America Go Fishing man holding snook fish

Sabiki Rigs

man on boat with sabiki rig full of fish

As we all know, fresh live bait is the best bait! Especially if it comes from the same waters you are fishing. There are many ways to acquire live bait – purchase live bait from a bait shop (expensive), use a cast net (difficult to master and hard to use while alone on a boat), use a fish trap (if you live on the water), or use a multiple hook sabiki rig!

Untangling the mysteries of the sabiki rig....

Sabiki rigs, also called Quill Rig, Feather Rig, Dropper Rig, small Chicken Rig and Trotlines, are easy to use, capable of catching many fish with each drop, and are inexpensive. A sabiki rig is designed to resemble schooling minnows when it is submerged vertically in the water. The rig contains many evenly spaced branches off a main line. Each branch has a small shiny hook with decorations. This combination of features is designed to allow you to use the rig "as is", baiting the hook is not required. These ingenious rigs allow you to catch many fish at one time. You will have a baitwell full of fresh live baits in no time!

sabiki rig on a fishing rod showing setup of rig

The trick to using a sabiki rig is to not get tangled or stuck by one of the many tiny sharp hooks. Anglers have a love hate relationship with sabiki rigs but they work great to catch bait easily once you get the hang of it.

Large sabiki rigs are actually very easy to use since they have less hooks, a thicker line test and larger hooks. The use of large sabikis to catch sport fish is not widely done due to the availability of large sabikis in bait shops and the fact that most anglers do not know they exist!

Where to Use a Sabiki Rig

girl holding a small fish on a boat with fishing line

Since you are targeting live bait, you need to go where schools of bait fish congregate, which is usually around structure of some sort. Navigational towers, channel markers, buoys, the base of bridges, jetties, the edges of mangroves, grass flats (pinfish), shorelines, and even floating debris are great places to find schools of bait fish.

When bait catching offshore or in cooler waters where bait are lower in the water column, a sabiki rig beats a cast net hands down. When bait catching over a natural or artificial reef, a cast net can easily get tangled in rocks and coral so it is best to use a sabiki.

huge bait school in tropical waters

When you see a school of bait, simply drop your rig or cast underhanded down current towards the school and/or structure and you should have a line full of bait in no time. If offshore, drop your sabiki over structure like artificial reefs or shipwrecks. Be mindful of divers when doing so.

If you find yourself in an area where there are sharks interfering with your fishing, using a shark repellent in a small chum dispenser attached to your rig works well.

If you are bait catching from shore, you may have to modify your sabiki to make it shorter for shallow water by cutting off some of the line. Use a heavy sinker to get your rig into deeper water and hold it in the surf. Casting your rig from shore can be tricky, be sure to cast underhanded, not over.

Using a Sabiki Rig for Fishing

crevalle jacks underwater in palm beach florida

Did you know the large sabiki rigs can be used to catch fish? This is not a widely know fact because most bait shops only stock the smaller rigs for bait catching. Anglers haven't been exposed to the possibility of using a sabiki instead of tying a multi-hook rig. The large rigs use as fishing rigs are so easy to use versus tying your own rig. The larger rigs are also great to use if you don't have bait or run out of bait, come upon a roadside fishing spot for a quick cast, are on a family fishing outing, or while on vacation since they don't need to be baited.

woman in bathing suit on a boat holding a cravelle jack fish catch

Species Caught with Large Sabiki Rigs

Blue Runner
Bonito
Little Tunny
Spanish Mackerel
Jacks
Croaker
Spot
Snapper
Black Sea Bass
Striper
Snapper
And many more!

The shiny allure of the sabiki rig attracts more than bait fish. Use large sabiki rigs instead of a leader line rig and fish as you normally would. You have the option to bait the hooks with cut bait or shrimp bits but it is not necessary as the sabiki is designed to attract fish without bait. Add a chum cage to the bottom or top of the rig to draw in more fish. Fill the chum cage with whole shrimp, squid, cut up fish chunks, or fish chum.

You can buy "targeted species" sabiki rigs like the Hayabusa Blue Runner series which are designed to attract certain fish and with the proper hooks size and line weight. Also available are rigs that are legal in certain areas with the proper number of hooks and length like the Hayabusa Chesapeake rig with 2 hooks.

school of mullet fish some jumping out of water

A JP 14 to the largest JP 22 sabiki with 14 lb or heavier main line can catch stripers, bonito, little tunny, Spanish mackerel, kingfish, croaker, spot, snapper and even redfish. The species of game fish you can catch are endless. Tipping the sabiki with bait can increase your catch. We read one report that an angler caught a 15lb, 37" redfish on a JP 14 Hayabusa S531E 3-hook rig and it didn't break! This same rig has a lot of great reviews of anglers catching all kinds of sportfish.

caution icon

Check your states regulations on rigs with multiple baited hooks. For example, in Florida, a sabiki or "trotline" that is baited with "live bait" must have circle hooks when used in the Gulf of Mexico.

3 large fish on a sabiki rig over the deep blue water

The large sabiki rigs, if you buy a good quality brand like Hayabusa, will last a long time. These rigs have heavy line, both main line and branches, so they are easier to handle. And these rigs don't have as many hooks on them, allowing for more spacing between branches to accommodate large fish.

Large Sabiki Rig Specs to Look For

  • Hook Size: JP 14 to 22 (US 1 to 6/0)
  • Line Weight: 13 lb to 60 lb
  • Number of Hooks/Branches: 2 to 6
  • Distance between Branches: 11 to 14 inches

Since the larger sabiki's are not widely available in retail stores, we have stocked Hayabusa large size sabikis on our store at great prices! Check out our table of rigs available on our store.

long image with a dozen Hayabusa sabiki rig packages in a row

To extend the life of your large sabiki rig, always rinse it with freshwater and store in a dry place. See Storing & Reusing Sabiki Rigs section above.

 

Rigging and Using a Sabiki Rig

Setting Up a Sabiki Rig

Sabiki rigs come neatly packaged with a swivel barrel on the top of the line for attaching to your main line at the terminal end and a swivel snap at the bottom for attaching a weight or bait cage.

sabiki rig in a package diagram of parts

The easiest way to setup your sabiki rod is to follow these steps:

  1. Open the top of the sabiki package exposing the top barrel swivel and the bottom snap swivel. Do not remove the rig, only the two swivels.
  2. Release a few feet of line from your rod and lock it.
  3. Optional: Create a stopper so you don't reel the sabiki thru your rod guides when retrieving. Thread a large plastic bead larger than your rod tip eye or something similar (plastic washer) tied on to the rods line.
  4. Attach the sabiki to your main line on the rod by threading the line from your rod through the barrel swivel on the top of the sabiki. Attach using your favorite fishing knot. The stopper bead or washer will be above the swivel.
  5. Attach a sinker or chum cage to the snap swivel which is the bottom of the sabiki.
  6. Now gently pull the whole unit out of the package keeping it taunt and away from you.
  7. Optional: Tip each hook with small pieces of bait, shrimp, squid or fishbites if your conditions warrant.
  8. Open your rod's bail and gently drop or gently cast your sabiki rig underhanded. Your goal is about 20 feet behind your boat, near a bait school or near structure. Never try to cast over, you could get hooked!
  9. Let the sabiki sink. To attract bait fish jig it gently a few times. Let the rig settle vertically in the water, there is no need to work the rig anymore. When you feel or see the rig has fish, let it sit for a few minutes so all the hooks hopefully get fish.
  10. To retrieve, reel the rig in slowly. Keep a constant pressure on the line as you reel in so the fish don't tangle.
  11. Once you have brought the rig on shore or on the boat, position the line full of fish over your bait bucket or bait well. Using a de-hooking device, flip the fish into their new temporary home. Do not overcrowd the baitwell, they need fresh oxygenated water to stay lively. Try not to touch the fish, they will be livelier and last longer.

Do you bait each sabiki hook?

Sabiki rigs are designed to be used "as is" out of the package with no bait. These rigs are extensively tested to attract fish with their elaborate decorative enhancements. If fish are not biting, you can entice fish to your rig by tipping each hook with tiny pieces of cut bait, squid, shrimp or fishbites. Be sure to use very small pieces of bait that don't cover the hook tip or you will prevent the fish from getting hooked.

caution icon Check your states regulations on rigs with multiple baited hooks. In Florida, a sabiki or "trotline" that is baited with live bait must have circle hooks when used in the Gulf of Mexico.Baitmasters bait fish chum bag

Do you use fish chum while using a sabiki rig?

You can also increase your catch rate by disbursing fish chum. Fill a chum dispenser or chum bag with your preferred fish chum and let the chum drift into the area where the sabiki rig will be used. Sardines and herring respond well to chum. Fish chum is usually warranted when the fish aren't biting, you are offshore in deep water or you want to bring in more bait. You can also add a sabiki chum cage filled with chum to the end of your sabiki to lure in bait fish to the rig.


Storing and Reusing Sabiki Rigs

a sabiki rig full of fish closeupThe tiny hooks on a sabiki rig can be quite a challenge to get under control, they tend to stick into everything they get close to and tangle. The simplest way to reign in a sabiki for storage is to follow these steps:

  1. Reel in the sabiki rig to about 6 inches from the tip of your rod.
  2. Place the rod in a rod holder to steady the rig and free up both hands.
  3. Hold the 1st hook located near your rod tip then grab the 2nd hook and interlock the 2 hooks.
  4. Hold the 3rd hook then interlock it into the 4th hook.
  5. Repeat until all hooks are interlocked into sets of 2.
  6. Take your weight on the bottom of the sabiki and wrap it around your reel handle. You may have to release some line reach the handle.
  7. Once the weight is around the handle, crank gently to pull in slack on the line.
  8. Take the main line and wrap it around the middle rod guides to secure the rig to the rod.

Other Ways to Store a Sabiki Rigred 6 inch plastic leader wheel

  • Wrap the rig around an empty leader line spool wheel.
  • Use a pool noodle and stick the hooks into it.
  • Cut an 8 inch section from a pool noodle and wrap the rig around it.
  • Use a 4 foot length of ¾" to 1" PVC tube and drop the whole rig into it.

Once your sabiki is properly secured to the rod it is ready for your next bait catching adventure. If you plan to use it on another day, rinse it with clean water and dry by either placing the rod in the sun or patting down with a towel.

 

Sabiki Rig Feature Choices

sabiki package with sinker

With so many styles and brands of sabiki rigs, how does one figure out what to buy?

Sabiki rigs come in freshwater, ice fishing, and saltwater versions. The primary consideration is hook size. The hook size and line weight determine what size bait or fish you will catch - the larger the hook, the larger the fish. Sabiki rigs are used primarily for catching bait fish, but they can be used to catch sport fish. See section below for details.

Price usually indicates quality; you get what you pay for! Hook size and line weight influence the price for each unit, which range from $1 to $15. A $1 rig is usually a single-use product that may or may not reach the water once unpackaged if it tangles. Lower quality rigs also have hooks that can be easily bent or bit off by fish. High quality rigs, especially those with larger hooks, don't tangle and can last quite a long time if properly cared for.

Where Will You Be Bait Catching? This makes a big difference in your choice of rig. Deeper offshore waters require longer lines and bigger hooks for bigger fish. Shallow inshore waters should have shorter main lines and smaller hooks. The size of your sabiki rig is based on the waters you will be in and the bait fish normally inhabiting these waters.

When deciding on the size of your rig to purchase, first decide on the hook size, then the line weight. The decorations to consider all depend on the water conditions and fish you are targeting.

Once you have decided on the rig size you would like to purchase, you have to decide what features you would like. There are literally thousands of styles to choose from, which can be quite overwhelming. By learning the standard features, you can narrow down your choices considerably.

TIP! Always have more than one sabiki rig package with you at all times. If you purchase inexpensive rigs that cost only a few dollars, then you will most likely only get one use out of each one. You never know what fish will go for your sabiki, one large fish can shred your rig in seconds.

Sabiki Rig Features

listing of sabiki righ features


Hook Sizes Hook sizes determine the size of the fish you will catch. Hook size numbers mean different sizes depending on the brand you use. Japanese sabiki rigs made by Hayabusa have hook sizes ranging from 3 to 22 where the larger the number, the larger the hook. American sabiki manufacturers hook sizes range from 16 to 6/0 where the larger the number below zero, the smaller the hook. This is quite confusing so we created the below chart to help you out. When you are online shopping for sabiki rigs it gets even more confusing as there is usually no information given on product ads as to the hook size rating of JP or US.

chart showing the hook sizes from japan that are US equivalent

NOTE: We use JP hook sizes on this webpage because we carry and prefer to use the high quality Japanese sabikis.

japan fishing  hook sizes 3 to 22

Your first consideration in selecting a sabiki rig is hook size. Hayabusa USA has put together a pdf icon Sabiki Size Chart by Target Fish to help anglers determine the size of hook based on target species. We will sum it up here:

Sabiki Hook Size Based on Target Bait Fish
South Atlantic & Gulf of Mexico

  • Size JP 4, 6 - Threadfin Herring, Spanish Sardine, Blueback Herring
  • Size JP 4, 6, 8 - Pilchard (Scaled Sardine), Cigar Minnow (Round Scad, Hardtail)
  • Size JP 14, 15, 16, 18 - Google Eyes
  • Size JP 8,10,12,14 - 4-7" Blue Runner
  • Size JP 20, 22 - 7" Blue Runner

Number of Hooks Sabiki rigs are sold in packages of 2 to 8 hooks, one on each branch line. Large rigs have fewer hooks making them ideal for catching game fish. Some states have regulations on the number of hooks allowed per rig, so check your state's gear rules before purchasing a rig.

Hook Styles The most common sabiki hooks are super sharp J or octopus hooks. Hooks are made of high carbon steel with a gold or silver (nickel) shinny surface. Rigs styled to mimic live bait like shrimp will have colored hooks that blend in with the hooks' dressings. Some anglers will cut off the barb on the hooks or bend them down to make removal of fish easier.

Line Material Sabiki rigs are made using either fluorocarbon or monofilament fishing line. Some rigs can have a combination of the 2 types, main line one type and branches another. Below is a summary of the features of each type of fishing line.

Fluorocarbon Fishing Line Features

  • Barely visible in the water because light passes through it
  • Has good sensitivity because has little elasticity
  • Drops in the water fast because it sinks
  • Diameter is thinner than mono
  • UV resistant so it last longer
  • Doesn't absorb water
  • Abrasion resistant and lasts a long time
  • More expensive than mono
Monofilament Fishing Line Features

  • Can be seen by fish in the water because it tends to refract light
  • Floats, good when fishing with top-water baits
  • Absorbs water so the line is more relaxed
  • Strong line with elasticity which is good for fighting fish but can wear over time
  • Available in many colors
  • Inexpensive and a trusted choice by anglers for a long time
sabiki rig full of fish on ocean

Line Weight The line weight is expressed in pound test. The main line will always be a heaver test than the branches. Main lines are from 5 lbs to 40lb and the branch lines from 3 lbs to 30lbs. The thicker the line is (the higher test number), the larger the fish it can handle and the less it will tangle. With multiple fish on the line, if the line cannot handle the weight when it's full of fish, the whole rig can snap off under the weight of your catch.

Main Line Length The length of the main line is usually between 55" and 112". Select a length that is appropriate to the depth of the waters you will be bait catching.

Branch Line Length The branch line is attached to the main line with spacing between each branch. The branches extend out from the main line from 1" to 6".

Branch Line Distance Between Branches The branch lines are spaced evenly along the main line based on the number of branches included. The distance between branches can be between 1" to 18" which is dictated by the main line length. The longer the rig, the more distance between the branches.

Color The basic colors are white, red, pink and green. A good starter sabiki is a mix of red or pink and green when you aren't sure which fish are out there. When a rig dressed with multiple contrasting colors is used, it increases the chance of luring in different species. Your color choices may or may not work every time out. One day a color will bring in fish every drop; another day nothing! Weather conditions and environmental variable change constantly, so a color that worked for a certain species today may not work tomorrow. It is best to have on hand a few different colors to find out what is working best on that day.

Certain bait fish have been known to prefer certain colors:

Red and Pink – Sardines, pilchards, cigar minnows
Green (chartreuse) – Threadfin

Colors lose their intensity the deeper your rig drops due to low light conditions. In the video below you can see how lighter colors are more visible than darker colors in deeper water. This is the reason larger sabiki rigs have mostly lighter colors like pink, green and silver. Although there are contrasting reports that darker colors work better in deep water, murky water and rough waters. The science behind fish being attracted to certain colors is murky due to the enormous array of factors involved.


Decoration Styles Sabiki rigs come in many styles that are used to attract different fish. The style you choose should imitate the food your target bait fish normally feeds on. Most styles are shiny to reflect light and with small shiny hooks, each dressed hook will shimmer in the water resembling plankton, minnows, shrimp or other food sources attracting fish. Styles can be one or more of the following that also come in an array of colors: sabiki rig diagram of the parts of the hook decorations

  • Fish Skin, natural (more effective) or artificial
  • Flashers and holographic sheets reflect light, good for low light & murky water conditions
  • Feathers
  • Tassels or yarn
  • Skirts
  • Fluff tails that resemble plankton
  • Beads – solid colors or glow in the dark that mimic fish eyes
  • Plastic squids, minnows or imitation shrimp – resemble actual bait
  • Glow in the dark – absorb light then re-radiate it back out
  • UV enhanced – reflect light around

View the pdf icon Hayabusa sabiki hook style Features.

Since the sabiki rig was originally developed in Japan, there are traditional Japanese names used to describe some styles of rigs. We searched high and low to find out what the following three names mean and found nothing! After a lot of web surfing we have determined this is what they might mean by using the Japanese translation of the words; we may be wrong, but we think we are close:

Hage = bald, Japanese name for "the fish"
Aurora = dawn, day break, sunrise – multiple shimmering colors like the northern lights
Kawa = leatherery skin

So if a rig is described as Hage Aurora, then it has a smooth surface with a spectrum of colors. If we are incorrect on our assumptions, please contact us.

Special Features There are special series of sabikis available that mimic live bait or target certain species. These special rigs contain the correct hook sizes, number of hooks, line weight and decorations to serve the designated purpose. There are also rigs made to be legal for a certain area for example the Hayabusa Chesapeake sabiki is legal in Chesapeake Bay and is designed to catch spot and perch. Other sabikis target snapper, google-eyes, blue runners or other species. The real series mimic shrimp and minnows.Another style worth mentioning is the "jigging sabiki" which combines a dressed jig with a sabiki.

Swivels and Snaps Avoid chrome swivels and snap swivels; they are usually used in low cost rigs. The shiny chrome color attracts mackerel and barracuda's which will bite off your line in an instant.

Price Sabiki rig prices are determined by the product features and line material. The larger the rig (line weight & hook size), the larger the price. Price is also determined by the brand and country of origin. Better quality sabiki's by top notch manufacturers, like Hayabusa, will work better, catch more bait, and last more than one trip if properly cared for.

Other Equipment

Adding Bottom Weight to a Sabiki Rig

Bottom weigh is attached to the bottom snap swivel of the sabiki rig to send the rig vertically down into the water. It also acts to keep the rig in place, especially in a current. Most anglers use pyramid, bell or egg lead sinkers that weigh between 1 to 4 ounces. The size of the sinker depends on the size of your rig, current, and the water conditions. Your goal with your weight selection is to keep the line tight, which prevents tangles, and if the current is running, to keep the rig in place.

examples of sabiki rig sinker weights

If using a hollow egg sinker, make a loop of mono that can be used to attach the sinker to the bottom swivel snap. To make a loop, take a foot or less of monofilament line and string it through your sinker then tie it off creating a loop. The loop should be around 4 to 6 inches. Attach the line to the bottom snap swivel. This loop is also very useful for hooking the bottom of the rig to your reel when storing the rig – attach loop to reel handle then reel in the line to bring up slack.

You can also use tipped jigs instead of a sinker if there is little to no current.

sabiki chum cage

A small baited sabiki chum cage can be used instead of a sinker, or use both! These small 4 inch long metal fish chum dispensers can really draw fish to your rig. The cages can be loaded with fish chunks, cut squid, live bait shrimp or fish chum. A sabiki chum cage is especially useful in deeper water when bottom fishing or when bait catching from a fishing pier. You can also use these cages on your down rigger or fishing line. The cages heavy design will even hold up to trolling. This cage is also used to disperse Shark Repellent.

Sabiki Rod and Reel

Having a dedicated rod and reel for sabiki bait catching is a must! A simple, inexpensive reel with 8 to 10 pound test and a 7 foot fast action rod is all you need. Having a dedicated reel and rod allows you to reuse the sabiki the same day or store the sabiki for another day's trip. Reusing a sabiki once you remove it from the rod is not a fun activity as the hooks stick into everything and are difficult to untangle.

You can purchase a "sabiki bait rod" that is a hollow rod with one line feeder guide. When you retrieve the rig it will be neatly threaded into the rod blank for tangle-free storage. Simply reel in the sabiki and store for your next trip or between fishing spots. Remember to rinse the interior of the rod when storing.

You can make your own sabiki rod, this video shows you how:

Sabiki Rig Rod and Reel Setup Examples

Large Bait: For large baits like google eye, small mackerel, or blue runners use a 7-10 foot fast action rod with a Size 50 reel spooled with 14lb test mono line. Use a 2-4 ounce sinker depending on the current with a JP 14-22 size rig with 30-40 lb main line and 15-30lb branches. You can use 1/16th an ounce jigs instead of hooks if you make your own sabiki.

Small Bait: For small baits like pinfish use a 6-7 foot fast action rod with a Size 10-30 reel spooled with 8-10lb mono line. Use a 1-2 ounce sinker depending on current with a JP 6-10 size rig works with most small bait.

Hook Removers

A hook remover is necessary to remove the fish from the sabiki hooks. Bait fish survive much longer if they are not handled, so using a hook remover to "flip" the fish into your bait bucket or bait will is a must! Plus trying to wrangle a full sabiki with half a dozen fish or more can be an overwhelming chore without the assistance of a hook remover. They make many styles but the ones best for a sabiki are the small ones that grab your line and slide down to each hook allowing you to flip each fish off. The other type is a little larger with an open looped end and these work great for larger fish and rigs. We only carry on our store the 2 best hook removers for sabiki's, click images to buy.

3 inch sabiki hook remover fish hook flipper unit

 

Regulations for Using a Sabiki Rig

When bait catching, It is not uncommon to catch sport or large fish like jacks, barracuda, sharks, or snappers that you might want to keep. And anglers around the world use large sabiki rigs to catch sport fish. But it's not legal everywhere to keep sport fish caught with a sabiki. If you accidently catch a regulated sport fish on your sabiki, release it carefully with a de-hooking device to ensure its survival.

Many states have gear regulations for using a sabiki rig. Regulations include how many hooks you can have on the line, where you can use a sabiki rig, and what fish you can catch with one. As an example, New York only allows 5 hooks on the sabiki in tributaries, so you have to cut one or more hooks off to be legal. California has rules on sabiki rigs too. In Florida, a sabiki or "trotline" can have 10 or fewer hooks but if it is baited with live bait, it must have circle hooks when used in the Gulf of Mexico. Please research your state's current gear regulations before using a sabiki rig or any multi-hooked rig.

Look up "gear" regulations for your state online at eRegulations.com or order a catalog from our store. Most states do not get into detail in their regulations catalogs the rules on gear for bait catching. Always check your states regulations page online for bait catching gear before using a sabiki in your state. Another good source is your local bait and tackle shop.

 

History of the Sabiki Rig

The sabiki rig was created in Japan in 1958. The name sabiki® is actually a "brand" of the Hayabusa company but over time it has evolved into an everyday term for the rig it represents, sort of like the word Kleenex. Hayabusa brought the sabiki rig to the USA in 1991. The Japanese principals of craftsmanship have never faltered with this company and to this day they are the highest quality sabiki rigs in the world.