Ray Rosher is one of the top bait-rigging captains in the world. Since starting Miss Britt Charters in 1999, he has racked up over 30 billfish tournament wins with bridled live baits. Beyond billfish, Rosher bridles baits to catch swordfish and nighttime tarpon out of Bayshore Landing Marina in Florida’s Coconut Grove, the headquarters for his sportfishing fleet.
Rosher, an accomplished IGFA-certified captain and AFTCO pro, shares expert advice on live bait bridling techniques. Unhappy with products in the market, he created his own and established R&R Tackle. All R&R Tackle products, especially rigging bands and needles, receive extensive testing on the Miss Britt boats. Rosher's extensive record of tournament victories is a testament to the quality of R&R's tackle.
Purpose Built Bands & Needles
Rosher recalls the days when anglers would run a J-hook directly through their baits, a practice that didn't yield favorable results. “Often the hook would come out, or the bait would slide to the hook eye and allow the point to turn in and bury itself in the baitfish,” he said.
Floss quickly became the superior alternative for bridling baits and caught on quickly with anglers. However, Rosher said floss had downsides because if anglers wanted to pre-bridle baits, it would remove the bait’s protective slime coat. “That slime coat is essential to the longevity and durability of our bait,” Rosher said.
“So, we started using rubber bands rigged with an open stainless needle,” he said. However, with this method, the rubber band broke too quickly after exposure to the sun. Rosher’s team decided to work with silicone bands instead of rubber because their lack of memory allowed the hooks to turn back into the bait.
From there, Rosher began experimenting, looking for a material with high UV resistance and a good memory to keep the hook in position against the baitfish’s body. The result was R&R’s proprietary rigging bands. There are other good rigging bands in today’s market, but some have less memory and require more twisting.
No matter what type or brand of rigging band you use, Rosher said you must use the right-sized band. Through his team’s experiences, they’ve learned that the wrong-sized band can pinch the bait’s flesh down, allowing the bait to be knocked off. The optimal-sized band helps avoid tension build-up on the band. R&R’s small bands are about a half-inch in diameter, and their large ones are about 1 3/8-inch in diameter.
When Rosher’s team first started to bridle baits, they used stainless steel needles. However, they quickly realized that they had to use a stone to soften the needle-eye edges, which would damage the soft bands. As a result, he ended up throwing away 3,000 stainless steel needles. Some purpose-made stainless bait-rigging needles will work but require polished edges and eye gapping. Instead of worrying about that, “We went to synthetic needles, molded with microscopic edges and a tab that tensions the band to resist it from coming off the needle,” Rosher said. Using this method, a small bump at the tip of the eye helps retain the band.
Rosher’s process for bridling is straightforward. He starts by inverting the loop of the band around the bottom of the bend of the hook. Then, he pulls the band through the bait hook and spins it at the attachment point. Rosher said, “Once you have your bait bridled, you want about 90 degrees of rotation or more for the hook which allows penetration in the fish’s jaw.” Also, remember to handle baits carefully while rigging so they give you the best chance of catching a monster fish.
Back Bridle vs. Nose Bridle
Anglers can bridle live baits either in the nose or the back and how you’re going to fish will dictate which way you bridle.
Rosher uses a nose-bridle when seaweed is prevalent because it's easier to pick up the bait on a flat or kite line and shake off the seaweed. He also uses nose bridles when fishing fast-moving baits like small bonito, tinker mackerel, or ballyhoo. These baits won't move through the water naturally or quickly if they’re back bridled.
It’s best to use a back bridle for slower baits, like herring. “When you nose-bridle herring, they lay on their sides like a pancake. Make sure to bridle deep enough in the tissue for some meat to give the band purchase.” If you’re an angler kite fishing and moving slowly, use a back bridle so the hook is forward behind the head. By doing so, the herring will swim at a normal angle because back-bridling pulls it along, head down. Watch Rosher demonstrate how he bridle rigs herring.
Occasionally, Rosher decides not to bridle his baits at all. It's rare, but in wahoo tournaments or meat-fishing for king mackerel, the toothy fish will likely nick the band and detach hooks. Rosher's team uses a large circle hook or J-hook through the bait in these situations. Knowing when to use a back or nose bridle is key, whether you're an angler chasing wahoo or herring.
Now that you've got Captain Rosher's pro tips for bridling live baits, it's time to get out on the water and put them to the test.