The Ultimate Guide About Ballyhoo Fish

There’s no denying it. The ballyhoo fish is one odd-looking fish thanks to its extended lower jaw. But they do make excellent bait because they’re easy to catch and swim in schools. And, chances are you already caught – albeit unintentionally. Here is everything you need to know about this favorite baitfish.

Fish Profile: Ballyhoo Fish Overview

A ballyhoo fish swimming in the water.
Scientific nameHemiramphus Brasiliensis
Other namesBalahu, halfbeak, and Redtailed Balao
Appearance It has a halfbeak for a snout and three stripes along its back.
DietMostly seagrasses and smaller fish
Average weight and lengthAround 200 grams and between 10 and 16 inches
HabitatAround shoals and reefs
Peak spawningBetween March and July
BehaviorSkips across the water when chased
Depth range0 to 5 meters
Conservation statusNo current conservation laws

What Is a Ballyhoo?

The ballyhoo fish belongs to the Hemiramphidae (halfbeak) family. Its scientific name is Hemiramphus Brasiliensis, but it is commonly known by other names like Yellowtail Ballyhoo, Redtailed Balao, Balahu, and halfbeak.

Many anglers use ballyhoo fish as bait. This fish swims in schools and tends to skip across the water when running away from predators. If you haven’t used ballyhoo as bait, here’s how:

  1. You need to wrap a copper wire around your hook and tie it, leaving around 12 inches of excess wire to make the rig.
  2. Then, you will have to carefully insert the wire into the gill of the ballyhoo without piercing the sides.
  3. Work the wire down the length of the fish, then pierce the belly of the fish to expose the hook.
  4. Wrap the hook with the excess wire to secure it in place.

Where to Catch Ballyhoo?

You can find ballyhoo in large numbers throughout the Atlantic Ocean, From the eastern coast of the US to the western coast of Africa. But, you can also spot them in theGulf of Mexico and the Caribbean.

Note: You’ll find ballyhoo fish off the Florida coast and Massachusetts during summer.

It’s not unusual to find young ballyhoo fish in open waters. However, many adult fish live in bays, reefs, and nearshore waters. These fish swim in schools near the water surface, which means that you can catch many of them at once.

Pro Tip: If you want to increase your chances, you should anchor your boat along a patch reef, reef line, or any other contour where the fish can hide.

What Does Ballyhoo Look Like?

Ballyhoo has an elongated, cylindrical, streamlined body with a shorter upper jaw and extended lower jaw. It has a silver body and a greenish back, with three stripes along its entire length.

Its pectoral fin is shorter, and its pelvic fin extends beyond the beginning of its dorsal fin. Its caudal fins, parts of its dorsal fin, and the tip of the lower jaw are orange. The dorsal and anal fins have no scales.

They grow to a length of between 10 and 16 inches, with a maximum of 200 grams. Interestingly, mature female ballyhoo fish are bigger than males.

What Do They Eat?

Since ballyhoo fish is small and not a ferocious eater like the dorado fish, they often feast on seagrass, plankton, algae, and even smaller fish. You’ll also find them feeding just a few meters from the surface.

How Do They Reproduce?

Like the lizardfish, ballyhoo reproduces by broadcast spawning, wherein the females and males externally mate by releasing the eggs and sperm in the water.

Interestingly, the ballyhoo fish only reproduces over 1000 eggs per spawning. Don’t worry, though. They have a higher reproduction frequency to compensate for the low egg count, with March to July as the highest spawning.

Fun fact: Fertilized eggs hatch all at the same time.

How Do You Catch Ballyhoo?

Depending on which method you are better at, you can catch ballyhoo using a net or an ultralight rod. Using a net is the easiest and fastest way to catch these fish because they are mainly in schools, and it gives you a higher chance of catching more fish at once.

Pro tip: You need to use a net with around 6-12 feet diameter.

To attract the fish, use a chum bag. Wait until there is a good flowing current and enough fish within good netting distance.

If you are using a rod to catch ballyhoo, you should use an ultralight model because you can feel it when the fish strikes the bait. As for the bait, ballyhoo fish loves shrimp.

Ballyhoo Fish FAQ

What Can You Catch With Ballyhoo?

A ballyhoo rig is an excellent way to catch bigger fish like marlin, sailfish, mahi-mahi, tuna, and wahoo. For the best chances, ensure that you rig your ballyhoo well and hook it with around five to eight knots to secure it in place.

Are Needlefish and Ballyhoo the Same Thing?

While needlefish and ballyhoo have similar colors, needlefish have both jaws elongated, and their bodies are slender than ballyhoo.

What Depth Do You Need to Catch Ballyhoo?

Ballyhoo love staying at the surface of the water, and you can catch them at a depth of five meters.


Ballyhoo fish is salty water fish with an elongated lower jaw. Anglers use them as bait for bigger fish because they sip across the water to escape predators, attracting other predators in the water.

To imitate the ballyhoo, fishers rig the fish, which looks like the fish skipping over water, attracting bigger fish. It is best to look along reef lines and reefs to catch ballyhoo.