I’d like to introduce you to the IBYYA. What is the IBYYA, you ask? The International Billfish Yo-Yo Association — or more simply put, those who like to troll for billfish with a hand line and a yo-yo, a plastic device with a thumb rim-drag that’s often used in Third World countries in place of fishing rods, or for holding planer lines or live-bait rigs.
Now before the IGFA, RFA, CCA, BFA or, for that matter, the NRA, says a word, let me tell you it is the most dangerous, challenging, reckless and yet most exhilarating way to catch a billfish.
It’s also effective. While using bait-and-switch techniques and a yo-yo at Casa Vieja Lodge in Guatemala with Capt. Chris Sheeder and Juan Cruz Anon, I went five-for-five on sailfish. Juan went four-for-four on ballyhoo and caught one on the fly.
Yet, it is an absolutely terrifying experience, and I do not recommend it for everyone. If you’re not fast with your hands and don’t have nerves of steel (or you’re not an expert wireman), you’re going to get hurt or killed. It’s that simple.
Here’s how it’s done.
When you raise a billfish in a bait-and-switch position behind the boat, cast the ballyhoo with your right hand and let the line run off the yo-yo, which is held in your left hand. Using your left thumb as a brake, your right hand extends out, holding the line in your first four fingers. You must wear a leather glove; normal cotton gloves won’t do.
When a fish strikes, drop your right hand toward the fish and let go; your left hand is then thrust forward, and as you drop back, huge coils of line fall off the yo-yo. After the drop-back, reach out with your right hand, grab the line, hang on and strike as the boat moves ahead.
The billfish will go absolutely berserk and must be transferred over to the yo-yo, while your right hand constantly regrabs the line, acting as a rod tip. The friction caused by a run requires pouring water immediately on the yo-yo; if the yo-yo is not held at exactly the correct angle, the 30- or 50-pound mono can wrap around your hand or wrist, resulting in extreme injury or amputation.
When a billfish jumps, bow to him and loosen the yo-yo thumb pressure; when he runs at you or the line goes slack, you have to place one wrap after another precisely on the yo‑yo.
Incredible knowledge and boat-handling skills are a must from the captain, who needs to give you enough pressure to stay tight. You can retrieve line only as fast as you can wrap it. One missed wrap and it’s around your wrist, meaning you’ll have to either unwrap it or triple‑wrap and break the line.
The yo-yo also requires a cut-out man, whose only job is to stand behind you with a knife. Fishing without him is unacceptable, and you can only imagine my problems in a wheelchair.
Does the use of a yo-yo have a place in our sport? It already does. People cast them off the beaches of Australia; they’re used for commercial tuna fishing; and they are common in many places in the world for sustenance fishing.
Done properly and safely, catching a billfish on yo-yo is 10 times as hard as anything I’ve ever done. It’s also 20 times as dangerous, and 100 times as exhilarating!
By the way, I might be the first cancer survivor, T‑4 Asia A complete paraplegic in a wheelchair to have ever caught a billfish on a yo-yo. But does it matter? With a yo-yo, you feel every twitch the billfish makes. It is the most sensitive, hands-on experience you’ll ever experience.
My name is Tred Barta, and I am chairman of the board of the IBYYA, looking for new members. Our official headquarters is the newly launched tredbarta.com. Just don’t try this at home.
Till next tide,
Capt. Tred Barta