Land Based Game Fishing: Gas Ballooning Your Baits

Gas ballooning is a unique method of angling which is commonly used to target surface cruising gamefish from the shore. With the aid of a strong offshore wind and a large gas filled balloon land based anglers are able skip a variety of popular baitfish a long way out to sea.

The large surface splashes created by a skipping baitfish can attract a wide variety of predatory fish such as longtail tuna, yellowfin tuna, cobia, Spanish mackerel and sailfish. These pelagic speedsters will often attack a well presented skipbait with tremendous force which often results in some spectacular surface strikes.

Taking your fishing to the max! An angler fills a gas balloon prior to sending out a bait.

Taking your fishing to the max! An angler fills a gas balloon prior to sending out a bait.

Popular Spots For Gas Ballooning

Western Australia’s north-west coastline is ideal for gas ballooning due to the consistent offshore winds that blow for the majority of the year. Iconic locations such as Steep Point, Dirk Hartog Island and Quobba have become synonymous with gas ballooning since this technique was invented in the early 1980’s. Gas ballooning is also possible from certain east coast ledges, however trying to find offshore winds that coincide with the regular gamefish season can be extremely difficult at times.

Fishing With Helium Gas

Gas ballooning is a highly specialised form of fishing and as a result this technique requires some additional gear and tackle. The gas required for ballooning needs to be lighter than air and helium is the most popular choice. Helium is also referred to as “balloon gas” and is readily available from large gas suppliers such as BOC or most party shops. Balloon gas certainly isn’t cheap and can cost around $150 for a D-size bottle plus a daily charge on the canister hire. The D-size bottle is capable of filling up approximately 10 large balloons.

Goshie with a sensational Spanish mackerel caught while gas ballooning the rocks.

Goshie with a sensational Spanish mackerel caught while gas ballooning the rocks.

Choosing The Right Balloon

Large round balloons can also be purchased from most party shops and some of the leading tackle retailers in WA. It is important to buy good quality helium grade balloons. I use 90cm Qualatex balloons which are made out a thick latex material. These balloons retail at around $8 can be reused and refilled on a number of occasions. It is common practice to keep your balloon filled after a fishing session and top it up with more gas the following day. Balloons will usually last two or three days before they become too soft and saggy to reuse.

A black king and a tuna - two worthy targets for land based game anglers.

A black king and a tuna – two worthy targets for land based game anglers.

Ballooning Skip Baits

The most common skip bait used for gas ballooning is a large broadback garfish. These broadback garfish can either be purchased at most bait suppliers for around $16-18 a kilo or caught from the beaches and estuaries along the west coast. The ideal size garfish should weigh approximately 150-200gms per bait. Besides garfish there are plenty of other skip baits which work just as well for gas ballooning such as mullet, tailor, herring, slimy mackerel, sanmar and snook.

Setting Up A Gas Balloon Rig

The most common fish encountered when gas ballooning are usually large Spanish mackerel. To avoid being snipped off by these toothy predators I always make my gas ballooning rigs out of 175lb 49-strand wire. To make a gas ballooning rig I start off with a 4/0 stinger treble on the bottom of the rig, and then I snell on two or three 10/0 Gamakatsu octopus hooks depending on the length of the bait. I spread the hooks out evenly along the bait and place a brightly coloured squid skirt in front of the bait. The bright skirt makes it easier to locate your bait when it is drifted out to sea and adds more colour to the skipping baitfish.

And the result - a sensational cobia caught after using a gas balloon rig.

And the result – a sensational cobia caught after using a gas balloon rig.

The Right Rod And Reel

When you are gas ballooning from the rocks skip baits can be propelled anywhere from 100-500m out to sea. With these long drifts a large overhead reel is required for line capacity. My favourite ballooning outfit is a Tiagra 30WLRSA matched with a 15-24kg Wilson Venom LBG rod. I usually load my reel with 800m of 65lb braid backing and 100m of 50lb-80lb mono top shot. The mono provides line stretch and some added abrasion resistance which is extremely handy when trying to land a fish from the rugged WA cliffs. Using at least 50lb tackle is common practice for gas ballooning due the possibility of hooking a big yellowfin tuna, sailfish or the occasional black marlin.

Splashing The Skip Bait

Getting your bait to work properly by splashing across the surface of the water is the key factor to getting the best results from this technique. This is where you have to find the correct balance between the size of your bait, the balloon size and the strength of the wind. Finding the correct balance can be difficult at first and can often require a little bit of trial and error.

The desired effect should see your bait dance across the surface in an erratic fashion and spend approximately half the time on the surface and half the time in the air. When the bait re-enters the water it should make violent splashes and plenty of surface commotion. The bigger the splash the more noticeable your skip bait will be to nearby predators.

Hooked up from the Quobba coast.

Hooked up from the Quobba coast.

Adjusting Gas In The Balloon

If your bait is spending too much time in the air or continually sits on the surface it probably means that it is not weighted correctly and you need to fine tune your rig. This is where you need to add more gas or reduce the amount of gas in your balloon. I use a short piece of 8mm plastic sleeve known as a “grommet” to trap the gas in my balloon rather than tying a knot around the neck. This makes it a quick and easy to adjust the gas in your balloon to suit the variable wind conditions.

How To Attach The Balloon To Your Line

To attach my balloon to my mainline I use a sliding balloon rig. This works by attaching the balloon line to the mainline on a large swivel or a solid brass ring. When a fish strikes the balloon line will simply slide up and down the main line without breaking away. I normally use a 10-20m length of 30lb line to attach my balloon.

Dealing With The Wind

The ideal wind strength for gas ballooning is between 10 and 25 knots. During these perfect wind conditions you will find that your skip bait will usually work extremely well. When the wind is really light and blowing less than 10 knots your bait will usually sit on the surface. When this occurs you really need to work your skip bait to initiate a strike. The best way to work your bait is to let it out about 50m and then wind back in again. This creates a violent splash and allows your bait to cover more water at the same time. Working your bait is a great way to hook a fish as you can set the hooks as soon as the fish strikes.

If the wind is stronger than 25 knots it can be a real headache trying to keep a bait in the water. When the winds are absolutely howling I always weigh my skip baits down by tying a ball sinker to the keeper hook. Another alternative to fishing in strong winds is to use heavier baits such as mullet or tailor.

 

Best Wind Direction For Ballooning

The ideal wind direction for gas ballooning at Quobba and Dirk Hartog Island are Easterlies and these winds usually blow from May to August. During the summer months the prevailing winds are Southerlies and this wind direction is perfect for gas ballooning at Steep Point in the Shark Bay region.

Gas ballooning is one of the most ingenious forms of fishing I’ve ever seen. Once you get the hang of this technique you can certainly catch a wide variety of quality gamefish from the shore.

Going gas ballooning ... An angler gets ready for another session from the stones.

Going gas ballooning … An angler gets ready for another session from the stones.

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