Drifting with balloons
by Chris Tan S.G.
There are so many methods used in gamefishing to present bait to the game fish throughout the water column. They range from simple techniques that use just weights to position the bait deep to more "exotic" methods like using kites to dab or splash the bait at the surface. A simple method used to present the bait just below the surface is the balloon rig. Drifting bait, especially live bait near the surface is very effective in hooking up sport fish cruising just below the surface, looking for victims.
The basic rig used is the hook, wire leader and shock leader/mainline. The balloon is used as a disposable float. It is connected to the mainline in such a way as to release the mainline when the live bait is taken. There are a few methods used to do this. If the balloon does not release from the line, the fish will spend some of its energy fighting the balloon, instead of the sport fisherman. That is the reason why dispensable balloons are used instead of fixed floats.
Nevertheless using a balloon to keep the bait near the surface does have a disadvantage. There was this instance when I had drifted a balloon out one night, and I too had drifted off to sleep, only to be roused from my peaceful slumber by a rousing screech from my reel! Thoughts of a big fish hooked up were soon shattered when I picked up the rod to engage the reel into gear and set the hook when I saw a sampan speeding off aft.
The silly sampan boatman had carelessly passed less then 30 metres behind our boat, and picked up my balloon or mainline, giving me an unnecessary adrenaline rush! Or maybe he thought I needed to be woken up. The sampan swept by so fast that the ratchet spring had been displaced! I had to make a quick disassembly of the reel in less than ideal conditions to get the ratchet functioning again.
Keep it simple
I just use a very simple method of my own to attach a balloon to the mainline. Inflate the balloon to the required size, then loop the base over the mainline and make a simple overhand knot. But do not make a complete overhand knot. A normal over hand knot would have the tag end sticking out completely, in this case the tag end (the lips of the balloon) does not fully protrude, but only half of it. This allows the balloon to pop off the mainline whenever the live bait is yanked hard enough by the predatory fish!
Sometimes the tag end might not be tied securely enough and even the slight tugging movements of the live bait can cause the balloon to pop off. On the other hand, if the overhand knot's tag end is pulled through too much, it will not be able to pop off! This will cause problems when trying to reel in the line!
Try untying a balloon from the mainline, at night, with a rampaging fish hooked up! Alternatively cut it off, very carefully! If the mainline is cut, say good bye to the fish of a lifetime. In short, it is better to have the balloon tied on to pop off too easily than the other way around.
The depth of the live bait can be easily controlled by sliding the balloon up and down the mainline. Sometimes a very energetic live bait will place itself at a deeper depth with its own efforts when it swims down hard enough, sliding the mainline through the balloon's overhand knot.
Another simple method
There are quite a few methods used by anglers throughout the world to attach balloons and floats to mainlines but one could probably write a book about it. Recently Bob Chang from Tight Lines Sportfishing showed me another simple method to connect a balloon to the mainline, that quite a few of our local anglers use.
First inflate the balloon and seal it with an overhand knot. Then take a rubber band and tie it to the balloon by threading the one end of the band through the other (see pictures). This will ensure the rubber band is secured to the balloon, even under stress. Take the free tag end of the rubber band and make an over hand knot around the mainline. Pull the overhand tight. By using a rubber band to make the knot, when pressure is applied the overhand knot will slip and the balloon and rubber band will pull free from the mainline. The amount of pressure required to have the rubber band overhand knot slip is just nice for live bait usage.
Controlling the drift
The size the balloon is inflated to depends on the prevailing conditions. If the current is flowing from the prow to the stern (front to back) of the boat, but the wind is blowing in the opposite direction, keep the balloon small, otherwise the balloon and live bait will not be able to drift astern due to the wind! In the other case, if the current is moving from the stern to the prow (back to front), and the wind is blowing from the prow to the stern, make the balloon as big as possible, for the wind to blow the big balloon like a sail astern against the slight current. These are only two common examples. Prevailing conditions can vary, so use common sense to decide on how large or small the balloon should be.
To drift out the balloon place it astern, and let the current or wind pull/push it aft. When using a multiplier, leave it in free spool, letting the line unwind off the reel's spool. However, monitor the reel and balloon carefully! If a fish comes along and takes off with the live bait while it is in free spool, there will be a massive over run ("bird nest" or line tangle on the reel), jamming up the reel and probably snapping the mainline. If it is a small fish, then maybe hand lining the fish in would be the only way to land it! I once had a sailfish hit my live bait just forty feet behind the boat, while drifting out my live bait, only half the distance I had planned to let it out. Fortunately I observed that the balloon was suddenly moving very quickly sideways. This alerted me, and I was prepared to control the spool when the sailfish took off with the live bait.
Alternatively if the drift rate is very slow, place the clicker (ratchet) on and pull the line off the reel by hand and let the balloon rig slowly drift away, gradually take up the slack. By using the clicker it will prevent a spool overrun as the balloon drifts out slowly.
If there are a few balloon rigs out, make sure they are not placed the same distance behind the boat. Stagger them, or else entanglements are sure to happen, especially if the live baits are active or the currents and wind change, causing the boat to swing around.
There you have it, there are more ways to use a balloon than for parties and children's playthings.