Hardtail fish (what they are and how to catch)

A hardtail fish or bluerunner

Have you heard other anglers refer to a ‘hardtail fish’ as being one of the best baits for some of the most sought-after game fish? 

Wondered what a hardtail fish even is? And how you catch one? 

Well read on because this article explains what hardtail fish are, and brings together extensive research on 10 different tried-and-tested methods that experienced game fishermen use to fill up their bait tanks with hardtail fish.

Ever heard of Mingo Snapper? Click here for info on where and how to catch this delicious fish!

Hardtail fish – what kind of fish is it?

Hardtail fish belong to the Jack family of fish, otherwise known as the Carangidae.

Some other examples of popular game fish that belong to this family are:

  • Pompano
  • Giant Trevally
  • Amberjack
  • Crevalle Jack

Hard tail fish are often used as bait, either whole for game fish or as cut bait.

They make a popular bait for many fish species.

Do Hardtail fish have different names? Are hardtail fish the same as Bluerunners? 

Hardtail fish are known by many other names, and different anglers will use different names. Sometimes hardtail fish are confused for other species, but the other nicknames for hardtail fish include:

  • Blue runner
  • Hardtail scad
  • Egyptian scad
  • Blue stripe scad
  • Hardnose
  • King candy
  • Grouper bait
  • Marlin crack

The last three nicknames are on account of hardtails, or blue runners as they are most commonly known, being exceptionally effective bait for these species of fish: Kingfish, Grouper, and Marlin. 

Hardtail fish tackle and how to catch them

We’ve created a handy guide below for you to make sure you’re selecting the right tackle to land as many hardtail fish as you can. 

After all, you want to make sure that bait tank of yours is full to brim, so you can confidently fish for some of the top game fish out there. 

Rod and reel

Now, for catching hardtail fish, sometimes the type of rod you are using can impact your hook-up rate.

It’s common advice that for hardtail fish, a rod with lots of action in the tip seems to perform better. By ‘more action’ we mean a slow to moderate action tip if possible. Something like a light-tipped trout rod works well.

A rod that is too stiff with a really fast action seems to miss all the bites. 

Seasoned anglers tend to agree that there is something to do with the action of the rod, and the way this treats the tackle at the end of the line in the water. It creates a particular erratic movement that seems to entice hardtail fish to strike.

As one angler said on one of the popular angling sites… 

‘…jig it like you’re crazy’

In terms of a reel, the important thing here is to be able to retrieve the tackle very quickly. Hardtail, or bluerunners, love to chase and strike fast-moving, twitching bait and lures, so you want to make sure your reel has a high gear ratio and fast retrieval rate. 

Hartail fish aren’t huge fish, with the maximum reaching 60-70cm, so your rod and reel set-up doesn’t need to be huge.

A mid-sized rod and reel (3000-5000) and a 6-7ft rod with moderate action would do well.

Main line

Many anglers opt for using monofilament when fishing for hardtail fish or bluerunners.

Monofilament line has more flexibility in it but this is countered by its abrasion resistance. As you’ll see later, hardtail fish are often targeted around rigs out at sea. 

If you hit one of these with braided line then it is more likely to snap than monofilament which can withstand abrasion against structure more so. 

That said, in more open water where there is less structure, many anglers opt for braid because it is less flexible and therefore provides more responsiveness when jigging for bluerunners or hardtail fish, which is important to attract the fish to strike. 

You want to be jigging fast, and braided line has less flexibility than mono or fluorocarbon so the terminal tackle you are using 

Leader line

Use a stronger leader line for catching hardtail fish. This gives you extra protection against any abrasive damage against structure if the bluerunner you have on the end of your line wants to run for cover. 

Some anglers opt for braid in the 40lb range, but a strong monofilament would also work well and give you added abrasion resistance. 

3 Rigs for hooking multiple hardtail fish / bluerunner

It’s possible to target hardtail fish or bluerunners with many different types of rig. 

Each experienced angler has their specific way of catching these awesome bait fish, and we’ve conducted extensive research to compile all the different methods that are used to land hardtail fish or bluerunners effectively. 

Let’s have a look at the list of methods for landing multiple hardtail fish at once. 

A hardtail fish on the sand

The top method we came across that experienced anglers were using to scratch hardtail fish is sabiki rigs, a popular method for catching many types of bait fish. 

Sabiki rigs are rigs with multiple hooks on a leader line that are adorned with shiny or different coloured material to look like small bait fish swimming in the water. 

They come in a range of sizes and presentation and can be bought pre-made in most angling shops for a cheap price.

Top tips for using Sabiki rigs

  • The common rule for choosing sabikis is that the bigger the bait you want, the bigger the sabiki rig you should choose. 
  • If you are looking to catch larger hardtail fish for game fishing marlin, for example, you might want to opt for a 16-size sabiki. 
  • Bring a few variations of colour, shape and size along with you to try out on the hardtail target. 
  • When one rig doesn’t seem to be working, switch it up for another go at catching the bluerunner bait. 
  • Jig the sabikis extremely fast and erratically when reeling them back in – the hardtail fish are attracted to jerky, fast-moving bait targets. Some say you can’t jig fast enough for these fish.
  • Be careful of the multiple hooks flying around – hardtail fish tend to flap around a lot when out of the water, which could send sabiki hooks flying towards you.
  • It seems that sabikis tend to work well around offshore rigs, particularly on the side that’s up the current.

2. Gold and/or silver pearl babies

Some anglers prefer to specifically use hooks or lures with a shiny skirted presentation, like C&H Pearl Babies, or Mylar bait rigs with shiny skirts on them.

Top tips for using Gold/Silver Pearl Babies

  • Troll silver/gold pearl babies behind the boat
  • Or small mylar skirted baits trolled behind the boat
  • Hardtail fish apparently tend to prefer the movement of these baits when trolled vs casting and retrieving them. 

3. Speck Rigs baited with squid – for catching 1-2 hardtails at a time

A great alternative to sabikis when they don’t seem to be working is to switch up to a speck rig and add a little bait presentation. 

Top tips for using Speck Rigs

  • Use two Speck jigs tied onto a strong leader line
  • When you cast, let the jigs sink a way down first
  • Reel in as fast as you can to trigger the bluerunners to strike.
  • 2-lure speck rigs can be effective when hardtail fish are on the surface and you troll the rig through the school.

7 Rigs for hooking single hardtail fish / bluerunner

If using multi-hooked rigs like sabikis or double speck rigs is not your thing and you prefer to target single fish, then have a look at the 7 methods below for catching individual hardtail fish.

1. Bubble rigs – if Sabikis don’t work

Another great alternative to sabikis when they don’t seem to be getting the results you want is to switch to a bubble rig. This rig uses a plastic bubble on a leader with a jig or lure on the end of the leader line. 

When you reel the bubble rig in quickly, it creates a wash of bubbles behind it that can attract fish to hit the lure, and is an effective choice for mixing up your approach to catching hardtail fish. 

Top tips for using Bubble Rigs

  • Use a highly visible, shiny attractive lure on the end
  • Attach the lure and bubble to a strong leader line 30-50lb 
  • Cast into the centre of the school on the surface and let it sit for a moment
  • Jig whilst retrieving the bubble rig back to the boat. 

2. Diamond jig or small spoons – for catching individual hardtails

Many seasoned anglers targeting individual hardtail fish for bait opt for the old classic lure – shiny diamond or spoon lures. 

These simple lures have stood the test of time for catching fish that hit small baits. 

Top tips for using Diamond or Spoon lures 

  • Use diamond or spoon lures in the 1oz range 
  • Can be paired with bass or trout fishing rods to increase the fun of the battle – you don’t need heavy gear. 
  • Using braid can increase your hook-up rate, ensuring when the fish strikes, they are hooked up. 

3. Carolina rig baited with squid

An interesting baited method we came across in our research was using a baited Carolina Rig to catch hardtail fish. 

A hugely popular rig for many different applications, it’s great to see it’s effective at hooking up hardtails too. 

Top tips for using a Carolina Rig 

  • Use a thin circle or live bait hook
  • Bait up with small cut-up shrimp 
  • Cast 15-25ft from the offshore rig and let the bait sink down
  • Keep the bail arm open and keep your eye on the line being taken.
  • You need a slow current for this to be effective.  

4. Trout Tail Lures

A surprising one here but some anglers are even using trout tail lures to target hardtail fish with. These lures come in a variety of size, colours, shapes and materials. 

Top tips for using Trout Tail Lures

  • Take a variety of lures with you – different colours, some with skirts some with spoon tails attached, different shapes. 
  • Rell as fast as you can when retrieving to trigger a hit from the hardtail. 

5. Crippled Herring lures

The great thing about crippled herring lures – which I’m sure many anglers have in their tacklebox – is their versatility. They can be used in a variety of ways, and that what we saw for anglers targeting hardtails with this lure.

Top tips for using Crippled Herring Lures

  • Jig them deep
  • Jig them mid-depth
  • Jig them topwater
  • Troll them behind the boat

6. Small Gotcha Lure

These little lures with shiny presentation and cylindrical bodies are held up as a hardtail fail-safe. They are said to produce hits when all else fails.

Top tips for using Gotcha Lures

  • Take a variety of lures: colours, patterns.
  • Jig and retrieve fast as you can
  • Test trolling behind the boat with them too. 

7. 1/2 ounce lead minnow jig

A half ounce minnow jig seems to be an effective option too for hooking up hard tail fish. 

This is quite a small lure but its effective nonetheless. 

Top tips for using ½ ounce minnow jigs

  • If you buy one from a tackle shop, you might find the treble hook that it comes with is too large for hardtails.
  • Drop the treble hook size down to #6 or #8. 
  • Use 2ft of 20-25lb flourocarbon as your leader
  • Drop to the depth the fish are at
  • Use a super-fast jigging action
  • Pair with a trout or bass rod
The markings of a hardtail fish

Targeting Hardtail Fish – when and where?

Distance from shore and depth

Popular locations to catch hardtail fish is around the offshore rigs located in the Gulf of Mexico – out from the south pass of the Mississippi river.

One of the top rigs is known as the ‘12 mile’ rig, named because it is about 12 miles from the south pass.

There are patches of floating grass lines that can be found between the rigs, and this can be a perfect place to find and catch hardtails too. 

However, near and around the offshore rigs, in legal waters, tends to be the most sought after locations. 

Location in the water

You’ll want to use a depthfinder to try to locate the schools of hardtail fish swimming around the rigs, and become quite apparent on your screen – you’ll see them. 

Generally on the up-current sideof the rig works best for targeting hardtail fish. 

Hardtail fish can be found at varying depths. 

  • Sometimes down deep at the bottom
  • Sometimes at 30-40ft depth 
  • Sometimes right at the top where you might see hoards of them breaking the surface of the water.

Depending on where they are, you’ll want to match your method for targeting them to their location. 

On the top of the water, sabikis reeled very fast along the top, with the rod tip high in the air, can be hugely effective. 

Also, never pass up a patch of grass when looking for bait, it usually holds the better sized/smaller hard tails and other good bait fish.

Hardtail – Size and bag limits

The bag and size limits for hardtail are pretty relaxed. 

Size limits: no minimum limit.

Bag limits: 100 per angler

Are hardtail fish good to eat? 

Hardtail fish are loved by some and hated by others as an eating fish. Hardtail is an oily fish with a fishy flavour. It’s dark flesh is likened to mackerel, though not as strong and can be fried, grilled, or even made into fresh sashimi. MAny anglers will keep hardtail to eat, while others will strictly limit its use to bait.

Want to know how to handle redfish properly, and whether they have teeth? Click here!

Hardtail fish (Bluerunners Explained) summary

We’ve covered in this article multiple methods that you might use to catch hardtail fish. Whether you are wanting to land multiple fish at once, or go for aonen individual fish at a time, there are 10 effective methods here identifioed from extensive, comprehensive research of what seasoned, experienced anglers turn to when trying to fill their bait tank with hardtail fish.