfish or mullet, or 9-12” shad tails, rubber garfish and/or squid. I prefer the rubber offerings because they don’t need to be changed out throughout the day like dead baits do.

These dredges create so much drag when pulled through the water that they are commonly run off electric reels and/or electric downriggers. Running teasers on electric outfits means that they can be retrieved (sort of half-retrieved) at the press of a button. However, even with electric retrieval, you still need to clear the kit away and clear the decks to fight the fish.

Spreader bar and splashbar

A spreader bar is a single horizontal bar that hangs 3-5 strings of either squid or little cone head lures called bullets or lead heads. The last lure in a spreader bar set up maybe either a soft squid or a soft plastic shad tail. In general there will be between 9-16 lures (or dead baits) on a spreader bar.

There is also a splashbar that is a variation of the spreader bar. It’s horizontal bar that holds the strings of baits in position behind or through a largish splashing teaser bird or similar splasher.

Spreader bars and splash bars are often run from conventional tackle. Simply attach the teaser to the snap swivel on the fishing line and free spool the teaser back into place. I like to pull the teaser from a bent butt rod outfit in the 50lb class because the lower angle of the rod makes it easier to work your other rods (especially the one with the bait with a hook in it) around the teaser. A 50lb (24kg) line is also durable enough to deal with most light tackle teaser situations. I’m happier using 50lb single speed reel like an old Penn International 50 that is loaded with 200lb braid because the super heavy line gives even more room for error.

Spreader bars have given way to dredges these days. Really a dredge is just a bunch of spreader bars combined together. The theory supporting the use of dredges is that the more visual stimulation that you tow in the water the better. In my opinion though, spreader bars are still the best option for small boats and/or novice crews.

My favourite spreader bars are those with a string of sassy shads in them. It’s pretty cool when you stare trance-like into the water at all those wiggling fish tails. Then all of a sudden you join the dots on a bigger image as a billfish materialises under or behind the ‘school’ and then lights up with neon bars to take a swipe at them with its mouth and bill – goose bumps!

Daisy Chains

A daisy chain is a singular string chain of small marlin lures, artificial squid, and/or teaser birds. The last lure in the chain is typically a different colour and may also have a hook in it.

The daisy chain is run off conventional tackle if it has a hook in it. If you are using the daisy chain as a teaser only, you have the option to run it through an outrigger off a teaser reel from the fly bridge (or helm) from where the skipper will run the boat’s teasers.

You can run a teaser off each side (corner) of the boat if you like, but most crews run a single teaser on one side of the boat and then aim to fight and land their big fish from the other side.

My favourite daisy chain that I first used on my family’s boat around Moreton Island back when I was still in primary school, is a bird with a row of semi-solid soft squids behind it and the last lure in the chain is a slant face Moldcraft lure.

Next month, I’ll continue the discussion of teasers and the issue of ‘to hook or not to hook’ and the best techniques.

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