Choosing The Best Sabiki Rig To Make Bait | Great Days Outdoors

Choosing The Best Sabiki Rig To Make Bait

When it comes to fishing fundamentals, no singular effort can be as rudimentary, or frustrating as the process of “making bait”. Even that term connotes anglers are trying to create something from nothing. Which at times may be all they end up without some of the basic tools and skills needed to catch their own baitfish. While many anglers are content to buy their bait from professional live bait dealers, others may trap, or castnet their own depending on what is available. Depending upon the time of year and the habits of each potential baitfish species, one of the best bait gathering tools to use along the Gulf Coast is the so-called “sabiki rig”.


What Is A Sabiki Rig?

A sabiki rig is a four to five foot long main line with a weight hanging below and a series of four to eight small “flies” tied off as branches. But not all sabiki rigs are made alike, nor intended for the same purpose. The term “sabiki” (pronounced “sa-bee-kee”) originated in Japan in the middle 1970s. It is referenced to a specific brand name developed and marketed by Tajiri Hayato, the founder of Hayabusa Fishing Hooks Co., Ltd, which is actually the United States registered trademark holder of the term “Sabiki”.



Sabiki rigs were originally intended simply as a bait catching device. Nowadays the term “sabiki” has morphed to include any of the hundreds of similar multi-hook rigs from different manufacturers. They are intended to catch baitfish or small to intermediate sized predatory fish such as mackerel, jacks and bonito.

sabiki rig

Hayabusa makes many different sabiki rigs that can be used in many different applications.


Not All Bait Is Made Alike

Along the north central Gulf Coast, the most widely used baitfish species include Round scad (“cigar minnows”), Sardines (“Spanish Sardines”), and herring (commonly called “alewives” or “LYs”). During the warmer months of the year (March through November) these species commonly travel in relatively shallow water from three feet deep to three hundred feet deep. Often they form into large “shoals” or schools for feeding or spawning near the surface.

They also gather for protection from a variety of predators from below including larger game fish (like mackerel), sharks and even dolphins. Baitfish mainly eat free-floating plankton and the tiny eggs or fry of other fish species near or on the surface. So they tend to swim in unison with their mouths open to filter these mini prey items from the water. And they readily strike the small flies of the smaller sized sabiki rigs with a shallow presentation.



One of the trickiest things for American anglers to understand is the hook sizing difference between those made in Japan from the United States versions. Labeling numbers of smaller Japanese sabiki hook sizes (3 and 4) work best for smaller baitfish like cigar minnows, sardines or herring. These are equivalent to #16, #14 or #12 size hooks made in the USA.  The main line and the branch line (to each fly) are made of very light monofilament (4 or 6 pound test) or even fluorocarbon so they don’t spook the small fish.


sabiki rig hook size chart

This chart, by Hayabusa, shows the size comparison of Japanese to American hook sizes.


The imported sabiki sizes 6, 8 and 10 respectively correspond to #10, #8 and #6 size USA hooks. These work better on mid-sized baitfish like “turbo cigs”, jumbo sardines and herring, or for small hardtails (like blue runners). Both the main line and the branch lines are made with slightly heavier mono to help prevent break offs. Break offs commonly occur when too many or too large of fish are pulling in different directions. Another inherent problem is the sharp teeth of small mackerel and bluefish cutting through the light lines. Not much can be done about these downfalls except to open your wallet and tie on another rig.

Some anglers do target spanish mackerel and bluefish with the larger sized sabiki rigs size 20 and 22. These feature larger flies on heavier line (20 to 40 pound monofilament to better protect the inch and a half long lures from being bitten off by the toothy fish. They are also effective for non-regulated species such as blue runner (“hardtails”), and ladyfish (“skipjack”). Many times these intermediate predatory fish are used as bait (live, or cut) for even bigger gamefish ranging from “bull” redfish to sharks and even marlin.

Anglers even find sabiki rigs useful to bottom fish for pinfish, pigfish, grunts, croakers, kingfish (“whiting”) and even seatrout (“white trout”). All of these species, are commonly used as baitfish (whole or cut up) for larger offshore species like red snapper, amberjack and king mackerel. Simply adding a small piece of bait (shrimp, fish or squid) to the hooks, or even a small strip of synthetic bait like Fishbites gives the flies the added attractiveness of scent. Incidentally, a lot of spadefish are caught on small hook sabiki rigs tipped with ½ inch long slivers of Fishbites


cigar minnows

Cigar minnows can be caught with smaller hook size sabiki rigs.


How To Use Sabiki Rigs

The use of sabiki rigs in the USA exploded through the late 1970s  and 80s with a rush of imported and domestic versions. However, many of these brands lacked the quality in materials and workmanship of the original imported versions from Hayabusa.

It was soon discovered the sabiki rigs that worked best for cigar minnows were made with “fish skin” on the smallest hook size available (3 or 4). And rigs made with a “glow bead” in front of the hook seem to attract more sardines and small jacks (Atlantic bumper and other “hardtails” or “yellowtails”) than cigar minnows or herring. Quality components are what makes high value brand sabiki’s like Hayabusa last longer for anglers.


school of fish

Scaled and False herring are commonly called “alewives” or “LYs”


Even before manufactured sabiki rigs appeared on the American fishing tackle market, folks along the Gulf Coast knew how to catch their own baitfish by tying a “gold hook rig”. Some intrepid pier angler discovered how the hordes of baitfish teeming around the beach piers along the Emerald Coast would readily bite bare # 10 or #8 gold Aberdeen hooks. At only 10 cents per hook, several of these hooks can be quickly tied together (about 6 inches apart) to make a rudimentary sabiki rig for only a fraction of the cost of a premade imported sabiki. And because the bare hooks are so stealthy they often out perform the “gaudier” flies.


Weights For Sabiki Rig

Sabiki bait rigs perform best when the amount of weight allows a slow fall through the bait school in the conditions present. Too much weight, and the rig plummets through the school too quickly. Also a large splash and weight may spook skittish baitfish. But if the weight is too light, it tangles easily, rendering it useless. Choosing the style of weight can make a difference too. Teardrop shaped weights will usually perform better than pyramid shaped ones, which offer more resistance underwater and slow the action. And the end of a bank style sinker is often too large to fit inside the snap swivel at the end of the sabiki. The weight style known as “bass casting” is teardrop shaped and has a small brass ring that fits even the smallest terminal snap swivel.


Useful Sabiki Rig Fishing Items

The bait de-hooker is a handy little device with a short piece of non bendable wire with a curve on the end. The curve slides down the line to the mouth of the baitfish. Then with the flick of a wrist, the baitfish pops off the hook and falls into the bait well or bucket without any of its protective slime being removed. Such bait stays healthier longer and performs better. These cost only a few dollars.

The sabiki rod is a five foot long hollow tube with a mounted bait casting reel that safely stores the sabiki rig. The line comes off the reel and enters the tube through a small hole, then feeds through and out the other end. This way, the rig can be reeled into the tube for safe storage to prevent tangling and accidental hooking, which is a hazard of so many tiny yet ultra sharp fish hooks. They do cost in excess of $50, but that is recouped in being able to use the same sabiki rig for a number of fishing trips with added safety.


sabiki rig bait fish

Catching multiple baitfish makes bait gathering faster.


There remains a certain satisfaction in catching, that is “making” your own bait. And being able to do that efficiently, that is catching multiple baitfish on each drop minimizes the actual pre fishing time that can make, or break your day, and your budget.

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