Ballyhoos are crazy looking fish with an elongated beak. They are also called Bally. They aren’t afraid of you and many times while I have been diving they will ping up against you fast. I generally find them in large schools over 100. It is an in-shore species generally found in calm shallow waters (to 30 feet), drifting in schools near the surface, where it feeds mainly on floating seagrass and smaller schooling fishes. I do not find this fish hard to approach because of the sheer numbers of them in a school. They are quick strikers and flashy fighters. Ballyhoo can also be seen above the waters skimming the surface to escape from their predators. The appearance is similar to skipping stones on the water.
The ballyhoo is a halfbeak. They will range in size averaging 8-12″. But you can see them up to 16″ in size. They are found throughout Florida, the Caribbean, the Bahamas, Brazil and the Gulf of Mexico.
It has an elongated body, long lower jaw, short upper jaw, and a forked asymmetrical caudal fin with the lower lobe much longer than the upper lobe. It is dark greenish or bluish dorsally (with three thin black stripes) and white elsewhere with an overall silvery sheen. The anterior of the dorsal fin, the upper caudal fin lobe, and the tip of the lower jaw are yellowish-orange. The lower caudal lobe is dusky. The anal fin is slightly set back relative to the start of the dorsal fin, and the last ray of the dorsal fin is elongated. Not to be confused with the Balao. The balao’s dorsal fin and the upper caudal fin lobe are bluish to purplish, the latter occasionally with a reddish tip; the lower caudal fin lobe is bluish. The ballyhoo grows to a maximum length of 16 inches.
Ballyhoo (Hemiramphus brasiliensis) is commonly used and highly regarded bait fish used for mahi mahi, marlins, sailfish, mackeral, tarpon, and tuna. They are apparently very good eating but usually people don’t bother because they are too tiny and thin.
Ballyhoo are normally found swimming on the surface over sand bottoms. The Ballyhoo can be easily confused with a number of other halfbeaks so the half beak does not guarantee you are looking at a TRUE ballyhoo. To recognize a half beak as the ballyhoo species you must look for these characteristics:
1. Presence of ridge before the eyes.
2. 10 to 13 anal fin rays.
3. A deeply forked tail fin with a larger lower lobe.
4. Unscaled anal and dorsal fins.
5. Tip of lower jaw and upper lobe of the caudal fin is orange-red.
6. Short pectoral fins.
7. The pelvic fins extend past the beginning of the dorsal fin.
The ballyhoo produces pretty larger eggs than most fish. These eggs contain a sticky substance that attach to floating debris until they hatch close to that protective cover and away from filter feeders before they hatch.
So, next time you are snorkeling or diving along, look above your head. Chances are you will see these crazy things jumping and flitting around above your head.